Interview With Daniel Gillies, Star Of ‘Coming Home In The Dark’

One of the most uncomfortable and disturbing movies I’ve seen this year is James Ashcroft’s Coming Home in the Dark (our review). It kind of reminded me of the 2018 Lars von Trier creepfest, The House That Jack Built, in its brutal simplicity, while still making you feel really gross. To celebrate the release of Coming Home in the Dark to VOD, I chatted with star Daniel Gillies via Zoom about preparing for the role of Mandrake, breaking away from being known as Elijah Mikaelson on The CW’s The Originals, and his favorite scary movie.

PopHorror: Coming Home in the Dark is so good. It made me feel very uncomfortable, and that’s what I love about horror. I’m really excited to talk to you about it today.

Daniel Gillies: It’s work, I imagine.

PopHorror: What’s that?

Daniel Gillies: Well, watching the film, because it’s just so challenging. 

PopHorror: It is. It’s a very hard watch. But I like horror that makes me feel uncomfortable and makes me emotional about it, and that’s what I appreciate about it.

Daniel Gillies: Yeah, it’s definitely unique. As I’ve said like 100 times before, once you’re locked into this movie, you’re irretrievably locked in. There’s no turning around.

PopHorror: No, definitely not.

Daniel Gillies: It’s not the type of film you’re on your phone with, even if you were watching it on a laptop. Which is the only way I’ve seen it so far.

PopHorror: I was able to watch it on my television. But you’re absolutely right, watching on a laptop does affect the experience. A friend of mine works at a local theater, and they just booked this to play there at their theater.

Daniel Gillies: Oh, that’s wonderful!

PopHorror: He actually had to warn the programmer about the content of this movie, specifically the beginning, and the events that transpire.

Daniel Gillies: That’s what I love about the movie. I don’t love the moment, but I love that it grabs you by the collar and shoves you against the wall. I haven’t seen anything quite like this. I said the other day, I think the last time I felt like this—and there are only a couple of movies that did it—was that movie Snowtown. I think the international name is The Snowtown Murders. It’s a 2011 film that Daniel Henshall… Man, he is phenomenal in it. And Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible comes to mind. It’s just like, okay. I guess I’m in this. But with Gaspar’s film, the first atrocity happens within six minutes, and you’re like, “Oh, God.” And once you realize you’re traveling backwards, there’s no turning around. It’s a special talent.

PopHorror: I love that you mentioned Irreversible, because Gaspar Noe is my favorite director, and that is within my top three films. That is exactly what came to mind with the scene at the gas station.

Daniel Gillies: Yeah, it’s really 50/50. People mention the gas station. Either they really love to talk about that scene, or they don’t mention it at all. It’s interesting how that affects certain people.

PopHorror: So what was it that intrigued you about this film, and made you want to be a part of it?

Daniel Gillies: Well, I had heard a little bit. I have an agent in New Zealand, Karen Kay, and she had recommended that I meet with James [Ashcroft] because he’d written a script. I read his script, and I loved it. Immediately, I wanted to see his short films, because I knew he’d done nine of them. He’s quite an experienced guy, and he’s not a spring chicken, either. It’s not like he was some wunderkind like Paul Thomas Anderson who made Boogie Nights at 25 or whatever the fuck he was. This is a guy who’d done a lot of work in theater around the world, and when I met him, it seemed to me like he knew how to talk to actors and with them, and was well acquainted with that. That’s the most dead quality in directors now. Most directors don’t have a history of directing actors, and I think it definitely helps when directors have acted themselves, or at least tried. They have some kind of prowess there. So once I had met James, seen his short films, and we hit it off, I knew that this was going to be special. The script is so good.

PopHorror: After reading the script, was there anything that you were adamant about bringing to the character?

Daniel Gillies: Oh, yeah. I spent $2200 going and making the teeth. I went and made those, which you barely see in the film except when he smiles. I could see his teeth once I had read it a few times. I started to see other elements of it. I imagined him as something like a vigilante. I wondered who his heroes were. I saw him as someone who really thought he was an executor of justice, right? So I imagined he liked Westerns. My instinct told me that he liked Westerns, so I wanted him to feel a little bit like he was western. Obviously, the wardrobe that accompanies that is a sort of style to him. But none of that was on the page.

PopHorror: I’m glad that you mentioned the teeth because I did notice them at one point when you were driving in the car and talking. So they did not go unseen. It was definitely worth it. This movie is very dark and emotional. I’ve seen the word “uncomfortable” thrown around a lot, and I even used it earlier. How did you prepare for this role?

