Pet follows Seth, a lonely man working in an animal shelter whose monotonous routine is broken one day when he bumps into Holly, a girl from school. After she rejects him, Seth becomes obsessed with his high school crush and soon his infatuation with Holly turns sinister. However, Holly is hiding a few secrets of her own…
A psychological horror with plenty of twists and turns that will keep you guessing throughout, Pet is directed by Carles Torrens (Apartment 143) and stars Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings trilogy) as Seth and Ksenia Solo (Black Swan) as Holly.
We sat down with Dominic to discuss Pet, Lost, Star Wars and Adolf Hitler (as you do)…
Pet is a pretty crazy film with lots of twists! What were your first thoughts when you read the script?
I read the script and in the first kind of 15 or 20 pages, I thought ‘okay, so this is gonna be weird boy meets girl and puts her in a cage and that’s the film’, but that’s really just the beginning of the film! I was consistently surprised and intrigued by the writing and where it was going to go.
How do you usually choose a project?
The way that I make decisions in this business is: has the script kept me intrigued? Most scripts that you read are somewhere around 95 to 105 pages. If I get through 40 pages – so close to halfway through – and it’s not done anything for me, invariably I’m not going to keep reading it. Because if I’m not going to keep reading it, it means that I’m not going to be that interested in acting in it, which means that I’m not going be that interested in watching it at the end of the day, and I have to represent the audience’s voice.
If I’m given, let’s say, six scripts by writers who have not made a film before, I’ll make a decision based on, in my opinion, the best written, the most exciting to read and that will go to the top of the pile. You know, if it’s a writer and they’ve never had a script turn into an actual film before – if they’ve written the best script, I’m probably going to roll the dice on them. With Pet, it kept me guessing and that was the reason why I wanted to be involved in it.
What else do you look at apart from the script?
Well, you make exceptions for directors who you have a) worked with before or b) have a massive amount of admiration for. I mean, I wouldn’t need to read an Aronofsky script or a Christopher Nolan script or a Sam Mendes script or a Peter Jackson script for that matter to say ‘yes’. I would say yes immediately based on the fact that they are truly incredible filmmakers. So you make a decision there based on the fact that they don’t make bad choices and you want to work with those people.
I mean, I’ve never worked with Christopher Nolan or Aronofsky – I hope to do that at some point in the future – but I would guess that based on a lot of the secretive elements to their projects you might not be reading their scripts anyway. I was lucky enough to be involved in the recent Star Wars film and the version of the script that I read was not the script that ended up becoming the film we got to see, because JJ has to protect that ambiguity and keep things secret. So I read kind of a skeleton version of the script. It was certainly not the script that ended up being turned into the feature film and I respect that there needs to be a massive amount of secrecy with projects that I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in like that.
Haha well, there’s probably going to be only one answer when being offered a role in Star Wars…
There’s no question that I’m going to say no if a Star Wars script falls into my lap! I’ll be like: ‘Okay, where do I need to be and when?!’ haha.
At what point did you get involved with Pet?
I was there pretty early on. The writer, Jeremy Slater, said that he wrote the role of Seth for me. Lots of writers will say that as a way of trying to get you to do the job, but I believed him because at the time we thought we were going to make Pet initially, it was in between Seasons One and Two of Lost. He said that he had seen Charlie in Lost and thought ‘what if we can make Charlie even weirder, even stranger?’ and he had a picture of Charlie in his office when he was writing Pet!
So I got involved with it very early on and then there was the writers’ strike in LA which stopped us from making the film in that initial window. Then from there the actress that was initially involved in the project with me got pregnant and couldn’t do the role, and then another actress that we liked kind of got cold feet and thought that the film was a little too over-the-top. So we had to wait and wait and wait until it came back at the perfect time, which meant that Ksenia [Solo] was involved. I think I was involved in this with the script for probably eight or nine years before it ended up getting made!
So the character of Seth was based on Charlie from Lost?
Yeah! I mean Charlie was isolated due to his drug use due to his artistic side and due to his family dynamic where he was not treated incredibly impeccably by his brother, so I think he felt quite isolated in that group. I think Seth has his own sense of isolation in a group. I think that Seth is a little bit weirder than Charlie, but you know, they both look quite like me, so there’s another similarity…
Why is Seth so drawn to Holly?
