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Emma Louise Chamberlain

Emma: "Itís a real struggle to get scripts read by film companies or ideas heard".

Conducted by Phil Davies Brown
June 22nd, 2005

Whilst many of the actresses I have interviewed are used to being chased, tied up, stabbed, raped and often beaten to death, this next lady had an even tougher time than most when working on her latest project as she was only able to use her voice to convey terror. If you're a fan of all things gothic, you'll no doubt enjoy reading what Emma had to say about her love of Poe and Roger Corman movies, and you may even want to buy her creepy new CD too.

When did you first become interested in the arts?
Iíve always wanted to act since I was very little. Thereís something thrilling about performing that nothing else can compare to.

Did you complete any formal training?
I studied drama and film at college and then decided to go on to study scriptwriting at university rather than formally train as an actor. As much as I adored acting, my perception of drama school was (wrongly, Iím sure) of a load of pretentious aspiring young actors, pretending to be trees or Mars Bars or whatever, and doing weird vocal warm-up exercises just to make them look good. I was in a play once, where the actors who were in the production after ours would come in and start warming up as we were removing our set and props. One girl in particular used to go through a whole repertoire of ridiculous noises in order to apparently warm up her voice and, when I finally got to see the production, I sat at the back of the theatre and could hardly hear a word she said! I find it much more useful and productive to have a couple of brandies at the theatre bar before going on stage! In my opinion itís certainly the best way to warm up your vocal chords, though Iím not sure that most voice coaches would agree!

How did you go about finding work in the creative industries?
Whilst I was at university, I had so many ideas and aspirations but, sadly, when you enter the real world you find that itís extremely difficult to get creative projects off the ground, mainly because of the lack of funding. Due to the fact that the British film industry is almost non-existent, itís a real struggle to get scripts read by film companies or ideas heard. I turned to theatre but, again, found that there was a huge lack of support in financing new work.

You recently narrated the CD 'Beyond the Shadows'. How did you get involved in the project?
I was looking for something new and the prospect of producing a spoken-word CD was suggested to me. I immediately jumped at the idea.

Did you help choose the stories?
I selected all the stories, although it was quite tricky to narrow it down to four. There were so many Edgar Allan Poe stories that I wanted to do, but realised that I could only really fit one into the compilation. The main problem with gothic horror stories is that the majority are in first person and that person is usually male. It was great to find Louisa May Alcottís story 'A Pair of Eyes, or, Modern Magic', which she wrote anonymously before she made her name with 'Little Women'. It was rediscovered in the mid-eighties, along with a number of other short stories that she wrote, so itís nice to have it on the CD because few people have read it.

Emma: "I have a particular fondness for
'The Tell-Tale Heart'".

How difficult is it to act when you only have your voice to convey emotion?
I'm an only child and always used to amuse myself by reading stories out loud to my toys when I was a little girl! The four stories are quite different and this was important with regard to the selection of them, as I wanted to make sure that there was a certain amount of light and shade on the CD. I still used my body to a certain extent whilst narrating the stories, which I think helps in the over all effect.

Which of the stories is your favourite?
I have a particular fondness for 'The Tell-Tale Heart' as it was the first story I recorded and, also, the way itís written makes it perfect to narrate. I love the whole cycle of Roger Cormanís Poe films of the 1960s, although he never actually made 'The Tell-Tale Heart', which is a shame. I think that most people associate Edgar Allan Poe with a male voice (predominantly Vincent Price) and, on first reading of the ĎThe Tell-Tale Heartí, you immediately imagine the story to be told by a man. However, I thought that it would be interesting to put a new slant on it - hopefully it works!

Did you find any of the stories particularly challenging to record?
The recording studio I used was great but, unfortunately, it was right next to a car park! So in the middle of a solemn rendition, a car would start revving up right outside the window. So any madness in my voice is probably for real! I was driven (excuse the pun!) to distraction by it all and the CD took at least three times as long to record.

