Tom Hughes has a venerable presence on film and television across the UK and American scene. His latest indie supernatural horror-thriller film is Russell Owen's Shepherd, which follows his character Erick Black, who is haunted by the recent death of his wife and looks to seek solitude as a shepherd on a remote Scottish island. As the bleak desolation of the foreboding landscape and terrifying visions overwhelm him, Eric is pushed to the brink of madness. I spoke to the star about how he got the role, making the best of the little prep time he had and the grueling conditions during filming.
"I was on holiday, and my agent sent me the script, and I read it. I was completely transported and immersed in the world of the island and Eric's life and everything he was going through," Hughes said. "I also felt very empathetically connected to him, and living in his shoes for that hour and a half felt very visceral, and I couldn't really shake the residue of that for a few days. So I came back from holiday and said, 'I really want to do this.' I met Russell, and he was great. I felt like what he mapped out was really; I felt like he'd really sensitively and delicately kind of shown the transitions that Eric was going through in the film in terms of his psyche and sense of his emotional and physical state. I felt like that was quite brave, not only to do that with such sensitivity, which you don't always see in cinema. We do, but not enough, I don't think. To take that and put that as the centerpiece of a genre film, I thought it was really brave storytelling. So I was really excited to take on the challenge of bringing it to life."
With little prep going, Hughes had to get himself into a more primal state. "I only had three weeks. So it wasn't a lot of time, and I think to map out where Eric's at in the time in his life where we meet him, you could do four years' worth of research, and it still wouldn't be enough to try and give that the subtlety and the delicacy that it deserves," he explained. "I kind of went to a few different touchpoints in my life and asked people who I thought might be able to help me shine a light on it. But the main thing for me was to try and think about him as the animal that he is and how the animal would be reacting to what he's going through, then try and step into his rhythm and try and stay there for as long as I could. So I took myself away with me. When we started shooting on the island, I was in a hotel there with all the crew. I took myself away from them and went to a different hotel on the east side of the island and just tried to stay in a bit of isolation. I tried to just try as much as I could and immerse myself in his vibrations and hope that that would allow it to feel real in the way that it deserved to feel and demanded that it felt."
As resourceful as production had to be given weather conditions, the actor made the best of what was around. "Kate Dickie is an incredible actor because she's just so great and aggressive," Hughes said. "I think the main challenge in terms of the budget was the difficulty of filming on the island, particularly for the crew. We were really against it; [we were] on an island on the west coast of Scotland in probably the worst month to go on film. The weather was a lot of what you see on the screen is it's real. It was wet, windy, cold, and abrasive. That was really challenging for the crew, and the fact that we got it made and the fact that it looks as incredible as it does is a testament to Richard Stoddard, the cinematographer. Everyone, really the whole crew, really kind of dug in, and we got it made. That was the real challenge, and selfishly for me, everything that made that difficult was that was the most helpful thing for me to be on the island, immersed in nature, and really be exposed to what Eric would have been exposed to was what I needed. I was doubly grateful to the crew for really, really digging in to making that happen because that was that was tough. We got there, and hopefully. It resonates with people and makes it worthwhile to the effort that people put in to make that film happen." Saban Films' Shepherd, which also stars Gaia Weiss and Greta Scacchi, is currently in theaters, on-demand, and digital.