The Smiling Cenobite : A Nicholas Vince Interview
Anyone growing up in the 80s/90s will know the faces of the nightmarish Cenobite; Chatterer from the Hellraiser series and the demonic Kinski in Nightbreed. Behind the jagged wires, bloody teeth and layers of SFX makeup lurks the friendly face of Nicholas Vince; Actor, Author and a true horror figure. He has explored the world of directing, writing for comics and even audio books since coming back from a long break from film, all whilst maintaining modesty and his own sanity! With a busy schedule on the convention circuit, flying from Texas Frightfest to Edinburgh Horror Con, Nicholas Vince talks to us about accidents on set, his relationship with Horror and the origins of his own fiction.
Where will you be talking to us today from?
From my base in London
Actor, Writer, Host and Film maker, you actually have a background in Theatre. What is your experience performing on stage?
Basically, my story is that I went to drama school and got my Equity union card playing a rock singing dragon. I then did bits and bobs of theatre after which Clive offered me the part in Hellraiser. I didn’t do much theatre after that. I gave up acting for a long time, returning to it in 2012, so most recently was a play called Trans Scripts which was based on interviews with transgender people (and everyone on that spectrum) and that was… (crikey!) Two years ago now and I’ve been concentrating on films since.
Your first feature role was playing Chatterer in Hellraiser (and again in Hellraiser 2: Hellbound). Could you tell us a little about how you got the role?
I met Clive through Simon Bamford who played the Cenobite Butterball. Simon and I were in the same year at drama school and he’d gone on to work in Clive’s Dog Company (fringe theatre group). I met Clive at a party. I ended up modeling for the covers of Books of Blood and I think I’m on 4 out of 6, either my head or bits of my body. So, Clive had known me for nearly 3 years by the time Hellraiser came about. He knew I could do physical stuff so he said “Would you like to be in a movie? There is some make up involved…” (Laughs)
You seemed to be the most constricted cenobite in regards to the SFX work. How was the experience physically for you?
Simon and I both had it pretty bad (in terms of not being able to speak, hear or see) and Simon’s makeup was even thicker than mine! Somebody said mine “… was a very controlled performance,” and it really was. I had trousers when everyone had skirts, and it was all sculpted. I did a body cast so they could get the leather as tight as possible. I couldn’t turn my head at all because of the high neck of the costume, so yeah, it was a very measured and controlled performance for that reason too. We had to shoot it in very small segments so I was able to remember what was needed. It was a challenge but interesting.
Didn’t you drool lots because your mouth was always open?
(Laughs) It wasn’t so much that my mouth was open, it was the fact that they put dentu-grip in my mouth. Basically, the teeth you see in the film sit outside of my face and were attached with dentu-grip so the sound of *slurp slurp* was what you heard from me most of the time in makeup.
We heard you were injured once on set on Hellbound, how did that happen?
Basically (in the scene we were shooting) you had the spinning pillar behind me, what we referred to as the torture pillars, and there was a piece of wood from it and from that, a 12” rusty hook on a chain. When I opened my mouth to scream, the tip went right between the false teeth into the roof of my mouth. It was like 2-3mm in but it left me with a real desire to push fishermen into rivers because I feel sorry for the fish! I know what it’s like to be hooked and it’s not pleasant. They actually filmed it but missed the moment it hit my face! It was a million-to-one chance that it happened, just incredibly unlucky. Hopefully people are a lot more health and safety conscious now.
Did the experience as Chatterer put you off at all when it came to wearing SFX again as Kinski in Nightbreed?
No because by that stage I knew what was involved. I had become great friends with the guys from Image Animation and even more on Nightbreed. I knew when I was doing Kinski in Nightbreed I’d be able to hear, speak and see! The makeup was just going to be on my face so I’d be running around and I had lines! You got used to it though I’d probably feel differently if I had to do it now 30 odd years later, but if someone offered me a really good part that’s going to involve makeup, I’d happily do it. Execept… I wouldn’t want to lose my beard, I like my beard.
