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If you’ve seen Andrew van den Houten’s “Offspring”, Stuart Hazeldine’s “Exam”, or, if you’ve been exceptionally lucky, Balaji K. Kumar’s “9 Lives of Mara” — which still needs a DVD release, by the way — there’s a very good chance you’re familiar with the impossibly talented Pollyanna McIntosh. Her latest project, director Lucky McKee’s “The Woman”, currently ranks as one of the best horror flicks I’ve seen this year, so when the opportunity arose to chat with Ms. McIntosh about the project, I wasn’t about to pass it up. After all, I’m not that stupid.
Todd Rigney: Firstly, I just want to thank you for your time and commend you on your performance in “The Woman”.
Pollyanna McIntosh: Thanks very much. Pleasure.
TR: What initially drew you to the project? Were you excited to return to “Offspring” universe?
PM: It’s such a different universe than that of Offspring but my character is the same bad ass survivor so yeah, it was a fun prospect to step back into her shoes, or rather, her lack of them. Of course working with Lucky McKee was a huge pull and once I read what he and Jack Ketchum had written together for me I was bloody terrified! Lucky and I talked and collaborated, swopping notes for 4 months before filming and found we were on the same page about so much it was spooky.
TR: Were you aware of just how extreme some of these scenes would be, or have you come to expect this sort of thing from Jack Ketchum?
PM: I knew the basic concept before I read the script but no, I had no idea it would be so grueling. It’s testament to both Jack and Lucky’s sensitivity and passion for story telling that they can make so compelling and complex something which at times could be simply brutal. This is not Hostel.
TR: What do you do to prepare for this sort of primal performance?
PM: I think everyone should head out to the woods for a few days alone and just feel how they move in nature, unguarded and unhindered by our modern expectations of the sexes or propriety. It’s challenging to be alone but that’s how I started feeling the character out. I went back to some of my original preparation methods before “Offspring” (animal study and feral child study, working out like a looney, growing my hair!) and was lucky enough to already have the character deep in my bones but I did further study of our ancient myths going back to primitive man and how and why we came up with myths about hunting and animals. The book was, a short history of myth by Karen Armstrong and it’s fascinating! This gave me a lot to draw from as far as my inner world was concerned and my judgment of the family, especially Cleek was partially informed by this too. I owe Sitting Bull’s defiant stance and vein straight into the earth for inspiration too. At the end of the day I must admit that I found The Woman a character I could relate to. We all want to roar some time.
TR: What sort of make-up effects were used to create the woman’s look?
PM: Oh, you know, a very strict beauty regimen of red wine with Angela and Sean of an evening. Nah! It was a case of building up the layers of splattered dirt make up in different shades with spritz bottles. Very cold! Then adding latex scarring, wrecked jagged nails, “mouth shit” to make the inside look dark (I always spat it out into a little cup just before each take), painted teeth mustard yellow and black and some hair additions to eyebrows as they didn’t grow so damn fast as I wanted! Of course the face makeup took a long time too as between the amazingly talented Anthony Pepe, Lucky and I we came up with subtle details for her. My time with Anthony in that make up chair was some of the funniest laugh out loud moments I’ve had in my life. He makes me die like a brother would that guy. Then about a third of the way through he feels me disconnecting and he’ll turn the music off, go quiet and I’ll stick my headphones in and get into my world. It felt seamless.
TR: How involved were you in developing your character’s mannerisms and speech patterns?
PM: Very much my own but informed by Ketchum’s great original writing of The Woman character in Offspring and by McKee and Ketchum’s writing in both the book and script for The Woman.
TR: What was it like working with Lucky McKee and Angela Bettis?
PM: Lucky is a gentleman and also has a goofy and dark sense of humor so we got on famously. He hires people as individuals and he wants them to bring their best shit so it’s almost like alchemy the way he does it. He’s different with every actor and you don’t feel like he’s getting all that involved with you past a certain point but he’s bringing it out of you. Everyone brought their A game on this movie, from the actors to the set design and lighting guys, everyone inspired each other to be their creative best I think. Angela is a friend now, as is Sean. She’s a great example of not taking on the bullshit of the business. A true artist. I really enjoyed our intense scene where we face off together in the cellar and there was a lot of trust there for the later tricky scenes. She was Belle and I was The Woman when we were working, outside of that we were two women having a laugh and a half.
TR: Sean Bridgers gives a wonderfully weird performance as Chris, the woman’s tormentor. How intense were your scenes together?
PM: I love Sean. Like Angela, he’s there to play and get into it. I swear the man has no fear when he’s in it. We were great sparring partners but have real love for ecah other. Respect too which makes it all the more fun.
TR: How long was the shoot? How many days did you spend chained to the wall?
PM: Good question. I think we shot it in 24 days, if that. I have no idea how many days I spent chained to the wall but 95% of the schedule is a good bet. Odd to think I could have that much intense fun in character when so confined.
TR: What have you thought of the public reaction to the film, both good and bad?
PM: I think it’s great that the film sparks discussion. It’s frustrating if someone brushes it off or suggests it’s torture porn because of the subject matter but what I’ve found mostly is that people are smarter than given credit for and I’ve read some really smart commentaries on the film and its themes. It’s palpable in a cinema when an audience is digging it and this has been my experience across the board. There will be those it’s not suited for but then I don’t want to work in films that are for “everybody” ‘cause they usually taste like unsalted butter and that is just a waste o’ toast.
TR: One review I read for the film described it as “feminist horror”. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?
