Gemma Atkinson & Holly Goss On The Dyatlov Pass Incident

Dyatlov Pass - Goss, Atkinson

Not many of us would shoot a film in the Russian mountains. Particularly when learning the director is Renny Harlin, the Finnish daredevil director behind such “that looked tough to make” action epics as Cliffhanger and Deep Blue Sea.

But, British actresses Gemma Atkinson and Holly Goss like a challenge and can be seen in Harlin’s “Blair Witch on ice” horror The Dyatlov Pass Incident.

Based around a real life incident in which a group of experience skiers perished in the Ural mountains in unexplained circumstances, Harlin’s movie is gloriously bonkers, with added viscera by virtue of shooting in Russian mountains on the Arctic Circle.

Rob Daniel caught up with Atkinson and Goss to talk about an experience a million miles away from their previous work on Casualty and Holby City.

Rob Daniel: I watched the film and I have to admit I was exhausted by it…

Holly Goss: In a good way I hope!  Not because of me?

RD: Because of the harsh locations you were in and a clearly arduous shoot. So how did you hear about the film?

Dyatlov Pass - Gemma Atkinson, Renny Harlin

Gemma Atkinson (right with director Harlin): We heard from our agents there was a Renny Harlin film, based on a true story, so we went through the audition process. We got recalled and recalled until it was just five of us left and Renny said, “You’re my five.”

RD: Did you want to get onboard because you were looking for something to test yourselves?

HG: Yeah and it’s Renny Harlin you know, I’ve loved his movies since I was little. As an actor you’re always putting yourself on tape or meeting casting directors and then forget about it. But when I was told I was going to meet Renny I looked up the incident and got really excited.  And when I was offered the role I was so flattered.

RD: It’s a largely English cast playing American characters.

HG: Yeah, there was one American guy (Luke Albright) and the rest of us were English.

RD: Was that a choice Harlin made or was it a case of best people for the job?

HG: They auditioned people in the States, but –

GA: – there were visa issues in the States, it’s harder for them to go to Russia. But, Renny discovered Viggo Mortensen (in the 1988 movie Prison) and told me he likes putting unknown people in his films because it lets him introduce new talent.

HG: He’s very into that. He says he puts new people in his films and then they go off and have great careers. We were freezing in Russia thinking, God I hope that’s going to be me.

GA: Yeah, we’re still holding him to it!

HG: And his journey has been so amazing, coming from Finland to be one of Hollywood’s biggest directors.

GA: With Stallone on speed dial.

RD: Did you check out Cliffhanger again before hitting the Russian mountains?

GA: I’ve got it on DVD, it’s such a great film.

HG: And after seeing it you know you’re in good hands in those conditions.

Electric Shadows Dyatlov Pass

RD: So what training did you have to do?

HG: Early on Renny told us to get on the cross-trainer to make sure we were fit. It’s so difficult to run in snow and he braced us for how hard it would be. But, it was tough out there, getting used to the cold as well.

GA: Yeah, you stepped out the hotel and it was… Russia.

RD: The scene in the film when you’re all preparing for the trip by hiking in the snow and Matt Stokoe’s character is moaning. Was that method acting on Matt’s part?

HG: I don’t know, is Matt Stokoe a method actor?!  I’m not sure.

GA: There was a lot of adlibbing though. Renny told us when we were shooting the hiking scenes just to stay American, just carry on talking to get those natural performances.

RD: Did you keep the American accents between takes as Christian Bale tends to do?

HG: I think we were messing around too much.

GA: But, it was good that Luke was American because you could ask him if something sounded natural. We would practice scenes in the minibus when going to location and we had a voice coach in America before we flew out. But, after shooting a scene I’d run back to the trailer and say (adopting a broad Northern accent) “Fook, it’s cold!”.

HG: The boys were the men of a thousand voices. There was Borat and we had every character from Family Guy in the trailer. So not always an American accent, but everyone was always doing some kind of accent.

Dyatlov Pass Incident - Gemma Atkinson, Matt Stokoe, Holly Goss, group shot

RD: I’d never heard of the story the film’s based on, but it’s a creepy one.

GA: Yeah, and good that it’s Russian because it’s a story you’re not familiar with. I’d never heard of it until I read the script and then put it into Google and so much information comes up. And Russia was eerie, driving back to the hotel at night there was an atmosphere that you didn’t want to be alone in.

HG: Russia has a hardness definitely.

RD: And you were in the area where the incident happened?

HG: We were actually in Koroz, which is in the Arctic Circle. We couldn’t film in the exact area, but where we were had the exact same conditions and was appropriate for filmmaking. There was a small mining town nearby, but the conditions were harsh.

GA: It reminded me of when Stallone’s training in Rocky 4, and there’s so much snow the cars need chains on the tyres. We saw that there, it was the real deal. On grey days you couldn’t tell where the ground ended and the sky began. It was so claustrophobic, there was nowhere to run.

RD: So the Borat and Family Guy voices kept spirits up?

HG: That and the Russian cakes and this red juice drink. The food onset was interesting – my favourite day was when I had to get Luke Albright to tell me if I was eating chicken or fish.

GA: It was just this hammered, pink, stuff. But we always had a good meal back at the hotel, plus a few bevvies in Moscow one night, on the Russian vodka.

HG: Yep, when in Moscow…

Dyatlov Pass Incident - Atkinson, Goss

RD: The avalanche scene was terrifying.  How was that achieved?

GA: It was all done on the mountain. I did my stunt outside, they put me on a bungee cord, yanked me away and then reversed it for the film. It was difficult because we were all screaming and running away from nothing, but Renny was shouting directions at us, telling us where it was coming from.

HG: And then when we did the aftermath scene, the crew dressed the mountain so well it looked utter chaos.

RD: So are you both horror fans?

GA: Yeah, I like horror films. Paranormal ones scare me because there is an element of them you think could happen. As a kid Freddy Krueger and all that terrified me; now  films like The Exorcism of Emily Rose stick with me for weeks.

HG: We had to watch a lot before making this film. We watched REC, but The Last Exorcism really frightened me; I was checking behind doors for a while after that.

RD: What were the first movies that scared you?

HG: IT was the first film that ever scared me. That was the first horror movie I ever watched.

GA: I used to get scared of Candyman and I’ve still not said his name five times in front of a mirror. And as a kid Tom Hanks’ The ‘Burbs scared me the most. That scene when the ginger guy puts a binbag in the dustbin and then starts whacking it used to get to me.

RD: Finally, Ben Affleck has been confirmed to play Batman in the new Superman film.  What superhero would you most like to play.

Dyatlov Pass Incident - Gemma Atkinson

HG: If they did Thundercats movie I’d love to play Cheetara, with her big pole. Not to sound rude!

GA (right, with boom): Shee-Ra. But, I’d had to have Tom Hardy as He-Man.  That’s the only rule.

HG: Yeah, can we get Tom Hardy on the phone, we’ve got an idea to pitch!

Rob Daniel