Who’s Watching Oliver: An Exclusive Interview with Russell Geoffrey Banks

Who’s Watching Oliver is a 2017 independent horror film written by Russell Geoffrey Banks, Raimund Huber and Richie Moore, and directed by Richie Moore.  The film is currently making the rounds on the festival circuit and has already won several Best Picture and acting awards. I recently had the pleasure of screening the film and also had a chance to talk with Russell Geoffrey Banks about his standout performance as Oliver.

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Oliver lives in Thailand and frequently Skypes with his mother, who is obnoxiously loud and usually has a drink in her hand. Oliver is a loner and clearly mentally unstable.  With his slicked back hair, glasses, and buttoned-up shirts, Oliver is the epitome of the nerd who was picked on in school and clearly has no friends.  Imagine Napoleon Dynamite, but with lots of blood.

I was blown away by the way Russell Geoffrey Banks transformed himself, physically and mentally, in order to bring Oliver to life. Banks is an incredible actor – he can also be seen in Ghost House which is being released this year as well.

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The foreboding atmosphere is captured beautifully by the cinematography and sets the scene for the journey into Oliver’s sick mind.  And it’s terrifying.  Oliver goes out at night and picks up women with the intention of brutally killing them, but with a twist – he kills for his mother’s pleasure. The scenes of Oliver unwillingly raping the women and then chopping them into little pieces while his mother jeers and claps via Skype were difficult but compelling to watch.

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It’s very clear that Oliver was molded into the monster that we see by his depraved mother.  She is one of the vilest characters I have ever seen and is played to the hilt by Margaret Roche.

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Who’s Watching Oliver presents some taboo subject matter in a unique way that caused me to be simultaneously repulsed and intrigued.  The brilliance of the film and of Banks’s performance lies in the ability to entice the audience into Oliver’s world and cause us to legitimately care about Oliver, while being completely mortified by his actions.

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Oliver is a reluctant serial killer because, as much as he wants to please his mother, he begs her not to make him do the unspeakable things that he does.  Who’s Watching Oliver accomplishes the unthinkable by causing us to feel sorry for Oliver.  He meets the beautiful and troubled Sophia, played wonderfully by Sara Malakul Lane, and, to the dismay and disgust of his mother, falls in love with her.  In Sophia, Oliver sees his chance at redemption – the new life he’s dreamed about, free from the clutches of his mother.  How will this twisted love story turn out? You’ll have to see the film to find out – and I highly recommend that you do. I will say this: the film is graphic and may not be for the squeamish, but the acting is so phenomenal that it’s worthy of being put on your must-see list of horror films of 2017.

After seeing the film I was anxious to speak with Russell Geoffrey Banks about what it was like bringing Oliver to life.

Michelle:  Hi Russell! I’m wondering if you had specific inspiration for Oliver – how much of the character was yours and how much was from the director? And how did you transform yourself into Oliver?

Russell Geoffrey Banks:  Me, Raimund and Richie came up with a shell of Oliver in the writing stage. I originally had the idea for a serial killer but was in a very different form. Then Ray had the idea for a kinda George McFly and Forrest Gump type of a character. From that point on, me, Richie, and Ray made changes to him in his walk and the way he spoke and how he made eye contact. Then, we really started to look at why he was the way he was and the abuse he would have had to endure. When I was rehearsing and filming, I started to create an Oliver that I could slip into his skin and mix my own personal memories with his made up past and psyche. Also, because of the nature of the character, shooting was a nightmare. It was dark and mentally tiring, so as we shot I’m sure it started to come across on camera.

MS: You (Oliver) had such an amazing tangible chemistry onscreen with Sara Malakul Lane (Sophia).  How did you achieve that chemistry?

RGB:  Sara was actually already a friend and I had worked with her on Jared Cohn’s film. Sara is a really talented actress and very giving as an actress. When she came, we had shot a fair bit and I was already mentally drained. Then she came and it gave us all a second wind. She is also hilarious off-camera. She’s nuts and we all needed that at that point. She really is one of my favourite people to work with.

MS:  Some of the scenes are very graphic. How did you approach the rape/torture scenes?

RGB:  With the difficult scenes, I went into them mentally as if I was the victim and that I was doing something I really didn’t want to. That way, the emotions of shame and disgust and regret were as real as I could make them. I also went into it with a certain sympathy for Oliver and his past, because he really is a trapped soul.

MS:  How difficult was it to create the extremely dysfunctional relationship between Oliver and his mother?

RGB:  Raimund really has a lot of the credit for momma. He really took the control of the way she spoke and of her dialogue. Margaret Roche certainly made it easier with her acting the part perfectly.  For me, I felt like I was a bullied child and just kept my mindset in that throughout the shoot.

MS:  Congratulations on the many awards the film has received! How do you think Who’s Watching Oliver is different from other indie horror films? And what’s one thing you would like people to know about the film?

RGB:  I think the main thing is that, with our film, we really try to take you into the mind of Oliver. You can see that he is doing truly disgusting and evil acts. But then you start to feel compassion and sorrow for the killer and you start to pull for him. I know, personally, it was absolute hell shooting Oliver.  It was dark and mentally taxing like no other project. I think for Raimund and Richie it was the same, so I hope we have made something that people will like.

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