One of the real discoveries while watching the remake of FRIGHT NIGHT was seeing David Tennant embody the crumbling, drunken illusionist Peter Vincent, who goes on to help the film's hero, Charley, fight vampires and just generally get over a few demons he's been carrying around since he was a kid. And Tennant is kind of great in the re-imagined role.
Not being a watcher of the "Dr. Who" series, my exposure to his work has been limited to Stephen Fry's BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS, his role as Barty Crouch Junior in HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, and a voice in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. But traveling in the circles, you can't help but know who the man is or that playing Dr. Who has been a dream of his since he was a child actor. The Shakespearean-trained Tennant is in the final weeks of a run of "Much Ado About Nothing," playing Benedick to his one-time "Dr. Who" co-star Catherine Tate's Beatrice in London's West End, but he took time out to talk to me earlier this week about FRIGHT NIGHT and a few other things.
Tennant has always struck me as a truly decent guy, and I certainly had a lot of fun in our short time on the phone together. Please enjoy David Tennant…
David Tennant: Hey, Steve!
Capone: Hello, how are you?
DT: I’m good. How are you?
Capone: Excellent. We were lucky enough to be able to show FRIGHT NIGHT to a horror convention crowd last Friday and they went crazy for it.
DT: Well good. I’m glad it went down well.
Capone: Maybe more than any other character I’ve ever seen you do, you seem to be channeling somebody or somebodies in this movie. Who has been thrown into the mix of creating this version of Peter Vincent?
DT: What a good question, really. It’s probably a mixture that I’m not entirely even aware of myself to be honest. I don’t know. There's certainly room for a bit of dissolute drunk acting. I had to look at WITHNAIL AND I. And there’s all sorts though, really. Probably every magic show I’ve ever witnessed on TV is in there on some level, more of the old school type. I mean, he’s not really David Blaine, he’s more an old-school magician who’s time has probably slightly past. Who did you spot?
Capone: I thought I caught a glimpse of some Russell Brand in there, just rock star swagger.
DT: I think that’s probably in the look certainly. The swagger, yeah probably. I think it’s very difficult these days to wear skinny jeans and high heels and not look like Russell Brand, but that’s fine. He does it very well.
Capone: Yeah, that’s true. Were you in any way a fan of the original film and of Roddy McDowall’s characterization of Peter Vincent?
DT: You know, I wasn’t really. I had never actually seen it. I mean I was aware of it, but I was a little young to catch it when it first came out and then I just never managed to catch up with it. But I was a huge fan of Roddy McDowall from the various many things that he has done and was slightly nervous of being intimidated by his very presence, I guess. But in the end, I felt safe to watch the film because this Peter Vincent is so different to his version of it and I felt quite happy to watch the film just out of curiosity really, just to see.
I think there’s an energy that I think the remake has managed to capture. It’s not a slavish remake at all, but I think the combination of genres, the way that the comic kind of collides with the horrific, which I think it’s deceptively hard to pull off and was always my concern for the film actually, we get that absolutely right. I absolutely trusted everyone I was working with, but you never quite know if that’s doing to happen until you see it, and I was really delighted when I did. That really elusive tone, I think, is nailed by Craig [Gillespie], the director, and I’m really pleased about that.
Capone: Did you have any say in the look, the personality, the makeup, the hair, and facial hair in particular. I’m a big believer that facial hair changes a performance in a lot of ways. But did you have any say in that?
DT: Some of the elements were in the script. I’m trying to remember. I think the beard was in the script, because it talks about it being removed with that bit where he sort of transforms himself in front of Charley and goes from looking like some sort of rock god to a little wiry drunk man. A part of that was definitely in the script and then, as ever with any kind of filming, it’s a collaborative process. You talk to the director, you bring some things yourself, you kind of bat things back and forth, and with it being a film that had a decent budget, we had time to try things out and try things different ways and improvise a bit. So, it’s difficult after the event to forensically examine who came up with what, but I think it was a collaborative effort.
Capone: And you mention that scene where he is sort of pealing off his mask as it were, and I particularly like him taking off his sideburns, like he couldn’t even be bothered to grow sideburns.
DT: [laughs] Yeah, I know.
Capone: But that’s a real important scene actually, because that is a real transformation. Can you just sort of talk a little bit about the importance of that moment in the film?
DT: Well, I think it tells you quite a lot about the character actually. I mean you shouldn’t even necessarily be aware that you're gathering that information, I suppose, but the fact is that he’s living a lie. The absolute peak of his stage persona is a falsity, something he’s created to hide behind. So seeing him removing it piece by piece actually tells you quite a lot about who this Peter Vincent is, and the fact that he’s on the run and that he’s hiding from the world and the fact of his own life that is revealed gradually through the movie. I think you’re right. Without sounding pretentious about it, it’s quite symbolic in understanding who Peter Vincent is.
Capone: And you are right, he doesn’t really seem to have much of a life outside of the show and out of this penthouse existence.
DT: No. That’s the thing; I think he goes from the penthouse to the theater and straight back on the elevator again. I don’t think he even goes outside anymore. I think his world has become rather small.
Capone: So having Charley enter it sort of represents this connection that he hasn’t had in a while, and then there’s like almost a friendship potential there or at least a shared interest in vampires that he hadn’t had before.
DT: Yeah. And I think he's somebody that challenges him as well, which I don’t think he’s had in a long time. He’s living this closeted bizarre existence, and for some one to actually come up and go “Look at yourself,” I think ends up being quite important for him.
Capone: And the second half of the film is as much yours as it is any of the other characters, with Peter trying to find his courage and just battle these demons from his past, and then you actually of course get to battle vampires. How was that for you?
DT: Aw, it was great fun. I mean that end sequence in the cellar of Jerry’s house was just fantastic to be part of. The incredible fire stunts that were done, to be right up close to that was breathtaking, but also you know shooting guns and having stake guns, it was hilarious.
Capone: Those antique weapons are so great.
DT: Yeah, fantastic, and that sequence where all of the vampires emerge out of walls, I mean it’s proper kind of school-boy dream stuff to be part of all that.
Capone: At the end of the film, that’s when we really get to see you and Colin Farrell together. Have your paths ever crossed before?
DT: No, not professionally at all, and it was a real treat, because he’s such a lovely man to be around actually. He’s a great company member and charming and generous and twinkly, but then on set when he turns on that malevolence, it’s quite something. So it was terrific to have Colin inhabit that role, and you really believe that he could rip your head off, which I think is quite important.
Capone: Have you ever done a sort of blood-and-guts horror film before like this?
DT: No, no I haven’t. This was a first for me. When the buckets of blood come out it’s all rather thrilling. [laughs]
Capone: I asked a bunch of people if they had any broad Dr. Who questions for you, and they all came back with the same question, which was about this 50th Anniversary season next year. There had been some talk about previous doctors returning.
DT: I know, and you’re not the first person to ask me that. If there are any plans, nobody has told me about them, that’s all I can say.
Capone: I was at Comic Con last month, and they showed some great clips from THE PIRATES, the Aardman film that you're in.
DT: Oh yeah!
Capone: Is that a badge of honor as a British actor to be in an Aardman film?
DT: It is a bit. I mean, they are such a national treasure. I think as a nation we are very proud of Aardman, so to work with them is a joy, and they're such incredible artists. What they do with plasticine is remarkable. So yeah to be involved in that is a real treat, yeah.
Capone: They showed a great clip of you as Charles Darwin, and it looked really cool. And I said “British,” but I know you're Scotish. Did I screw that up?
DT: No, I’m British and Scottish. It’s English that I’m not.
Capone: That's a relief. Well alright, thank you very David, it was great to talk to you.