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Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Conor Timmis Interview

(Note: This interview by porfle originally appeared online in December 2008.)

In 2006, actor and Boris Karloff fan CONOR TIMMIS got the idea to produce his own screen test for Universal Studios' biopic of the legendary horror star. The fact that no such picture is in the works was of little concern. Besides serving as a devoted fan's tribute to Boris, Timmis' screen test-slash-documentary KREATING KARLOFF was intended to give the studio that produced FRANKENSTEIN and THE MUMMY something to think about while giving us some interesting reenactments of certain scenes from those films.

Conor recently took a wrong turn and found himself in the spacious and elegantly-appointed HK and Cult Film News offices. Before he could make his escape, we blocked the door and promised to release him as soon as he answered a few questions for us. Here, then, are the results of that historic encounter...

When did the acting bug bite you?

I got the acting bug in my early 20's after watching Depp and Del Toro in Fear and Loathing and Karloff in The Mummy. Those performances made me notice great character acting and inspired me to follow in their footsteps. Around this time I took an intro acting class at my local community college after drifting through school not knowing what the hell I wanted to do with my life. Since it was the only class I enjoyed, attended regularly and excelled in, I figured acting was my life's calling.

How did you get into classic horror, and the work of Boris Karloff in particular?

When I was very young I remember my father renting "The Mummy" with Boris Karloff and telling me it was his favorite scary movie when he was little. Even at such a young age I remember enjoying "The Mummy", especially the spooky opening titles and the scene at the end when Ardath Bey is incinerated by the "living" statue of Isis and that wonderful shot of Karloff's face crumbling into dust. Indirectly, I was first exposed to Karloff by playground teasing. I was a shy, gawky, lanky kid growing up, with big hands, big feet, a pronounced brow and high forehead. So I was constantly called "Frankenstein" or "Karloff" when playground bullies wanted to hurt my feelings. Now I would take it as a compliment! When I rediscovered "The Mummy" and "Frankenstein" in my early 20's, I had an immediate empathy for the characters he played in those films. I guess cause I felt like a "little Frankenstein monster" growing up.

How did the concept for KREATING KARLOFF come about?

Inspiration came from many sources, but the initial idea, the earliest I can remember, started back in 2005 when I was working on a WWI short film. My character suffers horrific wounds in the film, so I underwent an extremely gory makeup application. It was my first time in the makeup chair, and I enjoyed it immensely. I kept pushing the makeup artist to make me look worse and worse. I found that I had a talent for happily enduring long hours of makeup-fx. Which I guess is a rare thing since most actors either detest heavy makeup or refuse to do it all together. When it comes to head and face casts and extreme creature/character makeup's alot of people panic and "lose it" in the make up chair.

It was during one of these makeup sessions that the idea for Kreating Karloff hit me like a bolt of lighting. I remember asking the makeup artist if he thought(based on my natural facial features)I could be transformed into a halfway decent Boris Karloff. He said that with prosthetics and a great makeup artist I could be made to look like almost anyone. After that conversation the project began to shape itself in my mind. Around this time I watched a clip of a screen test Jason Scott Lee underwent for the role of Bruce Lee in the film "Dragon". In order to pitch him as the best candidate for the role to Universal the director had made a cinematic looking screen test with costumes, set etc. I then thought I should do the same with my ambition to play Karloff someday by recreating scenes from his two greatest roles, "The Mummy" and "Frankenstein".

I had two major stumbling blocks from moving forward though, lack of money and not knowing a Hollywood quality makeup artist willing to take a chance on a complete unknown like me. So all this was just a day dream until I called Norman Bryn.

What was involved in organizing the whole thing and financing it yourself?

Organizing the project was simply a domino effect of exceedingly good fortune. Once I convinced makeup artist Norman Bryn to take on the project everyone else jumped on board. You get that one credible, professional person and it makes other talented professionals comfortable and willing to "throw in their lot" with you. Everything started and ended with the makeup artist. If Norm had said "NO" or hung up his phone, there would be no "Kreating Karloff". I knew starting off that the only way the project had a chance was IF I could somehow convince a Hollywood makeup artist with an extensive knowledge of Karloff's likeness to collaborate with me for very little money.

Through sheer luck this makeup artist lived only an hour away from me in Connecticut and believed in me and what I was trying to accomplish. Norm is also a good friend of Sara Karloff and one of her closest that helped make the Karloff family comfortable with the project.The initial financing came from my jobs working at Starbucks and Ruby Tuesdays..I had very little money saved..once the budget skyrocketed over $20,000, I had to take on crushing unsecured personal loans to finish the film. I wasn't gonna let lack of money stop me. The film ruined my finances but gave me an amazing resume. I consider it my "college". I'd do it all over in a heart beat.

What was it like sitting through those complicated Norman Bryn makeup sessions?

Alot of fun. Absolutely fascinating because he was recreating the techniques Jack Pierce used on all his great classic monster makeups. Despite the long hours, it went by quickly because it was so damn interesting to watch. Norm's makeup talent is an awe inspiring thing to behold in person. The Mummy was 4 1/2 hrs and Frank was around 8 hours with 40-60 mins of "surgery" when my brow piece/head piece caved in from the hot lights.

Was it inspiring to see yourself in full costume and makeup as Frankenstein's Monster and the Mummy?

