A gritty role in dark tale about loan sharks

Victoria Smurfit (left) with co-star and friend Joanne Mitchell in Bait.
Victoria Smurfit (left) with co-star and friend Joanne Mitchell in Bait.
  • Shooting an edgy thriller in Yorkshire gave Victoria Smurfit one of the best roles of her career, she tells Film Critic Tony Earnshaw on location in Huddersfield.
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Ask Victoria Smurfit about the appeal of travelling from Hollywood to Huddersfield to make a low-budget British revenge thriller and her answer is immediate.

“I’ve never played anybody in massive jeopardy. I normally play quite high- status characters who have got their sh** together,” says the 41-year-old who describes her character Bex as “ballsy, gobby, can-do, take-no-prisoners”.

Anyone familiar with the 5ft 8ins blonde’s TV CV will remember her from Ballykissangel, Trial & Retribution and Dracula. In the latter she played Lady Jayne Wetherby, a dark, brooding and brutal vampire-slaying aristocrat.

“So to play somebody [like Bex] was too good to turn down. Piecing together the levels of terror, fear, victimisation and vulnerability in an arc was really fascinating. It’s a physical terror, a mental 
terror and an emotional 
terror, so there are three levels of it.”

Moreover she’s working with her pals. Co-star Joanne Mitchell is her best friend – they shared a house together years ago as struggling newcomers – and director Dominic Brunt is Mitchell’s husband and creative 
partner.

Together this threesome form the power base of Bait, a nasty tale of a loan shark and his vicious methods of extortion, all of it based on fact.

Bait is about how far you can push a human being before they actually fight back,” says Brunt, best
known for his 18-year stint 
as Emmerdale vet Paddy 
Kirk.

“It’s based on four or five true stories – in Cheshire, one in Sheffield, one in Poland, one in Indonesia. Then we’ve taken liberties as well and fashioned it into an exciting, tense thriller.

“Bex and Dawn run a market stall in the north. They can’t get any money from the banks so they seek funding [for a café] from a loan shark. As loan sharks are wont to do £5,000 becomes £10,000 becomes £20,000 becomes violence becomes other things...”

On location in a quiet cul-de-sac in Huddersfield Dublin-born Smurfit, bloodied and battered, can be seen wandering around in her bra and panties.

Not much is left to the imagination. When she sits down for an interview she covers her modesty with jogging pants. The lacy bra remains very much in evidence.

“I don’t care,” she says, bluntly, as the crew labours to re-set a scene of domestic destruction.

“I work on the theory that my make-up artist is my mirror. Don’t wanna look, don’t wanna know. Because if you do you’re a bad model rather than a good actress. Once you’re in it, you’re in. I know that my make-up artist will look after the blood, the guts, the gore.

“And the costume department will make sure that bits and pieces of me aren’t hanging out.”

The impact is obvious in real life and in the film.

And it’s the film that’s foremost in her mind today – in particular an intense sequence in which the 
worms – Dawn and Bex, played by Mitchell and Smurfit – turn on their nemesis, played with reptilian menace by former RSC actor Jonathan Slinger.

“In this sequence I lure him up, take my kit off and promise him all sorts of fun and games, because I still owe him a few hundred pounds. I’m telling him that I’m going to deliver that in sexual favours.

“I’ve tried gaining his trust so that Dawn can taser him. But she’s a bit slow off the mark, he catches her and there’s this massive fight. There’s a lot of punching.

“We fight, into the kitchen, down on the floor... it’s that desperate scramble of what have you got. I’ve lost my taser, my weapon, and from there on in it’s desperation – whatever you’ve got at 
hand.”

Bait (filmed as The Taking) had its premiere at London’s FrightFest last weekend, an occasion that had Brunt’s knees knocking in nervousness.

For him it’s the difficult second film, his first being the popular zombie chiller Before Dawn.

Before Dawn was about monsters, which are zombies, and that was allegorical about the collapse of a relationship,” he explains.

“This is more to do with the exploitation of ambition but in the last third it ratchets up into this huge finale. 
It’s got themes of femininity versus masculinity, revenge.

Before Dawn was our low budget entry. This time we had a huge budget, we’ve got our LA premiere, it’s got an American deal... It all came from Before Dawn.”

But back to Smurfit, who’s getting ready for another round of assault and battery. She ruminates on the choreography of the scene – and how these two friends have sunk so low that they will contemplate murder.

“You’ve got to be on your mark, in focus... you’ve got to have all that going on.

“You’ll also see there’s a certain ease between Jonathan and me. You have to get that and a way that you find a rhythm with somebody.

“I know how much he’s going to ratchet up from a rehearsal. I know how much Jo is going to ratchet up from a rehearsal to a take. So you get that sense. It’s how high do you throw the ball.

“I play this tough hut who thinks she can crack through anything in life and this is the one thing she can’t manage.

“Jo plays the softer, more gentle character. 
Bex tries to get through it via force of nature and personality.

“When it gets physical – and it gets very physical very quickly – they have to fight fire with fire. It is a genre movie so we do push the envelope, no two ways about it. They have to fight with what they have. It’s do or die.”

n Bait (18) is on limited release from today.