Interview: Actress Antonia Campbell-Hughes Talks About Process, Character & Creating Suspense In New Film “The Canal”

Actress Antonia Campbell-Hughes speaks exclusively to Top 10 Films editor Daniel Stephens about her role in writer-director Ivan Kavanagh’s new psychological thriller The Canal.

Antonia Campbell-Hughes in Ivan Kavanagh's The Canal

Antonia Campbell-Hughes says she’s not fond of horror so it comes as some surprise to learn she delivers a sparkling performance in the critically acclaimed supernatural thriller The Canal from writer-director Ivan Kavanagh. The film, about Rupert Evans’ David investigating a horrific murder that took place in his home 100 years ago, debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014 with Fangoria enthusing that it was an “unnerving, dread-fuelled piece of work.”

Campbell-Hughes plays Claire, David’s work colleague, who finds a piece of film reel while archiving that depicts a murder taking place in his home in 1902. The actress, whose character witnesses David’s progressive emotional breakdown as he battles with the belief a ghostly presence plagues his home, was nominated for the 2015 Cine Talent Award for her performance at the Dublin International Film Festival in March.

The Northern Irish actress, best known for her role as Rick Spleen’s daughter Sam in TV comedy Lead Balloon, might not be a fan of film horror in general but when I ask if there’s any she likes, she says: “I have always adored The Omen and The Shining”. So she definitely has good taste.

“I met Ivan and we had a deep mutual respect for the other’s previous works. We had similar curiosity in human nature and the psyche. I loved the idea of playing a woman with a singular blind devotion to a man that is not hers. I had never played this character journey before. It felt very pure. I have often played very conflicted characters but I was attracted to the clarity [of Claire].” – Antonia Campbell-Hughes

Indeed, as she tells me how The Canal hopes to strike fear into the audience, it’s clear why The Shining is a winner in Campbell-Hughes’ eyes. “It definitely shocks,” she says of Kavanagh’s second feature film, but the “fear is from within us. It very brilliantly and accurately plays on nightmare, the paranoia of losing ones mind.”

Reminiscent of the unnerving, malevolent force that transforms Jack Nicholson’s family man into a monstrous force of rage and violence in The Shining, The Canal definitely has notes of Stanley Kubrick she says.

“Audiences will feel like they have been made to consider their environment. We are most afraid of our nightmares because it is what lies in our own subconscious. The Canal makes us consider this in actuality,” she remarks, adding that the film shirks typical genre tropes by evoking very psychological thrills in the way it moves the story along.

The Canal, Ivan Kavanagh, Antonia Campbell-HughesThis is why Campbell-Hughes was drawn to the part. “[Claire] represents one component of the female ideal. The women that surround David each give him an aspect of the perfect woman. Claire loves him with a blind purity and nurturing. But in that is something intrinsically selfish.

“I met Ivan and we had a deep mutual respect for the other’s previous works. We had similar curiosity in human nature and the psyche. I loved the idea of playing a woman with a singular blind devotion to a man that is not hers. I had never played this character journey before. It felt very pure. I have often played very conflicted characters but I was attracted to the clarity [of Claire].”

She clearly enjoyed the freedom Kavanagh allowed her during production to explore her role. “Ivan is an actor’s director,” she enthuses. “It was a very thorough pre-shoot process with lots of discussion about character history. [Kavanagh] is very generous about giving the characters away to the actor playing them.”

The Canal appears to be the beginning of something big for Campbell-Hughes as film audiences are set to see a lot more of her in the coming 12 months. She’s already finished two movies alongside the likes of Hollywood stalwarts Sam Neill, Alec Baldwin and Danny Glover called DxM and Andron: The Black Labyrinth which are due out next year, while Douglas Ray’s Singer Songwriter Kidnapper arrives on video-on-demand this year.

Antonia Campbell-Hughes in Ivan Kavanagh's The Canal

Film or television I ask?

“Doing more television does appeal to me right now,” she replies. “There is such freedom in it that wasn’t there before. The formula is less strict and TV appeals because you may get to spend more time with your story or your character.”

But I get the feeling cinema is her true love.

“Filmmaking is in my heart. I love exploring ideas. Telling stories. Playing with personalities. I plan to be doing this when I’m 90!”

The Canal arrived in UK theatres on May 8th 2015.

Words by Daniel Stephens

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Callum Reply

    Fascinating interview Dan. The Canal appears to be something worth checking out for horror/thriller/paranormal fans.

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