Interview: Nicholas Vince (The Chattering Cenobite)
Most days at Ginger Nut Towers are good ones, however every now and then the good days turn into fantastic days. And this folks is one of those fantastic days, it’s not everyday where you get the chance to interview a horror icon. Let alone a horror icon from the first film that you snuck into the cinema to watch.
So it is with a great sense of joy and honour to welcome Nicholas Vince, the man who played The Chattering Cenobite to my humble corner of the internet.
Hi Nicholas, first off it is a huge honour and a fan boy’s dream to have the man who played Kinski, and the Chattering Cenobite grace the pages of this blog? So how are things with you?
They’re good, thank you. I’m busy working on the next volume of short stories, plus some other projects, which are in the very early stages of development. Also, I’m learning how to be a dog owner, as we got Bertie from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home at the beginning of December.
Can you please give the readers a little bit of background information on yourself?
As you mentioned, in the 1980’s I acted in three Clive Barker movies, playing the Chatterer in the first two Hellraiser films and Kinski in Nightbreed. I then wrote comics for Marvel and Epic, contributing to both the Hellraiser and Nightbreed series, I also wrote the Warheads and Mortigan Goth comics.
A couple of short stories appeared in Fear and Skeleton Crew magazines and I created ‘The Luggage in the Crypt’ series of interviews for the latter.
Since then, until May 2012, I earned my living training on computer databases. I also attended a few horror conventions in the USA and wrote a short story for the Hellbound Hearts collection.
Last year, I was also fortunate enough to attend a few screenings of the new ‘Cabal Cut’ of Nightbreed. It’s wonderful to see the movie Clive originally envisioned, thanks to the work of Russell Cherrington.
In August of 2012 I independently published ‘What Monsters Do’, my first collection of short stories. Another story, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ is in The Demonologia Biblica, edited by Dean M Drinkel, which is due out soon from Western Legends Publishing.
Why horror? What is it about the genre that strikes a chord with you?
For me, the best horror deals with the big issues of life, death, transformation and otherness. I think these are things which fascinate us as children and particularly as teenagers, as our bodies and emotions are so mercurial.
Can you remember what first drew you into the genre?
When I got my first junior library ticket, I found an illustrated book on the Greek Myths and Legends. I was fascinated by the heroes, gods and monsters. (I loathed Enid Blyton books.) Once I’d got my adult library ticket, around age 14, then I searched out all the ghost and horror stories I could find. I read a lot of collections edited by Peter Haining.
Is there anything about the genre you dislike?
Years ago, I read a collection of M R James stories and I was very disappointed. They seemed to be the same story retold, i.e. someone disturbs something buried and something evil comes and gets them. The way women are treated as objects in certain movies, also disturbs me.
Before we get to your writing, let’s talk about those two iconic characters you so wonderfully brought to life. How did you come to get the role of The Chatterer ?
Whilst I was at Mountview Theatre School, I went to a party and met Clive Barker. He asked me to come to his place to do some modelling for him. You can see me holding up a photo of Clive on his illustration for the Books of Blood, volume 1. On volume 4 he’s got my head open with needles dropping into the exposed brain.
I didn’t have to do an interview or audition for Chatterer, Clive just asked me to do the part. That said, I had to get some new publicity shots done, as my usual 10×8’s showed me as being too clean cut. I asked the photographer not to touch up the new photos and to leave the cold sore on my lower lip, as it looked as if I’d been injured in a fight.
So with everyone sort of knowing everyone else, what was the atmosphere on set like?
I knew Simon Bamford from Mountview, and he knew Doug Bradley as they’d both worked in the Dog Company. I got to know Jane Wildgoose (costume designer) and the guys from Image Animation before the shooting started, as we had to have body and head casts done. Once we were filming, we didn’t get to see the other actors very much as the Cenobites had a dressing room of our own.
Difficult for me to tell what the atmosphere was like on the set itself, as I couldn’t hear, speak or see. But in the dressing room we had a great laugh; so much so that I got told off a couple of times for laughing too loudly and spoiling takes.
I read that the basic design for the character came from a story about an operation you had, could you enlighten us a more on this?
You may not want to read this answer over a meal.
I was born with an undershot jaw, which means that my lower teeth closed in front of my upper teeth, rather than the other way round. When I was nineteen, first week of November 1977, they restructured my face. They cut away my top jaw and used pieces of bone from my hip as wedges to move the top jaw forwards. I was in surgery for eight hours and in intensive care for a couple of days afterwards. I also had my jaws wired shut for six weeks, so lived off liquidised food.
