By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—David Tennant is best known to TV viewers as the tenth Doctor in the long-running British sci-fi series “Doctor Who.” Likable and witty in that role, Tennant will always represent the time-traveling intergalactic hero to fans of the series. Others may recall his portrayal of the determined child-murderer investigator Alec Hardy on the British TV series “Broadchurch.” More recently, the Scottish actor has tackled more sinister characters such as the manipulative Kilgrave on Netflix’s “Jessica Jones.”
The chameleon-like Tennant now plays an even darker character, this time on the big screen, in the action thriller “Bad Samaritan.” In it, he plays Cale Erendreich, a wealthy Oregon businessman with a twisted and deadly compulsion to torture women. Sean (Irish actor Robert Sheehan), a young restaurant valet who supplements his income by stealing items from patron’s homes while they’re dining, inadvertently discovers Cale’s disturbing secret and wrestles with the moral dilemma of what to do. If he exposes Cale, he likely will be arrested and charged with breaking and entering, but if he doesn’t the young victim he’s discovered tied up in a torture room in Cale’s house surely will end up dead.
It’s a tale of cat-and-mouse as Sean does what he can to try and free the kidnapped woman while Cale seeks retribution against Sean by going after his friends and family. The horror film is produced and directed by Dean Devlin (co-writer of “Independence Day,” “Stargate” and “Godzilla” and director of “Eight-Legged Freaks”), and written by Brandon Boyce (“Apt Pupil,” “Venom”).
Tenant, a married father of four, spoke at a press conference about playing a psychopath and the giddiness he experienced as a nasty villain in a controlled environment.
Q: Were you looking for a dark character to play and how did you do to prepare?
Tennant: I love that you think that I may, in some way tactical, was looking for something specific. No, I just got this script and I thought this is an amazing set-up, an amazing story and a bonkers character so I just jumped at the chance. I wasn’t specifically angling to play a psychotic monster but there is something delicious about exploring those darker corners of the human psyche.
I had been reading up on psychopaths in recent history because I played another one for Marvel so I dusted them down a little bit, and did a bit more reading around that subject. There’s lots to read, and then you just have to set yourself free into this character and try to find the empathy, which is hard with a man who has none.
Q: Had you ever wondered what happens to your car when you hand the keys to a valet?
Tennant: When I read (the script), I thought, “Well, of course, this probably happens all the time with valets.” It might become a thing now and it might be (Boyce’s) fault. (He laughs.)
Q: How did you first Skype conversation with Dean Devlin go when you were discussing the role?
Tennant: If I remember correctly, he was wearing a “Doctor Who” shirt, so he was working very hard on (impressing me). But he had the wrong one—I think it was the logo for the eleventh Doctor Who. So, I nearly hung up right there and then. (He laughs.)
Q: How did you decompress after a day’s work of playing such a vile character?
Tennant: They would just bring small animals and I’d… No, worryingly not. Maybe you’d have to ask the people around me but I felt like I was entirely balanced at all times. You do go to a dark place but then there’s something kind of weirdly liberating about it because you get to indulge all those things that your normally—hopefully—our psychology doesn’t let us go there. So, to get to dabble in what it might feel like to have no guilt (was nice). As a Scottish Presbyterian, whose engine in life is guilt, to get to enjoy a guilt-free moment is just great in an entirely safe environment where nobody’s getting hurt, of course. There’s something giddy about it.
Q: Robert Sheehan’s character, Sean, also had a dark side to him because he steals from restaurant patrons. The difference is that he, ultimately, has a conscious and tries to do the right thing, whereas your character, Cale, is beyond redemption.
Tennant: What’s interesting about those characters is that they recognize something in each other. They have a different way of approaching life but there’s something (about doing wrong) that intoxicates them both. There’s something they recognize almost subconsciously within each other.
Q: You shot this on location in and around Portland, Oregon, where it snowed several times during filming?
Tennant: Yeah, for the finale of the movie, we got that snowscape that we hadn’t had the budget for. Without revealing anything, it gives it a fantastic place to end.
Q: How did you find the wound of your character? Why is he so evil?
Tennant: The lack of self-awareness is probably right up there. There’s a lot of damage in his background. A lot of it goes back to his parents and his upbringing. Doesn’t it always? He’s a broken human being but he doesn’t realize it. He’s fatally damaged and he thinks he’s the only one who isn’t. It’s gap of where he really sits in society and where he believes he sits in society.
Q: What’s your favorite memory from set?
Tennant: (Sheehan) and I got to do very little acting together. The film has almost two competing storylines, although the (characters) interacting (by phone and other means) all the time. They’re sort of chasing each other.
Specifically, I have vivid memories of him, beaten up, sitting on the porch (of the cabin) and I’m kind of haranguing him. We actually got to do a meaty scene together. I remember that very clearly and very fondly.
Q: When you were growing up in Scotland, was there a certain TV or movie villain that gave you nightmares?
Tennant: The only time I remember being scared watching a movie as a kid was watching the Child Catcher in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” Robert Helpmann (the actor who played that character) is utterly terrifying. Even now, when I watch it, I have to look away. How much of that got channeled into Cale? I’ll let the audience decide. If (my character) has half the effect on the audience that the Child Catcher had on me then I feel like I have done my job well.