Yes, it gave me an appreciation for what Karloff endured on a daily basis with Jack Pierce. It's very easy to become your character when your covered in monster makeup. I'm an actor that works from the "outside in", meaning that the way I look effects the way I feel and helps shape my characterizations.

The lovely Liesl Ehardt plays Zita Johann as "Helen Grosvenor" in the MUMMY scenes. How familiar was she with the film at the outset?

Liesl had seen The Mummy many times and had done enormous research into the life of Zita Johann before I discovered her for my film. I mean she is Zita's cousin and "The Mummy" was Zita's biggest film role and what she is primarily remembered for.

How likely do you think it is that Universal will ever actually produce a Karloff biopic?

I think it's highly likely that someone will make either a Karloff bio pic or some kind of "Boris and Bela" film in the near future. Karloff's story would make an inspiring, heartwarming movie I think. His life was the personification of the "American Dream", coming to this country without having a pot to piss in, starving and struggling to become a working actor for more than 20 years to finally become a Hollywood Legend.

Watching KREATING KARLOFF now, are you satisfied that you achieved what you set out to do?

Yes. I did the best I could. That's all you can really ask of yourself. I'm very satisfied that the film has and will continue to expose new generations to Boris Karloff.

Have you found modern viewers able to relate to KREATING KARLOFF? What has the general response been?

Yes, absolutely. The best and most frequent compliment I get is when people say they want to go to Best Buy or Blockbuster and check out some Karloff films after watching my documentary. That's a great feeling, knowing that my film is exposing Karloff's work and achievements to a new generation of viewers and young people in particular. I didn't make this film for the fans, they already know everything about Boris. One of the main reasons I made Kreating Karloff was to reintroduce the life and work of Boris Karloff to the general public who have either forgotten about him or know him simply for Frankenstein.

How did Sara Karloff react to the project?

Sara enjoyed the film a great deal and was quite flattered by all the hard work that went into a project regarding her father. She's the nicest lady on the planet. I met her for the first time at Chiller Theater last year and spent the day at the "Karloff Table" with Sara and her husband Sparky. Makeup artist Norman Bryn showed up too, and we all had dinner at Ruth Chris after wards. Frank Stallone also joined us for dinner which was kind of funny. He's a friend of Sara's and a huge movie buff.

What's your favorite Karloff movie and/or performance, and why?

That's a really tough one to pick...obviously his performances as The Monster in the Frankenstein films are some of the greatest committed to film of any genre. There are so many excellent Karloff roles/films. I think his performance in "The Mummy" is his most underrated..I mean, how many great actors could make you BELIEVE 100% that they are truly a 2,700 dead Mummy brought back to life? I can't think of any actor that could approach what Boris did in "The Mummy". My favorite Karloff performance is probably his role as Hjalmar Polezig in the Black Cat. Even playing a character that is pure evil with no redeeming qualities, Kaloff makes Polezig so damn likeable. Karloff's great talent with playing monsters was injecting sympathy in them, making the audience root for them against "the good guys". "The Man Who Changed His Mind" is another favorite Karloff performance of mine, even though it's one of his lesser known films.

I loved the "Re-Animator: 1942" short in which you played a Nazi zombie, but at three minutes it was way too short. Any chance of Fierro Films doing a longer version of H.P. Lovecraft's "Herbert West:Re-Animator"? It seemed as though Derek Meinecke could really do some fun things with that role.

I'd love to do a longer version and I do think Derek Meinecke makes a wonderful Herbert West for someone who is not an actor. He had the perfect look for the role.

Was "Nazi Zombie" the most elaborate Norman Bryn makeup you've worn so far?

Yes, it was the most elaborate and uncomfortable makeup i've yet to experience. It really kicked my ass. I was buried alive, heavy foam rubber prostetics, painfully tight skull cap and "corpse gloves"...just covered in layers of tight fitting was worth it though, the makeup, the character that was created...really incredible to look at.

I still think Richard Upton Pickman of Lovecraft's "Pickman's Model" is your best character to date. You had some fun with that one, didn't you?

Richard Upton Pickman is my favorite role too. I am a HUGE H.P. Lovecraft geek. Getting to take on the role of Pickman was a dream come true even though the film itself was a micro budget, community college student film. Pickman is one of the central figures in Lovecraft's "Dream Cycle" stories and is his best known "human" character next to Randolph Carter. To put my personal stamp on a character that is a big part of the Mythos Lovecraft created is an honor.

Playing Pickman was my first and possibly only chance to play a true "classic horror villian". It gave me the oppertunity to channel some of my biggest acting influences: Karloff, Lugosi, Frye etc. I did alot of research for the role, traveling to Salem, Providence and the "Back Bay" area of Boston. The project was the first time I reunited with Kreating Karloff makeup artist Norman Bryn. My makeup was inspired by Chris Sarandon's sickly Curwen makeup in "The Resurrected"(One of my favorite movies) and Lovecraft's desription of Pickman as someone being on the "toboggan of reverse evolution".

Thanks for talking with us today. What's the very next acting-related thing you're going to do after we release you?

I have some very exciting and ambitious acting gigs lined up with producer/director Scott Essman, our first collaboration (on a feature film) lenses in early 2009. Unfortunately, i'm not allowed to say what those films are at this point in time. Aside from that, i'm talking with alot of indie filmmakers who are putting together films for 2009. With the worldwide release of Kreating Karloff on DVD this Nov.18th, i'm hoping the phone will ring with some acting work....we shall see!


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