‘We’re going through the kills’

Dominic Brunt has been a horror fan since he was a child and now he’s got to make one. But the soap actor warns not to look out for any metaphors in his werewolf story

Hero image

After 26 years starring as Paddy the vet in long-running ITV soap Emmerdale, actor Dominic Brunt has had his fair share of animal encounters.

For his latest project, though, Brunt has had something a little bigger and fiercer than a sheep or a cow to deal with – now he’s taking on a werewolf. He’s also swapped front of camera for the director’s chair, and the soap set for a movie set.

In Wolf Manor, which was released on DVD and digital download earlier this month, a film crew is shooting a low-budget horror movie in an old, rambling house when, as the full moon rises, they realise they are not alone.

Starring James Fleet, John Henshaw, Jay Taylor and Thaila Zucchi, the movie – produced by Joanne Mitchell, who Brunt is married to – is a rollicking Brit horror that’s already racking up great reviews.

The film had its world premiere at the FrightFest film festival earlier this year, and was selected by Manchester’s Grimmfest to be part of the British Film Institute-backed Monsters and Movies programme. Paddy the vet – who Brunt, 52, has been portraying on screen for half his life – has had his fair share of drama in the soap, but fans might be surprised to find out that in real life he’s a horror buff.

“I’ve always been into horror,” says Brunt enthusiastically. “Ever since being a kid. I’ve still got all my VHS tapes of horror movies, The Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Evil Dead. I’ve been dragging them around with me for years.”

Born in Macclesfield to parents who were nurses, Brunt moved around the North West a lot as a child, living in Culcheth near Warrington, Whalley, Darwen and Accrington, among others, until settling in Leeds after winning the part of Paddy Kirk on Emmerdale.

Brunt met his wife Joanne at drama school, and they have worked together on their own movies, producing and writing, starring and directing.

There was his low-budget directorial debut – in which he and Joanne both starred – Before Dawn, where an estranged couple are attacked by zombies. Since then there’s been short war horror Shell Shocked, violent revenge thriller Bait, Attack of the Adult Babies – a satire on the rich elites – and Evie, about a girl who loses herself in the myths of the sea.

“All our other films have been kind of allegorical, so whatever they’re about isn’t really what they’re about. They’re usually a metaphor for something else,” says Brunt. “So it was a bit different to be hired as a director on someone else’s film. This one was different, and I got what they were trying to do straight away. There’s no metaphor here – there’s nothing allegorical. We’re basically getting through the kills!

“I really respected the fact that they’re going for a good, old fashioned horror movie. I love the old Hammer horror films and there was no focus on back story or deep characterisation here — we just made a film about a werewolf killing people!”

Brunt was brought in on the project by Shaune Harrison, a special effects wizard who has worked on Harry Potter, Marvel and Star Wars movies, and had created the werewolf for the movie. There’s no CGI trickery here, though – the monster on the screen is what the cast were terrified by during filming.

“The basic premise of the film – and there’s no subtext or anything here – is that there are ten people in a house, trying to make a film,” Brunt says. “We’ve got a director who’s cynical about what he’s doing and a lead actor who’s alcoholic. Filming has run over the schedule, which is a problem because the house is used by a man who turns into a werewolf at full moon and locks himself in there.

“Shaune Harrison’s work is genius, and he’s created this full werewolf costume. The chap inside it, Morgan Rees-Davies, is about 6ft 4in but the costume is about 7ft tall, and when it’s standing in front of you, with these latex plates that make the face so it can growl and sneer and open it’s mouth, you’re just thinking, Jesus Christ, it’s massive.”

The movie was largely filmed in a big old country house in Shropshire, with the cast and crew working overnight.

“We all largely became nocturnal for a few weeks. The owner was about to renovate it, so he said to us, you can make as much mess as you like, and we took him up on that!

“The gods of filming were really with us – the weather was brilliant, there was no wind so we could have these smoke machines to create this low-lying fog everywhere and it looks absolutely brilliant.”

Filming all night until 6am and sleeping during the day took its toll — especially when part way through filming Brunt had to head off to record a celebrity episode of the TV game show Catchphrase.

“I was picked up in a car and immediately fell asleep, got there not really knowing where I was and then was told, right you’re on. Two hours later I was driven back to the film set, not really sure what had just happened.”

And then, of course, there’s the day job, with Brunt’s Emmerdale character Paddy being put through the usual soap wringer over several tense Christmas and New Year episodes, leaving the vet teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Has Brunt ever wanted to merge his two worlds of soap actor and gory horror movie director? Perhaps ask if he can write or direct a spooky Halloween episode of Emmerdale?

“That would be fun,” he says. “But I’d have to go to the producers with a story and if I came up with a good enough plot I’d probably want to pinch it for myself to use! And I’d never want to direct or write Emmerdale. I’m lucky enough to be an actor and I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to turn round and say I’d like to direct the show. I have my job and I’ve been very, very lucky to do it for so long.”

And while Paddy the vet’s future is at the whim of the Emmerdale scriptwriters, Brunt the horror filmmaker holds his future in his own hands.

“We’ve done mermaids, zombies, adult babies and con men,” he says. “I think I’d really, really like to do a vampire film, if we can just hit on the right story.”

Wolf Manor is out on DVD and as a digital download, distributed by Lightbulb Films

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to ‘We’re going through the kills’

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.