In a month packed with films featuring massive spectacle and enormous budgets, you should treat yourself to something a little different, something that’s going to get under your skin. The Unseen, written and directed by Gary Sinyor, is a British chiller about a grieving couple (played by Jasmine Hyde and Richard Flood) who are struggling to cope with the loss of their child. Gemma starts suffering from temporary blindness-inducing panic attacks, while Will begins to think he can actually sense their son’s presence…When they decide to take a stranger up on his offer of using his Lake District cottage, they’re hoping that a step back will help them reconnect and begin to heal. Naturally, this does not go to plan.
It’s a low-key and highly affecting film about loss that places character first, and we were very excited to get to talk to Jasmine Hyde about her superb leading performance as Gemma. When we spoke to her after The Unseen‘s London premiere she told us that she was “thrilled” with its reception. “I don’t know whether I can watch it again tonight, we’re in Glasgow for a question and answer session but it’s quite traumatic to sit through, I don’t know if I can do it day after day!” she laughed.
What was it about the script that first jumped out at you?
Well, actually, the first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that the central role was a woman. It’s a bit of a cliché to say this, but it’s not usual to get such good, stonkingly good, big parts for women in film, especially if you’re not a name, so that was pretty amazing. I thought the premise of a couple losing their child was very sensitively and respectfully handled, it’s not something that you want to take on without proper thought. As I started to read I thought “Oh gosh, this is dangerous territory, I hope that it’s dealt with appropriately,” and I thought it was.
It spoke to me on the page as a believable portrayal of grief and then it just got weirder and weirder, and I thought “Well, this will be interesting and ‘fun’ to film.” And I knew Gary, we’d done a show together about 18 months ago, so I thought “Yeah.”
I was really struck by how, even though Gemma is obviously, and understandably, overwhelmed by events, she’s not helpless, there’s a real strength to her.
Yeah, that was something that I really liked about the character and the writing, definitely. Because the potential pitfall would be, either in the writing or the acting, that you could have a woman who is really sad and upset the whole time, sort of failing at everything, just being upset. That’s probably not very interesting and I think it’s a very fine balance between showing the level of grief and panic and fear whilst holding back enough for it to keep the tension up, and also for it to just not be annoying from an audience point of view.
I think Gary was quite mindful of that and I definitely was, and I did really like that she’s in these awful situations and she’s very proactive and she is not going to give up or give in. She keeps on fighting, and it does feel like a fight. She’s fighting to keep her relationship together, she’s fighting to somehow come to terms with the loss of her child, she’s fighting literally… Yeah, she’s incredibly brave. She’s a lot braver than I am!
There’s a real disconnect between Gemma and Will, too, they’re suffering together but separately. Was that all on the page?
Yeah, that was on the page, that really was. I think that Richard in his playing of Will nailed it completely. Dramatically, I like the way they both have the same cause but a different reaction. Her temporary blindness and his thinking that he’s hearing things, it’s a nice contrast and they understand that the other has difficulties but they can’t quite key into each other’s difficulties, it’s painful, they are both going through something but it’s not quite the same thing. In the way that we don’t any of us process an event in the same way at all, we react in many different ways. But I think that does make for an interesting two people rather than just a couple as one thing.
Was it useful to do research into how people cope with that kind of loss, and into the temporary blindness condition?
Yeah, I mean the internet’s a wonderful thing isn’t it, you can look at anything! So, I did a lot of reading about both. To take the grieving parent thing first, somebody asked about this and I said it’s such a delicate topic and you can read and read and read about it, and I would never dare to think that I could feel what it would actually be like. One doesn’t want to contemplate it and as a parent I can only imagine, thank goodness, I can only imagine. Really, a lot of thought and care went into how to play the scenes but basically if a scene is written well then that does half your job for you.
As for the blindness episodes, yes, I did read up about that because it wasn’t something that I had heard of before, that particular condition, in that it was the stress and the panic reaction. But I have personally experienced fainting blackouts in the past, where your vision all goes hazy, classic blackout symptoms, that was the nearest experience for me. You can never step inside someone’s body with the condition so you read it about it and then do your best to act it, and the director was then using visual cues to make it artistically and dramatically make sense for the audience, so there was a combination of things going on.
How was the experience of actually shooting? How much time did you have?
