Paul Risker chats with Wrong Turn 6 actress Roxanne Pallett…
Ahead of the home entertainment release of the sixth instalment of the Wrong Turn franchise, Flickering Myth had an opportunity to speak with actress Roxanne Pallett.
In a conversation that took us from incomplete movies on a Saturday night to taking a perilous Wrong Turn, Roxanne took us behind the scenes of her craft as she reflected on the art of performance on stage and screen.
Why a career as an actress? Was there that one inspirational moment?
I have never had a defining moment – it was who I was from day one. I was never one of those kids that had to sit down with a teacher and discuss what they could be.
I was an only child, and so I was a constant exhibitionist. I was always pretending to be dead at the bottom of the stairs, and my grandma would just step over me and say, “Oh dear, she’s dead again.” I was always performing and pretending, and I loved anything to do with costume, accent and music – anything that stretched the imagination. So it was just who I was; it was my personality.
Can you remember the moment you first became aware of storytelling?
We had a little bungalow near Carlisle where I am from. Each weekend we would go there, and every Saturday night we would watch a film. It was a big treat, but the battery would never last until the end, and so there are around a hundred films I have seen up until the last twenty minutes of. My grandma used to have this thing where she would say, “Okay, that’s it. The TV is fuzzed out.” So we would get into bed and make up the rest of the film, and I think that was when I started using my imagination with narrative and characters.
Was there an advantage in having to imagine the end for yourself?
I always think of the next step, which could be because I never got everything as a kid. We were very poor growing up, and I wasn’t one of those kids that went to stage school – we couldn’t afford anything like that. So I appreciate everything, and if I have anything, regardless of whether it is a new pair of shoes, then I treat them like they are my only pair. So with my acting and my work I pay attention to detail, and I relish every moment when I am performing; whether it is on stage or on screen.
As an actress how important is it to understand narrative and story, to understand how narratives work and how they are developed?
There are a lot of talented actors out there that have not had that understanding, and you do need it when you are working in film. I have realised that you need it more for in film than TV and theatre, because in film you have to remember where your character has been, and where they are going. You don’t film chronologically, and so it is all out of synch and out of order. Continuity wise you have to be a real advocate of your craft. You just can’t turn up, say your lines and turn on the emotion. You have to know every aspect of your craft, and so that’s why at university I studied film and media, because I wanted to know the craftsmanship of the director and the producer, and when on set know what other people’s jobs are – how I can help them do their job and how they can help me do mine. This is something that I have managed to develop over the last few years.
The process of creating a film is almost centred on finding a harmony between the vast number of individuals who come together to realise the project, and with a cast of actors who will all have different approaches.
That can sometimes cause conflict, although it can be a healthy conflict. Sometimes you can get an actor who has a completely different method to you, but it can give you that passion, conflict and uneasiness that the story or character may need. But as long as long as you use what works for you.
I’m quite the method actor, and I like to throw myself into a role. Of course it can seem a bit self-indulgent and erratic at times depending on the character, but with me I’m an extremist; I’m all or nothing. I’m not one of these actors who gets their lines and then just goes and plays themselves. Up until now I have never played a vanilla character, although I’ve played extreme characters that you can’t cheat – you almost have to become them, and mess up your mind so that you get to the state where you are them.
If you are an instinctive actor is it an advantage to not be too clued in, so that you allow yourself to embrace your instincts?
You can’t second guess yourself, and you can’t premeditate. Well you can, but I don’t think it gives you the best outcome as a performer. I think some of the best takes; some of the best moments I have watched back are the spontaneous or the instinctive ones that aren’t on the page. Sometimes it is just about the moment between two or three actors, or even one actor in that moment of their mental state, which can bring something out of you that you didn’t prepare or anticipate. When you watch it back you wonder where that come from. Then there are other times where you premeditate something and you want it to be a certain way, but it never evolves as such. So in the end I think the most instinctive and spontaneous methods usually give you the most surprising results.
Writers such as Ray Bradbury and Stephen King have compared writing to sitting in a room and listening to voices. There is a genuine metaphysical aspect to the creative process, wherein it is not we who are creating, but rather we have tapped into something and are functioning as receivers.
In fashion there are those who say, “You shouldn’t let your clothes wear you; you should wear your clothes.” I think sometimes the character should lead you the actor, and not the other way round. I don’t mind if there is even ten per cent of me in a character, as long as it is dominated by the screenplay role. As long as it is ten per cent fact and ninety per cent fiction, because I don’t want too much of myself creeping through.
I like that I am playing quite dark, corrupted, broken characters, because in my personal life I am usually in bed by nine watching a Doris Day movie. I play these dark roles where I am either the victim or the villain, and it is a testament to my work that I don’t play myself.
I’ve spoken with actors who say they have to find a part of themselves in a character in order to connect with them, regardless how dark or innocent that character might be.
