Sam Spruell’s Scary Fairy Tale
ABOVE: SAM SPRUELL
The current question plaguing movie moguls: Can Snow White and the Huntsman nudge The Avengers off the top box-office spot? Although it is difficult to surpass the star power of The Avengers, Snow White offers up a respectable attempt with Kristen Twilight Stewart in the titular role of Snow White, the “mountain of a man” Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, and Charlize Theron as the evil queen, Ravenna. One face in this fairy tale that is less familiar, however, is that of Sam Spruell, who plays Theron’s brother, Finn. While Spruell has appeared in the odd transatlantic film such as 2008’s Hurt Locker, the London-born actor’s background is in British television and independent films. Here Interview talks to Spruell about his role in Snow White, appearing alongside some superstar heavyweights, and enduring awful haircuts.
EMMA BROWN: Hi Sam, I hear you’ve just landed from somewhere.
SAM SPRUELL: Yes, from Bulgaria. The joys of Bulgaria. Actually I was in Sofia, which is a very pretty, lovely town. But I’m very glad to be back. I haven’t seen my son for 10 days, so I’m looking forward to seeing him. I’m doing a film called Company of Heroes, which is a Sony film with Tom Sizemore in the lead. It’s been a lot of rolling around in the snow and pretending to be a Second World War soldier—an American GI. It’s quite nice to land in the slightly warmer air of London.
BROWN: How old is your son?
SPRUELL: My son is two and a half; I can’t wait to see him. It’s longer for me I think than it is for him, 10 days.
BROWN: Does he know what you do?
SPRUELL: I’m not sure that he does. He saw my show reel once and got a bit confused. He’s a bit of a showman himself, it’s all about him, which is fair enough.
BROWN: Are you originally from London?
SPRUELL: I was born and raised in London—southeast London. Now I live in east London, in a place called Hackney. I suppose you’d describe it as the Brooklyn of London.
BROWN: So, tell me about Snow White and the Huntsman.
SPRUELL: I play Finn, who’s the evil brother to the evil queen, Ravenna, played by Charlize Theron. They’ve lost their parents and have survived through force of spirit for at least 150 years. They have a kind of immortal spell—nothing can injure or kill them. Part of that spell is what keeps Ravenna looking young and beautiful, which is exactly what Charlize Theron is. I support [Ravenna] and am kind of her right-hand man; apart from being her brother, I do a lot of her dirty work. They’re both kind of Nordic and evil, it’s great! I have bright blond hair to signify my Nordic-ness. I had a really weird look actually, which was fine for the film, but horrible for civilian life. [laughs]
BROWN: Can you elaborate?
SPRUELL: When we were talking with the director [Rupert Sanders] and the designer on the film, Colleen Atwood—who’s a brilliant costume designer, she does all of Tim Burton’s films—I had some ideas and she had some ideas, and the main [reference] picture I had was of a 1970s punk. He had no eyebrows and a very high hairline, it just looked strange and medieval, and my part was meant to look strange and medieval, so we built from there. Rupert Sanders wanted me to have almost white hair to show my Nordic roots and very pale skin. I just looked very strange and slightly unhealthy. I ended up with very pale skin, no eyebrows, and a platinum bob with an undershaved front. A lot of people on the crew thought it was a wig—it wasn’t a wig—which was really annoying because it was quite a hard haircut to live with. But it was worth it, hopefully, because it’ll look great in the film, fingers crossed.
BROWN: Did you shave off your eyebrows, or just cover them up?
SPRUELL: I’ve got very light eyebrows. When they made my skin a bit paler, they just disappeared. We were horse-riding and doing a lot of things outside before we shot and they just bleached themselves.
BROWN: Your skin didn’t get tanned when you were outside?
SPRUELL: [laughs] I just wore a lot of sun block but, to be honest, I have a lot of Scottish blood, so I don’t really tan anyway. I go from blue to white to red. I’m painting an attractive picture of myself…
BROWN: Yes, it’s great.
SPRUELL: It’s not as bad as all that… or maybe it is.
BROWN: Was your son alarmed by this new, peculiar look?
SPRUELL: He was a bit, but I looked quite like him. He’s not as pale as I am, but he’s got very blond hair and [because he’s young] it’s quite thin as well. I think other people thought I was a bit aggressive and weird, “Why is that man making himself look like his son?” If anyone was alarmed it was my missus. I was really glad to have a normal haircut when we finished filming.
BROWN: How did you get rid of your bleach-blond hair? Did you shave it all of?
SPRUELL: I had a ceremonial shaving. A friend of mine came round with a razor, my girlfriend took the razor and just shaved all my hair off. I think she was completely sick of the hair. I then had a skinhead, [but] it’s slowly growing back, and growing back a normal color.
BROWN: What is your normal hair color?
SPRUELL: It’s kind of a red-y blond, a strawberry blond. Can men describe themselves as being strawberry blond?
BROWN: Sure, why not? It’s better than a lot of the other names people use to describe reddish hair.
SPRUELL: It is a little bit red, but it’s not ginger. [laughs]
BROWN: Snow White has a very large cast; did you get to know everyone?
SPRUELL: I think the great thing about my part is that he has interaction with quite a lot of people, so I had scenes with Charlize, obviously, but then I had really nice bits to do with Kristen Stewart, and then I had fights and scenes with Chris Hemsworth, which was no mean feat ’cause he’s like a man mountain, and fighting him is just… The only people I didn’t act with were the dwarves, and I would have loved to work with Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan. I’d bump into them occasionally as they were getting their prosthetics done for hours and hours.
BROWN: How did you feel about acting in a fairy-tale film? There seem to be so many coming out these days, did that put you off at all?
SPRUELL: I’ve done films, on the whole, that are quite low budget, often quite gritty. I played parts that are often working-class, come from gritty [parts of] London, and suddenly someone’s offering me a part in this huge budget film and it’s in a completely made-up, crazy world. I was completely excited about that. I’ve filmed on a lot of London estates [projects] so I was ready to film in castles and strange forests.
BROWN: In fairy tales, especially the way they exist post-Disney, things can be quite black and white—the good are good, and the evil are evil. Did you feel like you still had to psychoanalyze your character, or did you just enjoy playing someone just bad?
SPRUELL: You can’t just be evil for evil’s sake. You have to construct a rich psychological makeup of what that person is. You have to decide why they are that way; people are horrible because damage has happened in their life, terrible things have happened to them.
BROWN: Did you talk to Charlize about that—your family background?
SPRUELL: Yeah we did—how they lost their mother, how Charlize’s character is towards my character, Finn; how Finn is towards Ravenna. I think Finn’s seen a lot of death and destruction in his life, that kind of time [period]—it’s not medieval, but we tried to maybe think that it was around that time-life back then was full of death and destruction unfortunately. That does shape a person and how they view death, how easily they can carry out killing, and all the rest of it.
BROWN: Have you seen the other “dark” version of Snow White with Sigourney Weaver? I think it’s called Snow White: A Scary Fairy-tale or something like that [1997’s Snow White: A Tale of Terror].
SPRUELL: No. I’ve never heard of it. What’s it called? That’s a terrible title, but I’ll definitely get that out. I’m really intrigued to see that now.
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN COMES OUT TOMORROW.