Martin Henderson: “Getting X was a real coup for me”

Martin Henderson, one of the stars of Ti West's horror movie X, tells us about what drew him to the part, filming in New Zealand, and Virgin River season 4

X movie: Martin Henderson in X

In Ti West’s new horror movie X, a small band of independent filmmakers find themselves at the mercy of some murderous Texan locals. It’s a little Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a little bit The Hills Have Eyes, and all bloody.

At the forefront is Wayne, a producer played by Martin Henderson. Wayne hasn’t actually produced anything yet, but the adult film he and his crew are putting together is going to be everything. It’ll reinvent the world of pornography, and make stars out of Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), Jackson (Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi), Maxine (Mia Goth), and give RJ (Owen Campbell) and Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) their start as auteurs. You can guess how that works out for them.

Filmed during the Covid-19 pandemic in New Zealand, X was an intense shoot, complicated more by West successfully pitching a prequel movie called Pearl, which started production simultaneously. We got to chat with Henderson about his approach to playing Wayne, what it was like in New Zealand at that time, the story behind Pearl, and what fans of Netflix series Virgin River can expect in season 4.

TDF: I loved X, and I want to know, was the script as fun to read as the film is to watch?

Martin Henderson: It was, but I think reading the script, you didn’t have all of the details in the style that was inside the director’s mind. It was actually one of those scripts that you read, and went, ‘Wow, this could be really cool, or this could just be really weird, man’. But after talking with Ti about it, it was clear that his vision was so strong.

When he explained what he wanted to do, as a way to revere that classical filmmaking period of the ’70s, and what he wanted to do cinematically, I got it. Definitely the end result is amazing compared to the script.

Your character, Wayne, he’s not exactly what you’d call likeable, but he’s very persuasive. I might not like him, but I’d find it hard to turn down what he’s selling. Can you tell me about finding his charisma?

Yeah, that’s funny you say ‘selling’ because in my mind, I saw him as a used car salesman. One of the inspirations for me is these guys that, you don’t really like them, just the watch is too big, too many chains on, there’s too much cologne, and you’re like, ‘Dude’, but they’re persuasive. They know how to do that, and Wayne, I thought was one of these guys.

I didn’t want him to be too slick and smooth, because I think what’s charming about the character is this idea that none of his ideas have really ever taken off. He’s never quite achieved what, in his mind, he thinks he’s capable of, and he would always blame something or someone else. I like that, so this venture, this porn movie that they’re making, in a way it’s his last shot – this is the one. Which I felt gave him an enthusiasm and an energy that would be charming, even though he’s not the most likable guy.

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This marks Ti West’s return to feature-length production. Were you familiar with his previous movies?

I was aware of his work, but I hadn’t seen all of his movies. I’d seen a couple before we worked together. That combination of seeing what he could do with the script, and then having A24 on board to, all those pieces of the puzzle just voted really well for it. I was really excited to be a part of it. And like you said, to be a part of Ti’s – I don’t know if it’s a comeback – but he’s re-entering the space with so much confidence and style. I’m excited for what this is going to do for him.

X was filmed on location in New Zealand, where you’re originally from. Was filming there part of the attraction for you?

It was, yeah. In the middle of the pandemic, I’d been working in Vancouver a lot. I hadn’t been home for a while. When my manager called me and said, ‘Hey, this thing’s shooting in New Zealand’, that was very attractive to me. I love going home and working at home. But really, when I read the script, the main draw was just getting a chance to play a character like that.

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It’s not really something that I tend to get opportunities to do in America. I tended to do more upbeat characters back home, in New Zealand and Australia, but for whatever reason, people don’t see me in that way in America. So it was a real coup for me to get that part.

One of my favourite scenes is the sing-along between the whole crew. What was the vibe like among the cast?

We all felt very grateful that we were in New Zealand at a time where at that point, the rest of the world was in some form of lockdown or severe restriction, with quite a degree of fear. To New Zealand’s credit, they had managed to keep the first waves at the border. We had to do the quarantine for two weeks in hotels, and then once we were released, there was the sense that we’d gone through the wardrobe from Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

There was this other world, like, ‘Oh my god, there’s no masks, there’s no testing, no one’s sick’. There were concerts, we were at the beach. That really helped us to bond in that way, but also going through that quarantine experience. We were all in the hotels at the same time, and texting each other and supporting one another.

