Ricky Church chats with The Sublet star Tianna Nori…
Canadian actress Tianna Nori stars as Joanna, a new mother who moves into a sublet apartment with her fiancé, in The Sublet. As she stays at home taking care of their son, Joanna discovers a dark history within the apartment and slowly realizes it may be haunted. Is it really haunted or just her imagination though? Nori talked with Flickering Myth about the themes behind The Sublet, its unique shooting style, her inspirations for the film and being the victim of on set pranks.
You can read my review of The Sublet here.
Ricky Church: First off, congratulations on the film!
Tianna Nori: Thank you!
RC: How did you get into acting? What made you go into it?
TN: Ever since I was three years old, apparently, I knew I wanted to be an actress. Those words came out of my mouth. I started in theater when I was seven and then went to the University of British Columbia and got my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting there which was an amazing university experience. After university I went straight into film and television and I’ve just never steered away.
RC: Cool! So what made you interested in starring in The Sublet?
TN: I got the sides and it’s rare when you get sides that you just know…
RC: That you connect with it?
TN: Yea, that you connect with it right away and that’s what I did. I got the sides and I just wanted to read the script so badly right away and wanted to know what it was about. Because it’s such a psychological thriller, the sides that I had were in the moments that Joanna’s not feeling well mentally. For me, I just wanted to know more and without reading the script I knew I wanted to be a part of this project more than anything I had ever read before.
RC: One thing I really liked about the movie was, like you said, it’s a psychological thriller. At first I was expecting more jump scares, but I was really pleasantly surprised by how in-depth psychologically it went.
TN: Yea, so I just saw it and you’re my first interview since seeing the movie!
RC: Oh really!
TN: Yea, which is awesome! So watching it in the theatre, it was a very intense experience. I sat beside John (Ainslee, director) and I was nervous, but it was funny because I was grabbing onto my arms so hard I probably have bruises. I guess the movie was that intense, but I felt the scares in it were so subtle, but intense. There were people in the theatre on the subtle scares that you know… There was this guy sitting in front of me that jumped onto his girlfriend at one point, like out of his seat and almost on top of her!
And then one point in the movie, I don’t want to give anything away, but where she looks through the hole into the other apartment a guy vocally screamed out “holy shit” or something, but loud! I talked to him after, but he had jumped out his seat. The scares are so subtle.
RC: Yea, they’re not very deliberate.
TN: Yea, totally!
RC: You filmed a lot of the movie by yourself. You’re on your own for so much of the movie so did you find that challenging at all, to act by yourself or with the little baby, someone who can’t really respond directly to you?
TN: I thought it was perfect for the character because, as an actor, I was isolated from other actors by not having someone to act off of, obviously, but as a mother in the movie she’s isolated, she’s alone, she doesn’t have anyone to connect to. She doesn’t have her husband’s support a lot of the time and I actually found that it was ideal and important as an actor to feel that isolation, distance and disconnect because Joanna is so disconnected and she becomes numb a lot of the time in her head. It was the moments that John, Greg (Biskup, cinematographer) and I felt were so needed, where she’s not feeling sane.
RC: You kind of hinted at it in your answer there, but you and the character had to be isolated from everyone else, but obviously on set you’re surrounded by John and the rest of the crew. Was that tough to pretend to be isolated even though there was a room full of people in there?
TN: I always take every movie and role differently and I always try to figure out what the best approach is because I’ve had so much training with different styles of acting and approaches to scripts. For this one, I lucked out because we shot chronologically.
TN: Yea, most of it, which is rare! When John told me he was going to try his best to do that, I was so excited and so relieved because throughout the movie it starts on one level and by the end of the movie it’s a completely different person, pretty much. I was so fortunate and so lucky so when I started filming Mark Matechuk, who plays my co-lead, he can talk to you about this, this was his first feature film. When I first started filming the movie I was bubbly and talkative with the crew, which was awesome because I got to connect with the crew, on the first day of filming, but after the first day Joanna starts becoming isolated and feeling alone. So on set, for me, I put in my music, and John had me listening to The Shining soundtrack.
RC: Really? Cool!
TN: Yea, and there was a bit of Only God Forgives too, so I had that in my ears. Every time we would cut I would put my music in, sit by myself and go to a different room of the apartment, usually had to be a creepy room!
RC: Yea, the little nursery in there, right?
TN: Yea! I would just be by myself and then our AD would come get me and I would keep my music on until we were ready and then take it off. I constantly felt isolated and then I started distancing myself from my onscreen husband, Mark, and because it was his first feature film, he didn’t understand it and couldn’t quite comprehend it. We were joking about it in Whistler, but he felt hurt at first because I started distancing myself! He had to talk to the director about it apparently. He said “Why is she distancing herself from me, it was so fun and everything.” It was me having to distance myself from everyone politely. I’m very respectful, I just went in my own head and was quiet, if anything, and talked to John when he needed me. I just made sure to constantly try to isolate myself as much as possible.
