We’ve covered witch hunters and Dolans. Now it’s time to get the witch perspective on The Last Witch Hunter. Or rather, the witch and shapeshifter perspective. While on set back in November 2014, I was part of a group of visiting journalists that got to sit down with Rose Leslie and Joseph Gilgun to discuss their characters. She plays Chloe, a witch who runs a memory bar in New York City and teams up with Kaulder (Vin Diesel) to take down the witch queen. Gilgun, however, is on the other side of the scenario. He’s a shapeshifter, murderer and a dedicated witch queen underling.
Check out the details they shared about filming in the witch prison, working with Diesel and being able to improvise as well as a good deal of amusing banter in the full interview below. The Last Witch Hunter is due in theaters nationwide on October 23rd. The movie is directed by Breck Eisner and also stars Elijah Wood and Michael Caine. In case you missed it, here’s the trailer:
Question: Can we just hear you guys describe your characters a little bit?
JOSEPH GILGUN: Do you want to go first?
ROSE LESLIE: Right, okay! So my character, her name is Chloe and she’s incredibly independent. She’s a young woman who lives in modern-day New York and she is a witch, a good witch. Hopefully we like Chloe. She runs a bar, she’s a formidable character and she, as I say, she is self-reliant, she’s dependent upon herself and she has worked up her bar business, her concoctions which allow one to escape another witch into another realm and to kind of see their past. And so she has been able to build this business herself and then that is how she and Kaulder first meet because he walks into her bar.
So she runs the memory bar?
LESLIE: She runs memory bar, exactly.
GILGUN: She’s a drug dealer.
LESLIE: She’s a drug dealer, yeah. Do not mess with her! [Laughs]
The good witch is a drug dealer …
LESLIE: [Laughs] That’s a twist for you.
LESLIE: Yeah, prescription drugs, exactly. We like the memory bar. The memory bar, we get to explore different parts of our brain and I mean Breck is fantastic and he’s got such a fantastic vision about it for the memory, so it’s gonna be very cool.
GILGUN: Well done. Why am I here? It’s probably because she’s frightened and I’m also quite nervous of this process. Look at you all poised with [the recorders] pointing at us like that. It’s like I’m being held up. [Laughs]
Especially with this one. It looks like a taser. I get stopped at the airport all the time and they have to wipe it down.
GILGUN: Yeah, it does look like a taser! You have to wipe it down?
I think it’s the cloth they use to test for chemicals.
LESLIE: Oh, yes, yes, yes! And then they put it back into the machine. But it’s this that is confusing, because they look kind of like prongs.
There should be one of those foam balls that goes on top of it, but that’s lost somewhere.
GILGUN: You’ve lost your foam balls?! What a nightmare! I’ve lost mine a few times, let me tell you. Customs don’t tend to wipe mine, though. I get through without having my balls wiped. Anyway, Ellic, do you want me to do Ellic? So Ellic’s mentally insane, not dissimilar to myself. He is a child killer and he has also murdered a priest. Ellic works on behalf of a queen. I think he’s family sort of of this very proud past of working for this queen who, to the council’s knowledge, doesn’t really exist anymore. Is that fair to say?
LESLIE: Yes, no you’re right.
GILGUN: And so I think he feels very honored to work for this queen and to be doing the things he’s doing. He’s a zealot so he truly believes that what he’s doing is right, sacrificing the children, killing the priest. I think he knows that it’s probably wrong by society standards, but he knows that he needs to get it done in order to pursue his sort of goal for this queen.
GILGUN: Yeah, absolutely, yeah! He’s quite a brave soul, but he does stand alone and what he’s doing is atrocious and so he’s the bad guy basically. I’m one of the baddies.
So are you the one with the gummy bear tree and the cupcake shop?
GILGUN: Yeah, yeah. I’m a pedophile.
LESLIE: Ellic is several things.
So definitely a warlock then?
