[Interview] Radha Mitchell Feels Rehearsed for the Pandemic After Starring in 'The Crazies' 10 Years Ago
It's surreal to think that The Crazies recently celebrated its ten-year anniversary...
...Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black, Silent Hill), who starred in the film about a contagion spreading through a small town which drives people mad, found herself quarantined a bit before the country started going on lockdown, and has found it bizarre that we're in this situation after so much warning.
I recently had the extraordinary pleasure of sitting down with the talented actress to talk about her new film, Dreamkatcher, which is centered around a dreamcatcher housing an evil spirit that begins to possess a young boy.
We talked about the film, the ways in which the unknown can break us down, the current pandemic, and how The Crazies, in some ways, helped Radha feel a little more prepared for what's going on these days...
Killer Horror Critic: You were an executive producer on Dreamkatcher. Do you enjoy working as a producer, and what drew you to this project and wanting to get it made?
Radha Mitchell: I was invited to the project by Kerry, the director, a couple years ago before it was financed, and you know I sort of said yeah well let me know when you’ve got the money. And another friend of mine was working on it, Orian Williams, who’s one of the producers, and then I thought oh, this is going to be so much fun! Orian’s gonna be there, and Kerry…there’s a kind of community around the project. Orian in the end got called off to some other project, so he was with us for like a week or something.
And then I didn’t realize we were in Bovina, which is in upstate New York, which is, you know, it’s like being in a lockdown, because there’s no cell phone reception up there, so when you’re between houses or between anything, there’s nothing. So, you’re in the car, you can’t make a phone call…you know, back to how it must’ve felt twenty years ago, which is a bit of a shock to the system when you’re not expecting that, and it does create a kind of nightmare for producers. But it did really give us a sense of the experience, and it was kind of a timeout opportunity.
Anyway, I digress.
It was exciting to have some sort of influence as a producer, whatever that is going to be. Obviously, these things are so collaborative. But I think in this case, as a group of people with not a lot of money making a movie but with quite a bit of experience in filmmaking, we were able to invite quite a few interesting people to the project, including Joseph Bishara, who did the soundtrack for the movie.
KHC: Right, excellent score.
RM: Lin Shaye, who’s basically made most of the horror movies that you’ve ever wanted to see. She knows the genre pretty well. And then Orian Williams, who’s more of an arthouse kind of…I don’t know if you saw a movie called ‘Control’?
KHC: Yes! Fantastic film.
"...the Gail in me has definitely come out in this experience, because we are stepping into the unknown right now in this unknown space which is pushing a lot of people’s panic buttons. A lot of us are freaking out. And it’s not so much about being in the moment that we’re in, it’s about imagining the moments that we’re going into later."
RM: Very cool movie. And then I also made a movie with him, Big Sur, which was based on a Jack Kerouac novel. So, his taste is sort of skewed towards art, you know? Cultural art and music influential pieces. So, there’s that sort of influence in a way in the story which is kind of nice. There’s this depiction of this sort of culture which is in upstate New York, where there’s this community of people that are making whiskey, and micro farms. There’s this culture of people that are kind of stepping out of urban culture and doing it their way. So that kind of influence is also in the story.
We were hanging out with people that were living in teepees and having Instagram-able lunches and stuff (laughs). It was fun. Because of the nature of the budget, we didn’t have much money for accommodations, so a lot of us were living in these share houses, and I was in this big, creepy house with a bunch of crew members and the producers, and the director. And at dinner time we’d all sit around and refine what we were going to do the next day. It was a very contained experience, as chaotic as it was not having any cell phone reception.
KHC: Right, so a little bit of prep sort of for what we’re going through currently.
RM: Yeah. But there was also this kind of looseness because we sort of knew each other, so we felt comfortable enough to just completely change the shot-list if we had a different idea, which is very rare that you get that sort of flexibility and that level of confidence in the people where they can do that.
