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The Awakening

Dominic West stars as 'Robert Mallory' in this gothic tinged, ghostly tale, and speaks to Dazed about what drew him to the film

An isolated boarding school in the aftermath of the First World War is the austere and eerie backdrop to The Awakening, a tormenting ghost story with a distinctly gothic feel, directed by Nick Murphy. Hoax-ghost-buster Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) – renowned for exposing charlatan psychics and their shameless exploitation of Britain’s many bereaved – is summoned to the scene by soldier-turned-schoolmaster Robert Mallory (Dominic West) to investigate sightings of a young boy’s ghost.

Certainty soon gives way to doubt and eventual terror as bleak but bewitching cinematography and a prescribed measure of discordant sound effects drag viewers into Cathcart’s spectral “awakening”. West, as the shell shocked Mallory, combines an air of brooding mystery (suitable for the part of love interest) with a universal sense of grief and trauma. Here Dazed Digital talks to him about his own views on the spirit world and topless photo shoots.

Dazed Digital: What drew you to this film and your character in it?
Dominic West:
The thing that really hit me about the script was that it had an incredible atmosphere of loss and of elegy and I thought that was a really interesting grounding for a ghost story. I used to do quite a few poetry readings and my favourite period of poetry is the First World War – I’ve always found that poetry intensely moving; in some way making sense of an astonishingly barbaric and mad time in our history. My character was a veteran of the war who really lived more in his past than in his present because the people he loved were dead and I thought that was extremely moving. 

DD: Do you believe in ghosts?
Dominic West: 
I think I do believe in ghosts, yes; I believe in all sorts of old claptrap. My parents died and I would definitely hope that that wasn’t the end of the story – not that I could contact them necessarily or that they’re going around spooking people – just that there is life after death I suppose. And that there is, in Hamlet’s words, “More in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophies.” I think we understand so little of human consciousness and the natural world that it would be foolish to disregard the supernatural.

DD: You’ve done various cover shoots – including a recent topless one – how do you feel about being considered a sex symbol?
Dominic West: 
Oh God. Well I’m very flattered if anyone suggests it but I can’t stand the photos. I absolutely hate it...I suppose every person does. I just can’t think of anything worse than being a model. Sometimes you’re confused as being a model when in fact you’re only interested in putting on funny fake noses and becoming other people. I find it quite uncomfortable really. And now I’m married it’s no use to me (laughs). It was great in the single years but now it’s more of a burden really – the trial of my fidelity!

DD: How’s life been after The Wire – you’ve been involved in a variety of projects since finishing – and what are you working on currently?
Dominic West: 
I came out of The Wire actually thinking that I wanted to be a director, because I directed one of The Wires and I loved it, and I came back here and directed a couple of things for the BBC and I really enjoyed that. But then the acting work got good so I’ve put that to one side for the moment. Before I did The Wire I was always interested in theatre and quite physical theatre – I did La Guarda (a kind of circus thing) – so I was keen to get back to doing the stuff that excited me. I’ve just done Othello in Sheffield [with The Wire co-star Clarke Peters] and we’re hopefully going to take that to London or New York next year. Then I’m doing another season of The Hour – we’re doing that all winter – so that’s what I’m doing immediately.

Text by Daisy Woodward