Gory Greetings my fellow HTGRS,
It’s been a while since I’ve posted an interview because as you may or may not know, I’ve been working on my upcoming documentary HORROR ABLE which features horror creatives with disabilities or challenges yet continue creating and working despite their conditions. Gilles is by far one of the most talented effx artists still working in the industry til this day. He’s come a long way in his career and has worked on some of the most influential movies and Television shows within the horror, sci-fi and fantasy genres. He was the first person I interviewed for this project and because it’s the only written interview, we are lucky to know his story now.
How long have you been working in the industry?
I think I have been in the industry for nearly 20 years, give or take...
When did you start?
It really started professionally around 2001, subcontracting for films and plays in London, but I have been doing work for short films, plays, in France, before that.
What films have you worked on?
I worked on films such as Prometheus, the Wolfman, Wrath of the Titans, Hercules, The Last Days on Mars…
What/who inspired you to pursue your career?
I am not sure I thought about pursuing a career in FX, but there are so many people I admired the work of, Dick Smith for sure, Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Steve Johnson, Neill Gorton, Mark Coullier, just to name a few…
What was your most memorable work experience?
The Wolfman is my most fond memory, as it was the one that brought me to London for good (or so I thought), thanks to Neill Gorton, and it was my first steps in a world bigger I could possibly imagine.
What was your biggest challenge in your career?
I would say to evolve and live in a foreign country (for me), speak a different language while learning or improving my skills…
Can you give me a detailed description of your brain diagnosis? How did it happen? What was the onset?
As far as I try to think of a timeline, it did not happen overnight, but rather over a long period of time, where I felt more and more tired without noticing. Then, noticeably in 2015, to the underlying exhaustion, one could add strong headaches and loss of balance, first very sparingly, then more and more persistent… I went to see a doctor while in France in December 2015 for Xmas about these symptoms, and it was agreed I had to get CT scans as soon as possible to see what was going on. I could not do it straight away, so I went back to London. It’s only in March of 2016, when my father had a stroke that I was told was nearly fatal, I came back to be there for, according to the doctors, what was thought his last days… Well, turned out it was not, and he managed to stay with us another 18 months, getting weaker every time I went to see him… Anyway, as I was back in France, I managed to get a ct scan done and it was discovered that I had a growth in my head, and further tests were decided to see what it was. From “growth” it became a “tumor”, and at this time it was not known if it was benign or otherwise. I then had a battery of tests done at the hospital, from blood samples to RMI, more ct scans and balance tests.
How long was it before you needed surgery?
In a matter of weeks, it was decided It had to be surgically removed. Its location in the middle of my brain was what caused loss of balance, headaches and exhaustion. On the downside, it was right in the middle of the most intricate network of nerves that controls all the body functions. So I was diagnosed in March, and the surgery in June. Prior to agree for the surgery, I had to sign a document that listed all the side effects or complications that could result from such a risky surgery. Basically, I could end up dead, paralyzed, blind, unable to talk, to walk, being a vegetable for the rest of my life, stay in a coma, all remarkably similar to having ‘survived’ a stroke…
How did it affect your daily/personal and work life?
Basically, I am slower than before (I still must work with keeping my balance, from time to time, avoiding rapid and sudden change of direction for example), and I tire quicker. Running is proven difficult, and I had to put my career on pause for a time, (Brexit was voted while I still was in the hospital) as my mother started to show early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. While recuperating, I had to take care of her, as I was living in my parent’s house with her, more and more, even with the help of my brothers and nurses that were dedicated to her wellbeing…
Now, after she passed away, after we sold my parent’s house and I found a place to live, I started to look again for work, at a slow pace. I now look for more and more teaching gigs, as working for films is getting sparse, especially in a Covid dominated world… So, I travel all over France, to teach in special fx schools, how to run foam latex, how to make a mold, etc.…
How was your recovery?
The surgery went well, as I only suffered minor side effects: One of my vocal cords was permanently damaged and I lost the hearing in my right ear. I now must wear a hearing aid to compensate. And that is it. Now. But when I woke up, the world around me was fuzzy as they kept pumping drugs in my body. After a week, when effects of the drugs subsided, I realized I could not walk, and that the right-hand side of my face was paralyzed, unresponsive. It took a couple of weeks to come back, but it was a tough time, as were the recovery, as It is an ongoing day to day effort.
Are there any challenges you are facing now since the surgery? If so, how do you adjust?
In retrospect, I have learned to listen a bit more to my body, thing I was not doing much before. I cannot do as much as I used to before the surgery, but at the same time, I feel I got given a second chance, so to speak, so I see life a bit differently.
What words of encouragement and/or inspiration you have for people who have suffered or are suffering from the same?
I accepted that I am not the same as before, and that I have new parameters to consider (it took me a while, but I had to). Now, I do not look over my shoulders as much. I look forward, it is the only way. It takes me a tad longer to do what I was used to do in no time, but I get there eventually.
What inspires or draws you to horror?
In the 80’ (yeah I’m old. No, in fact, I am not old, I am vintage), I watched all sort of horror movies at my local movie theater. It was all about fun and extreme, graphic scenes, to the point it was unrealistic, with a gross factor. The more blood, the better (think Nightmare on Elm Street death scenes, Johnny Depp character for example, Fright night). So yeah, it was for the fun and the somehow cartoonish way it was depicted… Any good zombie, demon or creature design is obviously a plus.
Can you name a few of your favorite films?
In no order, except for the first one, which resonates with me on so many levels): The Exorcist, An American Werewolf in London, Pet Semetary, Poltergeist, Evil Dead 1 to 3, Day, night, dawn, return of the [living] dead (original and remakes), Street Trash, Nightmares on Elm Street (all the ones with Robert Englund), any Carpenter movies and so many more…
What is your definition of horror?
Something that starts in a normal way, borderline boring or very casual, and escalade very quickly towards something that is so extra ordinary that it kicks the survival mode in you, no matter what.
If you can choose any horror or sci fi character to be, who would it be and why?
I was attracted to vampires when I was younger, but I’m more inclined toward werewolves nowadays, the rage and the strength within, only to come out from time to time, and has to be controlled all of the time.
Are you currently working on anything? Any future projects in the works?
I keep teaching in Fx schools in France, and next week I’ll be flying to Stockholm to work on a Dracula movie for a few weeks.
What are your future goals?
Trying to get more work despite Covid, doing more teaching, and hopefully getting my youtube channel sorted to reach more people who are eager to learn practical fx.. ((1190) Le LAB 101 - YouTube)