Stepping into the role of Martin, the revolting antagonist at the center of The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), British stage veteran Laurence R. Harvey not only had big shoes to fill—he had the odd task of stapling mouths onto asses. Something tells us that they don’t teach that in either film school or actors’ workshops.
First, let’s explain those “big shoes.” Harvey’s predecessor in the now-ubiquitous Human Centipede franchise, German creeper Dieter Laser, delivers such a coldly menacing performance in Dutch writer-director Tom Six’s 2010 freakshow that his character, the surgeon Dr. Heiter, upstages the actual lips-to-sphincter monstrosity he creates; well, depending on who you ask. As he dreamt up his much crazier sequel, Six envisioned the second villain as more of an everyman, a forty-something social outcast who lives at home with mom and fantasizes about copying the acts in his favorite movie, The Human Centipede. It’s a completely different character than Dr. Heiter, and Six needed the right man for the sick job.
Now onto those ass-stapling requirements. More specifically, Six was looking for an actor who’s not afraid to run laps around Laser in terms of an extremely disconcerting behavior. And he found precisely that in Harvey, whose previous credits—children’s television in London, as well as theater—are devoid of any feature film work, or scenes where he bashes skulls in with a crowbar. Or masturbates with sandpaper. Needless to say, his work as The Human Centipede II baddie, “Martin,” required Harvey to stretch himself as an actor.
The result of that extra dedication is one of the most disturbing horror movie rogues in years, a nasty guy who’s even sicker than Dr. Heiter. In reality, though, Harvey is an incredibly nice guy, as well as an admitted genre movie nerd. Complex chatted with Human Centipede’s latest flesh-and-blood monster about what drew him to the role, his approach to raping a chair in the audition, and the joys of pretending to dismember people in front of a camera.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Complex: Before working on the sequel, were you a fan of The Human Centipede?
Laurence Harvey: Basically, my agent rung me up and said that there were these people who wanted to do a film called The Human Centipede, which he hadn’t heard of, actually. He was kind of unsure about it. I remembered hearing about the first Human Centipede from when it was playing at Fright Fest in London. It was one of the films that I wanted to go and see, but I couldn’t get to Fright Fest. So it was something that was on my radar, but at that stage it was still a quiet, cult hit. It was still on the festival circuit, rather than having been released anywhere. It didn’t have the cultural means that it does now, with South Park and all of that. [Laughs.]
It was this interesting-sounding, quirky independent horror film that seemed to have something imaginative about it. I knew that I was auditioning for the lead role, so I was convinced that a character such as myself who’s done mainly kids’ TV and stage comedy wouldn’t get the part. [Laughs.] I’ve done some progressive roles in theater, but I would have thought that a film director wouldn’t have known that—that wouldn’t have been on his radar. I went to the casting, but immediately before my casting, Tom arranged a screening on a kind of Monday morning for people to see the film. So I went to see the film, and throughout it I was thinking, “Is this a good film? Or a bad film?” [Laughs.]
I couldn’t figure out if [The Human Centipede] was intentionally bad in a campy way, but I was riveted. The first film doesn’t show anything, though. Being that they were casting for a sequel, I wondered how he…. I wasn’t that interested in being in something that was just a rehash of the first one. So I went up to the casting, and I thought, A, I’ve got pretty big shoes to fill after Dieter’s performance [as the first movie’s villain], and, B, I was wondering how Tom would be in person. And then we met and got on like a house on fire—it was the best casting experience of my career.
We just kept finding all of these similarities between how our minds work; like, for instance, we both hate cheese. [Laughs.] We both have a love for Japanese splatter films, as well as classic European art-house films, like [Ingmar] Bergman. It was that kind of high art and low art combination that just made me really go for it with this film. When you meet Tom, there’s such a bounciness, a childlike energy to him, that you just want to go for it and do everything he asks of you. I’m really pleased that Tom chose me to do it.
Were you able to read the script prior to the audition? It seems like the script would scare most actors off before they even arrived at the casting location.
Well, having seen the first film that same morning, I knew what the centipede was all about. At that stage, there wasn’t a hard copy script—it was still in Tom’s mind. But he kind of knew the whole A-to-B, scene by scene narrative, as well as camera angles and lighting and so on. He had this idea of it being a horror film with a social realist element to it, and a satirical element. I was really impressed by the detail of his recounting of the narrative. Nothing shocked me in his telling of it; it wasn’t until later, when we were actually filming the rougher scenes, that I thought, “Whoa, wait a second.” [Laughs.]
When I spoke with Tom Six, he told me the story about how you raped a chair during the audition. So, the obvious question is: What the hell were you thinking?
[Laughs.] Yeah, the chair. It was all about incrementally becoming like Martin in the audition. Knowing that Martin lives with his mother, I went back to a lot of stresses that were brought about by my own mom, though it’s not quite the same thing as Martin’s mom. [Laughs.] One scene during the casting asked me to bash Martin’s mother’s head in, and I just couldn’t get to the right place. I used to live in London, but the housing situation I was going to move into fell through, so I was left with my stuff in storage. I moved back in with my parents for what I thought was going to be a short time, but it’s been a few years now. I’m kind of fed up with living with my folks; they treat me like a child.
I’ve got a few hundred DVDs of art-house and exploitation films, so I know what would happen if my mom threw out my collection of violent Japanese films. [Laughs.] The scene where Martin’s mom rips up his Human Centipede fan-book is exactly like that, so I channeled my own feelings and really went for it, but obviously there wasn’t a real head for me to bash in during the casting, which was disappointing. [Laughs.]
Tom was really into everything I was doing. He suggested that I do the rape scene, in order to kind of challenge. I just thought, “Well, it’s in the script, I’m going to have to do it eventually, so I might as well do it the best I can now.” So when he suggested to do the rape scene, I kind of thought, “Well, it’d be stupid to just wave my crotch in mid-air.” [Laughs.] I come from a performance art background, and one of the approaches to objects is to use them in ways that they aren’t normally used. There were lots of chairs in the room, so I just kind of flipped one over; the legs basically gave me something to hold on to. [Laughs.] The seat on the back of the chair was at the right height, just like it’d be if somebody was kneeling down and there was a bum sticking up in the air. So I just went for it like that. I think Tom was a bit shocked, but also impressed that I actually did it.