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How can such a tiny thing kick butt so effectively? That’s the first thing this writer thinks upon meeting actress Radha Mitchell at a post-screening Q & A for THE CRAZIES, Overture Films’ remake of the George A. Romero cult fave directed by Breck Eisner, in which she stars. But as soon as she opens her mouth, the reason becomes apparent: Mitchell may not be a giant among women, but she is fearless about staring down whatever challenges come her way.
She has battled space aliens (PITCH BLACK), the denizens of hell (SILENT HILL) and even a killer crocodile (ROGUE), so what’s to fear from a few madness-infected small-towners—not to mention rabid fans and geeky journalists? Articulate, intelligent and enthusiastic about her art, she’s also a great interview…
FANGORIA: THE CRAZIES is a genre film, but there’s this troubled adult couple at the heart of it.
RADHA MITCHELL: Certainly, it was interesting to see two adult characters dealing with adult issues in a movie like this. Generally those characters, the leads [in a genre film] would be teenagers. But here I think we succeeded in being able to generate that hipness without completely losing sight of things like character development. There are four people at the center of this story who need each other if they are going to survive. As much as we see them victimized by what’s going on around them, we also see that their love for one another is what keeps them able to go on.
Did you like that? That was the female side of me. [Laughs]
FANG: Many of the genre films you’ve been involved in have had heavy apocalyptic themes and common concerns about technology.
MITCHELL: You know, I grew up afraid of nuclear explosions. I mean, as a 10-year-old I was involved in a Children’s Campaign for Peace, and my whole generation had those fears of being blown up before we got a chance to grow up. But when you look through human history, that’s a pretty common thing. There’s always something out there that’s going to get us. I mean now, for instance, we have global warming. Which is in no way saying we shouldn’t take such things seriously.
But this idea that humanity isn’t going to continue…yes, it’s a definite possibility. I believe a genre film like this explores the paranoia that can attach itself to that.
FANG: The difference now is that we used to have our finger on the button or the trigger, in terms of Cold War concerns. But super-flus, terrorists, etc.? They don’t have triggers. They just are, and it’s increasingly obvious that in any kind of really catastrophic event, we’re basically out of luck.
MITCHELL: Yeah, we are, aren’t we? One of the things I was excited about was that [THE CRAZIES’] production company did something on the website encouraging people to lobby their senators about security and safety within and around the 300 or so chemical plants in the United States, which would put populations of a million or more at risk in the event of a major accident or terrorist event. The things that could be done to change that scenario are doable; we just need politicians to do them. I just get a kick out of being part of a horror movie linked to a social action campaign.
FANG: The Cold War and the paranoia you were referring to weren’t just about being blown up, but also about being taken over. THE CRAZIES definitely plays into that.
MITCHELL: Well, we’re a little more cynical now, aren’t we? We’re cynical of our own government. Romero himself has always flirted with that a little. He’s always asking the question, “Who’s actually protecting us?“ We stayed true to that, because it is so timely. If a major incident goes down, do individuals matter or are we all just statistics? It seems like we’re more aware than ever that there just aren’t systems in place. I could certainly imagine a scenario like the one we have in our film, at least in terms of individuals becoming numbers. Another scary thing is how quickly something catastrophic can happen and spread. What do they say in Buddhism? Life is suffering. Birth, disease and old age.
FANG: Another thing the film touches on is the death of small-town America.
MITCHELL: That was disturbing to encounter the way we did when we were filming. We were on location, and there was nothing in the town except Walmart. When we needed a location, we were always able to find all these abandoned buildings. One of them was this big truck stop with a hotel on top of it. Nobody around for miles. When we did find stores, they were almost always chains—nothing local to the area.
FANG: Did that make it easy to generate the sort of hysteria some of your scenes called for? Is that difficult?
MITCHELL: No way! That sort of stuff is always a blast. When do you ever get the chance to do this sort of thing in real life? I got to bash crazies over the head, scream constantly. When you scream loud enough and long enough, you get pretty slap happy. We should all have a go right now.
