This interview was originally produced for subtitledonline.com, a now defunct world cinema blog.
Daniel Henshall stars in Snowtown, Justin Kurzel’s harrowing account of Australia’s bodies in barrels murders, which involved the torture and murder of eleven people. Henshall plays John Bunting, who is introduced as a friendly suburban family man, who becomes a surrogate father to teenager Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway). The film explores the bond between the two characters and how Bunting eventually enlists Vlassakis through fear and intimidation as an accomplice in his sordid business.
We talk to Henshall about his frighteningly frank and believable portrayal of John Bunting, one of the world’s worst serial killers.
How did you become involved in the film?
It was in a pretty traditional or conventional way that I was introduced to the film. Unlike the majority of the wonders in the film, the other actors, whom I’m sure your aware were mostly cast from the area’s in which we shot in, I was sent for an audition.
I received two scenes, a couple of improvisation exercises to prepare, a page of notes from Justin on John, the tone, what he envisaged this character may be like, his likes, dislikes, wants etc, and a few extra notes from the casting director, whom I’m indebted to. She had worked hard to get me in the room, as Justin was only seeing a handful of actors and I was definitely not one of them, so she wanted to give me the heads up. Also, my agent at the time somehow got a copy of an early draft of the script ,which she gave to me, which was a god send. So having all this information, I got a hotel room, locked myself away and worked for two days on the audition.
After the first audition I went and met with Justin, he talked about how he wanted to make the film and see how interested I was in being involved.
I got a second audition, and a third and then two weeks later I was offered the role.
How familiar were you with the original murders?
Not so much, I mean I was 16 or 17 at the time the murders came to light and all I remember were the sensational headlines on the TV and in the papers.
Most serial killers in movies and TV series are portrayed as ingenious artisans. Not so much with John Bunting?
No exactly, not so much. He is definitely an ordinary suburban man, (on the outside anyway). There appears to be nothing impressive about him outside from being an affable bloke, the neighbour that fixes your car, cooks you and your family dinner and might even look after your kids if you had to go out to work or whatever. He’s pretty normal, but I think that’s what’s so terrifying about him, his normality.
The big question for actors surrounding these kinds of roles, is how does one go about playing a psychopath. So I suppose I better ask it.
I guess you never go about playing a ‘psychopath’, you want to find the human inside the character, the wants, loves, the motivations for some of the actions, and with this film, this interpretation of the events, the film focus’ on the relationships involved and not solely on the murders, which made those explorations into character a little easier.
We had to discover how a man like John, an outsider to this community, could come in, win them over, give them strength and then manipulate them into doing these dark and sordid acts. (It was all about the relationships). We found part of it was in his charm, it made people feel comfortable, it invited people in, and then, and more importantly, his ability to listen which empowered so much so that they, the inner fold, were living on whatever John wanted or thought.
All throughout the film, we know how it is going to end, but we’re still crying out for somebody to stand up to John. Why do you think that no one does?
Fear, everyone is so scared of what John is capable of, that and the fact by the time they’re all realising what’s actually going on they’re all involved in some way. They don’t know who’s next or when.
Bunting throws out a lot of reasons and hate for explaining his motivations, but after the bathroom scene – I feel that he is much more of a simple beast, who just gets off on the violence. What are your thoughts?
You’re right. Absolutely. Blood lust, getting off on complete power and control over another life. There is no sense or reason to it, just the pure enjoyment of killing, playing God. It’s fucking sick.
Do you have any more projects in the pipeline?
Yeah, I’ve been very fortunate of late. I’m in a film which has just opened here in Australia, a romantic comedy called “Any Questions for Ben?, and busy with some TV up until the end of April. It’s good to be working.