The talented British-born actor Shane Briant made his screen debut in the Hammer horror film Demons of the Mind. Since then he’s gone on to appear in over 60 films and television productions including Straight On Till Morning (1972), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1973), The Mackintosh Man (1973), Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974), Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974), The Naked Civil Servant (1975) and Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1981). Currently, Briant is focusing his attention on writing and he has recently completed a psychological thriller called Worst Nightmares that will be released in the US on May 12th. I’ve admired Braint’s film work for many years so I was thrilled to get the opportunity to ask him a few questions via an email exchange about his early movies and current writing projects.
Cinebeats: Your first starring role was in the 1972 Hammer horror film Demons of the Mind directed by Peter Sykes where you played the disturbed brother of Gillian Hills. Thanks to the impressive cast, which also included Manfred Mann vocalist Paul Jones, Demons of the Mind seemed to be an early attempt by Hammer to try and attract a younger and possibly more “happening” audience. I personally think the film is very effective and rather daring for its time due to its subject matter. How did you get the part?
Shane Briant: I’d just finished playing the role of a ‘damaged’ youth in Children of the Wolf at the Apollo Theatre in London’s West End with Yvonne Mitchell and Sheelagh Cullen. It was a three-gander. I was nominated for the London Theatre Critics Award for Best Newcomer that year. So in some respects, I was ‘hot’. That’s when Michael Carreras signed me to a two-year contract with Hammer films. Demons of the Mind was the first film.
Cinebeats: That must have been an exciting time! After making Demons of the Mind you starred in the unusual Hammer thriller Straight On Till Morning, which also featured Rita Tushingham and was directed by Peter Collinson. Your performance in the film as a deeply disturbed young man is really impressive. I suspect that it was a demanding role. Did you do any research in order to flesh out your character?
Shane Briant: There wasn’t any research I could do. If I’d been a dentist I would have researched how dentists work but being a psychopath, there’s not much specific info. So I just tried to be normal and yet appear weird. Maybe that’s me?
Top: Shane Briant in Demons of the Mind (1972)
Bottom: Rita Tushingham & Shane Briant in Straight On Til Morning (1972)
Cinebeats: In 1973 you got the opportunity to play Dorian Gray in a made-for-TV version of Oscar Wilde’s classic story The Picture of Dorian Gray. It’s one of my favorite adaptations of the story and you did a terrific job of capturing the decadent elegance found in Wilde’s character. You seemed to really enjoy yourself in that role. Was it a challenge to play such a notable and notorious character?
Shane Briant: Not really since there had only been one version before me – that of Hurd Hatfield. He actually came to visit us on set. He was pretty cool. Not overly friendly. What I thought might be interesting is to get away from Hurd’s performance. It had very obvious gay overtones. Though I kept a bit of the bisexual qualities of the character in, I think mine was very different from his. The script was very loosely based on Wilde’s book anyway so I stuck to the script as much as possible. Glenn Jordan is a master director. He’s won at least 7 Emmy’s – that says it all. Nigel Davenport was the most fun actor I have ever worked with. Hugely funny and a great technician.
Cinebeats: Soon afterward you appeared in John Huston’s 1973 spy thriller The Makintosh Man alongside an impressive cast that included James Mason, Ian Bannen, Dominique Sanda and the recently deceased Paul Newman. Your role is rather small and I wish you had been given a bit more screen time but you’re very memorable as Mason’s evil henchman, Cox. Can you tell me a little bit about your experiences working with the Oscar winning director as well as the impressive cast on that film?
Shane Briant: I had a much larger part initially. But when I arrived on set in Malta I was told they were now rewriting the script day by day and I’d get the ‘pages’ at midnight every night. This was a huge disappointment to me. The fact of the matter was that Huston had just made a film that was very special to him (Fat City) and The Mackintosh Man was, as far as every one of the stars (as well as Huston) was concerned, simply a money-spinner to be finished before Christmas so everyone could go on holiday. That’s why it was perhaps one of Paul Newman’s least spectacular films. Newman was a delightful man. Very friendly, very real and modest. He always ate with the crew and when we arrived he got up from his lunch and walked to the three of us English actors, held out his hand and said “Hi. I’m Paul Newman. Welcome to the set.” Playing scenes with him was wonderful. Oh, and….his eyes were spectacular. When he looked you in the eyes, you become a rabbit looking at a mongoose. I was intensely sad to hear he died. His charity work was wonderful. I got to know James Mason a bit, but not Sanda.
Cinebeats: You returned to Hammer studios again a year later and made two more movies with them. The terrific Terrence Fisher film Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell with Peter Cushing and the excellent vampire thriller Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter. You were very good in both films and I’ve read interviews where you’ve mentioned that playing Simon Helder in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell was your favorite Hammer role. It seems like you were destined to become the next big Hammer star following in the footsteps of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. I suspect that you would have if the studio hadn’t decided to slow its output down to a crawl after 1974 and finally stopped producing films altogether in 1979. Did you have any desire to continue making films with Hammer?
