Interview – Doug Bradley

When thinking of antagonists that have terrorized the silver screen in the Horror cinema over the past three decades, chances are Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Jason Vorhees all come to mind. Some silently instilling fear, others with a more boisterous edge, standing out amongst them is none other than lead Cenobite Pinhead. First appearing in Cliver Barker’s classic 1987 film Hellraiser, the extra-dimensional being strikes fear into the soul of anyone’s path he crosses. One of the only Horror villains which is not a faceless figure behind a mask, Pinhead has eyes like daggers and an eloquent dialect all his own, forever forging him as an iconic figure in the hallow halls of Horror film history.

So who is the man behind the character? The answer would be none other than English Actor Doug Bradley. As vital to his character’s life as Bela Lugosi to Dracula or Robert Englund to Freddy Krueger, Bradley has appeared as the infamous Pinhead in eight Helllraiser films and also starred in a list of other features through the years. Most recently appearing in the popular Amazon series Lore, Bradley continues to find new creative outlets as an actor with a passion that continues to burn. Taking the time to talk about it all, Bradley sat down for an in-depth interview looking back on the development of Pinhead, his love for the macabre side of film, future plans, plus more. – Involved in film/television for decades now, you have done a lot of great things including, of course, Hellraiser portraying the infamous Pinhead. First, briefly tell us, what inspired you to get involved in entertainment?

Doug Bradley – Wow, that’s a broad question. I always have a problem with this story because I have to explain British Pantomime, which is a theatre event that happens around Christmas. It is usually based around fairy tales or nursery rhymes. They always feature specific traditions of the Dame, usually a rather blousy female character, always played by a man. I have played that role in the theater in the 1980s before Hellraiser came knocking at my door – Sadie Spangle! There is also usually a role called the Principal Boy, who is kind of the hero, and is always played by a girl. It’s always full of topical references and very heavy on sexual innuendo. It would always feature well-known names and faces from the world of light entertainment, particularly comedians.

Which is a long-winded way of saying, in the early 1960s, I remember going to the Empire Theater in Liverpool with my family. We went every year to see the Pantomime. This particular year, it featured, two names which would be very familiar to British audiences but not so much to American audiences – Norman Wisdom and Bruce Forsyth. At one point, they were playing a game of cricket with bags of candies. One of them was tossing the bags across the stage and the other was batting them out into the audience for the children to catch. I remember sitting watching this, thinking it looked like the best thing in the world to possibly be doing, and I had a fundamental urge to want to be where they were and do what they were doing in that specific moment.

Acting was just always around with school plays and so forth. I first met Clive Barker while we were doing the school play together at my high school in Liverpool. I started to get involved working with him at school and then later doing independent experimental theater in Liverpool and eventually in London. It was something that was always there. Ultimately, I think it was the only thing I was ever really good at. It was the thing that I knew always made me the happiest. I never went to theatre school: I’ve never taken an acting lesson in my life. Some might say it shows [Laughs]. I just knew this was the thing I was going to be doing by the time I was in my mid-twenties. – Very fascinating to hear. You obviously would go on to work with Clive Barker, as you said. What was your reaction when he told you, “I have this story and I have this character I want you to play”?

Doug Bradley – Through the following year – 1986 – the idea of Hellraiser started to come together and with it, the idea of me playing Pinhead. Not called Pinhead at that point, of course, the character was anonymous in the first film, as he was in The Hellbound Heart.

New World Pictures
New World Pictures – And the rest is history as they say. Many who are fans of Hellraiser would say your portrayal of Pinhead really defines the series.

Doug Bradley – Well, since I was the only character consistent through the series, I guess that is inevitable. It’s for other people to make that decision. It would be true to say that it was not Clive’s original intention: he was not perceiving the Cenobites, or Pinhead in particular, to be the central focus of the film. His focus was very much on Julia as the first great female monster in Horror films. There was no shortchanging in that direction: it was a magnificence performance by Clare Higgins in the role. I think the Cenobites kind of snuck up around Clive and became the characters everybody talked about in relation to the movies. – That is interesting to hear. What is so compelling about Pinhead is he is a different villain. In other Horror films, many villains are behind masks but you have a face, and your face makes Pinhead what he is. From the bone structure of your face to the eloquent approach to delivering the lines. What was it like bring that to life?

Doug Bradley – Well, thank you. It was a very exciting process. I’ve seen a lot of actors approach doing prosthetic work with a kind of dread, tolerating it just barely; they don’t really want to be there and don’t want to do it. I guess, partially because in the theater work that we had done together, masked work had always been very important to us, we had done quite a lot of it, I approached it with a great sense of excitement and intrigue. That journey began with a trip to Bob Keen’s studio in Shepperton to have my cast done and look at early designs for how the Pinhead makeup might ultimately look. The whole process of that, and then the screen test of the makeup which was the first time I had the makeup applied: I was excited by the whole process.

The first time the makeup was on, I was alone in the makeup room with just me in the mirror, for about 15-20 minutes; I just sat in the chair and stared at this face. It’s genuinely a kind of weird experience to look in the mirror and not see yourself; I could see my eyes, lips, teeth, and ears, that was it. Everything else was about this new thing. I have said, unashamedly, that I probably found around 95% of where I was going with Pinhead in that 15 to 20 minutes. Don’t ask me to quantify it, because I can’t. It’s kind of a sensory perception of what you are getting back out of the mirror. I’d already made a number of decisions from reading the screenplay and talking to Clive. I knew this was a very calm and measured kind of character. Initially, I think I kind of approached it with a short-hand in my head: I’m going to play the monster in a Horror film and that’s very cool. He isn’t really the monster. The focus of the monster is really Julia. As the movie went on, I kind of got the idea that Pinhead is really like an impartial judge on proceedings.

