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Russell Geoffrey Banks on ‘Who’s Watching Oliver’

Russell Geoffrey Banks is an English actor, whose fascination for movies started at a young age. Working a number of jobs, he attended acting classes on the side and wrote screenplays in his spare time. After a holiday to Thailand, where he met some people who worked in the film industry, he decided he could work his way into the industry through small acting jobs - learning from the likes of Bradley Cooper, Neal McDonough, James Van Der Beek and Chow Yun-fat.

He studied Method Acting in the UK under Sam Rumbelow. Over the years, Russell's characters have moved to the darker side... playing a scam artist, a mythological villain and a serial killer in Who's Watching Oliver. The double-sided horror thriller features a young man, whose deceptive first appearances make way for dark, twisted Jack the Ripper meets Norman Bates type slasher with a difference. Spling caught up with Banks to find out more about this challenging role and film...

How did you get involved with this project?

Originally, I knew I wanted to make a serial killer film, so after suggesting it to Richie we decided that we would write it together. Then at that point we decided to bring Raimund Huber into the project and the three of us came up with the script.

You’re playing a very challenging character with a disturbing history, how did you prepare for the mental and physical demands of playing Oliver?

Well, after we wrote the script we had a base to who Oliver was. Then Richie and I watched a lot of serial killer documentaries as well as really looking into the long-term affects of abuse. After that, I really tried to dig deep into my own psyche and memories to find the pain inside needed to take on the heaviness of who and what Oliver is.

Did you take inspiration from any other performances in getting to the quintessential Oliver?

Oh for sure, I'm a film fan, so I'm always in awe of other actor's work. Because Oliver is dealing with so many years of mental and physical abuse as well as maybe having some signs of autism... that all had to be taken into account. So I watched other actors who played roles where the character had these types of background, actors like Billy Bob Thornton, Sean Penn, Tom Hanks, even Ricky Gervais in Derek. Then I also looked at other actors, who live the pain in their roles like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini.

Oliver is a paradox and this informs the tone of the film... did you struggle to walk the Jekyll & Hyde line and were you able to shake the character off easily?

Quick answer... yes, I struggled and no, it was very hard to shake this role off. It really was hard to go so negative and dark for such a long time. It was also hard on me physically because I was constantly hunched over and I was speaking with an underbite. After the film finished, my head wasn't great. It has definitely been a struggle. Raimund and I have been doing all the marketing and that's been a full time job in itself... now I can finally move on.

Banks as Oliver in Who's Watching Oliver.

What was it like working with Richie Moore?

Richie was great. He has over 20 years experience in the business after working on so many films behind the camera like The Hangover 2, Mission Impossible 2, Marco Polo and more. He's a wild man with the camera so yeah, working with Richie was great. I look forward to watching his next movies.

I see you were credited as a screenwriter... what sort of influence did you have on the screenplay… was their room to adlib?

Yeah, I had a lot of influence being a co-creator of the story and certain scenes were ad-libbed. That said, we all took ownership over certain parts of the script. For instance, I have crazy vivid dreams, so the dream dialogue was all me. Whereas Momma was all Ray and Sara's background was Richie.

What did you find most challenging about making this film?

Honestly, two things... as with all film-makers surviving financially is hard. You're working for a a possible pay check two years down the line - it's tough on you mentally. Then, when you add your personal head-space of going to the darkest parts of your inner psyche... its tough man. I started to feel anxious while shooting and after shooting my panic attacks came back. When you put all your energy into such a dark and negative vibe it takes its toll. When you watch the film and see me crying or losing my mind... well, I felt that was as close to real as it could have been.

The film is grotesque, disturbing and difficult to watch at times - has there been much backlash in terms of the misogynistic undercurrent?

There really hasn't... other than a few reviewers and comments... much less then I thought there would be. That said, I always played Oliver as the victim who has been mentally and physically abused and I think that has a lot to do with how people look at him. There are some really tough scenes to stomach in this film but take them out and you dont understand who Oliver is.

What was a highlight or a special memory you’ll take away from Who’s Watching Oliver?

It was special working with Sara Malakul Lane... she was great. We have already worked together so it meant a lot to work with her again. Kelly Woodcock is a close friend so having her support as an actress in the toughest scene of my life meant a lot, Alex Boyesen was our sound on that film and seeing him do such an amazing job was also special. It was a tough film for everyone involved, so just getting through it was a highlight.

The film centres around abuse... is this a message movie, and if so, what message do you think it’ll leave with audiences?

I think we see that Oliver is a product of abuse and his actions are horrific, but there are also some nicer moments coinciding in this movie. Like all of life, this film is about relationships between humans good, bad, upsetting and horrific, so I guess it's all up to the individual, what they walk away with after watching.

How did this film measure up to roles in other films such as Pernicious, Cam2Cam and Ghost House? Which of your performances are you most proud of?

For sure, I'm most proud of this one and I loved being a part of the other films. But this film the story is about my character so I lived and breathed the role over a long period of time. Whereas the other films I am a part of another character's story. I am extremely proud of this film and that such a low budget film won all the awards we did, then made it onto platforms that are available to watch in most people's houses. I am also extremely grateful to the whole horror community who has supported us, such as you guys, it's been really amazing to receive so much love for such a dark film.