Sarah Wayne Callies is set to return to the big screen this week as she leads the cast in the new horror film The Other Side of the Door, which sees her team up with writer and director Johannes Roberts for the first time.
We caught up with the actress to chat about the new film, filming in Mumbai, and the writing projects that she has on the horizon this year.
- Your new film The Other Side of the Door is about to be released here in the UK, so can you tell me a bit about the film?
The Other Side of the Door is about a white family from the U.S. living in Mumbai, where it is all going really well. Then there is this car accident and things stop going really well. Maria is able to save one of her children but not the other; as a result, she falls into this spiral of grief, depression and a form of madness.
As a means of trying to help her, her Indian housekeeper suggests a ritual that might be able to help her get some closure and some forgiveness. Maybe because she isn't Indian or Hindu, Maria messes up the ritual and all hell breaks loose - that is the horror part of the film right there.
- You take on the central role of Maria in the film, so what was it about the character and the script that was the major draw for you?
For me, it has everything to do with that journey of grief and madness and just how close they are to each other. I watched someone very close to me lose a daughter when I was quite young and I never got over the impression that that kind of grief is unpredictable and can change people's minds and hearts in totally unforeseeable ways; their behaviour can be unlike anything you have ever seen before. The actor part of me thought that that would be interesting to play and the human part of me thought it would be interesting to try and explore those corners of my own brain.
- The Other Side of the Door does explore Indian mythology and Hindu symbolism did you do any research into this as you were preparing for the role? How much is this aspect of the film something that interested you?
I chose not to do any research because my character doesn't know anything about it. I chose to take on board Maria's level of education when it came to that. I grew up in Hawaii and I grew up surrounded by Hawaiian mythology, language and culture; I think that this is part of what made this project interesting to me.
This is a story about ancestors, gods and goddesses that are very much outside the Judeo-Christian paradigm and I am always curious about those beliefs because they are so endemic to the way that I was raised and yet, they are considered foreign to most people in North America and Britain as well.
- Can you talk a bit about Maria? We see her go on a huge emotional journey in the film, what was that like to tackle as an actress?
One of the interesting things for me about this process was the fact that this is an extraordinary role for a woman, which was written and directed by a man. That is exciting to me. We are starting to make pretty good strides as far as roles for women in Hollywood go, but, of course, we can't do that without the complicity of the men, who are writing and directing as well. It was encouraging to see that a role of this complexity is being written by a man. And yet, when Johannes Roberts wrote it, he didn't have any children - he has since had a young son - and there were several scenes he would come to me and say 'as a mum, can we collaborate on this together?'
The scene where things got really interesting was the scene where Oliver is back, she goes up to his bedroom and reads to him as a ghost. When I read the scene, I figured that she would be thrilled because if I had lost a child - god forbid - any part of them that I could have back would be a cause for celebration for me. Johannes turned to me and said 'to me, this should have been a creepy scene and a scene of fear'. And I was like 'why? She has got her kid back, who cares if she can't see him,' and Johannes was like 'that's interesting. That is really dark and really weird, but I think it can work'.
We plotted backwards through the rest of the story together, we decided that we could make that decision and then we shot it together and collaborated on that bit. Hopefully, that is a bit that works. It was a journey for her, both emotionally and intellectually, that was very much a collaboration between the two of us.
- You have mentioned Johannes Roberts already and he is back in the director's chair, so how did you find working with the filmmaker?
I loved it. One of the things that I really respect about Johannes as the director of the film is that he comes to it as a true believer; Johannes loves horror movies and he has seen every one that has ever been made and he has directed them before and has a huge amount of experience. He said to me 'this is the movie that I always wanted to make,' and I think that that is really terrific. You get directors who come into a horror movie to just make money or because someone told them that they should, and it is just not the case with him. He taught me a lot about it because I don't watch horror movies, I get really scared, and so it is a genre I know nothing about; he was a great collaborator in that sense.
- How was the experience of filming in India? How much was the Indian location a draw when you were reading the script for the first time?