And the crew had a great time. There were a lot of crew members staying in this place that was called the Creamery, which sounds really evocative (laughs).
KHC: Sounds like an interesting place (laughs).
RM: Oh yeah. They had a pool table. They had this whole hangout set up with a party after work kind of thing that was going on. They all had a great time.
KHC: So, you had mentioned the cultural references in the film and I’m curious, when it comes to dreamcatchers, do you relate more to your character Gail who is more science-based, or do you have some belief in them?
RM: There’s a little bit of Gail in all of us. The person who wants to control their own life and make a rational evaluation on any situation to get a grasp on things. And obviously where this story goes, there is no logic. There’s a version of the story where she’s in the nuthouse by the end. The shrink has lost her mind.
KHC: Oh yeah?
RM: Yeah, there’s different versions according to what we were able to actually shoot in the time that we had. But this idea of going from logic to illogic is a really interesting arc, and from the rational to the magical is kind of interesting. There is obviously a kind of dark magic in this story, which I think is fueled by this sense of naturalism and restraint. The story kind of builds slowly and it’s almost sober in that sense, then it just kind of goes to this different place. And I think that was kind of the intention of it and what was super interesting about it. Definitely, there’s a Gail in me that I’m so sick of a lot of the time.
KHC: The Gail’s in all of us are generally pretty frustrating.
RM: (Laughs). Yeah, but they take care of business too. I mean the Gail in me has definitely come out in this experience, because we are stepping into the unknown right now in this unknown space which is pushing a lot of people’s panic buttons. A lot of us are freaking out. And it’s not so much about being in the moment that we’re in, it’s about imagining the moments that we’re going into later.
KHC: Right, where are we a year from now?
RM: Yeah. So how do you prepare for that? So, you can understand why little Gail is trying to keep things in order.
"I think there’s a really interesting enquiry. The enquiry is about how we are the guardians of our own minds, and our minds and our perspectives shape our reality."
KHC: Can you tell us more about this version of the story where Gail ended up in the nuthouse?
RM: We didn’t get to do that, but maybe if we ever do a sequel it will kind of begin there. We certainly have that sequence where she’s crazed and on the run with the thing, trying to bury it like a mad, rabid animal. Like hide it from existence, and then of course, you know, the darkness can never be hidden forever.
KHC: Nope, you can never keep evil down.
I was curious, there are all of these incidents in the film that could be blamed on the evil, but could also be Gail’s misperception of events, such as the fish hook incident or the cupboard door. Is that left over from that concept of Gail losing her mind?
RM: Well I think there’s this archetype character, there’s this archetype relationship of the stepmother and the kid, you know? And there’s this childlike fantasy in all of us to punish and kill the stepmother (laughs). So, I think the story is definitely exploring that. And in a way, I felt very protective of Gail, like let’s not get misogynistic with this.
KHC: Yes, definitely.
RM: Because there’s other versions of the story too, as you may imagine. So, I kind of wanted to protect, in a way, this character. But no, I think that stuff, that was real, that wasn’t the madness of Gail. I think the madness for Gail is believing and seeing, experiencing this darkness, which she’s been telling Lin’s character is a fantasy and a hallucination and not realistic, and get a grip.
KHC: So, it all just kind of breaks her essentially?
RM: Yeah, she’s enlightened to the darkness of the story and this knowledge that she cannot harbor. Even the narrative of the dreamcatcher was something that Lin was very protective of as well because she was like, what is this dreamcatcher, and what’s the story behind it? But yeah, there has to be logic even in the illogic or fantasy of things and she was kind of keeping an eye on that. And we were kind of creating this mythology, you know, in the story, and trying to figure some of that out on our feet as well.
KHC: In a time where families are spending so much time together, aside from the evil, this is a bit of a family drama, so is there an important lesson that you’re hoping audiences take away from Dreamkatcher at the moment?
