Julian Morris Goes Dark for Donkey Punch

julian_morris_erMy introduction to ER’s Julian Morris was when he played the innocent schoolboy who gets roped into some deadly fun and games in the movie Cry Wolf. In his new movie, Donkey Punch, Julian’s character, once again, gets pressured by his peers into taking part in a deadly game, but this time around it’s a whole lot darker.

Julian Morris talks with me about crying wolf, close quarters and hanging out in the desert with Tom Cruise.

Cyn: Before we talk about your new movie, I have to ask about Cry Wolf. I love that film.

Julian: Cry Wolf is brilliant. It was one of my first features I’d ever shot as a lead and only my second feature that I’d done in America. Jeff Wadlow, the director, was great to work with so was the rest of my cast mates. We filmed in Richmond, Virginia and we were all living together. I was twenty-one at the time, and we had so much fun! You know on set and particularly off set.

Cyn: You got to work with Jon Bon Jovi in that movie.

Julian: Actually, check this out, my first audition that I ever did, gosh I must have been really young, was for a Jon Bon Jovi film. I didn’t get it, but it’s [funny] how things come around. And he was great to work with.

Cyn: In the behind the scenes feature on the DVD, there’s this section all about you having to do that stunt where you dive off a balcony and into a pool. . .

Julian: I didn’t know until the day that I was going to be doing it and in retrospect it probably wasn’t that big a deal. But I remember at the time thinking, what the hell! I’m gonna go from the bleachers to jumping right in the pool and I’m one of those people who finds it difficult to open my eyes under water. But it was fun after the first try, you know, you get the butterflies out of your tummy. It was great, I wanted to go again and again and again.

julian_morris_cry_wolfCyn: Last year, I interviewed Sandy McCoy (Mercedes) and she told me that she got so addicted to the Cry Wolf game that she still plays it at parties.

Julian: It’s true! I actually introduced it to the cast of “Donkey Punch” and so when we had downtime we would all play with each other.

Cyn: Perfect segue, Julian. So tell me about Donkey Punch. It’s a thriller like Cry Wolf, right?

Julian: I think that probably the best way to describe it would be as an extreme thriller in the same light that maybe a film like Straw Dogs was, or Michael Haneke’s films like Funny Games, and Cache.

Cyn: The majority of the film is spent on a yacht at sea. How was that to film?

Julian: There are two sides to this. We were filming on this motor yacht off the coast of South Africa and the first few days it was like being on this fantastic vacation. Out to sea, the sunshine, much like the beginning part of the film, where it is the best of youth, you know, these characters are on this gorgeous yacht, the sun setting into the sea, they’re enjoying each other’s company, they’re skinning dipping and then of course it leads into this orgy.

The donkey punch really is a reflection of that youthful ideal; in this case, hedonism, but in a very innocent and, despite the drugs and the sex, a very innocuous way. Certainly the first few days of filming on this boat were that for us. Here we were, a bunch of actors, all of us becoming very, very close, in this strange project, but having an absolute ball on this boat. And then, as the scenes became darker and they were less about the enjoyment of youth, but the sheer desperation to survive, that’s when the claustrophobia set in.

We had no escape from one another, because we were working such long days—I mean one day was 21 hours, we were in character for every single waking moment of that day and because we’re all on this—you know it’s a big yacht but its certainly not a big space, we don’t have our trailers, there was no escape from those characters. That, of course, created that palatable sense of claustrophobia, that fear, that heart-pounding sensation and I think one of the successes of the film is that it translates that feeling during the film-making process into one that the viewer and the audience can enjoy… or not enjoy, in this case.

Cyn: Donkey Punch is not a movie for the squeamish and here in the US, I understand you’ll be hit with a more adult rating than you got in the UK.

julian_morris_donkey_punch-1Julian: Listen, what it contains are some really graphic moments; graphic violence and also graphic sexuality. Its interesting, but it’s the female sexuality that disturbs, not so much the American audience, but the ratings system here because it shows a female enjoying a sexual moment that perhaps isn’t too PC. In this particular instance its one character in a threesome and it’s instigated by the female character and she’s clearly enjoying herself. Were it to be perhaps a rape scene, then it might be more palatable for those that are doing the ratings and deciding them, but because she enjoys herself I think that’s what’s disturbing to them.

Cyn: So it sounds like you didn’t really have any reservations in regard to the explicitness of the film?

Julian: I think, taken within the context of the film, it serves its purpose and serves a very important one. In terms of my commitment to it, that was driven by [director] Oliver Blackburn’s vision. I couldn’t feel anything but total excitement for the type of film that he was going to make and that of course translated into 100% commitment.

Cyn : This is an unusual role for you, isn’t it? Playing something so. . .

Julian: Dark? I love the characters I’ve played; I love Owen Matthews in Cry Wolf, and James in Whirlygirl, but they’ve all been, and I say this in modesty, extensions of myself. They’ve been dealing with a situation in a not too dissimilar way to how I would have dealt with them. Whereas here, with Josh, I can’t think of anything that we have in common. I’d say he’s deeply wrapped up in his shell of insecurity and I can say I’m a pretty secure person. He’s not confident; I’d say I’m pretty sure of myself. He’s not too experienced in the ways of the world and while I still have a hell of a lot to learn I still think I’ve probably lived and experienced a lot more than he has. And certainly with the way he deals with situations, he does so in a very selfish and ultimately cruel way that leads to the deaths of his friends. And… I don’t think I’ve ever done that.

Cyn: I certainly hope not. The method acting taken a little too far, I think.