GILGUN: He’s a shapeshifter so he’s an unusual one. He practices very old practices and tends to shapeshift, so I think he becomes people he’s murdered so he can become children he’s killed. He’s a total swine of the highest caliber, he’s a terrorist, he’s a nasty bastard.
So that still we saw of the little girl, is that you?
GILGUN: Yeah, yeah, I murdered her, yeah. I killed that child.
Is it fun playing a nasty character like that?
GILGUN: It’s been fantastic, absolutely love him. I tend to play a lot of nasty characters.
LESLIE: It’s because you do it do bloody well, my love.
GILGUN: Secretly I’m a terrible bastard. No, I love playing nasty characters. I don’t know what I would get out of playing a nice guy. I would probably end up quite bored.
LESLIE: Yeah, because I think nasty is far more entertaining.
GILGUN: Oh god, it’s fucking wonderful! How much can we swear? Can you just go balls deep on the swear words? Because I have so far. She’s just texted her husband hasn’t she? Not even monitoring this at all. ‘Yeah I’m gonna be back around five. This guy’s boring the crap out of me. I think he’s talking about swearing.’ [Laughs]
So what’s the climax of the movie, since she’s not paying attention?
What’s going on in this scene? We were hearing little bits and trying to piece together what you’re doing to him.
LESLIE: Oh okay, so the scene that we’re shooting at the moment?
LESLIE: So we are currently in the witch prison, which obviously you wouldn’t be able to tell with all the dark and damp surroundings, but we are here and we have just pulled Ellic out of a hole that Kaulder has managed to smash open. Joe did his own stunts. Terribly impressive.
GILGUN: I didn’t do it right though, did I? They had to bring [stunt double] John [Bernecker] in.
LESLIE: Oh, really?
GILGUN: Yeah, I was so rubbish at it they had to get John back in. They let me have a go and I climbed in the hole feet first. Who climbs in any hole feet first? Climbed in feet first, screwed it up and John had to come and do a proper job on it, so carry on.
LESLIE: No, no, no, you’re absolutely right, John did come in, yes. And so we are trying to – I am a dream walker, and so I’ve realized I need to penetrate inside Ellic’s brain into his mind to stop his chanting so that the witch queen can’t summon enough power for all of the witches within these prison cells to be released. Still with me? Okay, good.
We also saw you go through different words in the scene like ‘hungry,’ ‘insane,’ ‘darkness.’ Is that what you were sensing in his mind?
LESLIE: Yes, exactly. With the script for that particular word it was ‘hungry,’ but on the day Breck, he is fantastic as I say, and there’s a collaboration that goes on between him and the actors and he also allows you to kind of have your own opinion and to be like, ‘Well, this word isn’t working for me,’ and ‘hungry’ felt a little bit off-key for me, but obviously it’s always up to him on what we do so we were allowed to chuck in.
GILGUN: It’s nice to be trusted. It’s nice to be trusted like that.
LESLIE: Yeah, exactly. And chuck in some more words. And ‘darkness’ was great, thank heavens for Elijah [Wood]! And we came up with ‘pain’ but he didn’t like that.
GILGUN: No, he didn’t like ‘pain.’ That was my idea. [Laughs]
LESLIE: ‘Insane’ was another option, but I think ‘darkness’ was the best.
GILGUN: Yeah, great. It’s nice. It’s a nice feeling to be trusted and to be able to have a play. We had a play in a council room as well. I got to have a play around and that was nice.
LESLIE: Yeah, it was the first improv, wasn’t it?
GILGUN: Was it? Was it the first one?
LESLIE: You told me there was improv and Breck told me it was the first one.
GILGUN: Oh, it was the first time they did improve. Right.
GILGUN: No, I loved it. It was because we were joking because the council started to look like a bad 80s band. It did, honestly. Some of the hair in there, some of the hairdos were off the chain. So I was sort of joking and having a laugh with everybody about that and we ended up incorporating it into the actual film. So it’s been incredible working with someone who gives you the free run to be able to play with a scene like that. He’s a lovely guy. He’s under a lot of pressure. He’s got a lot to do and still finds an awful lot of time for you as an actor, doesn’t he?
