Rafe Spall reveals spooky coincidence in casting for Harry Price: Ghost Hunter
Rafe Spall could be forgiven for thinking there was something seriously spooky about his casting in the title role for Harry Price: Ghost Hunter.
Price was a real-life character who lived in London in the 1920s. He was a one-time charlatan who became an investigator of so-called supernatural events.
After Spall landed the role, he decided to research his character.
"I found out the most bizarre fact," he says. "He went to the same school as me and his name is below mine on the school website of notable alumni which is a crazy coincidence."
And he's adamant that it is just a coincidence.
"I've had absolutely no supernatural experiences," says the actor, despite growing up in a South London house that his father, actor Timothy Spall, and his mother Shane believed to be inhabited by a ghost.
And in another coincidence, he revealed that his mother had studied psychical research for a PhD.
"I've had conversations with her about the film and it's been really interesting and insightful to talk with her about it. It's an area that greatly interests her and it will hopefully interest other people."
But Spall makes no secret of his disdain for TV mediums, calling them purveyors of misery for preying on bereavement.
This is something of which his character was once guilty. Although Harry Price had originally taken a scientific approach to the supernatural, he soon pretended he could speak to the dead.
"There was a massive proliferation in the 1920s of people who were desperate to make connections with a whole generation of men lost in the war," says Spall.
"Harry saw these practices as preying on the bereaved in order to make money. (But he) started to feel that his scientific reasoning was ruining people's desire to contact the deceased. He began to pretend he was in contact with the supernatural, using his knowledge to trick the bereaved."
But then a shocking event stopped him in his tracks.
"One day, a young soldier approaches him and thanks him for connecting him with his dead brother," says Spall.
"He states that Harry has helped him deal with his loss and made it clear what he now needs to do. The soldier commits suicide in front of him, leaving Harry distraught.
"This is where our story starts, with Harry deciding to go back to his original roots."
In real life, Price became famous for investigating hauntings at Borley Rectory in Essex, and he published two best-selling books about paranormal activity there, now largely discredited as a hoax.
Author Neil Spring, who wrote the book on which Harry Price: Ghost Hunter is based, says despite this, much of what Price did was honourable and he did expose fake spiritualists.
Over the decades, the story of the one-time paper bag salesman, who often featured on the front pages of the tabloid press and even broadcast live on the BBC from a supposedly haunted house, has been largely forgotten.
This helped convince Spall, who is now a Hollywood star, to take the role in the pilot for a possible series.
"Even though Harry Price was a real person, to some extent he is a blank canvas. Most people are unfamiliar with his story, therefore there aren't too many preconceived ideas as to who he was," Spall says.
In the pilot, Price checks out a possible haunting where an MP's wife is freaked out by a series of paranormal events.
Price teams up with the family's maid Sarah, played by Cara Theobald, in what turns out to be a sort of Mulder/Scully relationship.
"If we were lucky enough to come back as a series," says Spall, "I'm sure Sarah and Harry would very much become a double act."
Harry Price: Ghost Hunter, Vibe, Tuesday August 29.
- TV Guide