Jeremy Lovering's gripping horror-thriller In Fear, about a young couple driving around Ireland who become the target of a psycho stalker, opens on Friday in the UK, and is noteworthy for two reasons. First, its cast of fast-rising bright young things, which boasts Alice Englert, last seen in Beautiful Creatures; Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Iain De Caestecker and Allen Leech (yes - him off Downton). Second, there's Lovering's innovative approach to making the film: he didn't tell his actors what they were doing until the morning of each day, which made for some interesting experiences. We sat down for a natter with each of them.
Alice Englert "It's the only time I've got to be the audience to my own film as we were making it," laughs 19 year old Englert, who plays In Fear's frightened protagonist, Lucy. "We'd get emails the night before about certain things, but we couldn't tell each other. I was the last person to know what was going on in the film. We didn't know if we would die, or when we would die. We didn't even know when we'd finish shooting!"
Fear is something that is very immediate and gets down to who we are as humans. ALICE ENGLERT
Englert openly admits that she's not exactly a horror nut. "I've watched horror films, but I find I get a little too scared," she laughs. "I've seen them all at different times through teenhood, but I get almost too involved. Yet when this genre is used wisely, it can be one of the most interesting to work in. Fear is something that is very immediate and gets down to who we are as humans. It's a survival instinct and a kneejerk reaction." For the record, two of her favourite scary fillums? Duel and Knife In The Water.
Englert tells Empire all this in an accent that's hard to pin down - part British, for sure (she lives in London), but also with a hint of Australian; testament to her upbringing as the daughter of The Piano director Jane Campion. "I was brought up in Sydney," she says, "but we travelled a lot when I was a kid. It definitely informed my personality - I was aware of huge and vast and complicated worlds a long time before I started high school." Not a fan of high school, Englert dropped out early to pursue acting. Didn't she want to rebel? "I couldn't really see the point! Since I was a kid, I didn't know how to do anything else. I didn't know how to be a person of any use or purpose unless I was trying to make up stories." Next up for Englert are two mini-series, one for C4 and one for the BBC. Unlikely to be on the agenda, a follow-up to this year's underperforming fantasy flick, Beautiful Creatures. "I loved making the film, but I'll be honest, I was really scared of sequels," she says. "Everything is a potential franchise. I was disappointed for the fans, and I loved that the film was witty and smart and funny and had a great message, but I'm happy that I could personally retreat."
Iain De Caestecker Be prepared: it's not just the motto of Boy Scouts everywhere. It was king on the set of In Fear, where anything might happen. "One day we were out driving," recalls De Caestecker, who plays Lucy's boyfriend (of two weeks),Tom, "and we came upon this guy who turned out to be Irish." Nothing weird in that, at first glance, as the film is set in Ireland. But it was being shot in Cornwall. "He was the creepiest guy you've ever seen. He was talking in these really cryptic sentences. I thought he was a really great actor, but Jeremy said none of that was planned. I still don't know who that guy was..."
We thought they were going to tone Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. down for episode 2, but they just keep getting bigger! IAIN DE CAESTECKER
Since filming In Fear, De Caestecker's career has exploded, with the young Scot bagging a supporting role in Filth, and a lead in Ryan Gosling's directorial debut, How To Catch A Monster. "Ryan works in a very free way, he's constantly in an artistic frame of mind," he says of the Baby Goose. As for the film itself, "all I can really say is that it centres around a family. There's my character, Bones, his mother and his younger brother. There's also a girl next door played by Saoirse Ronan, called Rat. It's about this family living in a town called Lost River, which is perhaps a place that was once full of family and happiness and love, and is now this town that's slowly descending into a place without any hope. This family is holding onto the foundations of their house and everything they think they need to hold onto."
And right now, De Caestecker is in one of the biggest TV shows around, as one of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. "You do something like the pilot and it has big setpieces and action and CGI," laughs the man who plays Leo Fitz, "and we thought they were going to tone it down for episode 2, but they just keep getting bigger!" So how does he explain this sudden career explosion? "There's a part of it about working hard," says the 26 year-old. "But a big part is luck. I don't plan too far ahead." No wonder In Fear fit like a glove.
Allen Leech As the charming chauffeur-turned-aristocrat Tom Branson, Allen Leech is one of the mainstays of Downton Abbey and, therefore by extension, comfortably the most well-known member of In Fear's cast. Or so you would think. As Max, the sociopath who clambers into Tom and Lucy's car halfway through and spends the rest of the movie tormenting them, Leech was first introduced to his co-stars when he got into their car, unannounced, during the middle of a take. "Did you hear what Alice actually said when I got in the car?" laughs Leech. "I got in, did the first take, and we reset. In the downtime she turns to me and says, ‘So, are you a stuntman?' I'm thinking I clearly gave an amazing performance if she thinks I'm one of the stunt team! I still don't let her away with it." For her part, Englert admits this is all true. "I didn't know him from Downton," she giggles. "I had never seen him before in my life until he got into the car. He was very offended!"
In Fear was so much fun to do, an opportunity to play a character that's so different... But he's not just a bad guy. ALLEN LEECH
If Englert really searches her memory, she might recall seeing Leech before filming began. For Lovering had the Irish actor spend the two-week rehearsal period stalking De Caestecker and Englert, echoing Max's obsessive, meticulous nature. "I sat and watched them drink coffee, and kept walking past them, thinking they have no idea who I am," recalls Leech. "There's a weird feeling, a sense of power..."
After four seasons of Downton, Leech relished the opportunity to get his teeth into a total bastard. "It was so much fun to do," he says. "An opportunity to play a character that's so different... But he's not just a bad guy, it's the whole psychological element of playing with the trust between them." He pauses. "Hey, I don't know what I'm channelling, but as I talk about Max and mess with my napkin from lunch, it looks like The Devil! This is bizarre. Let me send you a pic." He does. It does.
Next up for Leech is a role in The Imitation Game, about Alan Turing, the inventor of the Enigma codebreaking machine. "It's such a great script - it was on the Blacklist two years ago," he says. "I play John Cairncross, who was a cryptographer who worked at Bletchley. In the story, he's part of the team that break Enigma. I'm having a blast." The movie is directed by Morten Tyldum, who directed last year's cracking Norwegian crime thriller, Headhunters, which featured cinema's definitive ‘man-hides-by-plunging-himself-into-a-pool-of-poo' scene. Leech assures us that Tyldum is finished with the bodily motions. "I think, scat-wise, he's done," he laughs. "Where would it fit in? The toilet facilities at Bletchley Park were slightly better than in the highlands of Norway..."