Julian: Exactly! To answer your question, yes it was a huge jump for me to play. It was a big challenge, but that’s one I relished and I love the opportunity to play such a character. If I look at the actors that inspire me—purely on a talent level, Jack Nicholson, he’s famous for The Shining and that’s maybe his most memorable role or someone like Anthony Hopkins, all those other fantastic roles he’s played and he’s most famous for Silence of the Lambs.

I think there’s a great freedom when you play such a dark character because it allows such opportunities in terms of your breath of choice in deciding how to play that character, what would drive him to do such a thing. Whereas when you’re playing a character closer to home, perhaps because they might be that much more similar to you the choices are much more obvious and so there’s a reluctance to veer too much away from those obvious choices, simply because it would feel unreal both for you as an actor and for your audience.

Cyn: When it comes to characters hitting home, you had an interesting experience working on the World War II movie Valkyrie.

Julian: My grandpa, he fought in the second World War, and he was actually captured and taken to this prison camp in Italy a couple of months prior to when the Germans came to take those that were Jewish to the concentration camps. He managed to escape, and he did this incredible trek across the Alps and he kept a diary the whole time he did it. It was this green leather bound diary with these incredible stories and these immaculately sketched drawing of where he was, the people he met, those that helped him and so when I was very young he gave it to me. I’ve always had it, sits in my room and I keep it somewhere very, very safe and I always will.

So, when I was shooting Valkyrie, I was playing a young lieutenant in Stauffenberg’s army in North Africa. I was playing a Nazi, my grandpa wasn’t a Nazi, he was one of the allies, but he also fought in North Africa. There was a scene where all these explosion were happening and I remember thinking, gosh this is exactly the same region that my grandpa would have experienced; I’m wearing a World War II uniform, I’m seeing people running around in uniforms, bloodied and injured, manning guns, I can smell the gunpowder in the air and the searing heat and that moment, I was there. I was exactly there where my grandpa had been in the early 1940’s. It was spectacular.

Cyn: That must have been some shift, going from an indie such as Donkey Punch to a blockbuster like Valkyrie.

Julian: Just in terms of the time that you have, we shot Donkey Punch in 24 days, and Valkyrie was shot over the course of a year. And so the time that you can dedicate to each scene is immense. I don’t know whether that’s necessarily a good thing, I think there’s always the case where you can think it too with something. And sometimes you need to feel that energy and in a movie like Donkey Punch where the film does need to have that accelerated pace, that claustrophobia, it works well when it’s a short shoot; because it’s all condensed in those days.

The other thing though is there’s going to be days when your fellow actor brings over the planes and lets the whole cast and crew on to see a flight show, and you get to come home from work in a helicopter and its pretty cool going into the craft service where they have like fresh Mahi-Mahi burgers all day long. . .

Cyn: So I have to ask. How was it working with Tom Cruise?

Julian: It was very, very cool. And Tom Cruise was—I can’t say how fantastic he was towards me. He was of course, shrouded in myth and legend, you know, he’s Tom Cruise. He’s a superstar. But he was the most regular and approachable man. He gave me fantastic advice on acting and choosing roles… he was remarkable. One evening it was a bunch of us, and we were staying in the desert having this barbecue together, sharing beers and he was just telling the most incredible stories about film making and films and Stan Kubrick and Paul Newman- it was just incredible.

Cyn: You also work on TV. I saw you recently guesting on Eleventh Hour.

Julian: Absolutely. And then ER’s been great as well! Its nice to mix it up, it’s great to just be able to choose great roles and be able to work on characters no matter whether it’s a small independent movie or a movie with a budget of 19 million dollars… and that line between TV and film for an actor is definitely blurred and that’s great for audiences and for performers alike.

Cyn: Finally, I have to ask my favorite questions. What’s something you’ve done that there’s no way you’re ever doing that again?

Julian: That is a great question! I generally try and live my life without regret, but something that I’ve done that I would never do… this a silly story, but I was backpacking through Belize over the holidays and I was on this night walk with one of these jungle guides. I was walking, getting ahead by myself, the rest of the people in my group were taking a long time, they were looking at ants that cut leaves; I was like, can we go, there are better and bigger animals and so I walked ahead and I saw this snake about three feet from me and I was like wow, that’s wicked! I grew up in South Africa, I remember we’d find snakes in the wild and my parents, or who we were with, would handle them.

So, my natural instinct when I saw the snake was, oh I want to get close, maybe I could pick it up, and I’m getting closer—this is such a stupid thing to do— and suddenly I feel this hand on my shoulder and it’s this local Mayan guy who we’re walking with and he lurches me backwards and his face is drained of color. The snake was a Fer de Lance which is the most deadly, toxic snake in the whole region of Central America. It’s local name is Spear of Fire because they extend their whole body, latch into you and shoot this fiery venom into your veins that feels like a conflagration within you. So that’s probably something I won’t do again in the future.

Cyn:  Captain Kirk vs. Captain Jack Sparrow?

Julian: Well, I guess, if you’re talking purely—actually, I was gonna say if it was who was going to get from A to B, you’d think that Captain Kirk would win, but I think that Captain Jack Sparrow has got that—what is it? Not the Golden Compass, that’s another film… what’s that… special compass he has?

But in terms, of a good weekend, like someone you want to have like fun with and like go to a party with or go to a bar, I think I’d wanna—I think Captain Sparrow would be a lot more fun than Captain Kirk. You could certainly drink more tequila shots with Captain Sparrow.

Julian Morris’ Donkey Punch is now available on DVD. Read the review at DVD Verdict and if you’ve never seen Cry Wolf, then rent that one, too.

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