One of the best parts of my job is getting to meet the people whose work I’ve admired over the years. That pleasure doubles when it turns out the person is an incredibly charming gentleman like Nicholas Vince.
You may not recognize his face, but the actor, writer, and artist has had an incredible career over the last few decades working with Clive Barker on Hellraiser where he appeared as the Chatterer Cenobite and then as Kinski in Nightbreed.
Vince’s love of horror goes back much farther, however. In fact, as I found out when we sat down for a Skype call to chat for Horror Pride Month, it all started with his first library card.
“When I got my junior library reading card when I was about seven or eight years old I started reading tales of Greek myths and legends,” he said. “After that, I got an adult reading card at around 16, I started reading collections of ghost stories. Then I got into the Universal Monsters and the Hammer Horror films. You couldn’t go see a horror movie in the cinema until you were 21 when I was growing up so it was mostly through those classic things that I got into horror.”
Who knew that reading those scary stories so long ago would lead to working with a genre legend?
Vince was only a couple of years out of acting school when he met Clive Barker at a party. To say that meeting changed his life would be selling both men short. Barker asked if he would mind doing some modeling and Vince eventually graced the covers of the original UK edition and some of the American editions of The Books of Blood.
A couple of years later, Barker reached out to Vince again, this time asking if he’d like to be in a feature film called Hellraiser. He was told there would be “some makeup involved” which is perhaps the biggest understatement of all time when you consider how the actor was transformed to become the Chatterer.
“It was my first offer for a feature film,” he said with a laugh. “I wasn’t going to say no! Clive’s imagination fascinates me. He makes me think. He challenges me, but he’s also enormous fun to be around. He’s just a very funny man. We worked very long hours on those movies because he was always having new ideas. I always got overtime on those shoots because he would just follow his imagination.”
Vince adds that it was interesting to watch Barker’s evolution as the films progressed, as well. The first Hellraiser was shot in a tiny studio with that had been transformed into a disco and then back to a studio, but by the time they worked on Nightbreed together, the scale had become enormous.
Midian itself was a three-story set featuring Baphomet’s chamber and Midian proper.
By the time, Nightbreed was finished shooting, Vince had made the decision to focus more on writing. He wanted to see if he could be successful creating stories of his own. He had heard from Neil Gaiman that a Hellraiser comic was in the early stages of development at Marvel and so he took his earnings from the Nightbreed film and flew to the U.S. for the first time where he gathered up his courage and walked into the Marvel offices to apply for the job.
He soon found himself not only writing Hellraiser and Nightbreed comics for the company but he had his own titles as well including Warheads.
This form of writing helped Vince hone his craft which he continues to use to this day writing collections of short stories as well as plays including his one-man show I Am Monsters which chronicles his life experience from discovering the monsters of his childhood through life-threatening surgery and bullying to becoming the out-gay creative that he is today.
In speaking to his journey of self-discovery, Vince had this to say:
“I always identified more with the monster. I identified with Frankenstein’s creature, Dracula, and the Wolfman–a cursed man who is a werewolf and can only be killed by someone who loves him. It’s not only the silver bullet in the Universal picture. It has to be someone who loves him who kills him. How does that relate? I think it’s that thing of being oppressed, being other, being different, being out of step with everyone around you. The threat to young gay men when I was a teenager was you’re going to be alone. You’re going to be lonely. It wasn’t you’re going to die. I went through the whole AIDS crisis. I was very fortunate. I think, yes, it’s very different. There is always a threat to our community of some sort. I wonder sometimes what the threat to this newest generation will be.”
When they were making movies in the 80s, Vince was still being told by his agent that he must remain closeted if he wanted to keep working, and as he points out, though there was only one story in The Books of Blood with explicitly gay characters, Barker had to fight for the story’s inclusion.
Those experiences only underscored some of the internalized homophobia that the actor had already dealt with in his life and he says breaking that protective shell that we create around ourselves to survive is never easy. Exposing ourselves to other’s preconceived notions is terrifying.
“I think we’ve moved forward enormously since then,” he pointed out, “but there are still prejudices to be faced. I think public figures coming out and being open are incredibly important. There are huge fights still to be done. How do we do it? Though compassion, through understanding. Courage, wisdom, and compassion are the only real ways we get through this together.”
Nicholas Vince continues to write and to do some acting from time to time. Anyone who saw Book of Monsters from a couple of years ago will recognize him as the father from the film. He has a new collection of short stories that he is working on at the moment, and he says, when the restrictions lift from Covid-19, he’s looking forward to performing his show again in the U.S.
As our interview came to a close, I could not help but reflect on how lucky I am to have these conversations with creatives in the genre from every generation, and Vince’s was no exception.