That also bonded us really well. Then just the script, getting the costumes on, all the 1970s clothes and the hair. Once we started seeing each other’s outfits – I always felt like we looked a bit like Scooby-Doo. Our own pornography version of Scooby-Doo.

I know Ti West filmed this prequel on the trot of X. How did that happen? Were you all stuck there?

We weren’t, what actually happened is kind of an amazing story. Ti had this movie. He pitched it to A24, they loved it, and they put the movie together. It was supposed to be shot originally in Texas, and it wasn’t. The pandemic, it was just too complicated. So, they decided to do it in New Zealand.

During pre-production when Ti was actually in his quarantine hotel for the two weeks in New Zealand, he just decided to sit down and write a prequel. He came up with this idea. He was fascinated by the origins of the Pearl character, and he just banged up the screenplay and sent it to A24, and they went, ‘Yeah, we love that, make that right after this one’.

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While we were shooting X, the producers were running around like mad making sure the wheels stayed on for our shoot, but also setting up the pre-production for Pearl. I think they only had about three weeks break between the two movies, they just went from one to the other. Which is pretty amazing. It speaks a lot to how confident A24 is in Ti’s ability and his vision, his storytelling, and what he wants to do. I think it was a pretty incredible thing.

Between yourself, Brittany Snow, Kid Cudi, and other members of the cast, there’s a lot of experience on this film. Is there much truth to the depiction of indie filmmaking here, do you think?

It reminded me of some smaller budget stuff, when I was really young, starting out in New Zealand. The crews were so small, and back then it was shot on film, on 16mm so I could relate to that. In terms of the character, Wayne’s never really experienced it. Because he has zero understanding of film, if anything, I didn’t really lean into any of those memories so much, because it was important. Wayne felt like a total novice, albeit slick and confident.

He talks a good talk, but I felt he was pretty much a fish out of water, which is why he leans so heavily on the RJ character to get what he wants, because he’s not sure. He doesn’t know what he’s doing at all. He just hopes that these kids know what they’re doing. He knows his girlfriend’s super sexy. He knows what she’s like in bed. He’s like ‘Man, she rocks my world, and when the rest of the world gets to see what you can do, I’m gonna be rich’. It’s this deplorable pimp attitude, but hopefully a bit charming nonetheless.

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You’ve only made a few horror films in your career – there was The Strangers: Prey at Night in 2017, and The Ring in 2002. What attracts you to a horror script?

Whatever the genre, action, drama, comedy, I try to read it from the audience’s perspective. I try to be the audience. The first time I read it, I just want to get a sense of how this film is gonna land with the audience. If I feel like I’m being drawn through the story, and it’s compelling to me, and there’s enough surprise, and if there’s something about it that’s titillating, then that’s how I get into it.

The Ring obviously, was super exciting, because it was so new, it hadn’t been done before. Watching the Japanese movies like, ‘Wow, this is just an exciting opportunity to be a part of something so original’. X too, I’m not a huge horror movie fan myself, I don’t see a lot of them. I just, I guess I’m more drawn to the comedy and drama. X was just so unusual. That’s what appealed to me it was quite unlike anything I’d ever seen or read before. That’s what gets me excited, is the idea of putting something out there that’s original and different.

Virgin River season 4 is coming up, and your character was left on a cliff-hanger. What can we expect from the Netflix show?

I can’t tell you too much because it’ll give it away, but you find out what’s going on. I’m just going to say that season 4 reveals and answers all the questions, but then presents some more. I think season 4 is going to be really satisfying for people because of that giant cliff-hanger.

There were multiple cliff-hangers, which gives a little love/hate situation for the audience, where they love but hate the wait. It’s going to be worth it, because the writers really answer that stuff. I think people will be satisfied.

X is in theatres March 18.