On concept alone, The Human Centipede (First Sequence) was destined to be one of the most talked-about films of last year. When your film involves a mad scientist who attempts to connect the gastric systems of three unwitting test subjects by stitching them together mouth-to-anus, it’s hard to keep curious, iron-stomached moviegoers away. But while the series’ bizarro subject matter and continued claims of complete medical accuracy are the stuff that memes are made of, they achieved cult immortality via the performances at their core. German actor Dieter Laser played the role of Dr. Heiter with a deliciously unhinged intensity, while his victims—played by Akihiro Kitamura, Ashley C. Williams, and Ashlynn Yennie—overcome their limited mobility to wring the terror from their degrading fate.
The members of the original film’s titular monstrosity have seen their profiles rise, particularly on the horror and comic convention circuits. With the blessedly late-night Philly premiere of The Human Centipede II: (Full Sequence) at the Ritz at the Bourse this Friday, The A.V. Club spoke with Williams and Yennie, who also stars in (Second Sequence), about their inquisitive fans, learning to move in sync with the co-star they affectionately refer to as Aki, and why the actors involved in the longer centipede that’s the center of the film’s sequel probably have it worse, but knew what they were getting into.
The A.V. Club: What has it been like to interact with fans of the movie?
Ashlynn Yennie: There’s some people who come and they’re like, “I’ve never seen this movie, I don’t want to watch this movie, it’s so gross,” and they can’t get past the concept of it. It’s more at the horror conventions that we meet people who are the die-hard fans of the film. They make their own human centipede costume; they’re obsessed with Dr. Heiter. They’re biggest question is, “Oh my God, how did you guys stay down on all fours for so long?” and we have to break it to them that it was only minutes at a time.
Ashley C. Williams: We get the same questions over and over again, which is funny. But we’re all used to answering the same thing.
AVC: What’s the strangest thing you’ve been asked to sign at a convention?
ACW: We weren’t asked to sign it, but somebody gave us a doll—three Barbie dolls that are linked together. The work that went into it was meticulous and very well done. They were three girl Barbie dolls, and he cut open the plastic and open the mouths and attached them to the other doll’s butts. And it has the gauze, and the blood—it’s really, really creepy looking. And on the subway ride home, my boyfriend took it out of my bag, and people’s mouths dropped open. They were like, “What the heck is that?”
AVC: Generally, how do people react when they find out you were in the movie?
AY: I was at a Halloween party with my sister, and my sister was like, “Oh yeah, my sister’s an actress, she was in this movie—I don’t know if you’ve heard of it—The Human Centipede?” And this guy started freaking out. He was like, “Oh my God. Oh my God. I can’t believe you’re in that movie.” Then they’re interested, and they just want to keep talking to you. And I get it—when we first signed on to this film, we all had a million questions. My first audition with Ilona [Six], the producer, was an hour long, because I just sat there and asked question after question after question. Because it’s a weird concept. “Yes, I had my face sewn to this girl’s butt.” I’ll meet with casting directors in L.A. and they’ll be like, “Tell me about The Human Centipede,” and I’ll be like, “But I’m here to audition for you.”
AVC: What were some of the unique challenges for your segment of the centipede?
ACW: It was difficult moving around, because either Aki—who was in front of me—would pull forward and my neck would just get yanked forward, or Ashlynn would be pulling back. And we really weren’t ready for those scenes, so we had to work and coordinate, and I’d be pulled back and forth, back and forth. So we had to have a masseuse come in and massage our necks and backs. And, obviously, the “poo-eating” scene, where I have to pretend that I’m swallowing feces, which was something that I was completely dreading, even when I first read the synopsis. And we did it in one take, and it turned out wondrous. [Laughs.]
AY: Aki was the one who controlled moving all of us, so if he moved, we all moved—which he did a very good job of—though Ashley and I both at least one time had to yell, “Don’t back up!” There was also the hard part of getting yourself into the mindset of, “This man has destroyed you, and you’re not even a real person anymore—your life is taken away from you, and you’re made into this pet.” So, there were parts in the movie where I had to show that emotion, and I couldn’t do anything but act with my eyes.
AVC: Was there any aspect of the filming that made it easier to slip into that terrified mindset?
ACW: Dieter gave us so much to work with—even when he wasn’t needed on set, he would come into the room with us, and stand behind the camera, and fed us lines to work off of, and be yelling and screaming, and doing all of these things that helped our performances.
AVC: Since the film has become something of a cult phenomenon, how has it affected your career?
ACW: I’ve gotten a lot of film offers—a few horror films, and a lot of them are the same kind of role: the heroine of the film, but she’s either a stripper or something that requires her to be naked. So there’s a couple films that I’ve had to turn down because I wouldn’t want to get into the stereotypical role of a “scream queen.” The cast will always be known as “the people who were part of the human centipede.” I’m really happy about that. Obviously, I would want to be known for something else as well, but I’m totally comfortable with it.
AY: It has opened a lot of doors. I’ve done a few more horror films, and I’ve got to do things like the Bowling For Boobies breast cancer benefit with [I Spit On Your Grave star] Sarah Butler, [Zombie Honeymoon star] Tracy Coogan, and Gabby West, who was just in Saw 3D. I’ve met so many people in the horror genre, and it’s been really awesome. The horror genre is one of those genres where they’re really accepting of new actors, and you don’t have to have a long résumé to get people to say, “You were good—we want you to work in more films.”
AVC: The sequel includes a 12-person centipede—are you grateful that your centipede only had three people in it?
ACW: I am. I can’t even imagine…. Though I keep thinking that the people in Full Sequence went into the film knowing what it was going to look like, and knowing what they were in for, while the cast of the first film had no idea whatsoever. We flew to Holland, completely unaware, and we would go to the prop shop and say, “So what is the centipede going to look like? Is it a costume? What are we wearing? What are we going to be doing, seeing?” So, in that regard, it’s a lot easier for them.