I agree. You’ve got to find something otherwise it will not work; you’ve got to communicate and connect with who you are playing. It is almost like you’ve got to step into those shoes in order to wear them. But I don’t necessarily find something of myself in a character, rather I draw on something. So if my character is vulnerable it doesn’t have to be the same vulnerability, but I do find something that is vulnerable within my own emotional memory or pastime. I just dig deep and it opens up old wounds that will make me vulnerable, and then if I’m at a place where that character is at then its fine. I get myself into this state of mind, but it doesn’t have to be factual or parallel, because some of the characters I have played you would think, who the hell has been through that? People think are there any similarities, but it is not necessarily that straightforward, rather it is more about being in that moment in which the character is about to face something. You almost take yourself back to a really traumatic time, and I’m good at traumatising myself. It’s quite unhealthy, but I find it liberating to play characters that are so dark and destroyed, because I feel like it almost exorcises some demons – maybe things you haven’t addressed in your own life.
I would do this thing growing up where I would imagine the worst, and it would mess with my mind. I’d imagine the most sordid, horrendous, heart-breaking scenario and I would cry and shake and almost make myself sick. I think it is related to self-preservation – in case something happened and that I’d been there before. I think when you are an actor you are visiting things that perhaps you haven’t been through, but it’s like you have almost taken a dip in the waters that you may have to encounter in your life. They say “A cat has nine lives”, well an actor has nine hundred, because you are almost stepping into the shoes of someone you could have been or you may become. It’s quite scary because you are tampering with… Everyone’s day starts off in the centre in the car, and it depends on the choices you make as to which direction you go in, and when you are playing a character it is almost like a philosophical what if my life had have gone that way? It is quite scary but at the same time I find it quite liberating.
There are few professions that allow such an intimate exploration of identity, and whilst writing is one of them the opportunity to become the incarnation of a character for the actor offers a certain level of intimacy.
Take Robin Williams for example, and look how many people he touched. He transcended not only genres but generations. There was such an outpouring worldwide for him, and yet none of us knew him personally. It was his work; the characters and connotations of the roles he played, and the messages that those sent out that hit a nerve with us, and which we related to. It shows you just how instrumental actors and creative work are, because he impacted on so many people and in so many different ways through both comedy and tragedy. It is rare for an actor to impact on an audience from age six to sixty in both comedy and tragedy. It is something truly special, but I think when you are an actor you live on forever through your roles.
We felt we knew him through one particular or favourite role. For some it was Mork & Mindy while for others it was Good Morning Vietnam. People associate and identify him with his characters who were always honest. That’s why he was always endearing to us, because he was honest, whether it was through his vulnerability in One Hour Photo or playing Peter Pan. But there was a vulnerability and an honesty, and that’s what people responded to. Audiences respond to honesty, which is why I like to method act, because if I’m honest in myself then I know that it will come through for the audience.
Behind the multitude of identities and actor presents to us, there is one fundamental identity from where they all emerge.
I just think audiences respond to real characters. I can’t speak for everyone, but I personally do as do a lot of my friends and family. From David Jason playing Del Boy, real characters that maybe represent people we knew or know. I think it is probably one of the most challenging and equally rewarding crafts you can find.
How do you compare and contrast film, TV and theatre?
It is a personal preference, and every actor is different. We are not a breed that sings from the same song sheet, but for me personally I find peaks and valleys in both theatre and screen.
So with television it is a quick treadmill. I worked on a soap for three years and it was a massive discipline – twelve scenes a day, no rehearsal and you need to be on top of your lines. They have a deadline every day and you don’t get a second chance. But it was the most valuable discipline I could learn, just because you have to be on top of your game.
So no second takes?
Well you have a deadline of an hour per scene, and so you wouldn’t want to be the one actor who messed up their lines if there happened to be ten actors in that scene. You know after a line run, rehearsal and a camera spot you are shooting it, and you know you’ve got ten minutes to turn it around. So it’s very quick, whereas you have a luxury with film. You can spend fourteen hours on a scene as I did with Wrong Turn 6, and that time I would have done twelve scenes in Emmerdale. So you have more of a luxury with time, and you can spend a lot more time on one moment in film.
Also the limitations are wider because you do not have a watershed. With movies you can go for it with the violence, the sex and the swearing. You can push as far as you can go, whereas you have to rein it in if you are on seven o’ clock television.
There are peaks and valleys; challenges and rewards in everything, and with theatre you can’t go again because you are live. Also I was saying to a friend how nerve-wracking it always is seeing yourself on film, because there is only so much you can do on the day, and then it’s down to the director, producer and editor how your work looks in the final product. You could have a scene cut or you could wonder why that angle was chosen. The way it is edited is out of your hands, whereas in theatre you are responsible for how the audience see you in that given moment. In theatre no one can edit your performance, and so as an actor I like to do it all. For example I’ve just done three films and I am about to start a play, which I think is the perfect thing for an actor to do – movie, movie, movie, theatre. I like to mix it up and keep it fresh, because I always have an appetite for what I have not done lately. It keeps it fresh, and you never become complacent, bored or still.
Wrong Turn 6 is out now on Digital HD and DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Paul Risker is a critic and writer for a number of on-line and print publications, including Little White Lies, Film International, Starburst Magazine, and VideoScope. He is currently based in the United Kingdom.