INTERVIEW: Seeing New Sights with Hellraiser’s David Bruckner and Jamie Clayton

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Hellraiser Jamie Clayton - But Why Tho

This article contains spoilers for Hellraiser (2022)

This past weekend, Hellraiser kicked off Huluween as the streaming platform brought back the decades-old franchise with this 11th installment written and directed by David Bruckner and starring Jamie Clayton as our new Priest, affectionately known as Pinhead. At Fantastic Fest 2022, I got the chance to sit down with the filmmaker and leading cenobite to talk about the creative process in reimagining Clive Barker’s iconic world, balancing beauty and horror, the challenging role cenobites had acting behind heavy prosthetics, and more.

You see, Hellraiser isn’t a reboot, so much as it’s adding to the lore of the franchise, but more importantly, as Bruckner expresses, opening the door to the franchise again. I asked Bruckner about moving the narrative from focusing on sex and pleasure and instead looking at addiction and grieving through a Hellraiser lens.

Bruckner explained, “It’s not an obvious thing that a Hellraiser movie will thrive in the current Hollywood climate. As much regard as I have for the original, you know a story about a woman that’s luring men up to the attic so that she can feed them to her reconstituting lover is kind of a tough thing to get across the line to some degree.”

He added, “In many ways if we have done anything I hope is that we’ve opened a conversation up for Hellraiser again. Maybe there is a path in the future where this franchise can dig into those topics on a deeper level. We thought this was a really adjacent topic that explored a young woman’s relationship with her vices, the things that allow her to cope with the anxiety that she feels in life. It was a different angle into some of the same ideas. This is the 11th Hellraiser film. That and the fact that stories emerge. When we were looking at what was on the table here, this was something that presented itself.”

But the new themes aren’t the only element reimagined for Hellraiser. In this new film in the franchise, we get the chance to see Jamie Clayton as the Priest. Stepping into the role made famous by Doug Bradley, Clayton’s Priest is still as regal, elegant, and terrifying, as Bradley’s Priest. However, her take involves a whole new level of sensuality and curiosity that showcases the Priest’s own desire as she plays with her victims. It’s through this exploration, the Priest is more than an intimidating force, she is also filled with her own motivations.

Jamie Clayton explains what attracted her to the role, “When I first read the script, I love the story of Rily’s addiction. That our choices don’t only affect us and not being able to stop doing something while being attracted to things that aren’t necessarily good for us. These are things that I have been able to explore with another character I play on the L Word. But to be on another side of that by playing the Priest, I got to paint with different colors in my paint box as an actor.

I watch this character make those choices and do those things and then build my decisions and my pleasure and my curiosity off of the decisions that Riley was making. Going into each scene, I didn’t know what Riley was going to choose at that moment and as she did, David and I had many discussions of my version, our version of this Priest, and that she would experience a lot of pleasure and desire. I wanted there to be a hunger for her to not know what was going to be chosen and even moments of disappointment with an overarching sense of sensuality. But I also wanted her to be really fucking scary.”

Clayton adds, “It’s one of those things where she can’t stop. So to be able to explore the other side of [addiction] and to play who is pushing the person to those things was really fun for me as an actor.”

Hellraiser - But Why Tho

In response to Clayton’s answer, Brucker expands on how he saw the Priest and Jamie’s stellar performance, “Some of Jamie’s work as the Priest is reflexive of Riley’s journey. Something we talked about quite a bit of actually is that in my favorite horror films, the force of antagonism is often a mirror to the protagonist’s dilemma. I remember the first time [Jamie] found the gritting of the teeth, and it was such a textural and sensual movement that just felt right.

And nailing that emotional acting from beneath such heavy prosthetics is something that needs to be applauded. Specifically in the film’s final moments where the Priest reacts to Riley choosing her grief instead of escaping it. I asked Clayton what went into making her performance so still and so dynamic particularly when she utters “You have chosen the Lament Configuration.” I asked how she conveyed the disgust and anger that came with that moment.

First, Jamie Clayton said, “You’re going to make me cry,” happy to hear that her facial acting got through to me as an audience member. She then explains, “There was a huge learning curve with it and we did it together. We did one screen test but that first one was two hours, three hours and I was trying to find it.” Clayton acts out breathing as the Priest, using it to explain how she tried to find the right space.

She continued, “I didn’t know if once the contacts were in and prosthetics were glued to my face from here to here,” motioning with her hands from the top of her head to her chest. of head to chest, “if anything I was doing was reading at all. Especially with the eyes. We would try different things. David would come up and instruct different ways and say what was working, and by the time we got to that [final] scene, there were things that David was enjoying that I could do with my mouth, my eyes, my teeth, these very small movements.”

But this emotion is something that had to come while also maintaining a stillness with her entire body. Clayton elaborates on the challenge, “Something that David was insistent on from the begging was stillness. I remember we did that on my callback. It was a lower volume and with a stillness which I found very interesting. Once we got to that, there really is nothing left other than my mouth and my eyes. I don’t even tilt my head anyway. I’m glad that it fucking worked.”