I have always been quite intimidated by India and I have always thought that it was a place where things were so big and there was so much need, in terms of the poverty. I really could see myself swallowed whole. In a way, the idea of going to shoot a film there was a really interesting prospect because you are not going there to be a tourist, you are going there to work. It means that you are going to get to know people who live there and you are going to get to work with people who live there; you get to know it at another level. It was quite an intense experience.
We shot in the slums for a few days and we got to know people there, hang around with the kids, and we laughed and played together. It gave me a sense of India that I would never have had before. But I will say, overwhelmingly, my experience of Mumbai, was of being very unsettled; I am sure that it is a place that makes sense to people who are from there but, since I am not, I was always a little confused, a little lost, a little under the weather, and very overwhelmed. However, I think all of that served the character really well (laughs).
- Sofia Rosinsky and Logan Creran - who play your children in the film - are terrific, how did you find working with them?
Working with kids is always terrific because they love make-believe, they get it, and they just do it. Kids don't worry about process or preparation and all of those stupid actor homework things, they just get on with it and give a great performance. When they are done, they bop off and are like 'is make-believe time over? Great, let's go and get a pizza'. Kids are terrific that way. I loved working with them because they make it all looks so easy.
- As you said earlier, you are not a big fan of the horror film genre, so how did you find taking on a movie like this?
I expected to come back from Mumbai a shivering wreck (laughs) having not slept the entire time. The hours and the heat were so intense that I did sleep quite well. I think so much of the tension that is built in a horror film, is built from camera angles, lighting, and music and when you are in the moment and shooting it, it really isn't that bad. I will say, when the Myrtu was all done up in the makeup and looking creepy, I didn't want to sit too close. I was much less afraid of it than I expected to be.
- Away from The Other Side of the Door, we are also going to be seeing you in This Is Your Death this year, so can you tell me a bit about that project?
That was a really cool one. Leave it to me to have a career primarily in television and then to a film about TV. It is a very very dark satire about an American show where people commit suicide live on TV. It is a look at the culture of fame at all costs that we have built. It was a sensational script and it has been directed by Giancarlo Esposito, who most people will know as Gustavo 'Gus' Fring from Breaking Bad. Giancarlo is also one of the stars of the film and watching him both star in and direct something, was one of the most extraordinary things that I have ever seen. It is a fascinating film and I cannot wait to see it cut together.
- During your career, we have seen you move between television, film, and theatre, so how do you find that the mediums compare? And how much do you like moving between them?
I do. They have all got upside and pitfalls but it is nice to be able to move between them with fluidity. A generation ago, if you were a television actor you were going to stay on TV and if you were a film actor, you wouldn't be caught dead doing TV. Now, that is all up on its head because some of the best roles of women are on television and that is really exciting.
The great thing about a film is that you have a beginning, a middle and an end and you can craft a performance with more intentional coherence than you can in TV. But in TV, you have got so much more time to develop a character because you have got years to live with her and watch her evolve. I learn a lot from each process. Theatre is like going to boot camp and getting back to the heart and the soul of what it means to repeat the same moments over and over all week. I always emerge from a play feeling much sharper and much clearer.
- Finally, what's next for you?
We have got the second season of Colony to shoot, that will start in the summer. I have two films that I have written that are in various stages of development. One is casting right now, Gale Anne Hurd - who produced The Walking Dead - is producing it and we have a director lined up. We are in the process of getting that together. The other is an animation feature, which is based on a children's book.
We have a director in Paris who is going to be doing that and we have just got a grant from the French film board to get that started. All of those things are under way and it is allowing me to be part of the storytelling process a little earlier than casting; which is the last thing that is done before a story is told.
- What made now the right time to make that transition into writing? Have you any desire to direct?
I really don't have any interest in directing. If the only way to get a script that I had written made was to direct it, I would do that. However, it is not an aspiration. It looks too hard and it looks like too much work (laughs). Sitting in an editing room, in the dark, for six months doesn't sound like my cup of tea.
I have been working on writing for a couple of years and we are finally at a point when... the things that I write largely star women and women of colour and I think we are just at a point where people are open to telling those stories and believing that they can get made and get financed. I think that it has to do with a moment where my kind of storytelling is becoming something that is becoming viable in Hollywood.
The Other Side of the Door is released 4th March. For more information about The Other Side of the Door, visit www.theothersideofthedoor.co.uk