Interview | The Stars of ‘Nina Forever’ on Love, Loss and Necrophilia
Nina Forever is not your typical Valentine’s Day movie. In fact, it’s not your typical movie at all, unless your typical movie is a psychosexual dark comedy about the corpse of an ex-girlfriend who comes back to gory life every time you try having sex with someone else.
Directed by The Blaine Brothers, Nina Forever finally arrives in select theaters this weekend after blowing us away at its SXSW premiere. It’s the perfect film for some audiences and a troubling phantasmagoria for others, but there’s nothing quite like it. Abigail Hardingham and Cian Barry play the young, living lovers whose romance is haunted by the shambling corpse of Nina, played by Fiona O’Shaughnessy, and the strange storyline forced both actors to consider strange ideas about love, loss and even necrophilia.
We got Barry and Hardingham on the phone to talk about the odd feelings that Nina Forever brings up, and their experiences on the set of such an unusual film. Read the interview below, and whatever you do don’t miss their new film.
Crave: Let’s start at the beginning. What were your first conversations about Nina Forever about? Did you talk about the plot or the trauma or the copious amounts of sex…?
Abigail Hardingham: [Laughs.] God, what was the first thing that we spoke about…? It was so brilliant that they actually sent the whole script before the first audition, which actually pretty rare. You usually get like a really brief breakdown and about two scenes. So I had the whole story to make my own interpretation of the character and story, and I don’t know if I necessarily “got it” straight away, but I definitely felt like it was really, really heartfelt, really exciting, and was definitely within, not a particular genre, but it was in the kind of type of film I know I love to watch. I could tell that it was going to be something that, whether or not I was in it, I was going to be really excited to see it. But when I did read it I obviously put myself in the position of Holly, and I just couldn’t actually imagine – or didn’t want to imagine – anyone else doing it.
But I guess some of the first conversations that we had were just about, I guess, Holly’s background, why she is the way she is, how she became so… why her character is so nurturing. Yeah, I think that it’s always a good starting point to just kind of get to know how your character got to the point that they are at within the story.
Cian Barry: Yeah, when I first went got to the audition, I think it was so refreshing that it was about the characters, the actual characters, what they’ve gone through in their lives, and the loss and dealing with that, and grief and things like that. It was all just character driven in that detail. It was surprising to even be thinking of people talking about genre stuff like that, because our job is thinking about this, trying to make this a real person, and they [The Blaine Brothers] were so, so driven by that the whole time. It was great. Even those first meetings, after I had read the script, to come with these… because you empathize and you feel, at times, the loss in your own life and trying to recover from things. To have two people who really care that much, it was amazing.
Even the first audition was amazing, it was them, two cameras are just rolling around you, leaving you free to do it and just be in the place, hopefully trying to find wherever the character is and stuff. It was great from an actor’s point of view. You’re given an opportunity like that, you just grab it and try to punch everybody else away who tries to grab it as well.
Abigail Hardingham: It’s such an actor’s film. For me, it is such a golden opportunity for an actor. It was definitely all about the growth and development of these three central characters, so as an actor it was extremely exciting. Like, kind of narcissistically, god yeah, there’s so much to this character! [Laughs.]
Abigail, you mentioned that when you first read the script it wasn’t entirely apparent what was going on within its pages. What unlocked it for you, and did the film end up becoming about for you?
Abigail Hardingham: Well, it was Ben and Chris that unlocked it for me really. Because there’s only so much you can do for yourself when you’re just reading it for the first or second time. So it was their openness and their honesty about where it’s come from, it’s come from their heart. That’s what really made me understand the story a lot more, and the bigger picture of it. Rather than just Holly’s story, it has such a bigger scope and meaning to it. Yeah, it was Ben and Chris who ushered me in, to be honest.
Tell me about the scenes where Fiona kind of Hellraisers out of the bed while you two are being intimate. Was it just a normal scene and then you had to pause for all the visual effects, or was it complicated from the beginning?
Abigail Hardingham: No, she actually rose through the bed. [Laughs.]
Cian Barry: Yeah, it was physically happening with a big hole in the mattress. And then all of a sudden you start feeling cold, wet hands on you. You get a real physical shock and things to react as well. And I think actually, because I saw that first scene… I saw that quite differently in the script.
You know, there were people screaming and running away and things like that. But something that seemed to happen while we were doing it was more we were just like freezing in shock, and from Rob’s point of view, my point of view, having that split decision sort of thing. Like, part of you wants to run away but part of you as well, you don’t want to let go of this person. And yeah, they’re not looking quite the same as you remember them. She’s a little bit worse for wear after the accident, but you know, you’re still clinging onto the person and that’s part of the whole thing. You don’t want to run away because there’s still this person you love and you don’t want to let go of it. Because a lot of the time you’re quite torn in these things, and it changed the whole feeling of the scene.
