Interview: Actor Stephen Rea Remembers THE COMPANY OF WOLVES

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Irish actor Stephen Rea remembers his skin-shedding role in Neil Jordan’s THE COMPANY OF WOLVES.

Some months back, we had a discussion about Neil Jordan’s 1984 fairy tale horror masterpiece THE COMPANY OF WOLVES. In one of that rapturous film’s most alarming sequences, a new bride lies in the marriage bed at night waiting for her lust-filled husband to return from the latrine. He never does. Years later, once the young lady has been re-married and started a family, he does indeed return…

Wild-eyed.

Untamed of mane.

And blamelessly furious at his wife’s adultery.

In a rage, the now ex-husband begins tearing at his skin and screaming, his bloody face pulsing and shifting as he slowly, surely grows into an animal.

The actor playing that werewolf is Irish-born performer Stephen Rea whose previous horror credentials stem from a brief appearance in Gordon Hessler’s Vincent Price medieval melodrama CRY OF THE BANSHEE. But his savage, shrieking work in THE COMPANY OF WOLVES made Rea a strong presence in dark fantasy film iconography.

After COMPANY, Rea would not only appear in virtually every film director Jordan would make, but he also starred in such notable works as Freddie Francis’ DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS, the grueling serial killer shocker CITIZEN X and Stuart Gordon’s STUCK.

But here, in this interview, Rea talks to us about the time he shed his skin in Jordan’s feral, feminist fever dream, THE COMPANY OF WOLVES…with a nod or two to Rea’s equally stunning turn in Jordan’s adaptation of Anne Rice’s INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE.

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SHOCK: How long did that wild, skin ripping make-up process you endured in THE COMPANY OF WOLVES take to apply?

REA: Believe it or not, it took over seven long, uncomfortable hours. It was horrible but I think the scene turned out really, really well. And I had a blast in post-production, dubbing all sorts of screams and growls and what not over it.

SHOCK: What do you think about the film, today?

REA: Well, I think it’s a very good movie and I think I enjoy watching it more now than I did when it came out. I actually think it’s aged particularly well. The thing I used to find difficult about it, however, was the sexuality.

SHOCK: You were offended by the sexuality?

REA: Oh, God no, not at all. Quite the opposite actually. Originally, in the script, the lead young girl (Sarah Patterson) was very sensual and it was extremely erotic. But then I think they got nervous about depicting the sexuality too graphically, because she was so young. I don’t think they’d be so nervous about showing it these days. But anyway, I think it’s a very good movie and especially when you consider that it was only Neil Jordan’s second film. I also think it was too strange for American tastes and sensibilities at the time and that’s why it didn’t do well over there.

SHOCK: You’ve been in almost every Jordan film since his first. What’s the secret of this enduring working relationship?

REA: It just seems to click. I’ve done 9 movies with him. He (did one) with Jodie Foster in New York (THE BRAVE ONE) and it was the first time ever that I was not in one of his films…oh, except for HIGH SPIRITS. I wasn’t in that one. But Neil says I was lucky not to have been in it (laughs). But, yes, Neil and I are very fond of each other. He always uses characters that have internal struggles, that have conversations with themselves and I do that fairly well, I think. Some actors don’t see that, but it’s all about language and not fucking about with too much of the actual acting, just doing the part. I’m very fortunate that we get on well because he’s made some fantastic movies. Many of which that are quite dark…

SHOCK: Some of which are thought of as horror films, including THE COMPANY OF WOLVES. Do you watch horror films?

REA: I don’t think of THE COMPANY OF WOLVES as a horror film, I think it’s an allegory. As far as my own tastes, I like the film noir stuff, dark psychological thrillers about people. But not horror, really, no.

SHOCK: Why is that?

REA: The truth? They scare me too much! When I saw THE EXORCIST in the 70s I came home and slept with the light on for a week. People said to me “Oh, c’mon Stephen, it was only pea soup coming out of her mouth!” and I would say “You’re fucking crazy!” It might have been pea soup but it scared the life out of me. And just the whole notion that you can be possessed from within…I mean, I was raised Catholic. It was too much for me. I do like Polanski’s take on horror though, very much in fact, especially that vampire movie he did…DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES. I liked that one because it mixed a dark humor with the vampire stuff.

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SHOCK: And you’ve even donned the fangs yourself as Santiago in INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE.

REA: Yes and that was immensely fun to do, dancing around that tunnel, spinning around with those clothes and just hamming it up. I’m proud to say that in my career I’ve been a vampire and a werewolf and they were both grand fun to do. That’s the kid in me, getting to dress-up and play monster and having a blast. Never mind all this existential angst bullshit…