Q&A: Dominic Purcell on “VIKINGDOM”
Whether it’s man-eating crocodiles, dream demons or half-human vampire slayers, actor Dominic Purcell has faced his fair share of frightening foes over the course of his career. Of course, fans of the bulking actor wouldn’t be surprised, as Purcell has proven himself a versatile character actor, capable of both colorful supporting performances and stoic leading man status. In his latest project, the gory and over-the-top fantasy epic VIKINGDOM (now on DVD and VOD from Epic Pictures), Purcell mixes a bit of both worlds to provide a badass, sword-wielding warrior that’s different from your average, molar-grinding action hero. Purcell talked to FANGORIA about his new film, his inspired past performances and the horror role he found to be truly terrifying…
FANGORIA: What attracted you to a genre-hybrid project such as VIKINGDOM?
DOMINIC PURCELL: The audaciousness of it all! The arrogance of it all! Then there’s the visionary quest of the director [Yusry Kru], who is from Malaysia, embarked on, because it takes balls to make a Viking movie in Malaysia for $15 million and trying to compete against the goliath films that Hollywood produces in this genre. To go up against that is bold, and I appreciated that. Plus, I found myself really enjoying the script as I read it. So that combination of things came together, I decided to jump on-board and that’s what happened.
FANG: Do you think that the film’s varied international influence between the cast and crew made for a more unique take on the story?
PURCELL: Yeah. I really think the international factor played into it, certainly, but what stood out to me the most was the fact that this young director from Malaysia was ready to take on such an ambitious project. When I was informed of the project, I watched Yusry’s movies and was very impressed by his filmmaking and his inner genius, if you will, with CGI. The budget on this film was tight, by the way, and what he’s able to do with those low budget films to bring these imaginary worlds to life blew me away. I was very impressed, and when I was told that this would be the first time Yusry would be working with some kind of a budget, I was excited. I thought, “If anyone could do it, he could do it.”
FANG: Did you do any research into Viking lore and mythology before shooting?
PURCELL: I didn’t, really. I’m not one of those actors who does a whole ton of historical homework if it’s not necessary. I stuck to the story in the script, so I didn’t have to dig too far into the actual mythology. I guess my only homework, which was indirect, was from seeing movies like HIGHLANDER and the original CONAN THE BARBARIAN. When I first read the script, that’s the vibe that I was getting and I wasn’t sure if the director was on the same page. When I found out that he was on the same page and wanted to make the movie audacious and colorful, I was so excited. I thought that it was a really good opportunity to bring in something different to the [Warrior film] genre, because that genre is littered with depressing colors and overwhelming foreboding. It’s always dominated by dark blues and greys that are cold, and you’ll always think of BRAVEHEART, ROB ROY and GLADIATOR [with that].
FANG: As an actor, was it attractive to be a part of an independent fantasy movie with less restriction on what could be done with the violent story?
PURCELL: Yeah, it was. Again, I kept going back to what Yusry was trying to do with the movie. If I would have gone to the movie and had been told, “Oh it’s going to be like this or that,” I may not have been as excited. But when he said that he wanted to do something different and said he wanted to do something similar to HIGHLANDER, I said, “F*** it! We haven’t seen that in a while.” So far, from the critiques of the film, it’s being lauded as this big, bold, cheesy, campy movie that people can have fun with and be entertained by.
FANG: You’ve done many action and genre projects before VIKINGDOM, obviously. Was there any lesson you’ve learned over the years of doing these projects that you kept in mind when shooting this film?
PURCELL: Yeah. When working with choreography, the worst thing you could do is think. I’ve found out over the years that when you film a choreographed sequence of a fight, you just do it and trust yourself that you have it. So when the director calls “action,” you just let it go because the more you think about the beats of the fight, the worse it gets. That’s one of the things I was reminded of on the set of VIKINGDOM because we were improvising the entire time because we found out we didn’t have enough fight sequences. We would have to improvise with the stunt director, so we’d say, “Okay, we have to improvise a fight in five minutes.” So we’d have all these people running and jumping around, and before I knew it, I was doing these routines that came from my basic instincts and techniques of fighting, which have served me well in the physically dominant world of filmmaking.
