White Lightnin’ (2009)

“My life’s been a joke, a party and a tragedy,” opines Jesco White (Edward Hogg), the drug-addled, nimble-footed narrator in this blazing, paranoid fusion of biopic and delirious fantasy-gone-wrong. Preaching with the kind of countrified twang usually reserved for the likes of Dolly Parton, Jesco recounts his youth spent in the trailer trash wilds of Appalachia. The tearaway son of infamous dancer D Ray White (Muse Watson), Jesco’s drug-meddling took flight on the cusp of puberty, when his lighter fluid huffin’ resulted in incarceration at a reform school that did anything but.

Yes, this could very well be the Borat of Appalachia – a place not so much painted as grimed with the iconography of rough living and white trash destitution. Inspired by the real life story of Jesco ‘The Dancing Outlaw’ White, all the White hallmarks are there (the addiction, the dancing), but also something else. Something dreamed up out of a dank place of fire and brimstone. In the evocative mould of Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, White Lightnin’ is obsessed with mood and the possibilities of character free from sterile factoids. It’s a Wikipedia version of a life freely edited by mad men.

So as the film leaves behind Jesco’s teenage years, it also takes leave of the facts. From reform school, a teenage Jesco finds himself institutionalised at the Bennett State Hospital, where he stays for another decade. And it’s here that we first meet Ed Hogg. Wide-eyed and naïve, he’s the lovechild of Jared Leto and David Tennant, at once meek and withdrawn, then boiling over with a red, screaming rage that wreaks 10 shades of hell.

It’s a blinding performance from a one-time Heartbeat guest starrer. Inviting us into Jesco’s damaged, demented mind, Hogg goes to deep, dark places – before flashing a pitch perfect humorous aside. “Don’ fuck with mah fuckin’ hay-ed!” he howls at lover Cilla (a towering Carrie Fisher), meat cleaver in hand. Then, reprimanded for his profanity, he timidly reiterates, “She’s effin’ with mah effin’ hay-ed!”

Former documentary and short film director Dominic Murphy clearly revels in upping the ante for his feature debut. Blanching colour from the screen, leaving just the faintest memory of hue, Murphy confidently presents his visuals as nightmarish extensions of Jesco’s warped inner-mind. Blackouts, flickering, over-processed montage and distorted imagery are all paired with a soundtrack that gradually becomes more and more erratic, charting Jesco’s horrific descent into insanity.

“There’s a time when you’ve lived in your own head for too long that y’all have the privilege to go insane,” Jesco cheerfully mentions. And, at the halfway mark, White Lightnin’ fearlessly follows Jesco into his lunacy, entering a ponderous, dreamlike state that cultivates a cantankerous spirit of unease.

Seething with blighted fervour and over-ripe with religious wrath, the wild, elemental imagery generates something truly disturbing. With its strange religious overtones and inevitably fitful conclusion, White Lightnin’ is elusive and bleak, but magnetic filmmaking.

Anticipation: Jesco who? A film about mountain dancing? Next! 2

Enjoyment: Feverish, brilliantly evocative and effortlessly unsettling. 4

In Retrospect: Fantastic performances and a creeping sense of doom make this one to watch. Pure lightning in a bottle. 4

Via Little White Lies

Ed Hogg – "I don’t really get many romantic leads"

Edward Hogg isn’t your run of the mill, everyday movie star. Yes, he’s the luminous lead in trippy mindbender White Lightnin’ (“I’m so proud of it. You feel like you’ve been through something when you watch it”), and yes he’s shagged Carrie Fisher (on-screen, for a scene that – already infamously – had him guzzling champagne by the bucket-load back stage and then vomiting post-clinch). But Mr Hogg isn’t like all the other fledgling Hollywood ankle-biters. For a start, he’s currently working in a pub on Tottenham Court Road. “I don’t know about being a Hollywood star,” the actor laughs as we point out his peculiar predicament, “but yes, I’m still working in a pub. At the moment I’ve got no bloody money!”

The 30-year-old Doncaster native hadn’t wanted to be an actor to begin with, anyway. Hailing from Yorkshire – and still in possession of a distinctive northern lilt – the young Hogg had his eye on an altogether cooler profession. “I wanted to be in a band. I was in a band when I was at school,” he reveals, before divulging said band’s name (not without a whiff of nostalgic pride) as ‘Porno King’. “So I was about 18 and that’s all I wanted to do.” But the world of rock was not for him. One gap year and a jettisoned plan to attend university later, and Hogg “fell into acting” when his sister decided to dabble in am dram. “I’ve not looked back since, really.”

