The current COVID-19 pandemic has made things a little trickier for most people, and so it's no small feat that Pearl Pictures Productions pushed through with the release of The Host (2020). Supporting actor Nigel Barber tells us all about his experience with the new indie film, as well as how the current situation is an opportunity rather than a hurdle.
In 2015, you appeared in two of the biggest crime-espionage franchises: Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation and Spectre. How has your experience varied between these blockbusters and The Host, which has a more independent and personal approach?
Those franchises were incredible and they’re so iconic, what’s not to like to have something like that on your CV? Mission Impossible with Chris McQuarrie who directed it, produced by JJ Abrams and of course Tom Cruise producing and starring in the film – it was incredible, it was absolutely brilliant. Spectre was not quite as much fun because it was more regimented. That franchise is amazing, you spend $300 Million on a project that takes you a year and a half to shoot, but it’s not like you can go up to Sam Mendes and say “Hey Sam, I’ve got this great idea for you”, you don’t do that! You’re herded into a small environment with your phones taken away from you but there’s still a buzz. The locations were great, our DoP for the shoot won an Academy Award for There Will Be Blood. The top people in the world were working on these two franchises so you’re just in awe. I’ve been studying film, watching film and being entertained by film for a long time and even walking into the interview or audition for people like Debbie McWilliams, whose cast around fourteen to fifteen bonds as head casting director, or Lucinda Syson who cast me in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. It’s just amazing to get involved with it.
I like independents very much because there’s more participation involved, but it’s different. They’re apples and oranges you know, but they’re both fruit
The Host allowed for more in taking risks, more heart, more passion in the process. I like independents very much because there’s more participation involved, but it’s different. They’re apples and oranges you know, but they’re both fruit.
The Host seems to pay homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Was Martin Bulsam’s performance as Private Investigator Milton Arbagast a reference point for your performance?
Not really, to be frank. Milton was an investigator, he was looking for facts, he was trying to find out what was going on, why she was gone, trying to find out little things. My character, Herbert Summers, was actually in a much more controlled situation, he knows what was happening, he wasn’t trying to arrest anybody besides the known criminals, the Triad character, played by Togo Igawa. I’ve read about the Alfred Hitchcock homage connection but thrillers and suspense and intrigue – it’s not just one person, it’s many. I thought our cinematography was better though I love and admire Hitchcock’s classic film and all that he inspired, but I personally didn’t use Milton Arbagast as a reference point.
Your character – Herbert Summers – is an investigator for the Drug Enforcement Administration. How did you go about researching the role?
You look for differences between you and the character and the things that are the same, that’s just you. It’s more about intention than it is the technicality of a person’s job. If you have intention of doing something, whether you’re an accountant, administrator or teacher, it’s basically the same thing. There wasn’t a lot of terminologies, we didn’t really get into the whole police thing. I don’t want to be complacent about it but it was a fairly simple adjustment for me to pick up this character, he was pretty stereotyped and I have a look that fits very much into that. I mean you can see I’m American even before I open my mouth so there was a certain aspect that fit, I say it’s in your DNA. I wouldn’t be hired to play a 3 foot leprechaun unless you’re using CGI or something. You get cast as somebody that could believably could do that.
What interested you in the project? How did you get involved?
It was offered to me, I read it and agreed to it right away and passed it over to my agents who did all the facilitating for me. When I first moved to London in 2011, I was keen to work with young filmmakers, particularly at London Film School, both to support their ambitions and work as well as build up my own local show-reel for the UK market. I met our producer on The Host, Zachary Weckstein, as he was working on his Masters at LFS and we just clicked. About 5/6 years later, having stayed in touch, Zach came to me with this project and told me he had a part for me if I was interested. It was good, it felt right and it was almost like a friend thing. The way that Zachary is, and was, as a human being, a caring person in a very inhuman, uncaring business – how can you say no to somebody like that?
You have already had an extensive and decorated career, but the director, producer and lead actor are all relatively new to the game. How has your experience working with such new blood differed from previous projects? Were you able to lend any wisdom on set or vice versa?
