Released in 1997, Preaching to the Perverted is quite often seen as the world’s first fetish feature film.
In the film, Christien Anholt plays Peter Emery, an innocent young man despatched by parliamentary moralists into London’s S&M and fetish world. However Peter quickly falls in love with American dominatrix Tanya Cheex, played by Guinevere Turner.
Love, lust, whips and latex ensue, with colourful and chaotic intrigues to boot.
Seventeen years later the film has now been released on HD DVD and Blu-ray. Stuart Urban, the writer and director of the film, is currently making plans for a sequel.
Christien Anholt took time out to talk to Mardi Gras about some of the wild and wonderful things he experienced while filming Preaching to the Perverted. Most notably, how he managed to come up with such a great facial expression during that famous electrode scene.
What were you first thoughts when you were presented with the project?
I went in with open eyes and to be honest they were opened way wider than I thought by the time I’d finished the film. I didn’t know anything about the S&M scene. I never left the set. I was absolutely transfixed by everything. The film involved people from the actual scene so a lot of a people working on the film weren’t actors playing roles so to speak. They were guys who were actually involved in the performance art scene, the S&M scene, and all sorts of things were going on. It was like being a kid in a candy store, to be honest.
It’s not something I came out of and then continued in my life. I left it on set. And for me that’s where it stayed.
But it was fascinating for many reasons. Just some of the things that people find interesting. Not just interesting, but some of the things that people find exciting and indulge in on a regular basis. I couldn’t quite get my head around some of them. Some of it I can obviously see the interest in, but without going into too much detail there were other aspects of it that I couldn’t quite get my head around.
It was also interesting meeting the broad demographic of people, young, old, from all walks of life. I remember there was a guy, we called him Spiderman. He was in head to toe in a red latex outfit. Literally just a tiny little slit for his mouth and eyes. I found being around him quite uncomfortable – something about not being able to see his features. All I got was this image of this man in red. In one particular scene I was standing next to him and he started speaking to me. He completely took me by surprise because he was an older gentleman, very well spoken, and it wasn’t at all what it was expecting. ‘Oh, hello, how are you?’ And I was just like ‘what!?’ I couldn’t get my head round it.
But they were all fantastic people and it was a pleasure working with them all. It wasn’t a bad experience at all. It was a fantastic experience. We had a lot of fun.
What did you friends and family think about it at the time? What were their reactions to the film?
A lot of people said, ‘What are doing? What is this?’ I remember a few people using the word pornography. The film, although it was based in the S&M world, was more of a love story and a political insight on freedom and freedom of speech and freedom of choice. The bigotry of stereotypes, I had some of that going on. ‘Oh, these people are weird. They’ve got to be weird if they want to do stuff like that.’ But they’re not. They have different opinions and feelings. They probably think I’m weird!
There was a lot of, even to this day, every time I mention this film, Preaching to the Perverted, everyone’s eyebrows raise ‘oh yeah, what’s that about?’. It’s about the S&M scene. ‘Oh really?’. People are interested in different ways. Some are slightly turned on by the idea. Some people put off by it. At the end of the day, it was work, it was a good script, it was an interesting character and I learned stuff about myself doing it. My own ignorance. My own arrogance, that I know better than other people and this is weird. I guess it opened my eyes and it made me a little more willing to not judge people.
That clitoral stimulator – how many takes did it take you to get that facial expression?
(laughing) I don’t remember how many takes it took to be honest! That was my facial expression on set daily! I wasn’t really acting there at all. Guinevere and I got on very well so it wasn’t uncomfortable at all. The notion of pain and pleasure for me was at that time quite difficult to comprehend. That expression…I think that was quite far into filming so by then I’d seen a great deal so I had to recall every day on the set was new and surprising and enlightening. It didn’t take a lot to muster up that facial expression.
What were your favourite moments in the film and what’s the funniest thing you saw or did during the film?
I really enjoyed working with Tom Bell. He was such a lovely guy. Tom had a reputation as being quite a difficult actor and I guess I was slightly apprehensive, but he was such a lovely guy and I really enjoyed working with him. He was so generous with me and really great fun. Those few scenes I had with him in his office in the Houses of Parliament were just delightful. And Georgina Hale as well. One of the memories that really stand out is when Georgina slapped me around the place – she absolutely belted me! I was absolutely knocked for six.
I have to say I was on set just watching what was going on. There was a gentlemen, again I can’t remember anyone’s names, there was a gentlemen who was in a cage, hooked up in this cage. And he spent most of the day there by choice. I couldn’t understand it. He never came out!
Other fascinating things – there was a guy who was asphyxiating himself through this gas mask and every now and then he would let it go a bit far and he would pass out. And people would be like, ‘he’s fallen down, quickly we must help him’. And other people, they’d be like, ‘no, he’ll be fine’. I really had to adjust my understanding of what was normal. Who am I to say what’s normal?
What are your thoughts on the possibility of a sequel?
For me personally it would be great. I’ve never ever been involved in a sequel. It would be great to revive a character. Especially one that I played seventeen almost eighteen years ago. Also if it does go ahead, I would be playing a father, which would be a first for me as well. But I love the idea of it. I think it’s a fantastic idea. I know Stuart’s got all sorts of ideas, political threads that involve the telephone hacking thing and stuff like that. He’s quite on the ball when it comes to political agendas and stuff like that. I think the thread of the first one was politically driven. I’d imagine the second one would be as well. Personally I’d love it. Why wouldn’t I? It would lovely to work with anyone that was involved in the first one and anyone new as well.
Preaching to the Perverted is available to buy on HD DVD and Blu-ray from www.preachingtotheperv.com
Check out our full feature on Preaching to the Perverted featuring interviews with Guin Turner, Costumer Designer Chas Hines, Christien Anholt and Writer/Director Stuart Urban.