Hellraiser : A Retrospective and Interview with ‘Pinhead’ Paul T Taylor
With the release of the newest instalment of the Hellraiser franchise – Judgement hitting our shelves. I have decided to look back on the initial film in the popular series. Each film in the series has added to the mythology surrounding the franchise. Judgement is the tenth in the series, I believe that it has much in common with the original film as an experience.
I remember seeing the poster for this film when I was fairly young. The visage of Pinhead glaring at me from a shop window and I still feel that today looking at the above image. In the late seventies and early eighties there was a glut of slasher films. These featured the same style of villain. Usually masked men who were out for slaughter and very little capacity for verbal exposition. Hellraiser was completely different from these types of films and with it’s powerful visuals had a powerful cinematic presence in the busy Horror genre.
The opening scene completely sets the tone for the film. A man opens a mysterious puzzle box. Given to him by an equally mysterious stranger in an unknown foreign country. As the box opens, the feelings of intrigue that teased the viewer from the first few minutes of the film were swept aside. Replaced by revulsion and a true sense of horror as the man is ripped apart by chains which sprung from the puzzle box.
Hellraiser broke the mould and introduced a whole new aesthetic to horror films. There were no more guarantees, the narrative placed us in uncharted territory. Discarding the modern conventions of the horror genre and replacing them with a sense of pervasive extrafilmic menace which I wouldn’t experience again until I watched Seven many years later.
With the release of the newest film in the Hellraiser franchise, I took the opportunity to approach it’s lead – Paul T Taylor for an in depth interview. Looking not just at his recent cinematic triumph as the lead cenobite or ‘Pinhead’ as he’s known to his fans, but also looking through his prolific career.
From starring in two episodes from the popular anime series Detective Conan to playing the role of the Old Green Grasshopper in a barnstorming production of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. The Dallas based actor has a proven track record of being able project great and varied charismatic performances over a variety of acting formats. He has appeared at Stage West, The Water Tower Theatre, Theatre Three and Uptown Players. Alongside his theatre credentials he has appeared in a variety of Television series and Films including Prison Break, Sin City and even Barney and Friends!
There’s a sense with Paul Taylor that he enjoys crafting unique characters and embodies them with a unique style. His tremendous talent and ability to imbue these performances with his personal tragedies as well as moments of joy gives each moment of stage or screen which he shares a captivating quality.
Paul Taylor was gracious enough to grant me an interview which highlighted why he is the best choice for the role as The Lead Cenobite in the new Hellraiser Judgement movie.
Chris: Paul, thanks very much for taking the time for me to talk to you. My associations with the Hellraiser series go back to when I was 8 or 9 and watching it with a friend of a similar age. The small screen time which ‘Pinhead’ occupies made a distinct impression on me – I draw parallels between the first film and Judgement. In both of those films, the presence of The Lead Cenobite is almost omnipresent. That was one of the elements I particularly enjoyed, the second element is the Shakespearean quality that you brought to the role. There’s a wonderful sense of believable melancholy which you injected into the character. This is a character who has been ‘doing his job’ for an indeterminate period of time. He’s a little bored with it. I think those elements that you brought to the character imbued him with realistic qualities which made him more than just a horror film villain. The Writer (Gary Tunicliffe) has also blended a series of genres into the film and is able to take the franchise into a fresh direction through this.
On the subject of the Cenobites I don’t see them as being ‘evil’ what are your thoughts on this?
Paul: I don’t either, I mean the concepts have changed over the years, I love the line ‘evil seeks evil’, it’s a beautiful line. Going back to the first movie, it’s simply us (the cenobites) just doing our jobs. When someone solves the puzzle box, we appear. I am very grateful for obtaining this role, it’s something I really enjoyed doing, it’s really my dream role.
Chris: Yeah, that comes across Paul. You’ve not just done the role justice, you have actually added strong nuances to the part as well. These elements of your personal creative direction in the characterisation of Pinhead. They have made him a continuation of what has gone before, but also brings a newness to the long running role. There’s more for the audience who are fans to see.
Paul: Thanks very much for that Chris.
Chris: It’s been a long time since you actually filmed Hellraiser Judgement and then it was released. Has that been difficult?
Paul: It’s been weird, it was 2 years from filming until release. I’ve done a lot of publicity during that time. It’s such a big deal for me to have playing this part, I’m really passionate about it. So I wanted to keep the interest alive in the film. I did at times, get worried about negative feedback from some fans who obviously wouldn’t want to give me a chance. I was worried about that kind of stuff for 2 years but I got over it. The period of time between filming and release, I was thinking ‘Oh My God, whats actually going to happen when this film finally gets released?’ Now that it has come out and a lot of fans actually like it. I am so relieved and hopeful. A lot of people say that hope isn’t a good thing to have in this industry but I can’t help it. I’m honestly excited for what could be coming next.
Chris: I think hope is important, it’s part of the creative process. There’s a point where you probably just have to stop worrying and just trust in your talents and just go for it. I think hope maybe has a part to play in that?
Paul: Life is fairly short, you can’t give up. Unfortunately some people do, but look at me. I’ve got this dream role, this amazing opportunity at this point in my life. I’m in 50’s and it’s all happening now after 30 years in the business. I think hope paid off!
Chris: I think with you being in 50’s, it’s almost the perfect time for you to take on the role of Pinhead. You have brought a sense of mature gravitas to the role in a way that hasn’t been seen before. There was an element of ‘Heavy hangs the head who wears the crown’ with how you played it. I don’t think a younger actor could have imbued the role in such a way. There’s a touch of weariness that you injected as well. I previously made the comment about the ‘Shakespearean quality’ It was something akin to that seen in Macbeth.
Paul: That’s an amazing insight. A few years ago I was quite sick and that does something to you. When I got cured and really got my life back. I was full of gratitude. When I was younger, before that happened. I wasn’t so grateful, it might have been related to white male privilege. Now I’m just grateful about many things in life. It might be that sense of gratitude is why the Universe has gifted me with this opportunity. I went through a lot of suffering – just like Pinhead. So when you are no longer suffering, it makes you full of gratitude.
Chris: How have you approached playing the character of Pinhead? Have you read the books and watched the previous films?
Paul: My introduction to the Hellraiser series was the first film. Before that, I don’t think I had even read anything by Clive Barker. I was in High School. Over the years, I have read a lot of Clive Barker’s works and I loved the Hellraiser comics published by Boom. I loved the nature of the alternate stories featuring the Hell Priest and the Cenobites.
I started preparing for the role by reviewing through the previous films that Doug (Bradley) had done. Then moving onto the films in the franchise that I hadn’t seen – so that was most of the films after Inferno. So I watched all of them. As I watched the films, I was touched by the history of the films and the other media that focused on the Hellraiser universe.
Reflecting on that, I knew that my portrayal had to be based on all of that to a certain extent. So straight away, I knew that Pinhead had to be British. For my audition, I played it with a British accent. After a couple of weeks, watching those films and concentrating on the first few movies. Gary (Tuncliffe) and I determined that I was also going to create my own sense of the character. I tried to look at other intelligent villains in other films. Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs and Ralph Fiennes character in Schindler’s List. Mainly because of that stillness, that…
Chris : It’s like a dark eloquence to the characters?
Paul : Exactly! also when Gary was showing me my headcast for the movie, he showed me the scene from Star Wars when Peter Cushing’s character – Moff Tarkin says to Princess Leia – “You’re far too trusting”. Gary put that on the screen and said – “That’s your Pinhead!”. So that scene gave me a great start of crafting the character. I continued to watch dark movies with strong, still villains. Movies that would give me an element of something – a glimpse of something I could play with.