Daniel Gillies: Well, we’ve discussed a couple of those things already. I wanted him to be physically strong, but I didn’t want him to look “gym body.” But I was in the gym everyday that I was there. Six days a week for the two and half months that I was there. I also wanted him to look like he did labor. I wanted him to look like a man. I was looking a little soft and I did a lot of laboring. I had relatives in New Zealand, and one of them I found out had a huge, enormous garden that needed a lot of work done, so I worked in the garden everyday. We call it periodic detention in New Zealand. I imagined this guy was in and out of jails a lot. I wanted to look like filth, and I wanted my hands to be coarse. The dirt is just in their pores. It’s in their skin, so I didn’t bathe a whole lot. I wasn’t the greatest to be around. I wanted to feel strong and kind of earthy. I had a real compassion for him. In another movie genre, he could have been the hero, you know?

PopHorror: Absolutely. I agree with that. I think your preparation paid off because he did look earthy and dirty. That was part of him.

Daniel Gillies: That’s just the physical stuff, too. James handed me a book which led me to two or three other books about various varieties of psychopathy, and I was able to read case studies. I read court cases and minutes of men—primarily almost all men—who committed heinous crimes, and I just wanted to climb into their heads and look at who they were circumstantially and how they’d arrived at being who they were. That generates a lot of compassion, actually, for the character. That stuff. Because they’re creative, these guys. They really are creative. They’re not evil.

PopHorror: Did you find at all that it made you feel emotionally drained or anything like that? When being in character?

Daniel Gillies: No, I equated it to… I really love watching USC. It’s the only sport I watch. I love watching fighters. There are certain fighters that I’m particularly drawn to. The ones that I’m most drawn to are the ones who look like someone has just lifted an enormous weight off them when they get to go into the ring and fight. That’s the way I look at it. I don’t look at it as like… The work is hard, your preparation is hard, so that you can add the joy when you get to make it. But I look at each scene as like an exorcism, you know? I’m not precious about it. I’m just showing up having done a lot of work. That’s the joy. You get to open the box and share it with people.

PopHorror: What is up next for you, Daniel? Is there anything else that you’re currently working on?

Daniel Gillies: Well, “working on” is an interesting question. I may take a show. There is a show that is being put together right now that is definitely going to go ahead. I’m still not certain about whether or not I’m doing it, but that would be next year. And I’m working on my own project right now that I’d like to be shopping around in 2022.

PopHorror: Cool! I’m really excited to see what you have coming up, because I’m a big fan, obviously, from The Originals, but seeing you in something like this has made me intrigued about what you have coming up.

Daniel Gillies: I’m relieved in a way. It’s nice to talk with someone who knows my stuff from before. It’s interesting. On occasion, I’ll look at what people are saying on social media: “You are Elijah. You will be that forever.” One day, I dared to write a little retort and said, “No, I won’t be.” It’s almost like I’m saying to myself, “No, I won’t.” There’s something liberating about writing that comment. People descended like wolves on my comment, thousands of likes. It was on Instagram. “You will always be Elijah!” “No, I won’t.” That little fleeting conversation wasn’t entirely relevant. I think once you see this, you realize—I don’t want this to sound grandiose—but I’m more than that. 

The Originals — “From a Cradle to a Grave” — Pictured (L-R): Daniel Gillies as Elijah and Phoebe Tonkin as Hayley — Photo: Bob Mahoney/The CW

PopHorror: I 100% agree with you. While they’re similar being violent men, they’re two completely different types of men. Elijah is all polished. Even in his violence, he was all polished and clean and always dressed nicely. And Mandrake is not that at all. If that’s not enough to show them that there’s more to you, then they need to watch more.

Daniel Gillies: Yeah, or just take more chances. I think that people aren’t brave anymore with that sort of stuff. I’m generalizing. There are definitely brave men and women out there who are making beautiful projects, and those are the heroes. Those are the ones who are bringing important stories to us. But generally speaking… I understand it; it’s business. People feel like they have to generate money and get their money back, so they walk the well-worn path and just go, “Well, that guy goes there and that girl goes there.” Meanwhile, it can be a brutal process that overlooks our other talents.

PopHorror: One last question for you today, Daniel. What is your favorite scary movie?

Daniel Gillies: Oh, that’s a great question. So I have a few answers here. There are some movies… We mentioned Snowtown earlier. I’m not scared of any movie because being an actor, I’m kind of painfully cognizant of how the sausage is made, but I’m scared of that movie. I’m actually scared of Snowtown. I will never watch that movie again. That movie affected me so deeply. That’s an incredible movie. In terms of sort of mooning the audience with its defiance, I think Funny Games is probably one of the greatest.

Thank you so much, Daniel, for taking the time to speak with us. You can catch Coming Home in the Dark on VOD now!

About Tiffany Blem

Horror lover, dog mommy, book worm, EIC of PopHorror.

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