Monday, October 20, 2014

Playing With Death In The Face Of Desperation: An Interview With “Lead Me To The Dark” Actress Joanna Pickering

Joanna PickeringJames Twyman’s “Lead Me To The Dark” is an upcoming supernatural thriller that follows an investigative reporter journey into the unknown. Amy Cole is a woman desperate to find treatment for her ailing daughter, who unmistakably wonders into a world where monsters are real. The film is Twyman’s first feature film and slated for a 2015 release, Currently in production, “Lead Me To The Dark” stars Joanna Pickering as the lead actress portraying Amy Cole. Joanna Pickering is a British born actress and model who is best known for exploring experimental indie film choices.

As a model Pickering has been featured on magazine covers, as well as runway work. The first time that I interviewed Joanna Pickering was back in 2013 when Joanna was cast in a state-side indie horror that is currently held in pre-production status. However my interview with Joanna expanded far beyond that project alone. It is an in-depth discussion that covered her film work, her childhood and much, much more. I caught up with Joanna once more for her new role in “Lead Me To The Dark” while the actress was in the Welsh countryside working on a book with music and film producer Alan McGee . Here is my interview with Joanna Pickering about her current role as the Amy Cole in James Twyman’s “Lead Me To The Dark” :

A Southern Life: You are currently cast as lead in James Twyman's "Lead Me To The Dark", his first feature film which deals with a mother's struggle to save her child while battling darker forces that surround her, what drew you to the project?
Joanna Pickering: The dark forces definitely made me apply to the casting. Then James sent me his short films that have won festival awards, and we talked. I am happy to work with him to make his first debut. It's always a gamble working on someone's debut, but we talked about it, and a big factor for me was that the film already has a distribution deal in place based on his footage and hard work so far. I'm not scared of indie work - its as real as you can go. You don't do it if you need to look glamorous, and the journey has risk. You do it because you learn so much around you - hands on - you have maximum freedom for ideas and suggesting things on set, it's the best learning experience. It's a very different acting skill playing main lead, you drive and carry each scene, women very rarely get these roles to experience in Hollywood, yet it's where I am strongest, and want to be experiencing and preparing.

What drew me to James project specifically, is the character development and slow emotional build of the characters irrelevant of special effects and horror tricks. Many horror scripts going around don't have that. That appealed to me as a method actor. My daughter is dying in hospital - it's a very tough role. Everyone is aiming for a classic cult horror, but for me the risk is lessened as what is definitely going to happen is that I get paid an indie fee and tackle a challenging, difficult role as an actress. That will always be a solid experience for me.

After which it's over to the edit... and fingers crossed. I'm really excited to see.

JP_2A Southern Life: Your character is Amy Cole, an investigative reporter facing extraordinary circumstances, tell me about the character and what about her attracted you to the role?
Joanna Pickering: Well, she's been all over the world covering war zones, she's neglected her daughter. That means she'll do anything to save her daughter now and beyond rational decision making. That's dangerous. I was interested in this side of the character, what drives you to make constantly dangerous reckless fatal decisions, when holding on to a fundamental element of goodness. I also have to learn martial arts techniques, as a new skill.
A Southern Life: How have you prepared for the role, do you have a standard method of getting into a character?
Joanna Pickering: I tackled Amy's character through her past life and clues, and her time spent as a war correspondent. Why you choose that risk? And the effects it has after? My key into how I would play her character was through research on post traumatic shock lined to war zones. I realized although she is described as very tough and ruthless, its more in an endurance way. She is actually very vulnerable. Possibly from a low self worth, a secret death wish to be in these places, and her despair of the state of world, wanting to bring justice. Her strength is her unshakable endurance to pain or shockingly disturbing situations. This gives her the ability to go where most people won't, and to allow choices no one else would consider - including very bad ones. Although she begins as a good person, she can be very dangerous due to this lack of boundaries and judgments. She always has the potential to be led into the dark. And there things go very wrong. This was the preparation from which I can realistically drive my character to do the things she does, which are absolutely horrific, really, horrific!

A Southern Life: How was it researching the character and relating to the horror elements of the story?
Joanna Pickering: At first it was more the psychological research of the character I was interested in. But when the film switches in that Dusk To Dawn way, into Vampire-esque, it becomes a whole different experience. Who hasn't wanted to be in a vampire film?! So much fun - blood, horror make up, wax scars and teeth marks. The digital world hasn't killed everything yet. It's a real thrill getting to sit down at a bar and chatting to a vampire, actually. I'm glad I am experiencing it. Thanks Stuart Rees for making his vampire so damned real. I realize, of course, like comedy, it is important to stay serious, honest, and strong to your character goals, even when the horror is escalating beyond any real normality, or is dark humor, or halted by practical stunts.

