The non-stop star

Amber Doig-Thorne on back-to-back filmmaking and Winnie The Pooh: Blood And Honey

by Jennie Kermode

Amber Doing-Thorne leads the pack in Winnie The Pooh: Blood And Honey
Amber Doing-Thorne leads the pack in Winnie The Pooh: Blood And Honey

Amber Doig-Thorne is a hard working actor with a lot to say. There’s an energy about her which comes across as much in conversation as it does on the silver screen. She’s interested in everything and keen to get stuck in, the sort of person who is a gift to a busy production unit but at perpetual risk of taking on so much that she never has a moment to herself, something which, in the course of our conversation, she admits to having done for six months of last year. We’re meeting to talk about her latest horror film, Glasgow Frightfest selection Winnie The Pooh: Blood And Honey, so I begin by asking her if she was a fan of the denizens of Hundred Acre Wood as a child.

“Oh my goodness, I was the biggest fan of Winnie the Pooh!” she declares. “I have the books, I have the games. I remember my mum reading the books to me when I was incredibly young. I watched all the films. It was probably my favourite childhood thing, to be honest. And I also grew up loving horror films. So when I saw the concept of Blood And Honey, I was really excited because it was this really rare opportunity for two completely different things that I love to be merged together.”

She graduated from university with a degree in theoretical physics, so I ask her how that squares with being in genre films, which frequently ignore physics altogether.

She laughs. “They’re so scientifically inaccurate it drives me crazy sometimes. So, it was always my plan, to be honest. I'm very independent and I knew just how unstable the acting industry was. I’d wanted to be an actress since I was a little girl. I'm originally from York, in North Yorkshire, and I thought, right, I'm going to have to move to London to be an actor. Drama school is so expensive and this career is so unstable, I'm going to be living by myself away from my family, I need a back-up plan just in case it doesn't work out.

“I'm a huge nerd. I embrace it. It's fine. I loved maths and science at schools. Physics was always my favourite subject, so I thought, why not do a degree in theoretical physics? That's my nice little plan B, just in case everything doesn't work out. And then as soon as I graduated from university, I just went full speed ahead with my acting, trying to get as much experience as I could. I did two months training at RADA because I still thought it was important to have some form of professional training. I did a month at the Beverly Hills Playhouse in America, which was amazing. Yeah, it's kind of been non stop since then.”

She is incredibly prolific as an actor. I ask her how she manages to fit so much in.

“I don't sleep much,” she says. “Last year was probably the craziest. I think I did 13 feature length films between January and June. In the independent world, you know, these films are done really quick. Principal production block for Blood And Honey was eight days, which is insane for a feature when you're looking at like 90 pages. And, yeah, so last year, it was a case of eight to ten days back to back with no breaks for six months, but I just I wanted to push myself. And, you know, these are all scripts that I love.

“I'm a big believer in fate, and the fact that the shooting dates for all of the films that I did aligned so perfectly – it was literally one after the other after the other – I thought, this is a sign that I need to do these films. I enjoyed every second of it, but I was pretty much a zombie by the end of it. I should have signed up to do a zombie film because there wouldn't have been any acting. I looked like a zombie and I felt like a zombie.”

I ask if an agent arranged all this for her or if she’s just making connections on set and getting further work from there.

“Every acting job I've got so far is actually through myself,” she says. “Applying to casting calls online, you know, contacting directors and casting directors. I am kind of at a point in my career now where luckily, people seem to enjoy working with me, and then I get repeated offers. So the production company for Winnie The Pooh, and there's maybe four or five other production companies which I'm now working with on a regular basis. Maybe every six months, they'll send me an email and say ‘We've got a new role for you,’ which is really nice, because I think when you can work with the same people again and again, the rapport there, the chemistry has already been created and you can have a little fun, which is really nice.

“There were two main things that really attracted me to this project. One, like I said before, is the fact that it's a really unique idea and it's merging two things that I love together. And I feel like everything is a prequel or a sequel or a remake, so to find a genuinely original concept as an actor is really excellent. The second thing that was really important to me is the character. So I play Alice, and what I love most about her is that the representation of her relationship in the film is so authentic. It's not pushed in the audience’s faces, it's not shouted about, it's not even highlighted. It's just in the background. And to me that felt so authentic, being able to represent a queer character like people are in real life.

“Not everyone has to project their sexuality. It's just a part of who you are. And so that really excited me and that was the main thing that attracted me to the story and the character. I feel very blessed to have had that opportunity to bring that representation to the screen, especially now because the film has gone so viral and done so well in the box office. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that hopefully that will open the doors for more independent films to have more authentic representation for LGBTQ+ people as well.”

Alice is also a character who stands up for herself a bit more physically than some of the other characters in the film.

“Oh, that was so much fun!” She grins. “And it was very important to me because I do some stunts and stage combat so I know a bit of martial arts. I have been doing it for over a decade. So if I ever have the opportunity to do something like that, it really excites me. And yeah, that was amazing when I read the scripts and I saw that this was the only human to really get revenge. I thought that's amazing. And the fact that she's lost her love early on in the film, it's really nice that she goes on this journey.

“She has a really nice story arc, where she starts out a bit timid and shy and by the end of the film she just wants revenge or retribution for her girlfriend, and she will get it. Especially because, like you said, none of the other characters really have the opportunity. So I thought she was a very strong character, and a very important character.”

It was a very short shoot. And it was also a lot of night shooting, and shooting in the woods. How did all that work out?

