Leslie Simpson is usually seen in front of the camera in films such as Dog Soldiers, The Descent, A Reckoning, Crawlspace and more.
For his next project, Grandpa, he is also acting, but this time he wrote and directed the horror short, Grandpa.
It is a great little short film. Creepy, spooky and well worth a watch.
Leslie has kindly taken some time out to talk about the film with me.
You can read the interview and see the trailer for Grandpa below.
By accident. I’m not joking. I thought I was invited to a house in North Melbourne for a mate’s surprise 30th birthday party.
Don’t drive drunk people! Hallelujah! Well, it was dark.
For people who have not seen it, describe the short in 5 words or less.
Did that stuffed monkey move?.
You had to act as well as direct. Would you have rather just directed?
Acting is great practice for being a director.
Acting is essentially convincing people you’re good at something when you’re not.
Look, no one in their right mind would ask me to paint their lounge or change the channel on the TV. I’d make a right pig’s ear of it. You may think I’m joking, but seriously, go to an Acting shop and buy a cheap mime artist, take it home and ask it to change a plug. You’ll laugh your nuts off. We’re useless.
The unique craft of an actor is pretending to be able to do anything. Tell me where the camera is, and I could build you a Top Trumps racing car in less than 5 minutes during a montage. Otherwise you may as well be asking a spider to recite latin.
Basically what I’m trying to say is pretending to be the director as well as acting in it means you’re cutting out the middle man. I was able to take myself to one side when no one was looking and explain exactly what I needed to do. Everyone clapped at the end of each take and hailed me a genius. I was even offered a part time job as a carpet fitter by one of the set builders. But that’s how you get a big ego, so I turned it down.
It’s when you have to swap heads between being the actor and director that the real problems start. On one occasion I shouted “I think this monkey’s pissed itself”, when I‘m sure I was meant to call ‘Action!’
What was the hardest part about directing? What would you do different next time?
Everyone thinks I’m a method director, but I’m not.
Okay, yes, I think research is important, and I did spend 6 weeks shadowing a proper director, picking up his mannerisms, lingo, and all that important stuff. The walk was pretty easy to master because they usually sit on their rump all day complaining about the coffee and wiping spittle from the monitor.
To be honest the hardest part of directing is trying to look good in a baseball cap when you have a head the size of a peanut. I never realised how small their heads were till I saw one up close.
But hey, it was my first go. I think a bit of patience is called for.
What moments in the short are you most proud of?
I don’t want to single any scene out in case it gets back to the other scenes. I may have to work with them again. Would it be okay if I just said I think it’s the greatest short ever made and I just want to squish it all up into a big ball and talk to it in a baby voice until I’m red in the face?
I’m pretty happy simply to have gotten through it in one piece if I was honest. For most of my early life I was far too easily distracted, and my energy was taken away far too easily by whichever shiny object presented itself to me. I come across a lot of the time as an innocent, but in reality I’m very world weary and jaded. It’s all just an act and I never stop.
In recent years I’ve managed to distil the little talent I have and focus on whatever ‘s at hand. I don’t know myself too well, but I know that once I have the bit between my teeth and go for it, things invariably start to move of their own accord. So yes, that’s one down, flaws aplenty, now we’ll see what happens.
I’m also grateful to the incredible craft and dedication of the people around me. I basically come up with the ideas; but whether things get done or not, and the quality, is down to the sensitivity and talent of the entire team. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Never work with animals and children. After working with a child actor in the lead role, does that cliché hold true?
Yes. And no.
I’ve done a lot of work with young people over the years. One of my sidelines is designing and running arts-based workshop programs for young people. Not only is it very rewarding to contribute to their professional and personal development, it’s also excellent training for the artists themselves; because if we can articulate ideas for people who have little or no formal training or experience, when the opportunity arises to work with trained actors and crew it’s that much easier to get one’s ideas across.
But I was lucky to work with Francesco, our young hero. We had very little time and the role was quite intense, so it became necessary to save time and make short cuts. His parents were on hand the whole time and thankfully they were very happy for me to beat him senseless with a plank of wood until he got it right. Man, he was a pain sometimes. All that crying and complaining. When I was 7 I was working as a guard dog for Safeway. Kids these days don’t know they’re born.
What is next for you?
At the moment I’m pre-occupied with my new toy. I hooked up with a small group of theatre practitioners recently and we’ve just taken over our own place. It’s the highest honour that can be bestowed on a theatre company to have their own funfair to play in.
First up is Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter in October, then hopefully Faust early in the new year.
For those unhappy few that know me, Faust is my dream role. It’s about time I got round to doing it. At the same time I’m prepping the follow up to Grandpa, tentatively called Safehouse, It’s a Kafkaesque puzzle film that I hope will bend brains and disturb the hell out of audiences. Grandpa was just a practice run.
Check out the Grandpa Facebook Page.
Poster by Matt O’Neill.