I guess that spending time with this undercover policeman must have been a tremendous help with the portrayal of your character?
Peter Ferdinando: Yes, he was a big inspiration, in terms of how unconventional and how un-cop-like he was. Hanging with him on the party scene, he was drinking heavily and taking loads of drugs. He was living a wild lifestyle so it was quite a shock to discover he was a cop.
I wanted to model myself on him and use him as a prototype for the character. I asked to spend some time with him before we started filming, but he wanted nothing to do with it. He had moved on from that life. We had to develop the character from what we had, our experiences with him and encounters with other police officers in different fields, from vice and drug squads.
Were they open to meeting with you?
PF: Yes, we got to meet various police officers from different walks of life that were either active or retired officers involved in corruption; taking different elements and aspects from different characters and forming that character from all the information and research that we had at our disposal. Also, we accompanied the police on live raids, wearing stab vests, running into buildings and making arrests. We were wearing all the gear, watching it go down, observing how it actually happened. That really helped me as an actor, experiencing the behaviour, the terminology and the procedures. That was incredibly beneficial to me. When we were filming, we had a sense of whether something was real or not. It is of great importance that we made it as authentic as possible.
The scene where the Turkish guy is butchered by these Albanian brothers is gruesome to watch, even for Michael who dishes up his own brand of violence?
PF: Yes, at the beginning of the film you see him as an alpha male, coming into a club, smashing it up with his gang. When he is on his own we see how vulnerable he actually is, seeing somebody murdered in front of him. He falls to pieces, which is not an everyday occurrence even for someone in the police force.
You were very convincing in the following scene where Michael talks with his superior about the butchering of the Turkish guy without being able to tell him that he actually witnessed it. It’s where everything starts to unravel for him.
PF: His whole infrastructure starts to collapse. A big part of what he is doing is in direct contravention of the book, such as, dealing with informants for monetary gain and dealing in drugs where a large influx of money is involved. As a policeman he is involved in corruption on such a large scale and he has Internal Affairs investigating him. He has witnessed a murder and is involved, to a certain extent – it’s a massive scare for him. He has woven a very nasty web for himself. Things start to spiral out of control when he gets involved with the Albanians; a different breed of criminal who are actually one step ahead of the law
How do you manage to pull that off as an actor, to play a character whose life is on the line?
PF: It meant living as truthfully as I possibly could, imagining those circumstances and putting myself in that situation. Trying to identify with the character, trying to sympathise with the character and really putting myself into his shoes. There would be moments where I couldn’t quite attain the emotion required for a scene, this where sense memory comes into play. You use elements from your own experience to arrive at that emotion in the scene. By and large I tried to immerse myself into Michael’s world and make it as believable as I possibly could, for myself, in order to make it believable for the audience. With the butchering scene I didn’t know what I was going to do that day until the day arrived. Without sounding pretentious, I sort of surprised myself really. I had no idea where I was headed with it. As previously stated, I just tried to put myself in Michael’s shoes.
What did you actually sniff in the film?
PF: It was glucose which actually gives you a kick because it is sugar. I was naturally getting a sugar rush, getting high and putting glucose in my nose. It was rather painful and my nose went quite raw [laughs].
Interview conducted and written by Thierry Somers
Photographs by Conor Masterson
‘Hyena’ written and directed by Gerard Johnson.