We talk to BAFTA nominated actor Robert Sheehan (Misfits, Red Riding Trilogy, The Mortal Instruments) about playing a very reluctant psychic in his new supernatural thriller, The Messenger.


What drew you to the role of Jack?

“The whole supernatural element is dealt with in a very day-to-day, humdrum way which I liked about it. The character came off really strong because he dealt with it like it was a disorder that he’d had to tolerate all his life, that no 0ne else understands. The fact that it was supernatural…it was completely unsupernatural in the performance. He just sees them and they’re there. For him they’re completely real and they’re there right there in front of him in all their glory. So the performance in that respect was very normal.”


Audiences are used to seeing you play characters who, if they’re not exactly in control, they’re definitely a couple of steps ahead, whether it’s in Misfits or Love/Hate or something like the Red Riding Trilogy, where you play quite an abused, victimised character but he’s the one guy who knows what’s going on. In The Messenger it was surprising to see you play someone who’s not in control and who isn’t sure of what’s going on? What’s real and what’s not?

“I think there was the illusion of control. I think he felt like “The fact that you can’t see these isn’t my problem. It’s yours!” It’s an interesting point. I think when finally the whole thing starts to dismantle, that’s when he loses his head entirely. I’d never thought about it that way. The interesting thing about him, because he’s been living with this thing for so long, he’s just accepted that reality entirely and not ever, in his adult years, questioned “Maybe I’m sick? Maybe I’m insane?” How invested he is in that reality, out of that comes the illusion of control.”


It gets to a stage though where he does doubt himself, where he does think “Well, maybe I am just making all this up?”

“I think that’s what puts him into a stupor in the hospital…the fact that he’s finally come round to the fact that he’s created this illusion for himself…that’s required all of his energy and removed him entirely from society. And they’ve finally gotten that through and he thinks “Ok, I believe this now, it’s a delusion.” But then the delusion continues. And that goes against what everybody’s been saying and he’s left all at sea, he’s flailing around in dark chaos. It’s hard to know where the reality lies in The Messenger. We have a very narrow understanding of the world and the Universe around us. Understanding beyond our death is something we can’t begin to fathom. It’s like asking a computer chip that’s part of a circuit board inside of a computer to explain how the computer works. We can’t ever really understand how we are or what we are because we’re so inside, so entrenched.”


Your character dominates the film but I was wondering how organic the filmmaking process was? The film keeps almost edging up to being a different, more conventional film and then backing away from it – it would edge towards this big conspiracy thriller where one of the main characters has been bumped off and it’s nefarious government people and then its almost as if your character, your performance would pull it away from that. In the original script was it much more conventional?

“That whole kind of cloud of suspicion that surrounds Mark’s death in the script, David (director) wanted to give the audience a bit more help in believing he didn’t kill himself, a suggestion…that there was something going on in his life, that would give them reason enough to make it look like he’d killed himself 150 yards from his front door. So, that was a niggling question in the heads of Andrew the writer and David, that they wanted to just give the audience a bit more there, you know? And so, that thing of “Well, maybe someone wanted to make it look like he wanted to kill himself…” I think they just wanted to give enough to the audience there. But, I know what you mean, I think it was something that does draw away a little from what’s going on. So, yeah that was a script addition.”


I kept thinking then that it was going to be about you going off and solving the murder…and I like the fact that you didn’t! I liked the fact that it concentrated on you and your family and what’s going on there.

“It’s almost like there’s this huge build up to that moment where he says “Do you believe me?” and her saying “Yes,” was just like, years of weight falling off his shoulders…Finally someone just accepts me. And that was much more important, to my character anyway, than the murder.”


What was the most difficult scene for you?

“Mainly from a physical point of view it was the scene near the end where I’m saying “She needs help,” the wife character, just because it was so wild and intense. We did a few rehearsals where I was just sat at the table and then they said they were going to shoot and I went for it, pretty much as far as you see me go.”


That’s also the turning point of the film though, where people start to believe you.

“That was emotionally…draining. Draining. Usually the toughest things to film aren’t due to an emotional reason, they’re due to logistics. Some times it’s just really hard to get something done. It takes fucking hours sometimes. The last thing we shot was the first thing you see in the film where I run up the side of that hanger building. That was incredibly treacherous. Really fucking scary. That platform I was running along…”


Looked pretty slick…

“Really slick man. I was wearing shitty trainers…shitty half-homeless man trainers, just running along this thing trying not to die. I was up on that thing, the wind and rain just battering me for hours. The first few weeks had gone really smoothly and that, I just thought “Fucking God, this is Hell on Earth. I can’t wait for this to be over now,” because it was just miserable. Usually the miserable things are factors outside of your control. All the emotional shit is the fun shit for me. I did an audition recently…and it was very emotional. And after the director said “Thank you so much for going to such an emotional place,” and I went “I walk around fucking numb most of the day…it’s a joy, to come in here and express an emotion to you!”

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