By Admin | December 12, 2005

Mark Redfield can be seen in a horrible movie with my favorite title of all time: “Curse of the Cannibal Confederates”. The film itself is unwatchable, but the title always made me smile. Since “Curse” was his first film, Redfield can be forgiven for appearing in it—we all have to start somewhere.

Having survived “Curse”, Redfield went on to appear in a variety of independent movies and started his own production company, Redfield Arts, to produce a pair of the best indie horror films to come out in the past few years: Chainsaw Sally and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. While “Sally” just came off the festival circuit and is in a small bidding war for distribution, “Jekyll” is readily available and highly recommended.

It will come as a surprise to no one that Redfield, with a deep voice and commanding presence (not to mention a “look” straight out of the days of the matinee idol), is a stage actor, and that movie-version of “Jekyll” grew out of the stage adaptation (which he co-wrote with Stuart Voytila). It is without a doubt the closest adaptation of Stevenson’s novel, doing it’s best to keep a sense of mystery about the well-known story. Redfield plays the title roles and is mesmerizing. That he also directed the film and supervised the CGI backdrop just adds to the remarkable nature of the production.

“Jekyll was actually a little harder for me, because I thought he might be a little bland,” Redfield admits. “But both characters have a great arc built into them in the script that Stuart Voytilla and I wrote, so I trusted that, and kept Jekyll as simple as I could. Less was more, and as an actor, Jekyll was more of a ‘naturalistic’ style of performance. With Hyde, I started with the descriptions from Stevenson, and realized that, in our version, Hyde was a monstrous child that goes insane and out of control. Add a dash of paranoia, and he started to come together for us.

Hyde’s voice came right from what I imagined a Victorian villain might have sounded like on stage, all rolling ‘r’’s, and affected upper class speech—as he’s spending all of Jekyll’s money and enjoying the high life!”

Redfield’s Hyde comes closer to Stevenson’s id creature than any other production—especially later incarnations that make Edward H. “Hulk”-like and giant. “We made some decisions that he would be more ‘satyr’-like, rather than ape-like (as he is in the Frederic March performance), but I did bring some of that body language into it. As Hyde progresses through the story, and Jekyll can’t come back, I made a conscious decision to accentuate the ape-like movement, and this was matched with Robert Yoho’s make-ups. I didn’t wear a lot of make-up for Hyde until the final stage, at the end of the picture, and if you look closely, there is even the slight suggestion that horns are starting to break through Hyde’s forehead.”

You often hear about such preparation, but when the term “independent film” is bandied about, one often gets preconceived images of three-day shoots and kids running around their backyards with cameras. Obviously, this was not the case with “Jekyll” and was not the approach Redfield took to the performances. “Some critics have pointed out that I did the roles on stage, and therefore had ‘plenty of practice’. I guess this is kind of a backhanded compliment on the performances, but the reality is that the stage performance didn’t help at all with the film. The fact is, the stage version of ‘Dr. Jekyll and Hyde’ that Voytilla and I wrote and produced was ten years before the film, and acting a role isn’t like riding a bicycle—once you learn you never forget sort of thing. Our play and our film are very different, and when you approach a role, you approach it differently because you, the actor, have changed. Ten years is a long time. If I were to begin to prepare to play these two roles today, I know they would be very different again from what is in the film. Not better or worse—that’s for others to decide—just different.”

As for the production itself, with the lush and surreal computer-generated backgrounds (and foreground fog in most cases), the detail-rich period piece might seem to some to be a nightmare in the making. But Redfield insists it was no more or less difficult than any other production. “At the risk of starting into a theme song that we all sing, more money for something as ambitious as ‘Jekyll’ would’ve simply meant more time,” he says. “I over prepare, out of sheer terror due to lack of time. I tend to storyboard everything, even simple dialogue scenes. It allows a strange freedom to improvise on the set, because once I’ve tried to communicate the shot set-ups and the intention of the scene to the actors, I can then discover what they bring to it to make it all better, and adjust. But on bad days where we were all racing the clock, we could fall back on the storyboards and the shot lists and get it done. We had a healthy pre-production period, as we built 80% of the sets in the studio, and all of the women’s costumes were built from scratch. Also, we had two ‘table-top’ rehearsals, or script readings, with most of the cast. Wonderful actors we were lucky to get.”

Redfield also admits that as a director, he terrorized Redfield the actor quite a bit. “I was probably harder on myself than any other actor on the set, in that I don’t think I ever got more than three or four takes for anything. Associate Producers Tom Brandau or Tom Cole were on the set whenever I was on camera, and I trust them enormously. Both are good writers and directors. I produced Brandau’s ‘Cold Harbor’, and acted in a couple of plays that Cole wrote. Brandau and I had a kind of short hand. He’d watch the monitor, and after a take, I’d snap out of character—the outtakes are kind of funny to see the gruesome Hyde make such a sudden change—and ask, ‘Howz that?”. Brandau would quietly say, either, ‘Uh—I think you’ll like that,’ or ‘I think you can do better’. In that case, we’d roll again. Once in a while I would watch a playback of a take, usually a critical moment in the story to see if the character nailed it.”

Later, after shooting was complete, the utterly tyrannical “Redfield the Producer” was brought into play. This may lie the real inspiration for his performance as Hyde. “In postproduction, I was particularly ruthless. The film is called ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, and if they aren’t there, there’s no show. So the editor, Sean Paul Murphy, was kind of surprised at the beginning as we started assembling the film, when I quickly and without second thought would say ‘cut it’. He told me later that he was worried about cutting my performance together, with me occasionally looking in over his shoulder, but after the first week, he realized that what worked for the picture was important to me. The key for me is to get the best collaborators together that I can. Besides my producing and creative partner, Stuart Voytilla, who I’ve been writing with for several years, on ‘Jekyll’ we had Karl DeVos on the camera, Brandau and Cole on the set, Murphy editing—all wonderful craftsmen—and wonderful actors like Kosha Engler, Elena Torrez, Carl Randolph, Robert Leembruggen, making life a lot easier and work pure joy.”

By his own admission, Redfield has been out of the live theater (or, sorry, “theatre”, for you Bard-connoisseurs out there) for over seven years. But the stage is in his blood and was directly responsible for his current career in film.

“In some ways, I feel I came out of the theater and moved into film and television; but that really isn’t true as I think about it,” he says, correcting me. “Film caught my imagination from Day One. My earliest memories are of movies…but oddly, I can’t remember the first film I ever saw. My folks can’t agree on it either. My parents did meet doing ‘little theater’, as it was called. She came from Germany after World War II with her parents, and worked for an art supply store, learned English at night, and fell in with a troupe called the Spotlighters here in Baltimore that was run by the owner of the store. My dad was in the army, and a group of his pals ventured up from Fort Meade to audition for ‘Auntie Mame’, and he got the role of Patrick. Mom was the stage manager. A year later they were married (it was either him or a guy who owned a sports car, if I remember how the story goes). Then they had me.”

The interview continues in part two of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. REDFIELD>>>

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