Obviously, you take your principal cue as an actor from the screenplay, the lines, and the language your character has been given. The language that Clive employed for Pinhead was very specific. It was poetic, darkly witty, and he clearly has a sense of humor. I’ve said before that this is a monster in a Horror film, who wouldn’t be lost for words if he found himself at a garden party with Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde – he would be quite happy trading aphorisms with them.

Dimension Films
20th Century Fox – (Laughs) Very true. It is really something to hear how you developed the character. Having been sometime since you last portrayed the character, you have done a lot of work, particularly in Horror. Do you enjoy working in Horror?

Doug Bradley – Absolutely, yes. I’ve always been a fan of the genre: I was a fan as a teenager before I knew I was going to be an actor. When I did make a decision that I was going to be an actor, there was not any particular ambition or assumption that I would work in the Horror genre. Having got the opportunity through playing Pinhead, it is always a genre I feel happy and at ease with. I’ve done other stuff, as well. I have always enjoyed the Horror work though. – Wonderful to hear you enjoy the genre. Do you have any projects coming up?

Doug Bradley – The next thing coming up is the second season of Lore, which is out on Amazon Prime. I am in the episode Burke and Hare: In The Name of Science. I’m playing Dr. Robert Knox, who kind of commissioned Burke and Hare’s nefarious activities. – Great! Lore is a very different and enthralling series.

Doug Bradley – Yes, they have changed the format slightly for the second season, it’s more a straightforward dramatization. I watched the first season and liked it very much; I thought they were doing something interesting and different.

Doug Bradley in Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines. © 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. – Most certainly. In between your acting, you also attend many fan Horror conventions. Do you often find fans referring back to Pinhead and are you asked if the situation were right, would you return as the character?

Doug Bradley – Yes, I have been asked that once or twice. (Laughs) Most of the reason people come to see me at the conventions is Hellraiser, which is not to say nothing else gets mentions. I’m always surprised people have seemed to follow my career as closely as they do. Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines (2012) has probably gotten more comments of stuff I’ve done recently than anything else, a bit to my surprise. That’s always very gratifying.

Yes, people are always asking me if there will be another Hellraiser film – are they going to do the remake? Am I keen on the idea of a remake? If they ask me to do the remake, would I do it? Because in the last eight years, there have been two Hellraiser films I have not been involved in, people always want to know about that and does that mean I’m never going to play the character again? There were specific reasons I was not involved in either Hellraiser: Revelations (2011) or Hellraiser: Judgment (2018), but I’ve never said I’m done with the character. To be realistic about these things, it’s been thirty-two years down the line since I first played the character. Time’s a bitch, as we all know, but certainly with the right script and circumstances, I would be entirely open to consider playing the role again. I’ve never said I’m done with it. – That is great that you would be open to returning under the right circumstances.

Doug Bradley –Never say never,” they say, right?

Koch Records
Roadrunner Records – Exactly. There are so many conflicting stories about what was going on with a Hellraiser remake: some reports suggest that Clive submitted a script and Dimension Films declined it. It’s so confusing!

Doug Bradley – Absolutely! To be honest, I can’t offer a definitive answer, because I don’t know the processes that went on between Clive and Dimension Films. It would be wrong of me to try and second guess that. I’ve lost track, but it’s over a decade since I first caught wind of the planned remake. Certainly at that point Clive was prepared to write and direct it. Then it blew up again a few years ago, at which time he was only prepared to write it and someone else to direct it; there has been various directors attached to it over the last decade who have come and gone. Nobody in all of that process has ever talked to me directly about it. Where we are exactly, I honestly don’t know. I can’t say definitively at all whether there are serious plans at this stage for a remake or not.

I’d be happy if not, only because I don’t think there is any need for it, I really don’t see the need for it – other than the producers feel they can make millions of dollars on the opening weekend. I think it is very, very seldom these remakes improve on the original or offer something that the original did not. In the case of Hellraiser, it seems to me the movie is not just standing the test of time, which it emphatically is, but it seems to me the movie is more popular now than it’s ever been. I’m certainly encountering a whole new generation of fans who weren’t born when the film was first released; they clearly are finding the movie as fresh and powerful as audiences did when the movie was first released. I don’t really see there is any need to remake it at this point. – That is extremely true, remakes very rarely do improve on the original films. Last question. Beyond film, you have lent your force to things such as various Cradle of Filth albums. What was it like providing narration for their albums?  

Doug Bradley – I kind of knew Dani, I was aware of him. I am always a major disappointment to my fans, because I don’t really do Heavy Metal. Music is very important in my life and I have a very broad palate, but Metal isn’t really one of them. I like Dani as a writer, and he’s a terrific performer, and I’ve got to know him pretty well; he is a really cool guy. He recently interviewed me for Metal Hammer. It had been a number of years since we had spoken, but we have been talking with each other since. I did four albums with them, and it was fun to do; it was quick, easy, and I enjoyed doing it. I get a lot of feedback from it, so clearly fans enjoyed it. I know Dani has got the band back in the studio working on a new album.

Photo credit Jeremy Saffer.

For more on Doug Bradley: dougbradley.comFacebook 

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