Nina Forever marks the feature debut of filmmakers Ben and Chris Blaine which relates the tale of a supermarket shelf-stacker Rob (Cian Barry) as he reluctantly moves on with his life after the unexpected death of his girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) and falls for coworker, Holly (Abigail Hardingham). The only problem is that their relationship becomes somewhat complicated when Nina, unable to find rest in the afterlife, suddenly returns from the dead to sarcastically torment them whenever they have sex.
Nina Forever is this year’s Film4FrightFest Total Film sponsored movie with the publication’s Editor-at-Large, Jamie Graham, introducing the screening on the Film4 screen at 3.30pm on Monday 31st August. In celebration of the impending screening of the film that Alan Jones, Co-director of Film4 FrightFest, describes as, “A true blue British social-realist horror of the highest order,” SCREAM’s Howard Gorman caught up with Fiona O’Shaughnessy (Nina) as she describes how horrifying yet deeply satisfying it was to tackle such a demanding role…
SCREAM: Can you explain for people who know nothing to little about Nina Forever exactly who your character is?
Fiona O’Shaughnessy: I play Nina who is the dead girlfriend of Rob who keeps being dragged back to the world of the living by his grief. Each time Rob starts to make love to his new girlfriend, Holly, his subconscious mind sort of throws out a net that seems to grab her and drag her back in. Ultimately Nina finds herself bursting through the sheets of his bed all bloody and all pissed off. [laughs] That’s one for mum and dad there.
So it must have been a really daunting role to take on surely.
Oh yeah! It was a hugely daunting role to take on and I didn’t want to take it on. When I read it I didn’t want anything to do with it actually. I thought, “Oh this is really cool, this is really cool, oh my God! You’re joking! No way!” And again, I had to play the weird chick so at first I thought, “No, I’m not having anything to do with it.” The way in which the script is presented was really generously open to interpretation too and what my imagination came up with really horrified me so I really didn’t want to do it.
Weirdly I couldn’t stop thinking about the film and I talked to a few friends about it and then I received a letter from the boys. I said to my agent, “I really don’t want to be talked around this but I really am thinking about Nina. She’s gotten under my skin and she won´t leave me alone. I thought it might have been because I was unwell or something and that couldn´t be a good thing.” But then I started watching the boys’ previous work and I thought their stuff was fantastic and really funny and really human and really interesting. So then another couple of weeks passed and my agent rang me up and said, “I think it’d be really funny.” I told him he wasn’t well if he thought that but he convinced me that I should at least talk to them. We ended up having like a Skype first date where I was reading Nina over Skype and we were all grinning at each other and then Skype froze and it was really embarrassing. A few days later I flew to London and we had a bizarre audition, again almost like we were on a date together, and they bloody got me and that was it and the rest was history.
So once they had you hooked in, what was it about the way they operate that had you confident you had made the right decision?
They are really tender, intelligent human people. They are so personable and so tasteful in the way that they behave and in the way that they perceive the world. They are also really fun, really calm, they gave me lots of references, we shared lots of music together, they showed me lots of paintings and they opened it up for me. They listened to me and they let me express myself and express my fears, which I did, very openly. I was able to show them all of me, even the bits that people might perceive as a bit of an Antichrist. With a role like that, when you put your imagination in that place it’s actually really scary. Even though it’s kind of funny and sarcastic it comes from a place of total confusion, fear, self-disgust, shame and bitterness. All of these things that it is borne out of are things that you have no choice but to engage in when you take on a role like that because I’ve never done anything like it. I’ve never had to go to that place?
So if you’d never been to that place where did you draw your inspiration from to get there?
Before I’d even met the boys I was already dreaming about her and things that were quite scary. It’s really weird, you just start to get a sense of someone when you are going to play them even when you don’t want to play them. You start to sense really weird things like smells. Oh God it was crap. It was weird. One day, before I’d taken the job, I was in the kitchen and these Brazil nuts smelt like engine oil to me. I could smell it everywhere and I realised, “Oh no. That’s it! My intuition is revving up to play this woman.” Sometimes just being open to it points you in the right direction and it’s not always that pleasant but that’s what happened.
We also had a full week of rehearsals with Abigail and Cian and I which was just excellent. We were encouraged to do anything that brought these characters alive. Because the script and scenario that we found ourselves in as characters was so unusual we just did everything we could to make these people very real. In our week of rehearsals we improvised a lot and we just shared everything that we possibly could and we were all acutely aware that as soon as we meet on set we are all going to be unclothed and in very, very intimate situations together and we knew that it would be really important to be really be open and build trust with each other.