EVERYONE PRESENT: Aaaauuuuuggghhhh! Oh God!! Aaaaaaaauuuuuugggghhhhhh!!!
MITCHELL: See how great it is? It’s way more difficult to act shocked or surprised. We needed to do that a lot, so Breck would do this thing, and the crew hated it. He would fire a gun to shake everybody up. Every other beat in a movie like this is shock, so it definitely helped.
FANG: Do things like that make genre films more or less fulfilling for you?
MITCHELL: If somebody made, say, ROSEMARY’S BABY again with all the opportunities a story like that has for development through dialogue, that would be great. But genre mechanics allow for that as well. As an actor, it’s just a different kind of challenge. THE CRAZIES is shocking because of its situations, but there are characters in those situations, and on set we were all about bringing them to life.
FANG: You had to come in and carve humanity out of inhuman situations, or out of situations that could overpower the humanity.
MITCHELL: One of the small-town locations we were at had this nightclub. You talk about finding humanity—this was the kind of place you go to get your meth. We didn’t realize until we were in there what was going on, and we weren’t there to get drugs. But while we were dancing, we couldn’t help notice how alive the place was, in its own way. Some of it was sad, sure, but any situation involving people reveals their humanity. You just have to look. It seems like when you’re in a big city, you can just avoid other people if you want. But in a small town you have to deal with everybody. That’s a dynamic we definitely tapped into.
FANG: You’ve tackled aliens in PITCH BLACK, a killer croc in ROGUE, demons in SILENT HILL and now viral zombies. What would you like to fight next?
MITCHELL: Oh, I definitely wish I could go back to Silent Hill. What the hell were those things, anyway? But I wouldn’t want to fight the creatures this time; I’d want to make a family movie.
FANG: Like that SNL skit where Sigourney Weaver is dolled up like a ’50s housewife and making meatloaf, and the Alien comes homes from work after a hard day.
MITCHELL: Exactly! When we were making SILENT HILL, there would be these nice, calm monsters all over the set eating from craft service, drinking soda, having a smoke. It was nice and civilized until someone said, “Rolling.” Casual monsters, yeah. She’s in love with the monster, they live in the suburbs.
FANG: FIDO is like that.
MITCHELL: I’ve heard that. I was offered a part in FIDO, and then I didn’t do it and I heard it was great.
FANG: It is great—definitely look into the sequel. Any talk of SILENT HILL 2?
MITCHELL: There’s talk, but I haven’t heard much. I don’t believe Christoph Gans is directing again. I think if I came back, it would be fun to do so as the Dark Rose, but I don’t have any real info at this point.
FANG: You’re more recognized for your genre work, but you’ve also done some great non-genre stuff. MELINDA AND MELINDA, FINDING NEVERLAND…
MITCHELL: And my new film THE WAITING CITY, shot in Calcutta, which I executive-produced, and which played the Toronto Film Festival, plug, plug, plug. [Laughs] Well, people definitely don’t get out to see small dramas as much as they used to. I’m not sure why. The public appetite seems more and more for genre films. No doubt there’s an awful lot of stimuli floating around out there. Perhaps it feeds off of itself. Perhaps people feel the need to maintain a veneer just to protect themselves because they feel kind of raw already from all the explosions and blood and action.
Personally, I find myself wanting to slow down. Culture is there to plug us back in, but getting people to pay for it these days seems a little challenging.
FANG: So you feel genre roles afford you that opportunity?
MITCHELL: Absolutely. Genre films, especially these days, are often about going to the edge, which means they get to address things that less extreme films might not. That’s important to our culture. There’s sort of a latent rage right now about where we find ourselves as a species, and genre movies can put us in touch with things like that, so we can acknowledge them and discuss them. I’m proud to be part of that.
I can tell you that from going out to talk about my films, I have really learned to love genre audiences. They are often film buffs and have relatively little interest in general celebrity or my love life. They would far rather talk about a film’s themes, where it sits in movie history, what social trends it might be tapping into.
FANG: So do you have any horror projects coming up or in the works?
MITCHELL: No. I’m so sorry. My next thing is in Africa, so unless there are some rewrites I don’t know about…
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