Up the creek

Jordan Waller on cannibals, Brexit and Two Heads Creek

by Jennie Kermode

The gang's all here in Two Heads Creek
The gang's all here in Two Heads Creek Photo: FrightFest

A feisty little horror comedy about a brother and sister (Jordan Waller and Kathryn Wilder) who move from England to Australia to search for their birth mother after their adoptive mother dies, Two Heads Creek is one of the standouts in this year’s Frightfest line-up. It was written by Jordan himself, who tells me that he and producer Jayne Chard came up with the idea in her kitchen. A couple of weeks before the festival we had a chat about that day and about what came afterwards.

“It was basically the day after Brexit. I, like so many of us, woke up thinking ‘Christ! What the hell has happened?’ I could see that the characters who’d been playing in it were, well, horrific and comic at the same time. I’d always wanted to write something about inbreeding in Norfolk so I thought it would be a good way of exploring certain themes about nationalism and how nationals eat themselves up with their own narratives by excluding certain types of people. The money came from Australia so I set it in Australia instead of Norfolk.”

Jordan Waller and Kathryn Wilder in Two Heads Creek
Jordan Waller and Kathryn Wilder in Two Heads Creek Photo: FrightFest

The scenes set in England at the start had, I say, made me wonder if it was Brexit-inspired.

“Yeah. It’s 100% Brexit inspired. My ex-boyfriend’s family have Polish in them and I was speaking to them about how it made them feel. I though it was a good idea to have a film which is fundamentally entertaining – and you know, it is just a bit of fun, really – but just has this not very subtle political message underneath it. Hopefully when an audience sees it they’ll laugh but then they might just have a little think about what they’re laughing at.”

When he was writing the script, did he always expect to play the leading role himself?

“I think it was one of those things where I wrote it with my own voice in my head. How I usually write things is that I actually speak every part out loud. That was one that was a part of me, that made sense for me to play, and I was very grateful for the opportunity to actually play it. It was an amazing experience.”

I ask if, as an actor, he has a different way of relating to his character when it’s one that he has written.

“Yes. I was very lucky because the director, Jesse O’Brien, really helped me to draw a line under the writing part of my job so I could basically be an actor on set. I did help with a few script issues – and by God, there were a lot of script issues, because I wrote the script when I was about 22 years old and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’ve learned an awful lot since. it’s an imperfect film for that reason but its heart is in the right place – usually in somebody else’s mouth.”

He blushes a little at his joke, then continues.

Two Heads Creek
Two Heads Creek

“I think the thing about being an actor is that you’re basically this big baby because you have to be free to play, and that’s why actors are usually so terribly behaved and have such a bad, bad reputation, because they’re just, kind of, teenagers who are fooling around. You have to do that because that’s where you get your best and freest work. You have to be able to explore and just be totally comfortable and confident all the time.

“As a writer, it’s a very different mindset. You’re in a constant state of macro-anxiety, thinking as opposed to feeling, I suppose. It’s quite a crude way of differentiating the roles but I had to stop with the writer’s hat and put on the childish acting one. I tried as much as I could to feel my way through the character.”

Were there any scenes that he regretted having written when it came time to act in them?

“Yeah,” he concedes, and explains that there was one scene with the character of Eric (David Adlam) where he found himself wondering if he had gone too far.

“I was always aware of the fact that there are some really uncomfortable themes throughout, but I was really careful to make sure that the winners were always the outsiders in various respects, and although there are some really uncomfortable scenes I think it’s important not to shy away from that, because actually, what is going on in the world is that people are being kept in cages, in Nauru for example and in the ‘States.

“We had some really horrible experiences actually when we were shooting the Polish scenes in the UK, in Bristol. We had some Polish schoolchildren come up to us and they were really worried about the fact that we were showing Polish people being harassed in the way that they are, even though it’s done in an absurd way. I talked to two or three girls and they were just expressing their fears because they are genuinely feeling attacked for who they are. These are girls of, like, 10 and 11.

Two Heads Creek
Two Heads Creek Photo: Signature Entertainment

“So basically, it’s all very silly on the surface but those themes are real and do affect people’s lives.”

One thing I like about it, though, is the way that we get to see a bit of humanity in all the characters.

“That’s it. That’s exactly it. I want to lull an audience into liking characters they really shouldn’t do, because I think that helps us to inspect the monstrosities in ourselves or the monsters all around us that we might really like. I think finding the humanity in everyone is probably the way of solving it.”

I tell him that I also like the brother/sister relationship, which isn’t something that we see depicted very often onscreen, especially in genre work.

“It’s something that became a lot easier once we cast Kathryn,” he reflects. “She’s a fantastic actress. I saw her on stage when she was in this Kenneth Branagh thing and she was was just so brilliant, and I knew her socially a little bit from the acting scene. I knew what she was like and acting with her was so easy because I just felt so comfortable and safe. Hopefully that chemistry that I tried to write on the page was brought out more because she’s – well, she acts the socks off of me! She’s so much better than me.

“As I was doing more and more drafts of it I was thinking ‘The one thing this might be lacking is a little bit of heart,’ and I saw the opportunity for that real family connection which is at the hart of the script. The script is really about family and what pulls us together and what pushes us apart.

“The strongest family, the closest family, are the mad cannibals out in Australia, and you can see how they band together, but seeing this broken bond come together was really important. If there is a thesis to the film” – he pauses momentarily, apologising for sounding like a self help book – “it’s about coming together rather than breaking apart.”

Two Heads Creek poster
Two Heads Creek poster Photo: FrightFest

Did he watch any other cannibal films as preparation?

“Yeah. There was a real tradition in the Seventies, in Italy in particular... I watched Cannibal Holocaust and Natura Contro and things like that. It was interesting. They didn’t work as films – it was more about the gore and the horrific sense of things. It was often about a lost relative of friend and then travelling out, usually to the Amazon rainforest to try and find them, and lo and behold they’ve been caught by cannibal natives. It was one of those racist tropes that I was very interested in when it came to cannibalism, and that’s kind of where this themes of nationalism all exploded from.

“This sounds really poncey,” he apologises, “but at university I read Montaigne’s essay Of Cannibals and it’s this way of othering people, and the same thing happened in all these Seventies Italian films. But if I’m going to be totally honest and a little bit less pretentions, it’s just because I really, really love Silence Of The Lambs. That’s why I wanted to do it. I know that’s not a very recherché thing to say but it’s one of my favourite films.”

I noticed a reference to Chianti in the film, I tell him, and he blushes again.

“Yeah. It’s the necessary Chianti. I resisted fava beans as well. Anyway, I’m mad about it and I could quote you reams, but I won’t bore you.”

He has quite a diverse work history, so what does he plan to do next?

“My plans for the future are just to carry on writing my own stuff, really. My big aim is to get a TV show off the ground, so that’s what I’m focusing on. I’ve got a lot of projects in development but it’s very difficult to know how these things are going to be made, at the moment. We’ve got a lot of question marks.”

What most appeals to him, he says, is the idea that he could do a variety of things rather than sticking to one genre, but nevertheless he’s excited that Two Heads Creek has been picked up by Frightfest.

“I’m so blessed,” he says. “Every time somebody says something nice about the film I can’t quite believe it and I ignore it, but I am absolutely thrilled deep down. It’s a real pleasure.”

Two Heads Creek is out on Digital HD in the UK on 7 September.

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