(21/02/07) – It’s not easy being an aspiring film actress, but actress Jillian Swanson has continued to win roles in a series of independent horror shockers. The glamorous Swanson has just headlined four films from Ulli Lommel, the director of such cult classics as The Tenderness of the Wolves, the famous ‘video nasty’ The Bogeyman, Olivia and Brainwaves – and the latest of their efforts, entitled The Raven, recently got a Region 1 DVD release, courtesy of Lion’s Gate Entertainment. What follows are Jillian’s recollections of working with Ulli and her career as an actress – and, as an aside, if you do pick up The Raven your humble writer appears in the movie as a priest – but Robert DeNiro has nothing to worry about!
How did you start out as an actress?
I started off taking theatre classes back in high school when I was just 14 years old.
And this led you to a career in horror films. So how did that come about?
Well, considering that I’m not a big star and I’m doing roles in independent films… I guess that is how you end up in horror movies (laughs). It was by default.
Would horror have been your first choice of film genre?
No. In the beginning then yeah but now I’ve done almost twenty horror films…
I had no idea it was that many. What was your first?
The first one I did, which has a lovely title, is called Killer Campout. I was 17 years old and I didn’t even die. I survived.
So you got to play the Jamie Lee Curtis role?
Yeah, and I usually don’t die. I usually survive. Then I did Shadows Fall and then Call Girl, Samhain… just a bunch of them… I even did a student production of a Friday the 13th movie that played some conventions. Of course, not all of the movies have been released yet.
So you’ve been very busy – how did you end up meeting Ulli Lommel?
I met Ulli because I sent my head shot and resume out to his company, The Shadow Factory. They were looking for a female primary and I thought that I met the description. Then two hours later I got a call and was asked to meet them – so I met with them and I was told that I was in. I began filming next week and that was on Killer Pickton.
Killer Pickton is a low-budget serial killer movie, and from what I’ve seen of your role you get roughed up pretty badly. Was that disturbing for you?
I was fine with the role – it was challenging and came out very well.
But you came out of that movie with some bumps didn’t you?
Well when you are an independent, or ‘B’ actor, then you are going to get roughed up and there is no way around it, so – yeah – I left with some bumps, bruises and cuts, but that’s fine (laughs).
So how many movies have you done with Ulli Lommel now?
Four now – Killer Pickton, Cannibal, The Tomb and The Raven.
And now that The Raven has wrapped do you expect to do more movies with him?
I don’t know. Probably – but there are not any projects lined up for the immediate future…
What can you tell me about making Cannibal? I’m judging by the title alone that this isn’t a Sunday morning kind of movie…
Cannibal was a hellacious experience to film. It was the feel of the film that got to me – it was very dark and gloomy and had a very rough atmosphere. I had to kill my boyfriend, the man that I supposedly loved with all of my heart. Now the guy that played my boyfriend in the movie – we weren’t in love or anything, but we definitely became good friends and so this all freaked me out. I mean, obviously I don’t stab him, but he played it so well that I felt uncomfortable killing him even on screen. It freaked me out a little bit. I had to hold actual pig’s organs – including a liver and a heart.
So you fondled real pig innards? Do you still eat bacon after that…
Yeah I do – I mean it was grim but I try and keep it out of my head. I mean, I didn’t want to do this! I didn’t even know I was going to do that until I got the pig heart dumped in my hands. Then I started shaking and sobbing. I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ I had no idea that I was going to be holding actual organs (laughs). Then I had to stab this pig carcass and drag my knife down the body and put my hands inside it.
So you wouldn’t kill a pig personally but you’d happily play about with its carcass?
I don’t really want to do either! That was a very hard film for me to do.
Independent actresses are often exploited and asked to do nudity – but you have quite a strict standpoint on this don’t you?
I will say that my policy on nudity is probably different from a lot of actresses starting out. I did do nudity once, in a very, very artsy film for a director that I had known for three years and trusted completely. He made it very comfortable and, sure, I was still completely freaked out by the idea and overwhelmed and I told myself that I wouldn’t do this kind of thing unless it was for Scorsese or something…
That is what they all say!
(Laughs) Well let me put it this way – I wouldn’t do it for just anybody. But the film would have lost its feel if I hadn’t.
What is worse – handling a pig’s heart or doing a nude scene?
(Pauses) Well I think it is two different types of uncomfortable.
Are there any types of characters that you would not play?
I would play almost any character but I wouldn’t be the girl that just pops up for the token titty shot. You know, in every horror film there has to be a girl running around with her top off. That’s how so many actresses get a cult following but I would never take off my clothes just so you can have a naked girl. In the Friday the 13th movies there is always a naked girl, you know?
Ulli brought in a real, live raven when he was shooting The Raven, and proceeded to let it flap about next to you. What was that like?
That raven was a very, very pretty bird but it was also very big – it had a very large beak. It was really cool to be near it but I didn’t think that I would be quite that close to it. It started nibbling on my arm, which was kind of cute, but they have sharp beaks and I didn’t want it to get angry and take a big chunk out of me! Then after we were done filming I found out it could speak. It was able to say ‘Oscar’, don’t ask me why, and ‘God damnit’. The bird decided to say ‘Oscar’ and it has such a low, penetrating voice that it just scared the crap out of me (laughs). I jumped from one end of the room to the other.
Ulli describes you as the best actress that he has worked with since Suzanna Love – have you gone back and checked out his older films such as The Bogeyman
I’ve never seen any of Ulli’s old films – I should go back and watch them because I keep being told how good some of them are.
How do you like working with Ulli?
I love Ulli. I think that his style of creating movies is definitely not typical and very ‘out there’. A lot of the times I find myself doubting what the outcome will be, which I shouldn’t do because he always ends up with a really good film, but he always just has it planned out in his head… we never know what is going on and you have to just trust him. So you learn to trust him but you’re always thinking, ‘I wonder where this is all going to go?’ What he might tell you in the beginning is not always what the movie ends up being about.
And you hope to work with him again on future projects?
Oh sure, absolutely!
The DVD of The Raven is out now. Please follow the link provided to purchase a copy and support Kamera by doing so.