There’s a scar on my hip but none on my face; as they did all the surgery through my mouth, cutting their way in through the top gum and peeling the flesh of my face back. During the operation they’d have kept the flesh pulled back with hooks or clamps of some form. That was the story I told Clive.
To be honest, I hadn’t made the connection until Clive pointed it out.
That sounds really painful, how big is the scar on your hip? I have 12 inch one from a bone graft as well.
Mine’s only 3 inches and as I tend not to wear bikinis, not noticeable. Yours sounds much more painful. Listen to us: two old geezers discussing our scars.
Don’t get me started on my back or my aching knees
At the time of filming, did any of you have any sense that you were making what would be a masterpiece of the genre?
I recently came across a 15 minute making of documentary, where they interviewed Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence and Andrew Robinson. It’s clear they’re genuinely enthusiastic about Clive and the film. So, I think they had a good sense of what was happening. I had my first inkling when I heard the producers had given more money to film effects for Frank’s first appearance.
Apart from Pinhead, Chatterer is the only other Cenobite to appear after the first two films, why do you think this is?
I’m told Chatterer has been voted the most popular Cenobite after Pinhead. There’s definitely something creepy about those chattering teeth and the fact he’s blind, but still able to shove his fingers into Kirsty’s mouth. There’s also the mystery of how a boy became the Chatterer.
At the Monster Mania convention last year, there were a couple of nine year old boys who’re great fans of Chatterer, though they refer to him as ‘Chatter Box’. Women often tell me they find him the most disturbing of the Cenobites, which makes him their favourite.
Also, some talented people have taken the original Chatterer and had fun with the image. I like The Torso in Hellraiser: Inferno as the way it moves is really disturbing and The Chatter Beast in Hellraiser: Bloodline takes Chatterer back to one of Clive’s original ideas. When we discussed the character, Chatterer was going to be a like the family guard dog, and would leap at Kirsty. However, when Clive saw the leather costume it became obvious I wouldn’t be able to move that much.
You only played him once more though in the direct sequel Hellbound, was this because of your decision to switch from acting to writing?
It was more to do with the move of making the movies in the USA rather than the UK. Though once I’d made Nightbreed, I decided to concentrate on writing.
On Hellbound, you acted next to the great Kenneth Cranham, and the fabulous Barbie Wilde. Were you ever tempted to whistle the theme tune to Shine on Harvey Moon, when Ken entered the room?
I probably did whistle that tune, as I was very fond of that show. As is the way of these things, I didn’t really get to know Ken until we started doing conventions together. Barbie and I became great friends during the making of the movie and we’d often meet up in London for a meal or to go clubbing.
Would you ever consider going back to the role?
If someone asked me, I’d probably say ‘yes’—though I’d have to lose a lot of weight to get into the original costume.
Is Barbie as fabulous as I imagine her to be?
Oh, yes, she is indeed ‘fabulosa’ as they would have said on Round the Horne.
Your acting career continued with another Clive Barker adaptation, Nightbreed, how did you get the role?
Same as the Chatterer, Clive just asked me. The original make up design was different, as in the book, Cabal, he’s described as having two faces melded into one. After the initial make up tests, it was decided that makeup wouldn’t work in close up, so the design was changed to the moon crescent moon you see in the movie. The makeup appears in ‘The Nightbreed Chronicles’ book, as ‘Otis and Clay’.
Much of the old cast and crew were back for this film was it like a family reunion?
In many ways yes, particularly being with the guys from Image Animation, Doug Bradley and Simon Bamford. That said, I remember the sound mixer John Midgley came up to me and introduced himself, and I pointed out we’d already made Hellraiser I and II together. It was understandable as he’d probably never seen me out of make-up.
Like Hellraiser, this has become one of the genre greats; it must give you a warm feeling inside knowing that you were a part of two great films?
I feel very fortunate and I’m also extremely grateful, not only to Clive, but to Nigel Booth, Cliff Wallace and Neil Gorton, who designed the Chatterer and Kinski makeup.
Can you make a huge fan very happy and tell him when The Cabal Cut is being released on DVD?
I’d love to, but I only know what’s on the www.occupymidian.com website. Last I heard was towards the end of this year.
And could you possibly do me a favour and say sorry to my school mate Johnny, he kind of looked like Kinski, and we teased him a lot for that.
Sorry Johnny. If it’s any consolation, I went through something similar. I mentioned I was born undershot so my chin was prominent too. I was regularly called ‘Chinzano’.
Looking back at the two characters, do you have a favourite out of the two?
Clive mentioned recently, that it was hell for me to wear the Chatterer make up, and that’s true. But it only took an hour to get into costume and make up, so unlike Doug and Barbie I didn’t have to wear the make up all the time. (We’ll ignore the couple of days where I was left in the makeup for eight hours and then didn’t film me.)