“I really enjoyed it,” she says. “I've done maybe 25 independent feature films now and probably about 10 to 15 of those are horror, so I'm very used to it. I'm a night owl myself so night is my favourite thing in the world, because that's what I'm most active. I think most actors dread the night shoot. For me, I'm like, ‘This is what my body clock loves!’ It's just nice being outside in nature. I mean, it was a bit chilly. We filmed – I think it was pretty much a year ago last week, actually, in Ashdown Forests in South England, which is, quite excitingly, what Hundred Acre Wood was actually was based on. It was definitely an intense shoot, and I think when you're trying to shoot so much in such a short period of time, obviously, it's very intensive, long hours. It's very challenging physically and mentally but it was a lot of fun, and I'm so pleased with how the film turned out.”

It looked like a very physical shoot as well.

“It was. I can tell you honestly, I haven't done as much cardio in the whole year. There's a lot of running around, a lot being tied up. For me, it was nice having an opportunity to do some stunts. When it came to the scene with Piglet and I and the sledgehammer, that was a real sledgehammer, that was very heavy.”

How many takes were needed for that scene?

“We did it a few times. They were going to go straight into filming, but because I have experienced with stunts I said ‘No, we're going to take a few minutes to make sure that the distance is safe for Chris [Cordell]. We ran it through a few times just get the blocking right, because I've been injured in the past. In a film last year, my hand was broken in a stunt gone wrong, and I'm terrified now that that's going to happen to myself or someone else. So I always like to make sure if it's something stunt related, it's rehearsed. But then yeah, everything was done quickly. It was kind of a one to take scenario. If there's a plane going overhead, do it a second time, but very rarely more than two or three times. You have to be honest with your dialogue and with the actions, which is pressure, but it feels amazing when you get it right.”

She’s still excited about how the film’s UK festival première worked out back in March.

“Oh, it was amazing. So I've known Frightfest for a long time. I was aware of the London one but I didn’t actually know there was one in Glasgow. I have Scottish heritage myself so I found out that the UK première was going to be in Glasgow, I was very excited. And I was like, ‘Oh, this is the perfect audience.’ One because I know they have the best sense of humour. And two because the Frightfest audience, obviously, love the horror genre. So I was really excited, and the première was amazing. You know, I spent maybe an hour after the film just talking to the audience and taking photos and signing autographs, answering questions about the film, just really falling in love with Frightfest. They're not going to be able to get rid of me now. When it’s in London, I will be there.”

Alongside horror, there’s another genre which means a lot to her.

“Comedy is something else that I'm really, really passionate about. So when I graduated from university, alongside my acting I thought, why don't I be proactive? You know, it'd be nice to create my own content. Because it's not the easiest thing being cast as an actor, and I've always had passions in different areas. So I thought, ‘Let me start writing and producing my own original comedy shorts.’ I did everything really, like writing, directing, the lighting, the sound, the camerawork, the editing. I play multiple characters. And it was really nice, actually, because I feel like being behind the camera has made me a better actor.

“I have 360° knowledge now instead of just on the acting side, and that was amazing. So through making these comedy sketches – people seem to like them – I got about three million combined followers on my social media channels, which then gave me opportunities in the presenting world, which is amazing. But at the end of the day, you know, it's creative. It lets me practice my passion, which is acting. So I'm very grateful to kind of have the other side to me alongside the acting.

“I would love to do writing and directing. I think after acting my favourite is probably directing. I've been in talks with some people I've worked with in the past where they said ‘Would you be interested in co-directing?’ So definitely never say never. Within the next few years, I would certainly love to co-direct, if not direct, my own film. I think it'd be amazing.

“There's three films I'd really like to highlight coming up, which are currently in pre production. The first one is called The Baby In The Basket, and it's a Gothic horror, so fans of Blood And Honey will hopefully love this one. It's set in 1940s Scotland in a monastery and I play Sister Agnes, who's one of the nuns that lives in the monastery, and she's the lead character in the film. As the title suggests, a baby is left in a basket on doorstep, and we take in the baby and I look after it as if it's my own, but the baby is not quite as it seems. And I'm led to believe that it is possessed by the Devil. There's a lot going on. I think it's going to be my most challenging role to date, but I am so excited. I've read the script about five times. It's one of the most intriguing scripts that I've read, like a psychological thriller, horror, and every time I read it, I pick out different parts of the story.

“Another one that's that I'm absolutely buzzing is called Mr. Hyde The Untold Story. So just like Blood And Honey, it's a retelling of a classic tale, of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. But this one has a bit of a twist at the end which I wasn't expecting. I really liked it. I think it'll keep people on the edge of their seats. And I'm kind of the villain, which is nice. I love playing the villain. I think anytime you can play someone who's like, quite opposite to yourself - I'd like to think I’m not a villain in real life – it should be good fun.

“The final one I'd like to mention is called Dying Breed. It's a Viking film about Slavic paganism, and it's highlighting the true history of Ukraine, which I think is incredibly important, especially with the war going on. I play one of the lead characters, Mary. It follows a group of Vikings. They're trying to go to Scandinavia, sailing, they’re trying to find a safe haven and they ended up shipwrecked in England. Then they come across a group of Saxons, my character included. We've actually just had the film picked up by Swedish production company, and we’ll be releasing a teaser in Sweden at some point in the next couple of months with a view to shooting the whole film in between Sweden and Ireland. That's probably the one that I'm most excited about, and I’m co-producing that as well. I just think it's such a beautiful story and the story of really needs to be told.”

Winnie The Pooh: Blood And Honey is available on digital platforms now.

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