We also did a huge amount of physical work with our choregrapher Quinny Sacks. We did lots of like holding each other and she somehow managed to get us all to dissolve all of our boundaries. We became almost like one being for some of that week. We would move around each other and get to know each other in silence and it was really bizarre but incredibly effective. We all wanted to get the best out of each other so there was always a very strong sense of equality between the three of us and also with the creative team.
Talking of Quinny, I think she was very instrumental in you forgetting everything else around you on set and she also helped you move around as if your body wasn’t working properly any more.
It sounds so funny now but I remember standing one afternoon in Quinny’s house just crawling around her kitchen as a broken body. When you let go to that degree and just become that kind of being you have to forget about cameras and you have to trust that the people you are working with are the right people and that they are going to protect you. Quinny had this kind of magical quality. She is very open and direct and hands-on and there is a no nonsense about her. Before we knew it we were all glued together rolling around the place and just fine in each other’s company. By the time we were on set and the cameras came in we had already done that work and there was no inhibition from us because we were minding each other.
At the same time, given that most is shot in a bedroom, were you never very conscious of making sure everything was as visually appealing to the audience as possible?
I never felt that is was going to be! [laughs] I’ve been quite surprised by the response and I suppose that was really the DoP’s job and the boys. They had to photograph angles that were palatable and had to edit in such a way that it doesn’t cross the line into being just offensive. Obviously there was a lot of footage filmed that we couldn’t use. I remember the blood kept taking on this really stange consistency on my body under the light and I kept sticking to everything and everyone that came near me. They were forever stripping me off the sheets and that was a real pain in the arse and it took hours and hours literally pulling me off the sheets like I was a plaster. So yeah, there was stuff that they physically couldn’t use.
Although you were covered in sticky blood I think the Blaine Brothers were adamant on maintaining your beauty rather than focusing on a decaying you. They wanted to keep a kind of otherworldy look to you.
Yes. I don’t know why but I thought it was really inspired and I suppose that came from their meetings with Saffron Powell who designed the makeup. That was something that they came to together and it was such a lovely surpise for me. I guess when we were rehearsing we really explored the journey that Nina took between the next world and this world and the kinds of sounds and the feelings and sensations that she would have experienced. I guess that otherworld appearance that she has was perhaps somewhat borne out of those rehearsals and it became a very beautiful thing.
The Blaine Brothers have said that when audiences leave at the end of this film they will have learnt a lot about themselves. What do you think they were getting at and what would you say you have learnt about yourself during the filming process?
What I learned about myself is that it is safe to be myself and that it’s really worth taking a risk to do that. I also learned that I can speak out my feelings and my fears and I can be vulnerable and that that is not a sin and is actually something that can help me creatively. I have also learned that there are really beautiful souls working in this industry, an industry that can oftentimes be very harsh and very rushed. Something else I noticed is that audiences are hungry for the road less travelled so that’s been the most surprising and encouraging thing for me. It was a big risk on ever single level that I could have imagined at that time and now it’s the most natural thing in the world so I’ve learned to move through my fears and my resistance.
In terms of what audiences will get out of it, at the time I thought that I would definitely have to move to India after this one as it would be over for me but audiences have been really supportive and they’ve really taken the journey with us. I only hope that audiences will continue to do that. Obviously, each to their own really. Everyone has their own relationship with grief, be it the grief of a living person, animal, thing or be it physical death. We all have grief ahead of us and it’s one thing that we’re not able to escape so it’s really nice to see people talk about that or think about it.
So apart from Nina Forever can you share anything else you are currently working on?
Yeah I can. I’m working on a couple of things and I don’t even know quite how much I can reveal. One film that is hopefully going to go ahead in the next couple of months is one where I get to play [laughs] a psychotherapist. Who could possibly imagine that? Would you? Would anybody? That’s actually a really fun independent film. I don’t quite know what’s happening in my life but I seem to be drawn to these horrific movies lately.
Thank you so much for chatting today Fiona. I hope you have a great FrightFest.
Thank you, Howard. I can’t wait to see the film at FrightFest actually as I’ve only seen it on a mini iPad.
Nina Forever gets its UK Premiere at London’s Film4 FrightFest on Monday the 31st of August: Film 4 Screen 3.30pm – Arrow Screen 11.00am – Horror Channel Screen 1.30pm. In the meantime we’ll leave you with a trailer just to make sure you know what you really mustn’t miss out on. Both Fiona and the Blaine Brothers will be in attendance to answer all your questions. What more could you ask for?
Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)