The Moon Shines Bright co-director Lawrence McNeela meets up with leading man Chris Hatherall to talk about his experiences of filming in Devon.
‘I remember very early on during the shoot, Lawrence told us the tale of the hairy hands of Dartmoor, and that set the tone for the rest of our stay!’
The first thing one notices about Chris Hatherall is his slight West Country drawl. Although London-based in the hope of furthering his acting career, Chris is actually a native of Gloucester. He has major links to our part of the region too as he explained: ‘My beautiful and lovely girlfriend is from Torquay, so we make regular trips to the South Devon coast.’
However, despite having visited places as far afield as St Ives and Bideford, the Minack Theatre and Torbay, he was unfamiliar with Dartmoor, where The Moon Shines Bright is primarily set.
He told me his first experience of Devon during the shoot was favourable.
‘My train came into Exeter and the sun was shining. My lift to the location was on its way and so I had a little time to relax at a pub sat right next to the Exe. A cold beer in the warm sun next to a slow flowing, tranquil river was as perfect an introduction to the production period and Devon itself as I could hope for.
‘When we travelled into Dartmoor, the mood changed a little,’ he went on. ‘The remoteness of the area compared to the hustle and bustle of London was striking, and my own journey reflected the journey that Thom makes in the story. Having never been on Dartmoor before, the sheer size of it was staggering enough, but when you see it in the early morning, covered in a spooky mist, you get a true sense of its mystery.’
Dartmoor can be a very inhospitable place and I asked Chris about his own feelings about filming there.
‘It was tough some days and easier on others,’ he replied, ‘but always a pleasure being surrounded by that landscape. The wind, rain, sunshine and silence were ever changing constants throughout, and it helped camaraderie that we all faced it together.’
Could it have been made any easier, I asked. Chris joked: ‘I have to be honest and say that a few deck chairs and flasks of tea and coffee would have been nice when it was cold and wet. But we got through admirably nonetheless.’
None more so than Exmouth-based newcomer Emma MacNab, who really had to suffer for her art. Chris grimaced at the memory.
‘The scene in which we meet was shot on a colder day on the moor and she had to wear a summer dress and little else. I was cold and I was in full hiking gear! It’s not easy trying to say your lines in a relaxed manner when your lips are blue and your teeth chattering, believe me, but she never complained once and managed to deliver an excellent performance.’
Despite this summer’s harsh weather, Chris told me he would love to return to film in Devon. Send me a contract, he joked, and I’ll find a pen. He also hopes to travel down to Falmouth in early November when The Moon Shines Bright premieres at the Cornwall Film Festival.
Our conversation changed to discussing his character, Dr Thom Stukeley. I asked what first attracted him to the role.
The chance to play an archaeologist was a big attraction,’ he answered. ‘Opportunities to learn about a profession or way of life that I would otherwise never have the need to study are always welcome. Plus the opportunity to film on the archaeological locations described in the script was a huge draw for me.’
Thom is not entirely likeable, so Chris welcomed the challenge to make him real and almost likeable without taking away his fundamental flaws; to ensure the audience keep some sense of empathy towards him.
He said: ‘I don’t want to give too much away here so I will have to be careful, but Thom is driven and ambitious. Both can be admirable qualities, but when combined with his narrow-minded arrogance they are far less becoming. His hubris makes him self-centred. He is the centre of his universe and he wants the fame and reputation that he thinks is worthy of him.
‘Having said that, and despite working away for much of the time, he is a loving and attentive father to his daughter. He loves her deeply and that shows he has a capacity to love. His relationship with his wife is a complex and difficult one, as is his relationship with Audrey (Professor Wheeler, his hostess on Dartmoor).
‘There is a conflict in him between feelings of respect and obligation, and feelings of disregard, detachment and lack of respect for these two women. All of which makes Thom human, and a three-dimensional character that was an interesting challenge to play.’
â€¢ For those wishing to watch Chris’ performance in classic English ghost story, The Moon Shines Bright, can catch the premiere at the Cornwall Film Festival on Sunday, November 7. Alternatively, there will be a handful of screenings in the two counties this winter. Screenings are already confirmed for Bude on Friday, November 12 and Launceston on Friday, January 7, with a charity event at Tavistock Wharf in the New Year.
(image: Chris Hatherall on set)
- Actor Chris Hatherall on the challenges and rewards of acting on Dartmoor - October 11, 2010
- Dartmoor inspires classic ghost tale The Moon Shines Bright - September 8, 2010