Kinski was a five hour make up job and one day I started at 4.00am and finished the following 1.00am; but I could see and speak when wearing it, so from that aspect it’s swings and roundabouts.
As actual characters in the movies, they both have their charms, and I’m very fond of them both.
As mentioned earlier, you decided to give up acting for writing, how difficult was this choice?
It seemed the natural thing to do at the time. I’d been encouraged by Clive to write and I thought I’d done all I wanted as an actor, at that time. Since I’ve returned to writing last year, people have been talking to me about acting again and all being well I should be involved in some very, very cool movies this year.
How would you describe your writing style?
Oh lordy, that’s a tough one. It’s not anything I consciously think about. How about “evolving”?
And what aspects of your writing do you think are the strongest and what do you think are the weakest aspects of your writing?
Oooh. Do I have to? The wonderful, Marie O’Regan, my editor is probably better placed to answer that question. If I think about strengths and weaknesses, then those become a ‘thing’ which I’m conscious of, and when I’m writing I try not to think about the process, as I get distracted. If I feel the writing’s going well, then I’m scared of being too cocky and spending too much time congratulating myself. If it’s going badly, then I’m scared of never being good again.
Writing can be very scary at times. Particularly when you’re writing about scary things.
Let’s talk a bit about the mechanics of your writing. How do you go about the writing process? Are you a plotter or do you go with the flow?
I wade through a lot of my boring ideas, until I find one which interests me. Then there will usually be a phrase or character which kicks off the story. The other day it was an image from a 10 second Channel 4 indent. Once I’ve got the opening line, then I just see where it takes me. I like leaving room for a character to surprise me.
It must be every boys dream to write for Marvel Comics, how did this come about?
Pure, unadulterated cheek.
When we were making Nightbreed, Clive invited a whole load of people to be in the audience at The Mean Fiddler, when they filmed a nightclub sequence. This is the song ‘Johnny Get Angry’ which has been restored in The Cabal Cut. I fell to talking with Neil Gaiman and John Bolton about the Hellraiser comics which were being published.
When we wrapped the movie, I visited the USA for the first time, spending a week in New York. I walked into the Marvel offices and asked to see the Hellraiser editor, Dan Chichester. After about thirty minutes an intern came out with Dan’s profuse apologies for keeping me waiting, as he hadn’t recognised my name. I was led through the famous Bull Pen, where there were artists working on Spider Man comics etc and into Dan’s office. I pitched him the story I’d outlined in my head on the plane flight over and he said he’d buy it.
At which point I admitted I’d never seen a comic script and had no idea how to lay it out. He reached into a drawer and threw me one of his to use as a template.
How does writing a comic compare to writing a short story?
OK, it’s a long time since I wrote comics, and since then lettering is no longer done by hand, and neither is colouring, and comics are read on iPads etc. Please regard this answer as a glimpse into a bygone era.
When writing a comic story I had a page count—around 22 pages for a monthly issue, like Warheads or Nightbreed. I think the Hellraiser stories were 12 or 15 pages. On each page, you have a maximum of 6 frames, though I usually aimed for 5 frames a page.
In a monthly comic, you know which pages will face an advert page. Reveals and shock images have to be placed carefully. In other words, you avoid putting the big dramatic image on the right hand page, unless it’s faced by an advert on the left, as the reader will immediately see it when they turn the page.
You can probably fit in only a dozen or so words per frame—maximum 20 words. Those words may well not fit when you get the artwork, before it’s passed to the letterer. So, you have to rewrite the script, by drawing bubbles on a photocopy of the artwork and supplying the words as a script, with a code letter on the page.
You’re working with an artist and so the story will be discussed with them and the editor. You may be writing existing characters, such as Wolverine or Dr. Strange, as I did, so the editor of those titles was also consulted. One piece of advice I remember—
which I think came from a Marvel guide for writers was: “Don’t write “Cowboy’s POV. He sees the entire Sioux nation. Few artists want to draw this. Better to show the reaction in the cowboy’s eyes and use a caption.”
Finally, you have to have a cliff hanger or teaser at the end of each story to bring them back for more.
With a short story, I write words. Lots and lots of words.
Do you have any plans to return to the comic world?
No plans at the moment, I’d probably say ‘yes’ if asked, as I love pictures and comics are a great art form.
Through your comics and one particular short story, you have touched upon the back story to the Chatterer. Did you consult Clive on any of the details?
From what I remember, when I was writing ‘Look, See’, which appeared in Fear magazine, Clive just let me get on with it. He had other things he was concentrating on.
I do remember discussing with him closely the story line in the last two Nightbreed comics.