Yeah, it was intense. We filmed for four weeks, we had Sundays off but it was pretty non-stop. I’m in pretty much every scene so it felt a bit relentless. It felt like I’d taken a deep breath and jumped in and then four weeks later I crawled out of this experience…it was exhausting, but great! And the location where we filmed in the Lake District we actually stayed there as well, so for budget and time-wise it was a real saver. No travelling, just get out of bed, get changed, go and do some acting, stop, have dinner, sleep, get up, repeat. So, it was four weeks of very intense work. But with a very jolly cast and crew I might add, by no means was it a dark tense set at all. It was remarkably jolly! We all had Sunday lunch together and it was lovely. But we needed that, you can’t stay in that world for seven days a week without going mad. You have to lighten up a bit on your day off!
It seems like it would be a tough headspace to stay in!
Yeah, it wasn’t very pleasant at times really! I’m so pleased everyone was nice! The actors were lovely and I knew Gary already so I wasn’t thinking, “Oh gosh, I’m nervous about working with someone I don’t know, what’s he going to be like?” It was just great. All of that pressure was taken away. And it was a very pared down crew, I think they had a crew of eight which is the smallest crew I’ve ever worked with. That was a budget constraint but also it does free you up immensely and I love it.
I’ve just been working on Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens and that was a huge crew! It has to be, it’s a very different production, and obviously you can’t if there are special effects or something big going on, but if it’s just about telling a story and there’s nothing too technical where you need loads and loads of people doing stuff, then I just love a pared down cast and crew. It’s just easier and less stressful.
This feels like a bit of a departure for Gary Sinyor, who’s mostly done comedy in film. What was it like working with him on something like this?
Well, I’ve never done a film with Gary before. My theatre job with him was a comedy, and the films of his that I’d watched have all been comedies. So, it was a slight departure for him I think, although I think it’s been a long time in the making, I think he started writing it 12 years ago. The experience of working with him was quite similar working with him because in a way one isn’t thinking of acting in genre, whatever scene you’re doing whether it’s theatre or film or comedy or quite dark tragedy, you’re not acting a genre, you’re just playing a scene. Whatever that scene is, you just do that.
He’s very clear in his direction and in his vision about what he wants and he’s also very respectful in letting the actors bring what they bring to it and being very open to that. So, it’s nice, when you find somebody that you like working with and it just works you just want to do it again and again really. I hope we get to work with each other again.
The Unseen‘s quite a hard film to categorise! How have you been describing it to people?
Oh, it’s so interesting because I just don’t know what it is. If I had to categorise it I would say that it’s a psychological thriller, and a drama. I think that best describes it.
But I agree, it’s a weird one and people have found it very difficult to categorise. It does have elements of horror. It’s funny isn’t it, the way people feel the need to categorise things? But if you haven’t heard of a film, you want to know “what is it?” I get why people want to do it, but the flip-side of that is that you get slightly annoyed, well why do we have to categorise it? It is what it is! It’s what you want it to be!
I did want to ask about Good Omens! What was it like working on that?
Oh, it was great! Really good fun! They’re shooting it until just before Christmas and then I think they’re going to South Africa after Christmas, but I didn’t get to go to South Africa, I got to go to High Wycombe. It was great doing it. I was playing a Satanic nun so it was quite different, and again interestingly, hard to put into a genre! I went into the casting and I said something that was in retrospect quite stupid. They said “Do you have any questions?” I said, “No, I think I’m quite clear about what it is, what genre it is, what the part is,” and they said “Oh really? Which genre would you say it is then?” And it was so embarrassing! I just thought whatever I say now is probably going to be wrong!
But it’s very funny and weird and the order of this convent with all these Satanic nuns in, we just looked brilliant and horrendous at the same time. It was lovely, Neil was there, I think he likes to be on set as much as possible, and a very generous guy in terms of not being precious about making changes.
I can’t wait to see it. I mean, I’m a small cog in this machine that is Good Omens but I think it’s going to look amazing. The attention to detail on just everything was just stunning. They had the money though, you see! The Unseen is like chalk and cheese, we had so many budget constraints on The Unseen, but it means you’re creative and you have to find your way, and you do!
Did you enjoy going from something so harrowing as your role in The Unseen to playing a Satanic nun?
Oh yeah, definitely. Although I have to say in between doing The Unseen and Good Omens I did a theatre job called Jam, it was at the Finborough theatre and it was about a teacher whose ex-pupil comes back and it all goes terribly wrong and ends up in a horrible fight, with horrible racial abuse. It’s a brilliant play by Matt Parvin but it was quite traumatic actually and, without wanting to sound precious, I got to the end of that month and thought “Oh my god, the next thing I can do cannot be me going through hellish stuff! And having things thrown at me and people shouting at me, I don’t want to be abused!” “Satanic nun, do you fancy that? Quite funny.” “Yes. Yes, give me my habit.”
The Unseen is in cinemas on 15 December. Read our review here.