Russell Geoffrey Banks is an actor, born and raised in England. After being expelled from school, aged fifteen, he took various odd jobs and would attend acting classes whenever he could afford them, writing screenplays in his spare time.
He went on a holiday to Thailand where he met people who worked in film and began to get involved in the industry, starting out as an extra or a stand-in. When Russell returned to the UK, he studied method acting under Sam Rumbelow.
Russell’s first lead role came as the character Clayton in Goodnight Gloria, a film he co-wrote with director Jack Everitt. The film was shot around London during the freezing winter months. He recalls for half the shoot, staying on his close friend Deanne Charles’ floor, and the other half staying in a caravan on a traveller’s site in Luton.
Over the next few years, Russell went on to portray the characters from the darker side of life in various performances (usually emotionally torn) whether it was a scam artist, a mythological villain… or a serial killer. Russell put every inch of his soul into each role, in order to perfect the character.
Russell Geoffrey Banks – interviewed by Meredith Jill Brown
MJB: How did you get into films?
RGB: I always loved watching movies more than most kids. I remember as a kid, my dad who I didn’t live with us, would leave VHS tapes recording on the movie channels. Then when I saw him, he would give me a box full of pot luck video tapes and I would sit and watch them all. Whether it was an old black and white horror to a modern romantic or cowboy to action, I loved them all. So I think I always knew I wanted to be in film.
MJB: Did you always want to be an actor?
RGB: I think a part of me always wanted to be an actor, also a part wanted to create and direct. At school, I was dyslexic and not confident. After I left school I worked at a million jobs – working on market stalls or behind a bar, or laboring on a construction site. I knew I wanted to be an actor, just didn’t know a way out of my uneducated no-money life that I had made for myself.
MJB: Tell me about the beginning. How did you get your foot in the door?
RGB: I guess I first got my foot in the door, on set doing extra and then doing the stand in job. That’s actually how I met Richie (Moore) – when I was a stand in. I think I was lucky in the way that certain people were very nice to me and helped me. Richie certainly was. I remember he taught me the lenses and Chris Lowenstein (who is part owner of Living Films) as well as the whole Living Films Company, took me under their wing. It’s funny… back then when you’re green and new on set, people are nice to you. That’s what you never forget. Certain people… to them, it was a nothing conversation. But to me, it really meant the world! Like Bradley Cooper or Neil McDonough, Michael Clark Duncan, James Van Der Beek, Chow Yun-Fat… they all gave me some advice without ever knowing they had.
MJB: What was your favourite project to work on? And what is your favourite outcome, if that differs?
RGB: Two favourites: Goodnight Gloria was a film I co-wrote and acted in. Me and Jack Everitt, we had written a short film and then my friend Conan Stevens convinced me to push for a feature. So we went for it with hardly any money and not the greatest written script around London. Also at that time, I was getting panic attacks all the time, so when I watch the scenes where I’m this unshaven mess of a human, I can see it in myself.
The other favourite was cam2cam, the first film I worked with Raimund Huber, and a good friend of mine, Greg Keismin playing a serial killer opposite Tammin Sursok and Sarah Bonrepaux directed by Joel Soisson. I think that was the first big casting I’d won so mentally it was a massive hurdle. Day one of filming, I remember being so nervous but everyone was amazingly nice to me on that film. I was sad when it was over. Great crew nice people.
MJB: Who are your influences?
So many I loved: James Gandolfini, Phillip Seymour Hoffman; Big fan of James Cagney; Tim Roth is amazing; Mads Mikkelsen; Obviously Al Pacino and Robert De Niro; Ray Winstone, Ethan Hawke, Paul Bettany, Alan Rickman… I could go on all night. I would say I’m fascinated with James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano – he did so much and his acting was amazing.
MJB: I know you co-wrote Who’s Watching Oliver…have your written scripts prior? If so, please share your writing credits.
RGB: Yeah, I mentioned Goodnight Gloria, but yeah I have a million scripts. I’ll tell you something funny. I write a lot of scripts from ideas I get in my own dreams. I think I dream a lot more than most, and remember them! So I’m always putting them into a script. I honestly believe I have a very creative mind, just maybe not the education to back that up in words. So that I need to work on.
MJB: I first saw you in Pernicious, then Who’s Watching Oliver, followed by Ghost House – all take place in Thailand. Would you say, the bulk of your filmography was shot in Thailand? Is the industry different over there? Please tell me the ups and downs of working in Thailand.
RGB: Very different! The upside is less competition, being a white dude in an Asian country. No, joking apart… the Thais are amazing. Really great on set and they have looked after me big time. I’ve spent over ten years in Thailand. People there have given me a film education so I owe them for that. I’ve been an extra and a stand-in for a feature. Over the last years, then the lead or main character. But the crews have been the same people supporting me all the way. Some of the Thai people like Charlie Sungkawess or Oui Thitiya or Non Jungmeier, Numtarn Nichapat (and the companies like Living Films and Benetone Hillin Entertainment) Tom Waller and off course, Raimund Huber…I never would have met if it hadn’t been for my time spent in Thailand. The downside is when it goes quiet… or something happens and the films cancel shooting there.