But wait… what was that about shagging Carrie Fisher? Playing Cher to Hogg’s Sonny in White Lightnin’, Fisher is equally electric as her British co-star. The film takes the topsy-turvy life of mountain dancer Jesco White and runs off with it into the dark recesses of a crazed, drug-addled imagination. As the titular Jesco, Hogg found himself starkers (apart from a masking-taped sock in a particularly sensitive area) and simulating love-making with the former Princess Leia. “I must’ve watched Star Wars a million times growing up, I mean it’s on every Christmas,” the actor sighs in his gentle, genial timbre, before adding with typical northern candour, “It was wonderful to meet her, she was absolutely fab.”

White Lightnin’ marks Hogg’s first lead role after a slew of supporting appearances in the likes of Nicholas Nickleby, Alfie and Brothers Of The Head. Even then he dazzled, looking out from the corners of scenes with his big round eyes and magnetically burning with a quiet intensity. Lightnin’ remains an opportunity that he seems stunned to have been gifted with. Take this: when asked if the sinister material resulted in a difficult or draining shoot, Hogg fumbles, initially stumped by the question. “It’s my first kind of major role in a film, and when I look back now I just remember it being brilliant,” he admits. “It was a bit tiring, there were long days. But it was more thrilling than anything else, I was so excited. I mean I was nervous , but just very, very excited to be involved in something like that.”

The role is an actor’s dream – requiring a certain degree of teeth-gnashing and screaming, but also a subtle, gentle touch that keeps the film (and the character) from teetering into an over-the-top realm of absurdity. As Jesco, Hogg gets high, threatens men twice his size with fire arms, and confronts Fisher in the shower with a broken bottle before turning the makeshift weapon on himself in a blood-gushingly graphic scene. But ask him about any ‘method’ to his acting madness, and Hogg is characteristically frank. “I don’t think of my relatives dying or anything like that,” he explains. “But you do have to get yourself into that kind of mind-space. [Director] Dominic Murphy had this technique called high knees, where I’d jump on the spot for three minutes, and then I’d scream and shout a bit at the top of my voice. And then you’d play the scene. It’s a bit embarrassing, but it really works to get you to a certain place.”

Like most actors, Hogg cut his acting teeth in the theatre. In 2002, he graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He quickly earned rave reviews and an Ian Charleson Award nomination for his part in Woyzcek at the Gate Theatre. Jobbing it both on the stage and, increasingly, in film (as well as down the pub), Hogg remains philosophical about the differences in medium. “I like being in film, I like going to watch a film, and I’m in it, and going ‘wow’,” he says. “But, actually, I think doing the physical kind of acting, being on stage, is better. Because it’s happening, it’s instant, there and then all the time.”

He remains particularly close to acclaimed theatre director Daniel Kramer, whom he has worked with on numerous occasions. “Theatre-wise I like working with Daniel. I like to do what he wants to do, he always does exciting stuff. I don’t know what would be my dream job. At the moment I’m really enjoying being in British independent films and doing exciting things. Just to be doing that more, really. To play interesting parts.”

Just don’t expect him to turn into the next Hugh Grant. “I tend to get cast in edgier roles, edgier people,” the actor says. “I don’t really get many romantic leads! So I guess those are the parts I’ll play for a little while. I like doing anything, I like just having a go, you know?”

Looking to the future, Hogg has Bunny And The Bull already wrapped and set for release later this year. Directed by Paul King of Mighty Boosh fame, Hogg plays Stephen, a young man who (according to the press release) ‘takes an imaginary road trip inside his apartment, based on mementos and memories of a European trek from years before’. If anyone can make a film entirely set in one room feel like Citizen Kane, it’s Hogg. Then he’ll be shooting Ollie Kepler’s Expanding Purple World, which the actor describes as “a sweet film, kind of odd. British.” And if that’s not enough, when shooting wraps on Purple World, Hogg will head back to the National Theatre for a stint in Our Class. “You just got to work when you can and do as much work as possible,” Hogg says. Something tells us he won’t be working in that pub for much longer.

Via Little White Lies