RC: It’s interesting that they filmed it chronologically because, like you said, not many movies do that. That’s a very interesting, conscious decision John made.
TN: And it was ideal because I was nervous about it because if you’re bouncing back and forth on this script, every Week in the apartment she’s dealing with a different level of postpartum depression or aspects of that. And then it gets into that postpartum psychosis so its just different levels. I can’t imagine shooting it out of sequence and trying to remember, especially being on set that much, trying to remember “Oh yea, I’m here in my mind.” I was lucky enough to go on set everyday and say “Okay, now she’s here”.
RC: One of the subtleties that I really liked about the movie and your performance was seeing that progression of the Weeks and seeing how tired she gets. One thing that stood out to me was the bags under your eyes become more pronounced as the film goes on. Knowing that it was shot deliberately chronological makes that stand out even more.
Its interesting that you mentioned John had you listen to The Shining soundtrack because when I first saw the trailer for The Sublet, one of my first thoughts was the tone felt a bit like The Shining.
TN: Yea, I think every movie I’ve done I listen to music. Its my go-to in between scenes and I try to figure out either what my character would listen to or what I need to listen to get myself in a scene emotionally, whether the scene is emotional or not. It’s just good to have that energy. John and I creatively think so similar that I didn’t even have to ask for music, he just said “Hey, I’ve got this playlist” and he had all the music and sent it to me. Its so funny because I was trying to think for my character what kind of music I should listen to and it was perfect The Shining soundtrack just happened to be on it. Absolutely perfect because the moments I needed to be creeped out by the apartment and moments of not feeling mentally okay and the moment where she starts feeling, in her own words, “I’m going crazy in this apartment”, The Shining soundtrack was ideal for my mind.
RC: I found Joanna well written and obviously well acted, but I also found her to be really relatable, especially for a female audience. How important was it for you, John and the rest of the team to make her story really standout?
TN: Thank you for saying that because that, to me, was the most important thing. It always is, but for this character it was so important to me. In The Demolisher I played a women with a spinal cord injury to a woman with postpartum depression in The Sublet. It’s important to me in any aspect of any movie that every actor has a responsibility to do their research. I really stand by that. Its our job, our duty to, no matter what the topic is, comedy or not, whatever it is, to give your character the life that it deserves and do our research.
A woman going through postpartum, I’ve never had a baby, or been engaged or married, so as soon as I got the script and read it through I contacted women who had babies. I looked up postpartum depression, baby blues, postpartum psychosis, just postpartum in general. What women go through in their bodies. The thing is there’s not one staple as to what every woman is going to go through. It’s so broad. It’s so dynamic. Its not like “oh, this is exactly what it is.” As soon as I brought the topic up, every woman I spoke to opened up to me about it and told me “I had postpartum depression, this is what happened to me, this is where my mind went.” I lucked out and found a woman who went through postpartum psychosis and she was my core influence and study. It was amazing once you brought the topic up how many women would tell me exactly what they thought and where their minds went. There was no holding back either, its just a topic that nobody talks about.
For me, to have these women who are telling me their stories, I’m doing the research online to read about it too, John had stories for me, he knows it’s a topic no one is talking about. He wanted to make it so relatable so we just worked together on Joanna from the day I got the script, or even before I got the script, to being on set to where she came from, where she was born, where she was up to the end of the movie and where she was mentally. At the end of the day, it’s just so important to me to make sure I do my due diligence and research on any topic and any character. I thank you for saying she was relatable because that was the most important thing to me.
RC: Aside from all that research on postpartum depression, was there any other research that you did? Did you go back to watch some of the old horror movies or re-watch The Shining? Was anything else a main influence for you?
TN: Yes, there was so much work to be done! I think I got cast two weeks prior to going to camera so I had to study really hard and fast. John had me watch The Apartment Trilogy by Roman Polanski so Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant and Repulsion were our main influences and the styles of them. We watched them mostly together and I watched them at home by myself. Other than that, I asked if I could have a baby. Not a real one! I actually wanted to hang out with our real baby (played by Porter Randell) prior to filming, but there wasn’t any time, so John bought me this doll that was the weight of a real child. He got me one on eBay and had it rushed. I had it in my condo and because, even your posture and the way you stand and hold a baby, that’s another thing I was asking mothers. They said you’re constantly rocking, you’re constantly moving so that was good to know, but on camera you have to be subtle about it.