Well, she’s deeply charismatic, she’s smart, she’s intelligent, she’s beautiful. She has a massive amount of dark charisma, which is very beguiling. I mean, obviously, we’re drawn to people who are charismatic, and that’s not always charisma from a positive point of view. We’re drawn to dark charisma as well, which is why so many people get obsessed with murderers and serial killers and awful people. She also has elements of her personality that are similar to Seth. She’s someone who spends a huge amount of time on their own in isolation. She thinks that she can behave in different ways than other people, she makes her own rules. She thinks she’s above elements of society. I think Seth sees elements of himself in Holly and then ultimately he realises too late that he’s bitten off more than her can chew with someone like that!
You have some great two-hander scenes with Ksenia Solo who plays Holly…
It’s like playing tennis with a really great partner. Instead of saying to that person ‘okay, the gloves are off, I’m trying to beat you, you’re trying to beat me, game on’, it’s like having a tennis partner where you say ‘hey let’s practice our rallies, let’s practice our backhand”. You’re helping each other out by consistently playing the game with each other.
So in the same way that Ksenia brought a high level of intensity, a high level of energy and a great level of preparation, my job was to do the same. I needed to know the script backwards and forwards so that when we went into those scenes we could do them consistently at a good quality. You need a good partner. It’s like a dance partner. If she doesn’t know the moves, it doesn’t matter how well you know the moves, it’s going to look like you don’t know the moves either, because you’re going to be stomping all over each other’s feet. I was very very lucky to be working with someone like Ksenia who’s such a talented performer and she always brought 100% to every day that we were working.
Would you say Seth is a bad guy?
I think whenever you play a character, you have to try and find elements about them that are complementary and believable. Obviously, we are fully aware of the fact that Adolf Hitler was an incredibly complex, troubled psychopath. A sociopathic psychopath who did some of the most unbelievably awful atrocities in world history. But I think Adolf Hitler probably thought that he was doing the right thing. He wasn’t doing the right thing – he was, deeply, psychologically damaged and making terrible decisions.
Now I’m not comparing Seth to Hitler, but what I’m attempting to show there is that even people with terrible morals and terrible motivations to do things justify those actions because they think they’re doing the right thing. So I think Seth probably thinks ‘I’m a nice guy. I would like a girlfriend. I would like to help my girlfriend through her own psychological problem and this is how I’m going to go about doing it’. From the outside, you can very clearly say you are doing the wrong thing but I don’t think he’s able to connect to that!
What is it about psychological horrors that appeal?
There’s an element of escapism to those types of projects. Even before the Coronavirus, we were living in a time where people just want to come home and go into a different world where you can suspend belief about the world that you are currently living in. I think we are intrigued by watching situations where you think ‘I wonder what I would do in that situation? I wonder how I would fare? I wonder how I would cope?’ Obviously with Seth and Holly – so with both the female and male archetype – they get themselves in compromising positions where you think ‘I wonder what I would do in that situation?’.
The other thing is, just from a purely mechanical point of view, horror, thriller films tend to be relatively cheap to make and quite easy to find an audience and turn a profit. So a fantasy film or a big historical world war drama is not only expensive to make but it can become quite tricky to find an audience that is willing to give three hours of their time to watch [it]. Horror films tend to be quite tight 90-minute films, self-contained pieces that from a budgetary point of view are a lot easier to make and turn a profit in. You know it’s show business. It’s business. It’s all about business. And you can prove that horror movies tend to make their money back a lot easier than films from different genres.
We certainly need some escapism now during the Coronavirus epidemic…
Yeah, we don’t have a lot of options and the responsible thing for a lot of people at certain times going through Corona has been to stay in and keep yourself safe. So it is the responsible thing. It’s the first time probably in a long time or maybe ever that governments have said ‘stay in, order a takeaway, watch TV, watch movies and we’ll get back to you when things are going to be normal again’.
So I think people are desperate to find projects and the great thing about Pet, the thing that I love about Pet, is that it is a little bit of a gem. People think ‘okay whatever, Dom Monagan and Kesia Solo are in a movie and the poster looks kind of cool. I’ll check it out’. Then you realise within 25 minutes of watching the film like ‘oh okay, this is a lot more ambitious and expansive than I thought it was going to be’ and fingers crossed people enjoy it…!