Praising Jamie Clayton, David Bruckner adds” It’s often the case that when you’re in the midst of production, everything is intense and everything is moving really fast, you’re picking up about 75% of what a performer is giving you. And I didn’t know with all the prosthetics if [Jamie] was playing it up, or having to act through it. I wasn’t really sure. All I knew was that I was getting it. But when I got into the editing room I was amazed.” He stops momentarily before adding, “I never actually told [Jamie] what it was like when we would line up the Pinhead takes and we would just spend a whole day saying, “go back to five, go back to one, can we use the beginning of five and the end of seven,” there was just so much for us to work with. She was able to be so expressive that we found even the smallest maneuvers that she was communicating were able to be read in a really huge way. ”

Jamie Clayton’s acting is one element of beauty in Hellraiser. And the truth is that the film rides a line between the gorgeous and grotesque. Having chosen to abandon black leather and instead make the cenobites’ skin their ornate and decadent leather clothing, body horror and beauty go hand in hand for Brucker’s Hellraiser, much like it did in the original. Only now, Brucker has focused on bringing the beauty in the terrifying even more to the surface. He explained, “I think the beautiful side of [the Hellraiser franchise], the angelic as opposed to the demonic is coded. Which is one of the reasons that fans find it and own it so much, it may not be obvious to the layman. I also think that Christopher Young’s score put the fantasy and the nightmare in the original film in a way that guided that conversation.

For us, we wanted to bring the beautiful side of it to the surface a bit more and have it easily registered for newcomers in a way. It was also something that we were just excited about. We loved that aspect of it so we wanted to communicate it and run with it. In the performance as well. It was allowing the regal and the elegant and the glamorous and letting Jamie run with it.”

The beautiful and the painful also found itself centered in Jamie Clayton’s entire performance. She didn’t just wear the Priest’s costume and prosthetics, she let the uncomfortable confinement inform how she chose to react, the voice she made, and the sensuality she injected into every scene. Clayton explained, “As hard as it was when I was completely done head to toe, the neck and the contacts, as uncomfortable as that was, I can’t say that it didn’t help and inform my performance. If you did this in pajamas and slippers, that wouldn’t be the same. There had to be a level of discomfort in order for what I was saying, seeing, and doing, I had to feel the restrictive nature. My vision a bit blurred, not being able to take a full deep break, feeling slightly asphyxiated the entire time-”

Bruckner interjects, “Very cenobite.” To which the room laughs.

Clayton continues, “Right? It helped. As physically challenging as it was, it helped because I wasn’t just standing there in pajamas and slippers. I was standing there completely uncomfortable, out of my mind, doing something I never imagined in my entire career I would get to do. I was just channeling all of it into those moments. Because it was like ‘this is why I’m here,'” the last part delivered in her crafter Priest voice. But it’s her final line to her answer that captures the amount of work and love she poured into the role of the iconic Pinhead, “Every drop of sweat, every breath I couldn’t take, every bit of it was there.”

Bruckner adds, “It’s funny because of the physical duress Jamie’s mentioning, we talk a lot about how the Priest feels. All of her wounds are eternally fresh because she’s riding on this sensory overload of pain and sensation yet she’s completely zen. She’s so principled in her experience and can offer you a ride if you want on the same path.”

Jamie Clayton excitedly calls out the point of reference she used to understand her constant pain as pleasure as the Priest, “It’s what Voight is going through with the loom, you just can’t see it. I remember when [David] told me that, and I was like ‘oh, okay.’ At any given moment you see it physically happening to Voight but it’s happening to all of the cenobites.”

The beauty that we see in Clayton’s priest also extends to the rest of the diverse cenobite cast. Visually, Hellraiser is breathtaking, and a lot of that has to do with character design, yes. But it also has to do with casting cenobites with different skin tones and dedicating the time to capture what those skin tones look like drained of blood, how they’re unique from each other, and ultimately how to light it all. With the complexity involved, I asked Bruckner, what went into the casting for the cenobite.

Brucker responded, focusing on the difficulty that such a physical role has for actors, “[A diverse cast] all felt obvious. We read everybody for everything, and it was really challenging to read for cenobites. I’ve done films before where you bring people in and you have them read for something as abstract as a cenobite or demonic, or something very high concept and performers are really out on a limb.

We were really fortunate to find wonderful voices to come in and take on the physicality of it because it’s so challenging in those suits. It can be common that people covered in prosthetics, they’ll have panic attacks inside of them. So you have to manage that, it takes a lot of guts to get in there and do something that high concept. We were fortunate to cast such great people and keep an open mind to make sure that we were bringing different voices into the mix.” He closed, “That just felt appropriate for Hellraiser and what it represents as a really progressive franchise. It always has been.”

Beauty, horror, and pushing forward with an iconic franchise, Hellraiser has such sights to show you.

Hellraiser is available now, exclusively on Hulu. 

David Bruckner and David Clayton were interviewed at Fantastic Fest 2022. 

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