Never mind living the dream, Robert Pham really is living the horror – acting in the supernatural lockdown tale In The Shadow It Waits, which is performed live each time, has meant his home is also a horror film set.
Michael Beets’ study of isolation and loneliness is performed live by its Australian cast for audiences around the world.
Robert Pham stars as Pat, the team leader for a group of new young sales people who are all, in different ways, struggling with loneliness and their own self-image after a year under curfew. After playing a creepy online game based on an urban legend about Billy, they discover that Billy – or whatever “it” is – has found them.
I interviewed Robert via email about acting in a live movie, working with a team he’s never met, and whether it’s left him creeped out in his own home…
(You can also read my interview with writer-director Michael Beets, and my 4-star review of In The Shadow It Waits.)
How did you get involved? Had you done anything like this before?
I actually got really lucky! Someone else was already cast as Pat but he had to drop out of the project due to personal reasons. Michael then found my acting profile on Starnow, he liked my showreel and messaged me. I was really intrigued by his idea, I was also impressed by Michael’s past projects so I accepted the role and very glad I did!
I’ve worked on different types of projects before but I have never done anything like this. I’ve also never seen anyone try to pull something like this off. Combining theatre and live film editing is definitely remarkable.
What preparation did you do with the rest of the cast – because you’ve never met, have you?
That’s right we’ve never met! Which is still so crazy. We had two-hour rehearsal sessions, five times a week for a month. It was definitely challenging, our main issues were tech issues with Zoom. Luckily Michael found the program Vmix and everything was a lot smoother afterwards.
During the actual live performance, did you feel the pressure or were you too immersed in Pat?
I definitely feel a bit of pressure and jittery before each show. But once we start, after a couple minutes, I feel calm and everything feels natural.
I thought Pat’s desperate need to speak to his mother was really touching. What have you missed in lockdown, from the major to the minor?
I’m glad you thought so. I really enjoyed performing those scenes, it’s not often I get to perform in Vietnamese!
When our first lockdown was announced I had a couple acting jobs get postponed, so I definitely miss working on set. Luckily for me this project has kept me busy and feeling sane! I also miss the cinema, going out to dinner and giving friends hugs.
You had to perform this at 6am so we Brits could watch it at a horror-friendly 9pm. Did that pose any problems? (I’d have been terrified of oversleeping and would have set about five alarms.)
I’m a bit of a night owl so I spent a whole week trying to wake up early to get used to it! Funny story, the night before the show I set my alarm for 3.30am. I went to bed at 8.30pm, woke up in the middle of the night feeling like it might be around 2am, checked my phone and it was only 10.30pm! I felt like I had slept for ages and I felt so awake, I could not fall asleep again until around 1.30am.
Some good black coffee made me feel fine during the show so all good!
Do you think Pat and the others are really being haunted or have they manifested it themselves from their year in isolation?
I love your interpretation! Both ideas make sense. Being locked in your own home for over a year would definitely impact your mental health. I know I myself have felt a bit down and helpless here and there during this pandemic. Who knows, either idea could be true, I’ll leave it up to the audience!
Was this filmed in your actual apartment? Do you feel little bit freaked out the night after you’ve performed it?
Yes! This was all done in my home which is also shared with my mum, dad and brother. I’m really lucky that they have been patient and supportive of me during the shows and rehearsals because I’m sure I have annoyed them at some point. Sometimes I do!
There were a couple times where I would wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I would walk in the hallway and would freak out a little bit thinking that my shadow self was crawling like in the film.
Have you ever had any spooky experiences?
Luckily nothing too spooky that I remember.
The only supernatural experience I ever had was when I was around 10 years old. I remember looking up at the sky while my mum was driving, I saw this horse galloping across the sky, dragging what looked like the sun but tied in chains.
I screamed to my mum to look but then it was gone. It was surreal and so strange, I’ll never forget it.
Check out my 4-star review, watch the teaser trailer and find details of the next UK performances here.