A brutal and harrowing abduction story, Ben Young’s Hounds of Love premiered over the weekend at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival. While in Austin, Daily Dead had the opportunity to have a great chat with one of the film’s co-stars, Ashleigh Cummings, who stars in the project as Vicki, a teenage girl abducted by an unhinged couple living in her mom’s neighborhood, who observes the couple’s disturbing behavior from the confines of her new prison, and she realizes that destroying their bond is her only means of escape.
During the interview, Cummings discussed the initial appeal of Hounds of Love, her experiences working with writer/director Young, as well as her fellow cast mates Emma Booth and Stephen Curry, and more.
Congrats on your performance in the film. I loved the way Ben framed your story, because it was very different than other movies we’ve seen in this sub-genre. Was that the initial draw for you, that it wasn't just your typical torture movie? It was all from a very different perspective that was really emotionally grounded, too.
Ashleigh Cummings: Yes, definitely. I had actually decided to take a break from acting before this project. I was going to take a year off and have a real-life job, but then I got this script at three months into my break, and so I just had to come back. And what struck me about this story was that it was told from the lens of the female perspective, and was more interested in the psychology of everything, rather than the horror and gore.
But I didn't 100% know that until I met with Ben, because the bare bones of the script didn't explain any of the violence or anything, so I wasn't aware of how exactly he was going to shoot it. So when we met, I asked him, and he said, "I'm not interested in the gore. What I'm interested in is the psychological horror and the journeys that these people go through." That's when I knew I had to be a part of this.
There's a lot that is required of your character, both physically and emotionally, and I was wondering if you and Ben worked together on Vicki at all, or was that already in the script?
Ashleigh Cummings: Well, actually, he created a version of Vicki in the script that was pretty open to interpretation, where I could fill out certain aspects of her with whatever I wanted. That was one of the things that I was interested in going into the audition. I also wanted to get a sense of who Ben was as a person, too, and I remember him saying one of his priorities in casting the film and in hiring the crew was that they were first and foremost good humans, and then he would look at their skill sets. That was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever heard and the way I wish the world was run. So my trust in him was pretty immediate. He's one of the most incredible humans as well as an incredible artist, too.
Then, I was only signed on for about a week before we started filming, and during that week, I had a list of character questions, which were just pages and pages of ideas and things I had written out, and Ben read every single one, and he answered every single question to extraordinary depth too, despite his schedule. He was still able to give me all this insight, but he was also very much giving me the character to own, too. He would give me options. I'd ask a question and he'd say, "It could be this, or it could be this, or it could be a little of that." He obviously had a very direct vision, but there was this balance where he would give you space to breathe so you could just flesh it out by yourself. He's amazing. I could talk about him forever. I'm so proud of him and impressed by what he did in this film.
One thing I really appreciate about Vicki is a lot of times in movies where you see a girl in this situation, she’s just a victim, and some directors don’t give characters like her much to do beyond that. And with Vicki, while she's scared and she knows she's in a really bad situation, you can see there's something in her mind that's always working. The wheels are always still turning.
Ashleigh Cummings: Thank you. That was something we crafted quite meticulously. I mapped out all these moments she has in the film, where her emotional headspace was at any given point, what tactics she was going into, and things like that. In fact, her character ends up following the stages of grief in the end, so we tried to differentiate the performance in that way, so it wasn't just a monotonous kind of screaming, crying fest, because the stakes are so high.
Something that really attracted me to Vicki was her strength but also the permission that Ben gave her to be real in those moments. Because often, when you see your heroes in films, they're usually strong all the way through, but she has the moments where she falls into this hopeless depression, to the point where she even puts her own chains on her hand, which was something we actually came up with on the day. It wasn't scripted at all. So to have that permission to be a human was very important to me, but to also, similarly, have that strength, too, where she just goes into this survival mode to get out of captivity.
How was that experience for you creatively, where your character goes from being this somewhat carefree girl into this horrific world where you’re surrounded by these horribly unhinged people?
Ashleigh Cummings: It was like we'd made two different films. It felt like two completely different worlds, but both Steve and Emma are amazing. Steve is just the nicest and funniest guy you'll ever meet, like the actual antithesis of John, and Emma is like my sister and role model. She's incredibly strong, but filled with love and compassion and empathy, and I really enjoyed working with those two.
And what’s interesting, for as much as you're chained to a bed and Emma's character is existing freely, there are a lot of parallels between your characters in this film.
Ashleigh Cummings: That is all very intentional. When Ben wrote this script, he made it so these three female characters—Vicki, Evie, and the character of my mom—there are parallels between all three of these women, where they're captives in different ways. Seeing the way these different women handle it and how the experiences and interactions with each other inform their decisions throughout the film, I was really blown away with Ben's writing on that matter.
That's one of the reasons I loved the script, because it was from that female perspective, and I found it to be quite a feminist story in breaking out of those confines and those holds. Even on a very human level, it's a very important story to be told, because we often find ourselves in a similar situation sometimes with various government leaders and so on, and you have to find the power within yourself to really look at the situation outside of the propaganda you've been given or the reality that has been created for you.
Stay tuned to Daily Dead for more reviews and interviews from SXSW, and in case you missed it, check out our other live coverage of the film festival.