Entity is a supernatural ghost thriller, set in the Siberian woods. It just won at the London Independent Film Festival for ‘Best Horror’ and ‘Best Independent Film’.
Branko Tomovic plays the main part of Yuri Levkov, who has his own reasons of bringing a British TV crew to Siberia. Fangoria says he delivers one of the film’s most surprisingly eccentric performances of the year.
EF caught up with Branko to discuss all things Entity and his career to date.
How did the film come to you?
I wanted to do a good horror film for a long time and was thrilled when this came my way. I was in a TV series called ‘Whitechapel’ which is about a modern Jack the Ripper copycat murder and I played one of the main suspects there. It wasn’t even such a huge part, but a pretty cool one. I was this weird morgue man who sleeps in the mortuary amongst the dead. Steve saw me in that and then send me the script for ‘Entity’.
The first script I received was completely different though, the working title was still ‘Beast’ and there was no Yuri in it yet. The original character was a 50 year old English professor of Paranormal Studies. So after seeing me in Whitechapel, Steve rewrote the part and changed the character into Yuri and since the story is set in Siberia it made sense to have that Russian character who invited the British TV crew over.
Is it difficult to prepare for a film like this?
Horror films are really fun to do! I know it does not look like it on screen and it should not of course but we really had a great time doing it. Maybe because it’s so intense and you have to keep that level of suspense up all the time. But you don’t really prepare for such a genre film any differently than for any other film, it always starts with the script and your character. For this, I had to familiarise myself with the KGB and research other organisations and what they did to psychics as they were treated as help and a threat at the same time, that was very interesting.
There is a real sense of loneliness in the film, did you feel that whilst making it?
I think that comes with that location, this huge overwhelming silo thing that looks like a whale swallowing everything up. And once inside, it’s this huge dark maze like a trap. I think that really brought out the claustrophobic and hopeless feel to it. And also the constellation of our characters, it’s not just one group, it’s Kate and her two guys from the TV-crew, Ruth and Yuri are very much for themselves. That constellation is established right from the beginning when we are still in the woods, I thought it was important for Ruth and Yuri to be isolated from that group, for different reasons of course. And once it comes to survival for all of them, there seems to be no escape, it feels like slowly being suffocated.
How did you and the rest of the cast & crew cope constantly filming in the dark?
The light, or better, the darkness is all authentic. We never used ‘day for night’ shots. I enjoyed it, my night vision is actually pretty good and my pupils look always dilated anyway most of the time. But that place was genuinely creepy, so easy to get lost, you wouldn’t want to be there by yourself! The cold was a much bigger challenge, it would have probably been warmer to shoot in Siberia! It was colder in there than outside during winter.
You can see our breath mostly throughout the entire film once we enter that huge silo. Especially, in that scene in the cell where Ruth makes the first contact with the Entity and Yuri translates, that’s one of my favourite scenes actually. We wore layers and layers of long underwear and were fighting over hot water bottles and blankets in between takes, I am surprised that David Worden, who plays Mishka and therefore was naked for most of the shoot, didn’t die from Hypothermia.
Was it difficult to keep the tension/horror levels up on set all day?
I like the intensity of doing a horror film. You get the chance to play with all these extremes, and you always have to give it your all to make it believable. Those two emotional demanding scenes that Yuri has were funnily the easiest to shoot for me. I especially enjoyed that scene between Yuri and Ruth and playing opposite Dervla who I think is absolutely fantastic and very subtle in her role. The filming conditions were pretty harsh with the cold and the dust and the dark and all that but I guess that helped us a lot to absorb our surroundings and create that sense of tension.
Do you believe in ghosts?
I am a very very rational person. I would like to say no, but I had two creepy things happen to me that I can’t really explain. I am originally from Serbia, and they still have the habit over there that when a person dies they have to cover all the mirrors in the room, cover them up with black cloth right away that moment so the dead can’t reach for you. I didn’t know that before and when my grandmother died I was in another room and saw this black shadow passing in the reflection…
Have you seen any of these haunted reality TV shows yourself? What do you make of them?
I am not a fan of reality TV, at all, and especially not of scripted reality TV. So no, haven’t seen any of them. My favourite genre films are ghost films though – like ‘The Others’, ‘The Orphanage’ and ‘Poltergeist’ of course.
You have a wide variety of roles on your acting CV, what have been some of your favourites?
It’s always the next one for me. I love to live in the moment so I never really look back. I like to be most excited about the stuff I am working on right now and focus on that, completely. And right now I am preparing for Nikola Tesla for an upcoming biopic.
Studying acting at the hugely prestigious Lee Strasberg School is a brilliant accomplishment, how do you feel the “Strasberg method” has helped you develop as an actor?
When I finished school I read an article about the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in a film magazine. I applied for it and got accepted. But first I had to earn some money before I could go to New York. After a little while I arrived in NYC with my two suitcases, having never been on an air-plane before. I had two weeks time before the school started to find a housing, so I spent the first three weeks in a run-down hotel in the meatpacking district with a mix of other students, hookers and Japanese tourists.
The Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute is still located in the same building where Marilyn Monroe and James Dean went to in the 50′s and later Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in the 70′s. All my teachers were still personally taught by Lee Strasberg himself. At the end of the day every actor has to choose for himself what technique he wants to use or how he wants to approach a character but I like The Method very much cause I want the character to come alive and feel real and authentic, that is the most important thing in a performance.
Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
I just got cast as Nikola Tesla in ‘The Mad Scientist’ directed by Michael Anton. It’s a biopic about Tesla’s life following his arrival in New York City in 1884, his battles with Thomas Edison, friendship with Mark Twain and his great inventions. We are planning to shoot later this year and it’s a great challenge to play a character that has really existed. The film is called The Mad Scientist because that’s how other people often perceived him because of his eccentric behaviour and back then unconventional ideas and inventions but I think he was just really way ahead of his time and the film will show him as the great genius and inventor he was.
Entity is out on DVD now.