LESLIE: He does.
GILGUN: Really accommodating. But he has been wonderful. And to be trusted and to have that free rein and be able to play around on the day, it’s very, very rare, especially on a project as big as this. That someone would let you play like that, has been remarkable. We’re very lucky, we’re very lucky.
LESLIE: We are, terribly so.
So your character is an evil witch that has been imprisoned by the council, I assume?
GILGUN: Yes, yeah.
Why does the council imprison evil people instead of just killing them and being done with it?
GILGUN: I don’t know. I guess it’s to show that they’re civil, you know? They don’t just murder you.
LESLIE: But, you know, we can relate to today’s world.
GILGUN: Absolutely, exactly. That the death penalty today is under question by an awful lot of people in scrutiny. Two wrongs don’t necessarily make a right and yet Ellic’s murdered children and he’s killed this priest that was near and dear to them. But is it gonna make it any better? Or maybe it’s better that he suffers.
LESLIE: And that’s his comeuppance.
GILGUN: Yeah, when you kill someone they’re gone, that’s it, it’s done. Their suffering is over. For me personally as Joseph, if you’re being punished, you need a life sentence, you need to be in there for a while, you need to realize your wrongs. You can only do that with time and that’s what prison gives you, time, time to think on what you’ve done.
So you’re conscious while you’re trapped in prison?
GILGUN: As far as I know, all the witches in this prison are in a dream-like state and they’re all chanting. We had to learn a passage of ancient Greek and it’s a spell that’s sort of perfect for where we are, isn’t it?
GILGUN: Bend the bar, crumble the stones, it’s talking about feeding them poison and eventually we’ll meet and I’ll bloody kill you, you know? And we’re all chanting this in unison so as you walk through these mines – I don’t know how much I’m giving away, I’m completely ruining the film – but as you walk through these mines you can hear not just Ellic’s voice, all these hundreds of different witches that Kaulder, over the last couple of centuries, has imprisoned. So there’s people here, there’s witches here that have been here for centuries. They’ve been locked in the walls for centuries. There’s roots growing into their faces and it’s just remarkable. So I think they’re sort of trapped in themselves going through this mantra, over and over and over again for centuries and centuries, they’ve all been doing this.
LESLIE: And the queen has kind of awoken them, that’s how I’ve always read it as well. They were, as you say, just trapped within themselves feeling fairly numb, barely existing and then this is her …
GILGUN: ‘Well, you’re gonna get up …’
LESLIE: ‘Get up you lazy bugger!’
GILGUN: ‘It’s time. It’s time to do it. Time to do the damn thing.’
You guys are both working with Vin, but I assume in two very different capacities, the more violent physical side and the softer, more charming side. Can you talk about what it’s been like working with him?
GILGUN: Go on, Rose.
LESLIE: So, working with Vin has been great. It’s been great. When we’re kind of like in scenes together there is that kind of like joyfulness and it is a very lovely thing to be able to have that collaboration with somebody who you are on the screen with. And we get off off screen as well, which is nice because you can then incorporate that into what you’re doing in your work. And you’re right, it’s a far more kind of like charming, softer side of things and whenever Kaulder is in scenes with Chloe, it is far more kind of like sentimental and it’s not as aggressive, hopefully until kind of we reach the end when things really start kicking off and we’re here in the witch prison. But yeah, I get the gentlemen side of Kaulder as it were.
GILGUN: I don’t! [Laughs] I don’t. Every time I see Kaulder he kicks my ass. Every single time. I would get savagely told off or head-butted. What sort of interesting things has he done to me? He’s kicked me in the chest, he stabbed me through the leg.
LESLIE: And what did he do in the gummy bears?