You have written a number of short stories and comics, including What Monsters Do and Other Peoples Darkness. Most recently you’ve written Prayers of Desire, how did you find writing an origin story for a character that you are so intimate with?
It was actually the second time I’ve written an origin story for Chatterer. The first time was back when Hellbound was released called Look, See. Funnily enough, I recently sold out a limited edition of Look, See. I wrote half a dozen or so stories the Hellraiser comics, from Epic in the 1990’s. I’m very used to writing in that world, playing in Clive’s imagination. He’s so generous, encouraging people to explore the themes and ideas in Hellraiser. It was fun that I could do it again. Reading Look, See back, I realise I was really pissed off that the moment Chatterer changes you didn’t get to see me, you got to see a boy. Over the years I found the idea of a boy growing up in hell fascinating. All the other Cenobites are revealed to be adults, but a boy? That whole idea was really interesting. As an aside, this lead to one of my favorite questions from a Q+A a few years ago. We get families coming to these horror conventions and there was a 9-year-old boy whose question was “is the Chatterer dog, Chatterers’ dog in hell?” [In the later films there’s a Chatterer style Dog] I thought that was a really nice idea, every boy should have a dog.
I really enjoyed your short Demon’s Design, about an art installation and a father and son relationship. What made you create and connect these two main plot elements? What themes/ideas did you specifically want to convey?
It was inspired by the first story that I ever pitched to the editor at Epic Comics (part of Marvel) that was never actually printed. They bought the story and gave it to an artist who never delivered the art work. So, it was always at the back of my mind, I really like this idea of not just a small puzzle box which everyone is used to dealing with, but the idea of a huge puzzle box where you have lots of people involved. In fact, the original comic story wasn’t so much an art instillation, the whole idea was the enormous game of twister, where people had to put their limbs and bodies in a particular form to summon the cenobites. I had also lost my mum around that time, and I explored that with one of the characters also. To me the idea of family and relationships are always the most interesting ones because that’s where all the tension in life comes about so it’s all mish mashed into the story.
When the book of short stories What Monsters Do came out, people who read it were like “god you must have a terrible family life” (laughs). My family is absolute fine, they’re lovely! It’s just me that’s a bit twisted. For all writers it’s a kind of therapy, you get these things out of yourself down on paper so there’s an outlet rather than sitting there and letting these things fester inside.
You wrote, produced and directed short film The Night Whispered. What drew you to creating a stripped-down ghost story?
I had written the short stories and I had been doing my YouTube show for a while, where I speak to a lot of independent film makers, and I thought that I’d really love to have a go at this. I had enough people around me and by that stage I had worked on enough short and independent films to know enough about what was going on, new technologies etc. A real piece of advice I got was “work with what you have”. We have a country park close to where we live and I liked the idea of doing something at night and in the open. We have a dog, so I thought I’d include him too. The reason there’s no effects and gore is because it’s a lot cheaper to do it without it.
I was really scared of the dark until my early 20’s and I wanted to do something that was very atmospheric and very real. Like my writing I try and keep it as real as possible and then twist something. If you are walking home, what happens if someone just disappears, no explanation, they’ve just gone? How does the rest of the group react? It was fun to play with those ideas.
I find the scarier things are the simple ghost stories that are more relatable and creepy, such as Woman in Black at the theatre.
(Laugh) That’s the play that really proves that I scream louder than a row of 16-year-old school girls (chuckle) I am the world’s biggest wuss! I do find difficulty watching a lot of horror, if it’s good I get locked in. I love really intelligent horror and I grew up on Roger Cormans Edgar Allan Poe films though I still enjoy a good silly gore fest.
You have your own YouTube channel, Chattering with Nicholas Vince. Could you tell us a little about how this began?
When I started acting again in 2012 I was getting a lot of young film makers who were saying how Hellraiser was a huge influence and I wanted to pay it forward. It was kind of a way to encouraging young talents. I was very grateful for what Clive did for me casting me in Hellraiser. None of us knew how it would grow (30+ years later still talking about it). I want to support independent films makers, such as MJ and Anna Dixon, who have done amazing stuff with Mycho, I love their work.