Have you always been interested in gothic stories and other creepy things?
I used to get frightened really easily by ghost stories and scary films. The first time I saw 'The Omen' I had to ask my friends, who lived in the flat above me, if I could stay with them for a couple of nights, because I was too scared to be on my own! Horror is a great thing because, at the end of the day, itís all in the mind. Thatís why sometimes stories are so much more frightening than films, because we create the images inside our heads. Iím pleased to say Iíve hardened in recent years and never seem to get frightened now, which is a good thing as I live overlooking a huge graveyard, with my collection of taxidermy. When people come to visit me they tend not to come back in a hurry for some strange reason - must be the dead cats!

You appeared in a play in Edinburgh in 2003, did you visit any of the haunted locations?
There was so much that I wanted to do in Edinburgh, but never actually got round to it. Itís a really beautiful City and Iíd love to go back. However, the theatre we performed in was called ĎThe Cavesí and was under street level and supposedly haunted. Just before we arrived, Professor Gunther Von Hagens (the anatomist who did the live autopsy on Channel 4) had showcased some of his dead bodies on the same stage, which, I have to say, was a perfect setting. I only realised the day after, so never got to see them, although he left some glossy photos of corpses at the theatre, which I unexpectedly came across in the dressing room!

You have a drama group called Act One Drama, what was your intention when setting up the school?
Itís quite difficult to find full-time work in the acting industry and, at the same time, I didnít want to digress. I was lucky enough to find a base at a small, respected theatre and built the school up gradually. I wanted to explore some challenging stuff with the students and our first production was 'A Clockwork Orange', which was slightly controversial seeing as the majority of the cast were around twelve! Some of my pupils have gone on to study drama full-time, which is fantastic. Of course, I try not to encourage them to drink too much brandy before going on stage in order to warm up!

Emma: "Iíve been interested in Spiritualism for over ten years now".

You have directed many short films, are any of them horror shorts?
My first 16mm short was called 'A Lesson in Wagner' and was about a public school boy who became obsessed with the operas of Wagner and tied his music teacher up and shot him to the strains of 'Parsifal'. I was always interested in exploring the darker side of human nature through film.

I believe that you are also writing a book on spiritualism, is that something which you believe strongly in?
Iíve been interested in Spiritualism for over ten years now. I would love to interview Gordon Smith (the Psychic Barber) as I find his work of great interest. (I've met him - Phil) Iím incredibly passionate about the subject due to the fact that my Grandmother promised me that she would return to me after her death. When I first went to a psychic meeting I was really excited and full of expectation. Years on, I have yet to receive a message.

Iím extremely interested in the work undertaken by Harry Houdini in uncovering fraudulent mediums. Thereís something utterly terrible about individuals making money from peopleís grief and, during my teenage years, I came to realise that I had been throwing away my cash to be given nothing more than cold readings from those skilled in deception. Many prominent psychics in the public eye today acknowledge the fact that there are lots of people out there using deceptive methods to supposedly speak with the dead. In fact, one well-known medium I contacted actually directed me to a sceptic website.

Iíve also been looking at the Evangelical view of Spiritualism, which is, in itself, fascinating. Certain Christians tend to believe that Spiritualists are not contacting the dead, but rather demonic spirits who are impersonating dead relatives etc. The whole subject is truly very interesting and I feel that itís so important that people take a healthy, questioning attitude to this sort of thing.

Would you like to act in a horror film one day?
Absolutely. Iíve got quite a few ideas in my head for projects I would like to produce personally but, of course, itís the finance side of things. The theatre company Iím a partner of are in the midst of developing a script for the stage which is a very real and very scary piece, so it might be interesting to develop into a film treatment further along the line. I know that they remade some of the Poe films a couple of years ago, and Iíd love to be involved in something like that.

Finally, what can we expect to see from you in 2005?
Iím in the pre-production stages of arranging a tour of 'Macbeth' and Iím also very interested in turning it into a low budget film. When I was at school, I always felt intimidated by Shakespeare and never really enjoyed it, but Iíve rediscovered 'Macbeth' in the last five years or so and have absolutely fallen in love with it. Itís an amazing play. My idea is to be very loyal to the original script, but to make it completely contemporary by having the characters as London gangsters and Macbethís castle as a nightclub. I would dearly love to play Lady Macbeth, so nowís my chance - I canít wait!

Visit Emma at www.emmalouisechamberlain.net

"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Emma.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."

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