Niall Johnson’s (White Noise, Mum’s List) new venture follows Charlotte Lockton (Alice Eve, Star Trek Into Darkness, Men in Black 3) who’s life changes after her husband’s murder and the kidnapping of her son. Charlotte decides to track down her baby on a journey through wild New Zealand in order to uncover the truth behind his disappearance.
The movie co-stars Graham McTavish (Preacher, Outlander), Emily Corcoran (Mars), Gillian MacGregor (Beyond, Street Fighter: Resurrection), Cohen Holloway (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Top of the Lake), Stan Walker (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) and Richard O’Brien (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Crystal Maze).
Audiences will be seeing you as Heather in The Stolen coming to cinemas in November. The story follows Charlotte, a woman in search of her kidnapped son. Could you tell us a little bit more about your character and her role within the story?
My character Heather had travelled to New Zealand as a maid with the family she worked for during the gold rush, but quickly turned on her master and ended up in prison where they cut off her hair and branded her neck with a tattoo. Finding herself unemployable after that, she had ended up working as a dancer and prostitute. When Charlotte (Alice Eve) discovers she’s being blackmailed, she very bravely decides to cross the wilds of New Zealand’s south island to try to get her son back. She joins our group of ex-convicts, hustlers and prostitutes also making the dangerous journey to Goldtown, led by a Maori warrior (Stan Walker) and Bully (Graham McTavish) who Heather is privately madly in love with.
Heather is an early feminist. She has some business sense and believes she and her fellow dancers will all make a fortune in Goldtown, if they can survive the trip, so welcomes Charlotte, believing her to also be a dancer. When Heather finds out the truth about why Charlotte has travelled to Goldtown she and the other women put themselves at risk to help Charlotte escape the hideous situation she’s found herself in.
The Western, once a very male dominated genre, has been reinvented here. How did you feel being part of a film that is playing a part in dismantling cinematic stereotypes?
The portrayal of women on screen is a hot topic at the moment and it’s great to see many high profile women making this an ongoing point of discussion. Although it feels like there are more opportunities now, I think we still have such a long way to go in terms of equal representation so a film like this was so attractive to me. I’ve been lucky enough to play some brilliant, strong characters and Heather is a great one to add to the collection! There are definitely fewer roles for women in film in general yet here we had a script with many distinct, nuanced female parts.
When we talk about “strong” female characters what we actually mean is a well-rounded representation of a believable human being who just happens to be female. There are so many writers and filmmakers – male and female – making superb scripts with excellent characters regardless of gender and I hope more of these projects get the recognition and views they so deserve.
What was it like filming on location in New Zealand?
I have to say that I lucked out because I’d always wanted to visit New Zealand and it didn’t disappoint. The scenery is truly epic and most of the film was shot on location so I felt very lucky. Director Niall Johnson and cinematographer Alun Bollinger captured that raw beauty perfectly on film and the landscape almost becomes a character in its own right.
I had no idea how many Scottish people lived in New Zealand so that was a pleasant surprise and I discovered during my research that some of the early European settlers in the 1800’s were from Ayrshire, where I’m from. Production base was near Christchurch and unfortunately a lot of the city is still dealing with earthquake damage which is so sad. The film was actually almost ready to shoot in 2011 but the terrible earthquake made it impossible for it to go ahead. Many people died and thousands were injured which is so upsetting. I can’t even imagine what that was like. The producers felt strongly that they wanted the film to be a positive thing for the Christchurch community so insisted the film be shot there despite many challenges.
It was great to work with Alice and Jack (Davenport). Niall, Alun and the cast and crew were awesome to work with. Emily Corcoran, who plays Honey in the film and also wrote and produced it, is one of my closest friends and the rest of the group clicked immediately so it was such a fun set.
How did you prepare for the role?
I felt I had to make sense of how Heather had ended up where she was so I researched the circumstances around how and why so many Europeans had travelled to New Zealand and the conditions they would have faced. Learning about how she may have lived after being released from prison was so interesting! There are many tales of female bare-knuckle boxers and fierce madams and it was clear that she had to be a very strong-willed person. Reading about prostitution at the time is one thing but it truly hit home how strong her constitution would’ve had to be during a scene when the group arrive at Goldtown, after a nightmare journey through the mountains, and all the diggers rush the wagon. The thought of having to steel herself being one of the only women in town and what that would have meant in reality was pretty eye opening.
Heather is the entertainer of the group so I threw myself into the singing and dancing and tried not to worry about what people might think about my abilities, or lack of. Thankfully, my scene singing opera was cut, quite possibly because I murdered it… the only thing I didn’t like about the prep was the terrible haircut they gave me!
We’ve seen you in sci-fi thriller Beyond and award winning Nikola Tesla and the End of the World for which you won Best Actress at the Valencia International Film Festival in 2016. You’ve done a great mix of TV and film, with The Stolen and The Quiet One both due for release soon. How do you find working within both mediums? Do you have a favourite?
I don’t feel any different working on a film or a series. The main difference is budget and the time you have to shoot each scene. I was cast in my first film a few months out of drama school and it was the first time I had been on a proper set. It was quite an education! On low budget films you don’t have the luxury of time so I feel like it gave me a decent grounding in just getting it done.
Tesla was pretty challenging as it was mostly exteriors and London had some freak snowstorms right in the middle of the shoot but it’s just tough luck! The response to the show has been amazing actually. I still get messages about it now from people who thought Professor Sophie Clarke (my character) was a real person rather than an actress which is pretty cool and, going back to what I said before about “strong” female characters, kudos to Ian Strang (Tesla director) for not writing a love story into the series.
You’ve also been in the writer’s seat with the likes of The Fight Room and Hit Girls – both of which feature prominent, strong female leads. Have you any plans to write more?
Definitely. Hit Girls was actually born out of necessity many years ago when I was frustrated at the parts I was being asked to audition for. I was still figuring out what I liked and wanted to do in terms of the industry but I had an idea about these two female assassins who keep killing each other’s boyfriends and it went from there. What started as a device for writing the parts I wanted to play has turned into something that I’m compelled to do regardless and I’d write no matter if anyone read it or not, although I’m extremely self-critical. Getting anything made is a real labour of love so you have to love and really believe in your script so I’ll keep going until I write another story I’m willing to make sacrifices for. Thankfully, as I mentioned, there are many writers doing great things and are a million times more talented than me so I’m grateful to have the opportunity to bring their creations to life and hope to do them justice.
The Stolen is released in cinemas 3rd November from Ascendant Releasing