As serial killer John White, Stephen Curry is the king of his castle in Hounds of Love.
Set in a nondescript Perth suburb during a sweltering Christmas in 1987, Hounds of Love chronicles the unspeakable crimes of serial killer John White (Stephen Curry) and his wife Evelyn (Emma Booth), whose abduction of a local girl (Ashleigh Cummings) threatens to drive a wedge between them.
“It is a tough watch,” warns Curry. It’s also not the kind of film where you’d expect to find the loveable Aussie star of The Castle and The King.
Although the very definition of casting against type – Dale Kerrigan goes to Hell, if you like – it was exactly the sort of meaty, dramatic role the actor had been hoping would come his way for a long time, and he was determined to make it count.
“You don’t want to do it by halves,” he tells STACK. “I certainly didn’t want it to be the last time somebody trusts me with very heavy material, and I was going to work my guts out, so hopefully it’s paid off.
“It felt to me we were making something of great quality”
“With a good guy you’ve got very strict parameters and boundaries, whereas the bad guys have no boundaries,” he says of the challenge in playing a villain. “A representation of John as a human being is a challenge in itself because he’s the worst human you can imagine – he has all the worst qualities of a person you wouldn’t want to meet. That, for me, was a big part of my fascination with him.”
While John White is indeed a despicable character, he’s also a pathetic figure who relishes his control and power over women, but crumbles in the presence of those stronger than him.
“That’s one of the interesting things about him that writer-director Ben Young and I worked on together – creating this character who has such control of his home life, he’s got to the point where he doesn’t have to maintain the control. The control is maintained for him by his wife, but it’s all to his liking. He’s the king of his domain and once he puts his foot over the precipice of his own property, he’s nothing.”
One of the many disturbing aspects of Hounds of Love is that White’s wife is an accomplice in his crimes against women – something Curry says is frighteningly prevalent throughout history.
“There are many true stories documented over the last hundred years or so of these codependent couples that do these hideous things. Part of the interest for Ben and I is the similarity between all these couples from history.”
Unlike similarly themed Australian crime thrillers such as Snowtown and The Boys, Hounds of Love isn’t based on any particular true crime story, but rather inspired by a composite of cases that Young had studied.
“His mum is a crime writer, so from a young age he’s been obsessed with the stuff his mum used to write about,” reveals Curry,“ and he started to notice all these correlations.
“You might think he’s quite a morbid guy, but he’s one of the nicest, friendliest and bubbliest humans you’ll ever meet in your life,” he laughs.
Despite the grim subject matter, Curry says that the mood on the set was one of camaraderie and a respect for the subject matter, as well as a mutual trust in each other. He also praises his 25-year-old co-star Ashleigh Cummings for her ‘heartbreaking performance’. “She has this way of conveying terror which made any scene that we did with her very hard, too.”
Curry notes that while Hounds of Love is indeed confronting, most of the violence occurs off-screen and behind closed doors.
“The one thing that Ben had said to me at the outset – and I think he achieved this as well – is that he didn’t want to create any sense of voyeurism in the film. There’s no mistaking what’s going on and it’s a testament to his skill as a filmmaker to be able to create that tension and sense of horror, while not actually showing any physical violence.
“It felt to me we were making something of great quality,” he continues. “Ben’s attention to detail is remarkable, and his ability to lead from the front. That in itself made it a bit easier to take, but at the same time it’s something that didn’t sit very comfortably. Usually I can go home, have a shower, have a beer, go to bed and start over again, but you’re stuck with this kind of reality of what happens to innocent people.”