As an interviewer, there’s a process when you’re getting ready to sit down and talk to someone about a role they have played, a film they’ve directed, or a book they’ve authored. You do your research. You outline the questions you are dying to ask them about their current and future projects, and most importantly how you’re going to direct the interview. From time to time, though, an amazing thing happens, and the subject of your interview completely throws you off your game in a way that makes all your research and prep look like child’s play.
Such was the case when I sat down to interview Daniel Wilkinson, star of the upcoming slasher Pitchfork, the first in a horror trilogy. A native of New Zealand with the very definition of classic Hollywood good looks, Wilkinson immediately struck me as an intelligent and intense actor with a strong feel for the character he had helped create. This feeling only solidified the more we spoke. It was a great privilege to spend time with someone so dedicated to his craft and to the process of acting.
Daniel was fresh off the project when we spoke and I could tell right away that the role was still a part of his life. I started out by asking what his process was for approaching a role like the title character of “Pitch” as he and director, Glenn Douglas Packard like to call him. What followed was a stream of consciousness description that kept me utterly fascinated for the next two hours.
“In this movie,” he began, “Pitchfork is becoming Pitchfork. He’s a product of his environment and this is the journey of him finding out who he is. He’s the villain, you see, but it’s almost like he’s an anti-villain. When I first talked with Glenn, I had a lot of questions about things that were happening in the script. I started giving some of my own suggestions, as well, and he realized that I had a really good sense of the character already. Together, we made an arc for the character and I realized that every action, every kill has a reason behind it. Even the way that Pitch kills has a reason behind it.”
Packard sent an e-mail to the entire cast before filming began that no one was to talk to Wilkinson during filming. He wanted to keep the mystery alive around Pitchfork at all times, but there was a moment of tension early on.
“When we arrived where we would be filming, the van that was supposed to pick us up was late and everyone around me was feeling tense. They had been told not to speak to me while filming, but they didn’t know if that time had already started. They stood around, not making eye contact, not speaking. It was funny, in a way, but it also created the isolation for me that I needed and wanted in the role. I don’t speak in the entire film, so the lack of conversation actually got me in the right mindset for what we were preparing to do.”
It wasn’t long on set until the only person he was having any sort of real conversation with daily was his make-up crew and his director.
“The make-up was a bit grueling at first, but it was amazing to see it all come together. Again, I had suggestions. The pitchfork that serves as one of my hands had to feel right. It had to have a certain look for it to feel natural. It started out at almost 13 hours to do my prep and the make-up, then 10, and finally we were able to get it down to around five hours. I had to talk to those guys. Chris (Arredondo) and Candy (Domme) were amazing and did such great work helping me put a face on the man.”
Glenn and Pitch—Wilkinson said he really felt more like Pitch all the time when he was on set—began to develop their own form of communication.
“At one point, Glenn’s nephew visited the set, and he pointed out to Glenn that he was speaking to me as though I were a dog. When we finished a scene he would say, ‘Good boy! Go to your corner, now.’ I would run off to my corner where I stayed for most of the shoot when I wasn’t filming. I know it almost sounds abusive, but with the mindset I was in, that really worked best for me. He hardly ever yelled cut on a scene, but I always got encouragement.”
I spoke to Glenn about a particular incident with his nephew.
”So at night, between scenes, he (Pitch) would go away and disappear. My nephew experienced Pitchfork in real life. (Pitch) was behind him on the ground hunched over and breathing like a dog and my nephew could hear something and not see him; then he turns on his phone, turns slowly and there was Pitch just looking up at him…freaked my nephew out, and I had to yell at Pitch to “Stop” and “COME HERE” and Pitch ran over to my legs and could tell he was in trouble. That was when my nephew pointed out the way we communicated on set.”
But Daniel was quick to point out that Glenn was never cruel, and he never asked the crew and cast to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. At one point, when several cast members were complaining about the cold, he actually took his own shirt off and worked shirtless in the cold to show solidarity.
Meanwhile, the seclusion of the film’s killer and the mystery surrounding him on set was beginning to create tension and slight hysteria among the actors and some of the crew.
“There were Pitch sightings, as funny as it sounds. They would think they saw me on set when I wasn’t actually there. Suddenly one of the actors would be screaming and pointing and I wasn’t even there.”
As the shoot progressed, Daniel began noticing changes in himself and the intensity that he was bringing to the role. He spoke of the sound guy from set fleeing at one point and told a fellow crew member, “Oh my God, I can’t believe that shit. I had to get out of there.”
“I was becoming more primal, almost feral at times. I began to not notice cold or warmth.” With tears in his voice he continued. “There were times when I wouldn’t remember what I had done in a scene. When you’re living in a world…it’s uh…it’s really hard sometimes. And you’re doing things you don’t want to do. I was living and dreaming and playing, but it was very rough. And Glenn took care of me. I had gotten to where I would speak in sentence fragments to him or just communicate through gestures. If I was hungry, I would say something like, ‘Hungry, now. Feed me.’ My voice would elevate and take on the tone of a child speaking.”
Truth be told, there were times in the interview, when his voice took on that same childlike tone, and the more it happened, the more I got a feel for the man-child-beast that Daniel had portrayed in the film. At this point, Pitch’s sense of humor also began to manifest..
Daniel recounted one story in which he ran to one of the actresses preparing to leave the set. She was in a car and she rolled down the window. He held out his hand to her and she said, “Aww, Pitchfork has a gift for me.”
At this point, he dropped a live frog he had found in the field into her lap and ran away as the actress screamed her head off.
“There is a playfulness to Pitch, but he is also a killer.”
He also notes that he was in awe of his writer/director during the process. “This film is meant to be the first of three. He would change the script, at times, in ways that would affect all three films and he would do it right on set so that everything would make sense. Major changes, and they were made because they were the right thing to do. I’ve never seen that done before and I was in awe of him.”
After spending time interviewing Daniel, I think it is safe to assume that Pitch is a character that is going to be huge among horror fans. In a genre where most of our villains are, let’s face it, rather two dimensional, Daniel and Glenn have created an intense and fully realized character that could very well be taking his rightful place among the legends of the genre.
Pitchfork is being released world wide through UNCORK’D Entertainment in early 2017. Check out the teaser trailer below!