The Stone

The Stone

I love horror films. Mind you, not just any scary movie. I’m talking about vintage, genre-defining works, such as Hammer Horror productions and cult classics, like The Wicker Man. In addition to horror, these films offered a sublime blend of drama and sex appeal that has never been equalled.

The sexy, but convincingly mystical, Britt Ekland, in 1973’s The Wicker Man

There is a new film, however, that pays homage to the genre, and it’s called The Stone; a supernatural horror film, set in England, about a group of paranormal investigators who travel to a haunted old manor, in the hope of freeing souls that have become trapped in the afterlife. Along the way they encounter more than they bargained for; they uncover a mirror into the darkest recesses of their souls. The film is engaging and fast paced, and features a rogue cast full of fresh new faces and a director with an eye for the esoteric. Oh, and I’m in it.

The Stone Poster © Philip Gardiner

How I came to appear in a motion picture, let alone star in a supernatural thriller directed by Philip Gardiner, and distributed by Warner Brothers, is not entirely clear. All I know is that one minute I was assisting Global 1000 companies with their customer experience strategy and the next I was walking around Annesley Hall, the former estate of Lord Byron, and one of the most haunted sites in Britain, with a script in my hand, muttering, “What’s my motivation?”

In character – questioning my ‘motivation’ © Philip Gardiner

Although I have appeared on television and in documentaries, and am a regular on the speakers’ circuit, I was apprehensive about acting. Let’s be honest. I was scared senseless. I did not have much time to prepare, and in the weeks preceding I frantically solicited acting lessons from drama students and friends, such as the accomplished author and playwright, Patrice Chaplin. The instruction helped and allowed me to discover that my character, the Crowley-inspired ‘Alister’ (an occultist of dubious authenticity, who is addicted to women and whisky and passes himself off as an esoteric guru), was someone I knew more than I cared to admit.

“Hmm. Hardly a stretch then, is it?” Chaplin mused, as I described my character to her on the deck of her north London flat. “That’s exactly my point,” I retorted defensively. “Being typecast is not as easy as you think. How will they know I’m acting?”

My preparation did not stop with acting lessons. I also had to look the part. I struggled, at times, with how a neo-occultist should look, but I had a vision in my head and several trips to the gothic clothing boutiques in London’s über-trendy Camden Market soon produced the statement I was going for: pretentious and retro.

Camden Market © Andrew Gough

In the days leading up to the film I helped direct the expert interviews for the opening sequences. We had selected the interviewees with great care and I was keen to hear what they had to say about the role of sacred stones in history and mythology, i.e. the Grail Stone, the Black Stone at Mecca, rune stones, standing stones, etc.

The Stone interviewees: from left to right, Zachary Miller, Robert Feather, Franky Ma and Nick Pope, with The Stone Director, Philip Gardiner, and The Stone co-star, actress and model, Layla Randle-Conde © Andrew Gough

The interviews were a great success and created some momentum leading into the film. A week later, I arrived on set after a memorable, if not harrowing, Saturday night train journey from Nottingham to Mansfield – a trip reminiscent of the film Terror Train, only worse – and reacquainted myself with the cast and crew, most of whom I had met at a promotional event a few weeks earlier. We commenced filming with little ado. Disappointingly, I struggled with the first and, arguably, easiest scenes, but found my way with the more dramatic ones. The explanation was simple: it’s easier to be dramatic and scream than it is to be conversational and subtle.

The first of three clips from one of my many intense scenes in The Stone © Philip Gardiner

Looking for an explanation; with my talented co-star, Sarah Dunn © Philip Gardiner

Confronting the terror © Philip Gardiner

I’d known Phil for several years. He was a mate, but on the set he was all business. My pleas of “can I try that scene again please?” were not only mostly in vain, they were frequently countered with a terse “No. I have what I need, thank you, now let’s move on.” Similarly, in one scene I stumble, dazed, down an abandoned hallway and unleash a blood-curdling scream as my character falls downstairs. Thinking I’d nailed it in one, I was cheekily dusting debris from my soiled shirt and trousers when I heard Phil’s dead-pan voice deliver an unsympathetic, “Cut! Do it again, and this time don’t scream like a girl.” Eleven takes later we had a winner, but I was unsure which had taken a greater beating, my ego or my knees?  I was hurting, but did not want to let on; after all, “what’s a flesh wound amongst friends?” I thought. “And anyway, no sacrifice is too great for the film, right?” I would soon discover just how true this was.

Lying at the foot of the stairs, extending the John the Baptist gesture (the index finger pointing upwards in defiance, as depicted in classical art of the Saint) in my left hand, just like I had in the movie poster, with my right hand; my ode to the now lost painting of John the Baptist that once hung over the fire place in Annesley Hall.  © Darren Washington

My last scene was certainly the most surreal and would test my resolve like no other. I was buried vertically in a pit with only my head protruding above ground. One by one, maggots, leeches, crickets, and other assorted creepy crawlies, were placed on my head, face and neck, including a tarantula. Within seconds, as if in unison, they began to slither across my eyes, nose and mouth. Oddly enough, I experienced a sense of calm throughout. I attribute this to having watched my brave and beautiful co-star, Layla Randle-Conde, endure a similar scene a few days earlier. That, and the fact that I was warned that if I flinched, the tarantula, which is hypersensitive to vibration, would sting! “Ah, being still is the key” I thought. And in that one scene I learned the true essence of acting.

Watching my pit being dug. Buried with insects crawling on my face. © Philip Gardiner

The entire experience was amazing and I am grateful to Phil for the opportunity to have given it a go. I learned a lot and cannot wait to do it again. Phil’s already planning the next one, Paranormal Haunting: The Curse of the Blue Moon Inn, and it sounds as though it’s going to be every bit as scary as The Stone. And that’s saying a lot.

I’ve always loved horror films. Now I love being in them.

Also, look for the accompanying DVD, Secret Societies and Sacred Stones: From Mecca to Megaliths here.

And don’t forget to check out the following videos:

The Stone Trailer

Behind the Scenes video


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