PM: Yeah I do. But people misunderstand “feminist” and assume it must be man hating. To me feminism is simple and fair: the realization that women are equal and as valid as men. Lucky says he doesn’t do politics in his movies but to me he has made a feminist film precisely by being someone who judges women on the same level as men as he’s man enough to relate to them. Lucky also provokes, entertains and pushes boundaries without exploitation, with sensitivity and with great flare. The film can be enjoyed on many levels.
TR: What sort of response have you received from fans?
PM: The women like to come up and chat one on one about it. I’ve had some pretty moving Facebook messages too. I feel very lucky to get to hear what people’s individual experiences of the film are and to hear how moved some have been. It’s odd for me to even be asked to sign stuff and have my picture taken with people but when I see them beaming because they’ve just watched the movie it makes me feel proud. They give me back a lot by showing that what we do means something to them.
TR: Have you attended any of the screenings? If so, what did you think of the overall response from audiences?
PM: I love hearing them twitter with laughter in that sometimes nervous, sometimes grateful to let something out kinda way. I also like to feel their emotions especially in regard to belle and Peggy as time goes on. The Aussie audiences were hugely vocal towards the end at the crescendo scene and I heard about one screening where there was a standing ovation as Cleek and I have our show down. I’ve been at a bunch now and I’d say on average 90% of the audience will stay for the Q & A which is wicked! There are some sharp people out there who love to discuss this stuff and I’m grateful to be part of something that’s shown me that at every single screening. Fantastic Fest in London was probably the most incredible as it screened in the biggest cinema in the UK and my parents and friends were there amongst 1,300 die hard horror fans. It was awesome! Apart from that one Sundance dude I’ve never had a shitty comment leveled at a Q & A.
TR: You’ve participated in a number of fright-heavy flicks. Do you enjoy working in the genre?
PM: I’ve had a great time on every movie I’ve done in or out the genre and there’s been a lot of comedies and dramas too. To play with actors and collaborate with directors is a joy for me. When I look back on my work so far I see that I have genre-d it up quite a bit and I’m happy to do more so long as the stories and characters keep me interested. My aim is to make people feel hopeful and less alone. That’s pretty much it. If they can feel those things as I scare the shit out of them then that’s fine by me.
TR: Do you watch a lot of horror movies? Any particular favorites?
PM: I used to avoid them at all costs! I wouldn’t call myself a horror fan in the sense that I’m not a horror buff, nor is it the first genre I go to but I’m definitely learning more about how artful horror can be and “The Shining”, “Rosemary’s Baby” and “IT” definitely had a massive effect on me, “The Omen”, too! Such “real” horrors: Madness, mistrust, the fear of madness and exclusion from the world around you, fear itself and the inadequacy of childhood and fear of family! Ha ha, plus a big scary ass clown which is something that’s kept me clear of large sidewalk drains ever since. Oh God, I just had a vision! I saw Japanese horror “Battle Royale” recently and I absolutely loved it. I have to say, it’s one of my favorite movies ever.
TR: What other projects do you have in works?
PM: After two projects shot in Scotland, “Foxy and Marina” (a film in which I play a heroin addict classical pianist) and an episode of kid’s BBC show “Dani’s House”, (NASA astronaut! Very peppy and fun) this year then became a trio of US indies. I expect the first one out will be “The Obsession” (an almost absurdist drama) with Dominique Swain, Richard Riehle and James Duval (he was Frank the bunny in “Donnie Darko”!) then “Carlos Spills the Beans” (comedy) directed by my friend Brian McGuire. Last I shot “The Famous Joe Project” where I play a cokey party girl who sells out a new friend only to discover what she truly wants.
I just finished shooting “Love Eternal” in Ireland and Luxembourg. It’s based on a book by horror writer Kei Oishi which Brendan Muldowney (“Savage”) has adapted to such an extent as to really make it his own. I hear the original book is more graphic and horror oriented. The script’s still got that Oishi genius and darkness but it’s not a horror any more. It’s a drama about love and loss, an outsider’s struggle for connection and grief’s pall. I call it a dark romance or a love story for loners. My character, Naomi, is grieving but always appears upbeat so it’s an intense role. It’s not definable in a genre really but I’m proud of what we’ve done and hope it comes across in the edit.
I’m waiting on a friend telling me if we’ll be shooting together this month on a gay drama which challenges DOMA. I’m all about equality so I’d like to do it. Depends on a couple things so we’ll see. Other than that I’d like to finish a screenplay I’m writing come December. Oh discipline bless me with your order!!!
TR: I’m a pretty big fan of “9 Lives of Mara”, which, surprisingly, I’ve had a very hard time locating on DVD. Why in the world is this movie so obscure?
PM: How did you find it??? Seriously?! We had a great time with festival audiences with that film which was the first movie I shot in LA, the second ever American movie I did. I even did the press campaign for it, submitting to festivals and then pretending to be a PR person, setting up interviews with myself and other cast and reviews to be done as we’d all become such a team and I had some PR experience. Ha ha! I really wanted to help the filmmakers who are still good friends. It lead to us getting a great distributor who was a big supporter but there was this one absolute tool of a producer involved, a rotten apple in a batch of great hard working people who got the movie made including two other producers who I’m still close with. This idiot f****d it up for everyone else and went to court over the rights to it. As far as I know they’re still battling it out.
TR: And, finally, do you think this is the last time we’ll see the woman?
PM: I hope not. We’re talking about what kind of story we’d like to tell next. We’ll see, it would have to be different but I don’t think Lucky and Jack’s imaginations are waning any time soon. Watch this space.
Thanks a bunch to Pollyanna McIntosh for taking the time out of her extremely busy schedule to have this discussion. And if you have the opportunity to see “The Woman”, by all means, do so as soon as humanly possible. Chances are you won’t regret it.
Top Photograph: Louise MacCallum