I’m fascinated by people’s progress. I always watch the DVD extras and how stuff is made as I’m always curious how people approach different things, where ideas come from and their experience of film making. Its fun and I wanted to introduce people, give people a platform. I really look forward to the Sunday evenings where I get to chat with people, otherwise it’s just me and the dog (and my husband of course). It’s my act of gratitude. I want to introduce new audiences to really very talented people.
In your interviews you come across as very engaging, likeable and friendly! How is it being associated with such unapproachable characters (whether it’s the terrifying cenobites or even the more realistically withdrawn Peter in Mindless)?
I have met people who are physically shaking when they speak to me. They don’t think they are meeting Nick Vince because what they have in mind is Chatterer, something that’s had a profound effect on them. The most extreme example was back in the early 1990’s I was in the pub with a comic artist friend of mine and his girlfriend came in and he introduced me. She took one look at me and ran from the pub and we didn’t see her again for 20 minutes. She did come back but she was really nervous. (Laughs) It can be strange but the majority of people I meet at conventions are absolutely gorgeous and lovely and fun to talk to. Someone once said to me “You must get so tired of being asked, how long did it take to put the makeup on”. I’ve been asked this question 100 times if not more, but for the person who’s asking me, it’s the first time. It’s a good question. People are valuable human beings as far as I’m concerned and I don’t mind having to say the same thing, I’m just really touched that they want to know. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do all the amazing stuff I get to do. I’m insatiably curious about people.
So, you’ve been filming Fuck You Immortality and Book of Monsters is currently in post-production. Anything you can tell us about these, or still under contract?
Still under non-disclosure! They did a teaser trailer for Book of Monsters at Glasgow Frightfest, which I understand went very well. Book of Monsters came out of a Kickstarter where supporters got to choose elements in the film, like monsters and deaths. It’s a brilliant script and was a lot of fun. I was filming Fuck You Immortality in the north of Italy but I can’t tell you any more about that! I recently did another cameo feature out later this year. Actually, I was just listening to ‘The Hellbound Heart’ audiobook, which is available from Bafflegab in which I play a cenobite with lines and a sleazy business man.
Will we be seeing you direct more in the future?
I hope so! I’m going to be concentrating on writing. I may well do an animatic or a machinima (forms of animation) for the next short film. I did something for Jen and Sylvia Soska’s Blooddrive for women in horror month which was an animatic too (which is essentially like an animated story board). I have another idea for a short but nothing in the immediate future, I really enjoy directing so hoping to do some more!
Figure of 8 – Quick fire questions
In your home you will always find…
A dog who is wondering where his next meal is coming from (Bertie the staffy)
Your best quality is…
My laughter (it gets me into most trouble) Ian McKellen once said to me “You’re going to have to calm that laugh young man” I’ve ignored him and everyone else.
As a child, you wanted to be…
An actor, it was really obvious I was a show off as a kid
The last thing to make you laugh was….
(Laugh) Almost everything! Probably listening to myself in Hellbound heart. It’s weird listening to yourself.
Your pet peeves are…
The greeting should be “Belated Happy Birthday” not Happy belated birthday!! My birthday wasn’t late… you’re greeting was, that’s not good English!
Something that may surprise us about you…
I worked in the tax office for 3 years, I was an assistant tax collector.
Your favourite movies are…
All around Vincent price films! Masque of the Red Death, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Theatre of Blood. Then Frozen, Up (huge favourite of mine and yes, I did cry), North by Northwest and Psycho. Watch Hitchcock if you want to learn how to make film.
Dinner with the dead! Who is invited?
Vincent Price, Pablo Picasso and my grandfather on my mother’s side. He was English but fought for the Canadians for WW1. It would be interesting to know his experiences.
By Alice Bizarre
Alice Bizarre is an SFX make-up artist and film writer, a prop maker and prosthetic sculptor based north of London.Wife of a wolfman and mummy of a baby bat.