I like enthusiasm, I like passion – that’s why I enjoy supporting younger filmmakers, because they still have that passion
It was very refreshing, when you go into the big franchises like Bond and Mission Impossible as well as others such as Mad to Be Normal which I did with David Tennant, directed by Robert Mullan and a couple of other franchise type shoots - they have to be very well set. They’ve got storyboards, shoot schedules and a run-over of 20 minutes on a day scheduled costs hundreds of thousands of pounds so it’s a lot more matter of fact. That’s the art of the actor too, to bring in something very organic and very real in those very controlled environments. I like enthusiasm, I like passion – that’s why I enjoy supporting younger filmmakers, because they still have that passion, and unfortunately this industry has a tendency to rip you open and spit you out faster than most. So it’s always refreshing to have people who are keen and excited and then have the professionalism, the wherewithal, the background and the money to be able to achieve those dreams. So it was lots of fun for me!
Like many university cities, Newcastle is home to a lot of upcoming actors. Is there any advice you’d like to share with them, particularly with your experience working in multiple mediums (film, stage, video games etc.)?
I’m 70 years old this year and life has a tendency to give you something to bring to the table. A lot of young, talented people coming out of an educational facility who are expecting to pop into the market, it’s very difficult. I hate giving advice to anybody but I would say that you need to live your life, go out and experience things – complete your studies, hitchhike around the world, wash some dishes, just do something. You need to be able to bring something to the table. What we want now as audiences isn’t the stilted, melodramatic performances of Laurence Olivier’s day, we want reality. We’re hooked on car crash television, we want to see reality and realness. Some of the best British dramas that are coming out right now make us feel like voyeurs, as though we shouldn’t be looking at this exchange between two people, it’s much too intimate, we should be peeking through our spread fingers at how intrusive we feel. It’s difficult to bring substance to a character if we don’t have substance ourselves. Morgan Freeman didn’t start working until his 50’s! I started out when I was 16 and did a lot of work in California, but stepped back for a long time before returning in my late 60’s in London and haven’t stopped working since then. But you’ve got to have some life and you need to read, experience and question. Work your craft, practice, practice, practice – workshops, improv labs, watching other people, not to plagiarise, but to ask why was that so strong when they didn’t really do anything? That’s why DeNiro always said learn your lines and then shut up and don’t say anything. We have a tendency when we’re young as we’re confident, to say things a little bit louder, push a little bit harder and I find myself falling into that trap sometimes too. That’s why you have directors, your coaches to simplify things. So, my advice would be to make sure this is what you want with all your heart and make sure you bring something to the industry because it’s not going to hand it to you.
I hope you’re keeping well during these hard times. While much of the film industry – like most industries at the moment – has been greatly buffered, do you see any creative opportunities that you’d like to, or other people should, pursue during this time?
I’ve been really blessed, I’ve got a small recording studio in my house and I’ve been doing a lot of voiceover work for video games, commercials for the international market and I’ve also been getting involved with Zoom play reads. I did one for AAUK (American Actors of the United Kingdom) and we did 8 new plays online, and we had several hundred people that were not participating but watching Zoom as well. There’s lots to do out there, there’s lots of ways to practice. Learn a monologue, record a sonnet every day, pick up a couple of pages of a novel that you like and create a character out of it. I’m starting a new project produced by Greenwich Theatre and I’m looking forward to working on that as well.
Learn a monologue, record a sonnet every day, pick up a couple of pages of a novel that you like and create a character out of it.
I don’t think we need to be restricted to a facility, actors have always needed somebody else’s words, somebody else’s direction, somebody else’s stage where people could come to and I think this is one of those things that once experienced, we can’t go back - you’re never the same again. I think during this process during these 3 months plus, as it’s not over yet, we’ll have a different way of dealing with our industry. The amount of self-tape requests that are coming in has massively increased, so it means you have that learning curve, you want to have your camera right, your facilities, lighting, sound. But it’s easily done and it can be very empowering, we’re not victims in this, we have opportunities not punishments here and I think that’s very important to realise.
Featured Image: IMDb