RM: Well I mean I think there’s a really interesting enquiry. The enquiry is about how we are the guardians of our own minds, and our minds and our perspectives shape our reality. And also, I guess there’s an interesting enquiry into the world of rationalism. Maybe there’s limitations to the things that we think we can understand. Maybe there are forces, positives and negatives that are shaping things. But I’d rather look at the positive side of that than the negative side. Let’s presume that there’s some kind of force of evolution that we’re involved in, whether we like it or not.
"...they are kind of like the guardians of the future, some of these prophetic horror movies or science fiction stories, because they do kind of play out narratives that could happen and give us an opportunity to sort of pre-rehearse in our own minds and then deal with it as we do when these things come to pass. But in that case (The Crazies), the movie functioned obviously as a warning, like be ready."
KHC: On an unrelated note, the film that you did, The Crazies, recently celebrated its tenth anniversary.
RM: Oh yeah.
KHC: How surreal is it to have worked on that film not so long ago and compare it to what’s happening now?
RM: I feel so rehearsed for the pandemic. I had a thermometer already in the house.
KHC: So, the film did sort of help prep you for this?
RM: Well I think you’d have a thermometer in the house (laughs). But I mean, I think that movie was basically a warning. We already had the stats, we already knew at that time, and we’ve known for a long time, that the scare of a pandemic could be a real reality for us. How are we going to deal with it? It’s just interesting looking at how we did deal with it and how strange it is that we did have so much forewarning in this scenario…we had so much forewarning, and here we are in the predicament that we’re in.
KHC: Right? Movies have been telling us this for years!
RM: Movies have been telling us, and even seeing what was going on in China, we’ve had a lot of time to kind of calibrate and figure it out, and yet we did it the way we did.
KHC: Oh, I know, don’t even get me started (laughs).
RM: Let’s not go there. Let’s just say that it was kind of inevitable and it’s interesting having all of these movies that kind of play out…that they are kind of like the guardians of the future, some of these prophetic horror movies or science fiction stories, because they do kind of play out narratives that could happen and give us an opportunity to sort of pre-rehearse in our own minds and then deal with it as we do when these things come to pass. But in that case, the movie functioned obviously as a warning, like be ready, and also kind of as a zombie movie…and I thought interestingly it was setting the pace for that zombie trend because it was before a lot of these zombie stories had come out. But also, because it basically said hey, politically, we’re statistics, and as much as we have this certainty about our individual rights, when it comes to a pandemic, we’re just numbers.
KHC: Yeah, it’s a scary thought.
RM: Be careful to maintain your humanity.
KHC: Exactly. You know, ever since this has been going on, I’ve found a lot of people have been revisiting films like The Crazies or Contagion and stuff like that, do you find it kind of fascinating or bizarre that people have been masochistically doing that to themselves?
RM: (Laughs). I personally have been watching a lot of comedies. That’s just because I needed to laugh. There was a week where I was like oh my god, I’m freaking out. I’m freaking out and I don’t know what to do. Like that feeling of the knot in the stomach, and you know, you’re in your mind, you’ve gotta get over that so you can see clearly and knowing that there’s absolutely no function in being freaked out. So, for me I was watching comedies. But I can understand it too because in a way, it gives you an opportunity to express that anxiety when you watch the movie and it’s turned into an entertaining format. So, it’s just an opportunity to process some of those emotions, so I can see that. And obviously in this case, it’s an exploration with facts and information that you may not be getting from the media that are worth considering. You could become a zombie, be careful.
KHC: (Laughs) It’s the bright way of looking at it I guess, right? At least we’re not becoming zombies.
RM: George Romero, he was a great political artist when you think about it.
KHC: Yeah. He was talking about this for forty years.
KHC: All right, well I don’t want to take up anymore of your time so thank you so much Radha, I really appreciate it.
RM: Great talking to you. Take care.
KHC: It was a pleasure. Take care.
Dreamkatcher is now available on DVD, Digital and VOD from Lionsgate.
By Matt Konopka