GILGUN: He hit me with a plank, he pinned me to a wall with a plank of wood. So he threw this dagger, it went through the back of my leg into the wall, he then smashed the back of my leg with a plank wood so I was pinned to the wall and then he elbowed my head into the top pillar and it knocked me out. So that was the first time I met him, and then the second time, what did he do?
LESLIE: See, I wasn’t in on that day but yeah, and then he gave you to the sentinel.
GILGUN: He did, yeah.
GILGUN: Or did he?
LESLIE: Or did he?
GILGUN: Vin plays around a lot with his lines as well. Vin likes to do his off-book thing and I think that’s probably inspired some of the improvisations that have gone on. But it’s been nice working with Vin. It’s been a massive experience working with someone like Vin.
LESLIE: Yeah, and it’s an education as well I think for Joe and myself to be working on a project that is of this scale where every single department is on top of their game and, I mean, look where we are. Look at the sentinel. He looks insane. It’s this wooden, horrifying creature, so it is an education for me just to be here.
Is this the biggest scale production you’ve ever been on? Game of Thrones is huge, but in terms of film?
LESLIE: In terms of film, definitely. Yeah, definitely. It’s my first ever studio film.
Is there anything about the experience that’s blown your mind or surprised you?
LESLIE: But this is what I’m saying, it’s about the scale. The scale has just blown my mind and it’s, as I say, the art that we see and then also the costume, the hair, the make-up …
GILGUN: We’ve been very lucky because usually on projects there’s at least one guy or one girl that you can sort of go, ‘I’d rather avoid that one,’ but there’s none on this for me.
LESLIE: It was delightful.
GILGUN: Everyone’s really lovely.
GILGUN: And really accepting. It’ll be sad to go home. It’s bloody cold here though. I thought Britain was cold, my god!
The sentinel that may or may not have dragged you away, with visual effects, is he a tennis ball for you guys or how do you know where to look for the sentinel?
GILGUN: It was a tape wasn’t it? We had like a little piece of …
LESLIE: This is once again you thinking that I was there. Is this when you get dragged away?
GILGUN: You weren’t there, christ, of course you weren’t, no. I play a mental character, I’m allowed to get away with that. Surely I can get things wrong. Yeah, we had to pretend the sentinel was sort of rising up and our eye line was like a piece of tape like this.
LESLIE: Was it on a tennis ball?
GILGUN: It was attached to the bottom of the camera, so as this crane camera slowly moved up, our eye line was this little piece of …
LESLIE: Matte box. It’s all about the matte box. That’s something that I had found on this, actually. Eye lines are always sort of up.
GILGUN: It’s been awesome. I think we’ve been very lucky on set. The sentinel looks amazing. Have you seen the rig?
GILGUN: It’s amazing. It’s quite a chaffy experience.
LESLIE: Yeah, this is when you had your harness on?
LESLIE: See? This is it, and people were telling me that it was like a roller coaster when they were seeing Joe being, oh god, dragged away, then you see it’s kind of like up and across and they were like, ‘We wanna go,’ because it looked so entertaining.
GILGUN: They nearly slammed John into the wall. We had the stuntman have a go because it was getting too dangerous.
LESLIE: It was getting too hoist-y?
GILGUN: It was starting to swing him all over the place, but they had to bring him around a corner and bring him up near the camera and generally it would just nearly bounce him off the side off the wall at about 30 miles an hour. [Laughs] It would just be, ‘Bang!’
You can check out more of my Last Witch Hunter set visit coverage using the links below:
- Vin Diesel Talks ‘D&D,’ Sequels and More on the Set of ‘The Last Witch Hunter’
- ‘The Last Witch Hunter’ Set Visit Interview: Breck Eisner on Dark Magic and Witch Prison
- ‘The Last Witch Hunter’ Set Visit Interview: Mark Canton on Developing an Original IP
- Elijah Wood Explains What it Means to Be a Dolan on the Set of ‘The Last Witch Hunter’