Shane Briant: I did Captain Kronos because there was nothing else for me to do at Hammer and they’d paid for a two-year contract. It wasn’t, I think, a very good film, and I had very little to do in it. It was around then that Hammer started to wind down as a force in the industry so I went and did other things. I wouldn’t have wanted to do just horror films anyway. Mind you, I wouldn’t mind doing another one now – that’d be fun!
Top: Shane Briant & Paul Newman in The Makintosh Man (1973)
Bottom: Shane Briant & Lois Daine in Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974)
Cinebeats: They should bring you back for a new film. I’m sure fans would appreciate it! At the end of the 1970s you seemed to be working non-stop and appeared in many critically acclaimed television productions including the controversial 1975 film adaptation of Quentin Crisp’s autobiography The Naked Civil Servant. Quentin Crisp is a fascinating character and one of the most recognizable gay icons in Britain. Britain, like most of the world, wasn’t particularly gay-friendly in 1975 and even today there’s still a lot of controversy surrounding gay rights. I personally think The Naked Civil Servant is impressive for the way it celebrates individuality and uses humor to examine the effects of discrimination. What prompted you to take on the flamboyant role of Norma in The Naked Civil Servant and was it a difficult film to make?
Shane Briant: I was offered a cameo by Jack Gold. I knew all my scenes would be with John Hurt. Of course I did it. It was fun to really go over the top. Gold actually insisted we did, but the other two ‘girls’ didn’t go as far as Jack wanted. I just let go and had fun. John was great to work with – inspirational. What an actor!
Cinebeats: He’s terrific in the film and so are you! You’ve continued to act and have appeared in a lot of good movies including Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1981), Hawk the Slayer (1980), The Lighthorsemen (1987) Grievous Bodily Harm (1988) and Till There Was You (1990) as well as many popular television productions. Are there any performances that you’re particularly proud of?
Shane Briant: The Picture of Dorian Gray and Lady Chatterley’s Lover I think. And quite a lot of the TV stuff over the years. Oh and the Farscape episode “Eat Me” (2001).
Top: Shane Briant and John Hurt in The Naked Civil Servant (1975)
Bottom: Shane Briant and Sylvia Kristel in Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1981)
Cinebeats: You currently seem to be focusing a lot of your attention on writing. Besides fiction, you recently wrote the script for the award winning short film A Message from Fallujah (2005), which you also appeared in. When did you start writing and do you find it more rewarding than acting?
Shane Briant: I started writing as an exercise in 1994 when I was contracted to go to Europe on a children’s TV series called Mission Top Secret. I’d been changing my scripts for thirty years so I thought why not see if you can write a novel. So I wrote one day by day as we made our way around Europe. The story started in Spain, moved to Switzerland, then went to Germany, France and finally Poland. I made up a story that fitted. Simple. When I got back I showed it to an agent who showed it to Harper Collins who just happened to be looking for some home grown spy novels. I was lucky. I’ve never stopped. Worst Nightmares is my debut in America. It’s my best work and very dark and thrilling. Not many people who have read it haven’t been taken aback by it’s style. It’s VERY different to other books. Think ‘Dorian Gray’ meets ‘Hannibal Lector’.
Cinebeats: I haven’t had the opportunity to read Worst Nightmares, but the premise sounds intriguing. According to the book’s official site worstnightmares.net it involves a “disturbed killer known as the Dream Healer who seduces his victims into revealing their deepest fears, and then kills them with this knowledge.” How did you come up with the idea for the book and was it tough to write?
Shane Briant: I had often wondered how it’s possible that ordinary people will share their most intimate secrets with total strangers on the Internet. They will go to dating sites and reveal all their most secret fears and aspirations. I always thought this very dangerous. After all, what were the people the other end of the cyber beam actually like? So I invented the Dream Healer. People with terrifying nightmares go to his frightening website in the belief that he will cure them of their phobias. Instead he tracks down these unfortunate people and abducts them. Then he realizes their worst nightmares in real time. Amped up a hundred fold. Scary!
Cinebeats: Do you have any writing or acting plans for the future that you’d like to share? Any upcoming projects that you’re particularly excited about?
Shane Briant: I’ve just finished writing the sequel. It’s called Worst Nightmares 2 – The Game. It continues from the last page of Worst Nightmares. I can’t reveal much because your readers won’t yet have read Worst Nightmares but it’s even darker and more….unusual, I think.
For more information about Shane Briant’s latest book please visit worstnightmares.net. I also recommend reading Holger Haase’s review of Worst Nightmares at the Hammer and Beyond blog. And you can find more information about Shane Briant at this informative tribute site: Shane Briant.