MJB: Who came up with the Oliver character and how was he derived? Was there anyone, in particular, you envisioned when you created Oliver?
RGB: Well, I originally knew I wanted to make a serial killer film, but Richie and I both imagined Oliver a lot more smooth and cold, like Henry: Portrait of a Killer. Raimund had the idea pretty quick about a Forrest Gump meets George McFly character.
MJB: Do you have any similar traits to Oliver? Is there any part of you that relates to him?
RGB: Oliver is fragile mentally, and not to that degree but I would say when I went through panic attacks for a few years, that made me a better actor. Because I can understand better about inner turmoil and when your emotions are all over the place. Oliver is hurting. We’ve all been hurting at different periods. Oliver is bullied. We’ve all had someone bully us to some degree or another. So I can certainly relate to elements of Oliver.
MJB: Oliver is perceived to be autistic or mentally “slow” and an outcast. How did you prepare to portray a challenging character such as Oliver?
RGB: I watched a lot of documentaries and then a part of me just became Oliver. The speech, well at school I did have a slight speech impediment. I think also I just slowed down and over thought everything because that’s what Oliver does. Then off course, Richie and Raimund were great and a lot came from them too.
MJB: Was it difficult to go in/out of character during filming?
RGB: I think after filming it was hard to let Oliver go. I don’t mean in a serial killer way… I mean his anxieties. I think also, just being so broke and being practically homeless when we shot Oliver, didn’t help. It was a mentally draining shoot but I feel I performed better than I ever have in the past, so it was worth it.
MJB: In Ghost House, you play Robert, a semi-villain with no shame. In Oliver, you portray a tormented serial killer. Are you afraid of being pigeonholed as the guy who does nasty things? Do you enjoy playing “the bad guy”?
RGB: No, I feel lucky to have gotten the roles so far and fingers crossed, more to come. Not worried at all about being pigeonholed because I feel it is up to me to improve and adapt to other roles. But I also love playing unstable darker characters. Eventually, I’d love to be able to get to that Phillip Seymour Hoffman level, where my emotions are just an open tap. We will see!
MJB: In Pernicious, your character was tortured pretty badly. Is it scary to film scenes like that?
RGB: Working with James Cullen Bressack and Emily O’Brien was great and the SFX guys were awesome. That was a hard scene again- draining but I loved it! When your mind is playing a role and you feel like you’re there, it’s the most addictive drug you could imagine. So even the dark or scary scenes… they are the ones you buzz off shooting.
MJB: What is a high point of your career?
RGB: A high point, not sure. I still feel like I’m near the start. I guess reading good reviews about myself for Oliver was mentally a high point. I’m one of those people who doesn’t think I’m naturally gifted and although I love acting like nothing else, I’m learning step by step. So when I read good reviews, it helps my confidence. To say high point doesn’t mean the best times or memories because it’s all been a ride.
MJB: Low point?
RGB: The low point in my career is still there, ha, ha, ha! Seriously, I’m still a broke bum trying to get a break. But I would say the day cam2cam released in the cinema in the United States, I was working in a cinema in the UK and a woman had vomited in the toilets. So I had to clean that up at the very moment people would have been watching me on a screen in the US. I was mopping puke in a UK cinema. The job wasn’t the low point because I’ve done worse. Just thought it was ironic.
MJB: If you could change anything in your field, what would that be?
RGB: Well, I’m back in the UK after years abroad and I’m really struggling to get representation so I would change that.
MJB: If you could change anything about yourself, would you? And what would that be?
RGB: If I could change anything about myself, I think I’d make myself a better actor. If I had the guts to take a shot at this earlier in age I would have. Then I wouldn’t always feel on catch up when I look back at stuff from two years ago… I’m horrified with my performances. I also wish I could sell myself better instead of feeling like an idiot when I put myself out to the world to look at.
MJB: If you could choose anyone in the world to work with, who would that be?
RGB: If could have worked with anyone, it would have been Phillip Seymour Hoffman or James Gandolfini. People who are alive? Maybe Julie Delpy or Shane Meadows
MJB: What advice would you give to young actors looking to make this a career?
RGB: My advice would be to study as much as you can. After I shot Ghost House, I could see there was a gap in my ability compared to Scout Taylor-Compton and James Landry. So I went back to the drawing board as such but didn’t have a lot of money so I looked into online classes with the iActing Studio. They were a massive help and still are. I learned how to break down a script properly that to me, is the key to really understand what is going on- not just from your point of view, but from the other characters as well.
MJB: Thank you so much, Russell. I appreciate the time you’ve given. Wishing you the best of luck in your future career.
Interview by Meredith Brown for HORRORPEDIA