“Of course it should be considered art!”
When asked about the worthiness of his director's second instalment in the infamous Human Centipede series, star Lawrence R. Harvey revs our fascinating chat up a notch.
“It is a work of intelligence and aesthetic judgement within a respected medium,” he claims, speaking to SBS Movies only a few hours before the notorious film screens uncut – in defiance of a ruling from the Office of Film and Literature Classification – at its Sydney premiere. “It is up to [the audience] if you want to consider it good art or bad art. But it is art, already.”
Harvey makes his feature debut as Martin, an obsessed fan of the first film who sets out to recreate the vision of Dr Heiter (Dieter Laser) in the sequel to one of the most reviled (and, by some, beloved) horror works of the last few years. He relates the experience of working with Dutch agitant-auteur Tom Six as...gleeful. “He is brilliant to work with,” says Harvey. “He is this boyish, enthusiastic guy, like a little puppy. When we were filming he would be lining up shots because they felt uncomfortable, or he would see some mould in the background, and he'd be like, to the camera guy, 'Oh, that's so nasty!' ” Not entirely realising the ironic extent of his statement, the Brit actor concludes by saying, “He's got sort of a dark sense of humour.”
For Harvey, coping with the discomfort of filming the movie's most debased acts (specifically, the graphic rape of the final stage of the Centipede) required both compassion for his fellow actor and commitment to his method. “I go away quietly to a corner, where I work things out on my own,” he says. “After that particular scene, I go over to Emma (Lock, the actress cast as the 'final stage') and want to make sure she is ok. It's very emotional, for both of us.”
No doubt shaken, Lock and her support cast members could walk away from such scenes, usually within a day (the film, shot largely in black-and-white, was a low budget project despite the first film's notoriety). It was a different dynamic for Harvey, who would have to return to the psychology of the act at the director's whim. “It really hit me when I had to redo the scene for close-ups and cutaways. Emma wasn't there for those scenes so I had to go through what she did for those scenes in order to get my scenes in tandem, and that was difficult,” he relates.
Generating audience sympathy for Martin was crucial – up to a point. The character is defined as a victim, a victim of sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of his mother and, subsequently, his psychologist. Harvey points to one of Australian cinema's most beloved anti-heroes – Nicholas Hope's lead portrayal of Rolf de Heer's Bad Boy Bubby – as inspiration.
“Bubby comes out of his abusive cocoon and people are positive towards him, encouraging him to be a more whole person,” says Harvey. “In this film, we see Martin outside of his house but in a job where we see that type of abuse [reinforced]. Those that end up in the Centipede are types of people who have abused him in some way. Martin has been abused sexually, emotionally by those that should have given him love. It is isn't his fault, it's his background.”
But empathy for his character's psychological make-up can only extend so far. “For me, the sympathy should stop,” he states bluntly. “The rape scene is one act too much for the audience sympathy.”
Tom Six challenges the concept of the 'Fourth Wall' – that mythical bridge that provides audiences with a barrier between the horrors on-screen and the safety of their cinema seat – by making his sequel's villain a man motivated by his love of the film, The Human Centipede. For Harvey, it's a bold artistic move. “The first film was very much concerned with the tropes of the horror film narrative and plays those for absurdity,” he opines. “The second one is about the reaction to just such a film and how they manifest within society. In the second film, there is certainly a reaction against the macho posturing, the 'Yeah, more gore, bring it on...' fans. In this film, Tom slaps you in the face and says 'Be careful what you wish for.' It reaches for those Grand Guignol absurdities of violence.”
Lawrence Harvey teases us with an insight into what Tom Six has in store for the final chapter of the Centipede trilogy. Confirming the director's commitment to stylistically re-inventing the works with each outing, Harvey hints that the third film, The Final Sequence, will reflect Italian Giallo influences. “The third one will be rich, saturated in colour,” he says “A completely different visual style.”