A Southern Life: Have you met the other cast, and your "daughter" in the film? How has it been connecting with the other cast members, and the director James Twyman?
Joanna Pickering:  I've still got to meet all the cast. As lead role I'm pretty much in every scene. So far everyone has been fabulous. Maeve plays my daughter and studies at the acting lab, she's incredible. It's always an extra commitment working with children, as the on set responsibility is much higher, making kids relaxed, and comfortable, and not exposing them to the 18 certificate nature of the film. It's got to be fun to be on the set for them, it can't be too serious between takes, even if its a tough scene. You've got to fleet back and forth between moods whether it's cut or action. But then, acting with children is always the most magical when action is called. They have make believe so raw, it just happens as it should straight away, it's real energy. Maeve  is wonderful in her scenes, she's the central character, and a delight to be on set with. She really looks just like me, no one can believe it. I've also been having the best giggles doing improvisation with Gavin Morris who plays the doctor, and despite the most serious scenes together. I think we have outtakes for this. I love that about film sets, you know, knowing when to fall about laughing at yourself.

James as a director has been wonderful. He told me on the third day of shooting with me he already had some of the most powerful footage he had ever filmed in his 12 years of making his shorts. Those are the moments when budget and end result are not important. Confidence keeps you going as an artist. He has welcomed any extra ideas I have to my scenes, but importantly does not let me get my own way when he disagrees. I was in a thigh high split sexy white dress he wanted me in, to my horror, the other day. Yet it works perfectly on screen once covered in blood. It's sexy, hot, cult like.

JP_4A Southern Life: Any particular aspects of "Lead Me To The Dark" that hit a nerve, or touch to that deeper level of fear that we all have for the unknown? These vampires are described as darker and more sinister that the normal literary creatures.
Joanna Pickering: I was attracted to the vampires being a sort of mafia society with absolutely no emotion whatsoever. And the human race no different than a cattle herd to farm for food.There's an element of Orwell's 1984 - power over everything. I hope that is developed and really shown in post editing as a theme. It has great potential.

A Southern Life: How do the vampires differ in James Twyman's  mythos from the customary?
Joanna Pickering: They can go out in daylight, and they do die, just after thousands of years, but they definitely need to fed on blood, so they farm humans to survive, but in an old fashioned biting of the neck way.

A Southern Life: How scary does "Lead Me To The Dark" get with your character's conflicts in the story? How much of it feeds on the dramatic and psychological aspects?
Joanna Pickering: Because of the background of my character there is a lot of psychological realism throughout, which I have been told by many directors and coaches is my forte in acting, along with my capacity to show vulnerability. So yes, its very dramatic, in it's psychological aspects. The audience may be rooting for this character because of her vulnerability, I hope, she portrays also, so they could be shocked by her actions as twists happen.

Lila, her daughter, is the real drive at the horror story, and when children are involved, horror is always more terrifying. So yes, it has the potential to be very scary. It's hard to know when you are in a scene filming, until you see the post editing, where films are made again, but we have already had tears from our crew while we filmed some mother daughter scenes, and we have had some frights, bangs and and jumps already. We have just filmed on location in a hospital in Manchester that has an old abandoned hospital wing - long empty corridors - that was great drama right there, it was like being in The Shining.

JP_3A Southern Life: Finish this statement, "The vampires in "Lead Me To The Dark" are_____________
Joanna Pickering: Oh no , I couldn't possibly, that's one for my director, you have to ask James. I'm actually in love with them all [vampires], they add a dark sense of humor in their emotionless. I don't think even James was prepared for that on some scenes. I definitely flirted with a little death with my vampires in some of my scenes. I haven't met the main vampire yet. But really, they are heartless avaricious blood sucking murderous bastards. Finish it with that.

A Southern Life: Assuming that actors take away something from a role, What is the one thing that most connected with you from this character that will stay with you?
Joanna Pickering: Definitely playing a mother. I'm not a mother, as I want to keep exploring the world, and making film, so it's a delight to connect to that feeling of being a mother and understand it. I am exploring the mother daughter bond from the other way round. It's pretty special, and I will be taking that magical feeling away with me. It's still a huge relief to be able to let go of the responsibility of bringing someone through the world. I see how hard it must be. Sorry mum! Appreciation to mums! Yeah, so I am definitely connecting with Maeve. We are friends, she's very cool, but due to the role I do find myself looking out for her in a mum way between scenes. Her real mum is there too, and a fabulous lady, but Maeve definitely has two mums throughout shooting. We are both checking she isn't hungry and stuff. I'm also having to curb my swearing while on set, which is almost impossible. I hope that sticks.

Joanna w pumpkin

A Southern Life: With filming and Halloween taking place so close together, how do you intend on spending the holiday?
Joanna Pickering: I'll probably just come straight from set covered in fake blood and go to a bar, a dive bar in the middle of nowhere with a really good jukebox, ideally. Hopefully, I'll remember not to bite someone's neck and get locked up for it. I'll just take it easy you know...I've got a pumpkin already.

You can read my earlier interview with the Joanna Pickering at this link: An Indeterminate Exploration Of Life: My Interview With Indie Actress Joanna Pickering.

(Photos in order as they appear in article: Joanna in producer Alan McGee's church; Shooting in role as Amy Cole; Joanna and the young actress Maeve Kelly on set; Amy Cole screen still from filming footage; Joanna- Photo by Esther Vardy; Getting in the mood for Halloween- photo by Alan McGee)

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