And all credit to The Blaine Brothers as well, they saw that and went with it. “It’s different to what we’ve written, let’s go with it. Let’s go and run and see how it feels.” And they stuck with it and they trusted us as well.
Abigail Hardingham: It’s kind of like in American Hustle, sorry I keep referencing American Hustle, Jennifer Lawrence’s character has a line where she’s talking about her nail varnish, and she says there’s something really sweet about it that you like, but it also is really kind of repellant. And I think that really kind of describes Nina, really. Especially Holly’s infatuation with her. It’s like I’m trying to exorcise her from Rob’s life but I also can’t stop going back to her and staring at her, and she was very exciting and new and exactly what made [Holly] fall for Rob in the first place. So she had this really kind of sweet/sour element, which is why she’s so captivating.
How do you get to the point, with your character, that having sex with a corpse seems like the only logical solution?
Cian Barry: [Laughs.] Isn’t it obvious?
Abigail Hardingham: [Laughs.] Well, I know that that’s how it physically looks, obviously. That’s how it’s represented in the film. But every time that we had a scene, the three of us, or even just myself and Fiona, I tried to imagine what’s the conversation that they’re having without her in the room? Why is she there? Because the first time that you see Nina I think that that initial conversation that Holly’s finally managed to breach with Rob, when she says, “So I know you tried to kill yourself, because your ex-girlfriend died? Is she an ex? Did you break up?” Like, I tried to imagine what that weird, awkward, fascinating was, and obviously Nina appearing through the bed was the physical metaphor of that.
So I guess when she’s actually trying to be intimate with Nina, I kind of saw that as her really, really infatuated with the idea of what Nina made Rob. Like, the reason why Holly found Rob so fascinating and so sexually appealing and interesting and dark was because of Nina. Because actually, by the end of the film, when she’s kind of realized that Rob has nearly rehabilitated and he’s moving on, [and] that she doesn’t particularly like him like that anymore, and actually she’s kind of got her own baggage to deal with and that’s who Nina really starts to represent for Holly.
So yeah, it was interesting for me to get to that resolution, that that’s why Holly’s being sexually intimate with Nina. That’s what I kind of landed on.
Cian, there are some scenes in the movie that I don’t think are talked about enough, and those are the scenes with you and Nina’s parents. There’s a lot going on there.
Cian Barry: Yeah.
Can you tell me about those scenes, and what’s going through your head in those moments?
Cian Barry: Well as I’ve stated, I love those. David [Troughton] and Elizabeth [Elvin] were fantastic as well. That’s the thing, it’s that fear of not letting go. You’re finally thinking that you’ll lose somebody forever, and you have these little things that you hang onto. Some just are needless, it might just be little mementos or whatever, but through convincing yourself that you’re actually doing it for somebody else and helping somebody else, and Rob convinces himself that he’s helping them and they need him.
Actually it’s, at best, mutual. By doing it, as well, he’s keeping wounds open, basically. He’s keeping that pain going. Part of [you] feels like you need to keep it, keep that pain alive almost. Because otherwise you’re betraying somebody. You know, you feel like if you recover fully then you’ve done… you feel guilty, you feel bad. You should be feeling bad, you should keep sad, you should keep hurt. Also as well, what are you if you don’t have that? If you do move on? But they were just great to work with as well.
Abigail Hardingham: Yeah. Oh my god, they were so fantastic. I really wanted there to be this element of awkwardness, because obviously I’ve only met Elizabeth briefly when she was getting into hair and makeup. But I hadn’t met David. So I was like, “How can I make it really awkward and really aid the scene?” And then I got there and they were just both the most ridiculously present, lovely, kind, funny people. I was like, “God, they’re really making me work here.” [Laughing.] David in particular would try and make me laugh before a take. I’m like, “You do realize I’m supposed to be having really complicated emotions right now?” I’m just smiling at him.
Cian Barry: And then “action,” and they just switch it on. They’re amazing. You feel like…
Abigail Hardingham: Yeah, but you’re like that Cian. You’re like that. You are so basically so affable. You’re like a little puppy, you’re so funny and so cute, and I’m like, “I’m trying to get into the moment!” [Laughs.] And then as soon as they said “action” you’re like, so serious and complicated. It’s brilliant.
Cian Barry: Oh, shut up. Don’t… oh no, say more. Say more. Compliment me.
Top Photo: Epic Pictures Releasing
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.