I would be in my kitchen and making dinner and grab the doll and put it on my hip, trying to see what that was like. I’m thinking, “What if I have to go to the washroom? What do I do with this child?” So I got a fake baby, brought it home with me and studied The Apartment Trilogy and I watched The Shining, which is always a good re-watch any time of the year. Mostly though Roman Polanski was our main influence on the film.
RC: Very cool. One other thing I found out about you was that you’re also a bit of a producer, having helped produce the reality series Last Bride Standing and Project: Guatemala. What’s it like for you to have worked on both sides of the industry?
TN: My number one is acting. I just happened to have work ethic and the skills to produce. It just kind of happened, I wasn’t out looking for it, it just happened. I like producing, I really do. I helped produce The Demolisher as well, but that was after I was cast. They were kind of like “Hey, we need a bit of help” so I helped them and jumped on board with that. I find it is important in our industry to be able to do multiple things and have multiple skillsets to keep you busy and working. But acting is my number one.
RC: The Sublet is a film that keeps you guessing, making you question what is and isn’t real. Was that a lot of fun to play off of while you’re reading the script, through filming and at the premiere? You mentioned people freaking out a lot, so how did it feel to see the audience trying to piece everything together?
TN: I noticed in our screening, because I was sitting at the back, not one person got up to go to the washroom or get anything. Everyone just sat in their seats. It was a very intense atmosphere which was awesome. Even the Q&A mostly everyone stayed and after it people went up to John and had questions because they started piecing things together. A lady actually said “When the Q&A was going on I couldn’t ask a question because I was so conflicted and didn’t know what to ask. Now I have to ask you about the ending.” People were trying to piece together what the movie was about. That was our goal. People walked out thinking it was a haunting movie, people walked out thinking it was completely about psychosis. It’s up for interpretation at the end of the day, absolutely. It can be whatever people want it to be and that’s, for psychological thrillers, that’s what I love watching. To be a part of a movie where that’s the audience’s response and trying to figure it out was pretty cool.
The thing is about my character, yeah I’m doing postpartum depression research, but that’s because that was my main research. I did some research on haunted houses, but normally and naturally, if you’re a human and going through that, you’re going to be freaked out. How would you respond to that? So for me, the apartment we were filming in, which was a studio, it was creepy enough! They would play pranks on me on set all the time! We had this one thing where I’m walking by the owner’s room, and the camera’s rolling, its at nighttime where the phone is ringing and I climb out of bed, and I walk down the hallway by the owner’s room and the crib is rocking. There’s one of our crewman in there, but I didn’t know anyone was in the room and he’s rocking it alone. I didn’t expect it and jumped probably three feet in the air, screamed, ran towards the camera and just continued the scene because I didn’t know if they were trying to get something out of me in the moment. They were constantly freaking me out on set which was hilarious.
In Joanna’s head she thought the apartment was haunted. No matter what she’s going through, that was her mindset. I think playing it true and playing it real is the confusion it has in the end.
RC: You’ve kind of mentioned it already through the postpartum depression and keeping people guessing, but was there anything else you hoped audiences would take away from this film?
TN: At the end of the day, I love that I’m able to create something entertaining for people to take an hour and a half out of their day, to sit down, relax and watch a movie and not think about the stresses in life. That’s the number one thing for me. With anything that I do, if people can sit down and forget about other stuff going on and stresses and completely be into a movie, and enjoy it because life is so stressful sometimes, that’s my number one goal, giving people entertainment. Giving them some joy to their life. Hopefully. (Laughs) I don’t know about this movie! There were a few people after the screening that were really freaked out and disturbed.
RC: On the topic of Joanna, did anyone come up to you and say “I did find her relatable” or “I know what she was going through”?
TN: Yes. I had one woman come up to me and say those exact words. She thanked me for making her so relatable and said you could feel everything Joanna was going through and sympathize with her. She thought it’s a topic that’s not spoken about and she thought it was totally, completely psychosis. But that to me, at the end of the day, I don’t need anyone to come up to me and say anything at all. I actually kind of hide from it. But having a woman come up to me and say “Thank you for making her so relatable, you could tell you did your research, it’s a topic no that’s not spoken about” and went on and on about the scenes in the movie, that just made my entire festival experience. It made filming worth it, it made knowing that someone realized just how much research I had done and I was trying to give the topic the respect it deserves and needs.
RC: Do you have any future projects coming up?
TN: The Demolisher and Save Yourself are both in the festival circuits right now with The Sublet so it’s been a busy festival year for me. Lots of travel! Super fun though, its been a great year that way!
RC: Well congratulations again! Very good movie and performance. Would you also like to say where readers can follow you on social media?
TN: Yea, it’s usually my name. My Twitter and Instagram are @TiannaNori and my Facebook page is Official Tianna Nori. So follow and find me!
Many thanks to Tianna Nori for taking the time for this interview.