FANG: Considering the film has these elements of camp strewn throughout, were you concerned that, as a lead, you may have trouble bringing weight to your performance?
PURCELL: I was happy that I could have the opportunity to go over-the-top with the performance, but in saying that, it was still important that my character had gravitas. With a movie like VIKINGDOM, you have to let the canvas speak because of the license that the creators are taking with the film. Having taken that to mind, it’s important to know what direction they’re going in, and that was definitely the case with me. Of course, after having collaborated with Yusry, I knew exactly what direction the film was going that allowed me to give a particular kind of performance under those circumstances.
FANG: I wanted to touch on some of your other genre work besides VIKINGDOM. I’m personally a fan of THE GRAVEDANCERS, and I know there’s a cult audience behind it. What was your experience like working on that film?
PURCELL: I had a really bad experience on that film. It wasn’t a project that I really wanted to do, but I had to. It wasn’t something that I really enjoyed, to be honest with you. I’m happy to hear that people like it, and that’s one of the surprising things about what I do for a living. But, unfortunately, sometimes a situation dictates that I do a project for money and that was certainly the case on THE GRAVEDANCERS. Whenever I get into a situation like that, I’m always miserable on set and not happy, and when I was making the movie, I didn’t have any confidence in the film at all. I thought it was a turkey as we were shooting. But a lot of people have said that they like that movie, and I haven’t seen it yet but I’ll take your word for it.
FANG: That’s really unfortunate to hear. Do you prefer working on more action-oriented projects rather than horror, or does it vary from project to project?
PURCELL: I would say it’s project by project, to me. The film doesn’t have to be a particular genre, it just has to be good. For me to want to do a project, it has to be good. The story has to be compelling, rich and justified. The project needs to be insightful and with a certain rhythm. There needs to be basic, good storytelling in whichever genre. Do I have a particular favorite genre? I think I don’t.
FANG: In VIKINGDOM, you’re very much so the leading man, but in many of your recent performances, you’ve embraced some diverse supporting roles, a lot of which don’t necessarily fit into that stoic lead actor position. For instance, you had a meek and quiet role in Rod Lurie’s STRAW DOGS remake and you stole the show with your jovial role in KILLER ELITE. Is there any kind of role that you specifically enjoy inhabiting?
PURCELL: I’ve always said that I’m a character actor in a physically intimidating body. The industry wants to put me into physically dominant roles, but every now and then, a smart person will come along and say, “You know what? He can do more than this.” That was the case with Rod Lurie and STRAW DOGS. He saw something in me and he gave me the chance to do a wonderful little role in that film.
The same applied to KILLER ELITE. Gary McKendry, the director of KILLER ELITE, wanted me to do that role, although I had wanted the role that Clive Owen had gotten. That was the role I was going for and Gary said, “No, no, no. I want you to play Davies. He’s an over-the-top, funny English loudmouth.” I thought, “Oh, I don’t think I could do that. I have to sing in a bar and do all of this stuff?!” But once I bought into the role, you couldn’t stop me. I was like a kid in a candy store. That was one of the most fun roles I’ve ever done in my life. I mean, physically-speaking, I suppose I’m a leading man. But in terms of what gets me out of bed and what gets me motivated, it’s just about what’s in the work.
FANG: Do you have anything else coming up?
PURCELL: I’ve got a bunch of movies coming out. One of which I’m really excited about is THE FIGHTING MAN, with Sony. It’s a boxing movie, but it’s really a dark, human drama piece. That one has lots of blood for the FANGORIA readers. I also have a movie with Robert De Niro and John Cusack called THE BAG MAN, and that’s a really cool movie, too.