"Why did you decide to do this role?" is a tired question many actors are probably sick of hearing, but in the case of Stephen Curry and his latest film "Hounds of Love", the question of why had to be asked immediately. Why would you make this film and why on earth would you sign up to play a monster like John White?
"From the start," Curry told HuffPost Australia, "when I first read the script and met [the director] Ben Young, he spoke about it being a study of the psychology of co-dependence. I'm pretty simple, so I read it as a serial killer movie. Re-reading it, thinking about the psychology and what causes it, that's the why."
Set in Perth in 1987, "Hounds of Love" follows Curry's character John White and his wife Evelyn (Emma Booth), who abduct 17-year-old Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings) and keep her captive in their home, using her for their perverse pleasures.
The film is only 108 minutes long, but it feels like a lifetime. It's completely brutal, vicious and in-your-face. It kicks off with a jarring tracking shot, the camera moving along a street with fluid ease while the figures in frame are caught in slow-motion, if moving at all. From there, the film grabs hold of your throat and barely gives you time to breathe.
"Hounds" is Ben Young's debut feature film, and it's an impressive one at that. The filmmaker had previously worked on short films and music videos, but returning to his home of Perth, Young barges onto the feature scene with ease.
"We studied all these different cases, seven of them, that he was inspired by," Curry told HuffPost. "All of these cases of husband and wife teams had unnervingly similar make-ups. A psychopathic guy meets a vulnerable young girl, takes her under his wing, builds her up and showers her with affectations -- all the things he doesn't have like love, empathy and stuff that psychopaths don't possess. He makes her so thankful she's beholden to him, she's willing to forego her moral compass to make him happy."
John's relationship with Evelyn is the crux of the entire film, the way the two work as a team is vital to Vicki's survival, the high schooler quickly realises if she's able to drive a wedge between the two, she may just be able to escape. Maybe.
Many have drawn parallels between the film and real cases, some even so much as believing the film is based on real events due to its time and setting. "A lot of people in Perth are busting for this film to be about the Birnies, they want it to be about them but at the same time not wanting those people to ever be portrayed again," Curry explains. David and Catherine Birnie abducted five women, murdering four in their Perth home in the 1980s.
"Ben's main reason for setting in Perth at the time was more about the loss of innocence. Perth was the most remote city in the world before the internet and all that, there was an innocence lost when the Birnie case happened. People started locking their doors, things you could take for granted, you no longer could."
Curry keeps coming back to the same theme, across all the departments on the film the most important concept was restraint.
"Ben's ability to show restraint where a lesser director would keep that door open and show that brutality -- the moment the film veers into exploitation it becomes a disaster. It's a really fine line."
"The minute [the film] goes off the cliff it becomes a very different project, a boring project that doesn't respect victims of these kinds of crimes. Even emotional abuse, it's a very common thing and a lot of people who watch the film will identify with the emotional abuse in this film let alone the physical abuse. You start turning it into exploitation of Vicki then the people who identify with that will be short-changed as well. It's disrespectful, in my opinion. So yeah, it was really important to all of us to keep that restraint. To tell the story honestly and with restraint."
It seems ridiculous to say in a film that spends so much time focusing on an intense abuse of a young girl, but he's right. There's a focus on the perversion of the everyday, a boarded up window with screams leaking out of it, muffled by a plane flying overhead.
And while Curry plays the man of the house, he knows where the true strength of the film resides. "The main women in this film are such strong characters, compelling and torn. The men are kind of the weaker characters." As soon as John leaves his house, a place where he exhibits a meticulous control over the placement of his cigarettes, beer bottles and toast soldiers, he's an absolute coward. "Once he steps over that precipice he's nothing."
For Curry, who became a national icon in his role in "The Castle", being bad was always something he had wanted to do. "I always wanted to play a bad guy, I just never conceived it would be this bad. I don't think you can find a worse human being."
While his family was on the other side of the country, Curry had to find ways to separate himself from John during filming.
"It was really hard. Playing him and wanting to be 100 percent inside that character there were moments when Ashleigh, looking in her eyes while she's responding to something that you're ostensibly doing to her, it's heartbreaking."
Cummings and Booth are truly incredible, and their performances wholeheartedly make the film a stand-out. The two play vastly different characters with a vulnerability, ferociousness and brutality that's, at times, difficult to watch. Young's camera, instead of turning away at these moments, lingers. There's no escape.
"Usually I just pretend. That may sound self-deprecating but it's not. Usually they give you the script and you say 'Ok do you want it funny? I can do funny', but with this you couldn't help but be drained."
Curry's mum stayed with him during part of filming, "I'd go home and download to her, I was in tears a couple of nights, she was going 'I don't think I want to see this film'." For the record, he told HuffPost she did eventually see the film, "She was very impressed by it which means the world to me."
But for Curry, leaving a character like John White behind wasn't so simple. "It's almost like, would this be easier if the film was a bit sh*t?" As hard as it is to watch, "sh*t" really isn't the way to describe it. In fact the film is sitting at 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Rotten Tomatoes score, Curry explains, has become a kind of shorthand for movie lovers, rather than relying on word-of-mouth, they Google a film and see it based on those reviews.
And while the actor hoped Aussies would rally behind the project, would he be keen to step back into a dark role like John White any time soon?
"I'd have to think twice about it. I don't know what else I could bring to a character like this again. If this opens up other horizons as to the range I can play, I'm happy with that, but would I play something like this again? I don't know."
"Hounds of Love" is now showing in select cinemas, you can find out screening locations on the film's website.
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