Last year saw the publication of your first short story collection What Monsters do. Are the stories present here new or are they a sample of your writing career to date?
There’s a mixture of stories. The last one, Beast in Beauty is a revised version of a story published in ‘Skeleton Crew’. ‘Green Eyes’ is an unpublished story from the 1980’s and ‘Death is But The Doorway’ is based on an unpublished comic story.
The others were all written for the collection.
Is there a common theme to the collection?
The tag line for the book is, ‘It is not our flesh, but our acts which make us monsters.’
Some of the earliest horror movies I saw were the Universal monster movies. In the films, the supposed monster, such as Frankenstein’s creation, The Phantom of the Opera, or The Hunchback of Notre Dame, were all punished unjustly or because of their appearance.
Frankenstein’s monster kills the girl through misunderstanding and ignorance. He helps the blind shepherd and is thrown out by the shepherd’s sighted son.
Of course, I was also influenced by Clive’s Nightbreed, which asks ‘Who are the real monsters? The occupants of Midian, or the naturals intent on slaughtering them?’
Do you believe there is a monster residing in us all, and if so what monster resides in you?
I believe we’re all capable of behaving monstrously when we give in to our greed, anger or stupidity and particularly, our fear. Fortunately, we all have courage, wisdom and compassion to fight those negative forces.
Certainly, I can be arrogant and angry, which leads me to do stupid things.
Being human means dealing with those conflicting forces in ourselves and it’s our actions which show how well we’ve done in that battle.
Some of the stories feature a twist on well used genre tropes such as werewolves, ghosts and a brilliant story involving a sadly underused monster the mummy. Was it always your intention to try and give a fresh take on these monsters?
In my teens I had some Aurora plastic monster kits of the Frankenstein Monster, Werewolf and Phantom of the Opera. They had glow in the dark hands and heads, and they stood at the end of my bed. So, I wanted to write about them as they formed such a strong part of my youth and the first horror movies I watched.
I particularly liked the way in which the werewolf transform, was there a specific thing that planted the seed for this?
The phrase ‘hairy on the inside’ from The Company of Wolves and the poster, showing the transformation of The Huntsman, played by Micha Bergese; which shows the wolf emerging from his mouth.
Of all the monsters in the book it is perhaps Justinian, who is the most chilling. Were you ever concerned about writing about such a touchy subject?
I was more concerned about writing one of the crimes committed in ‘Nursery Rhymes’, as I know people who’ve been a victim of it.
When I’m thinking up characters and situations, I’m quite superstitious and don’t use the names of people I know. This is because I read once that James Herbert found real life coincidences, following the publications of his books.
Green Eyes, like many of the stories features a dysfunctional family is there a reason that this setting is one you seem to like?
The theme of dysfunctional families is one a number of people have commented on, but when I was writing the stories, I wasn’t conscious of it. In my mind, I was writing about ordinary people in extraordinary situations and who’ve very difficult choices to make or who’ve been pushed just a little too far.
It’s been a few months since the book was released how well has it been received? (look out for my review of it tomorrow folks)
It’s just received its tenth 5 star review on Amazon sites and had good reviews from Fear magazine and zombiehamster.com.
At the beginning of January, I attended a book club and had a chat with the ladies of The Book and Bottle club. That was a fun evening as we had a really interesting discussion about why there aren’t any female baddies in the stories and what makes a good villainess.
So what does make for a good villainess?
Their view was someone who does horrible things, with an understandable reason. That doesn’t mean they wanted to agree with them or even like the character, as long as she was understandable.
I love the cover of the book, who came up with the concept of it?
That’s all Carlos’s idea. Indeed, it’s his face in the picture.
Have you or Carlos considered selling it as a print?
No, we haven’t, but I’ll be chatting to him soon, so I’ll pass on that suggestion.
Can you tell us about any future projects?
I’m currently working on ‘Other People’s Darkness and Other Stories’, the next collection of short stories, again edited by Marie O’Regan with a cover by Carlos Castro. That’s due out around the end of February.
I’m also working on an article for ‘Cabal & Other Annotations, by Clive Barker and various’ published by Fiddleblack.
Hopefully, there will be a signing of Demonologia Biblica, as I’d love to meet up with the other authors, who include Barbie Wilde.
Nicholas, this has been both an honour and a pleasure having you over for a chat, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Do you have any final words for the readers?
Cheers Jim, it’s been fun.
I’m giving away a free short story, ‘Why Won’t They Tell Me,’ on
Downloading it means you’ll be notified of when the next collection is out and how to get it free on Kindle.
As mentioned earlier my review of What Monsters Do is forthcoming, however if you fancy reading it, and I highly recommend that you do, then please consider purchasing from the link below.