We chat to the former ‘X-Men’ star about her new zombie film as well as her upcoming Netflix series, The Umbrella Academy.
Few sub-genres within horror spark as much passion as the zombie film. We get a few new ones every year and rarely do they feel like they add anything new to the conversation, or even bother saying something beyond “BRAAAAAIIIIIIIINNNNS.” I gave up on The Walking Dead years ago, and smugly consider 28 Days Later to be the last entry that even bothered to connect to George A. Romero’s political consciousness. Naturally, I was primed to be slapped in the face, and The Cured did just that.
Our own Rob Hunter reviewed the film and declared it the 28 Months Later sequel we were all denied. Absolutely, spot on. After a ravenous virus that transforms its hosts into cannibalistic scavengers is cured by the government, the remaining survivors are allowed to return to their loved ones. Those that they didn’t eat. Sam Keeley’s traumatized Senan moves in with his sister-in-law played by Ellen Page. To call their living situation tense and awkward is laughable. It’s just the beginning of another nightmare beyond his former appetite.
Ellen and I had a quick chat over the phone to discuss her latest contribution to the horror genre. We discuss why she’s so compelled by scary movies, the trick to finding more beyond the gore, and we touch upon her excitement for joining Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy. Here is our conversation in full:
Just when you think there can’t possibly be a new take on the zombie film, here comes The Cured with this fresh point of view.
Yeah. I’m glad you feel that way.
I guess my initial question is, when a zombie movie script drops on your desk, what is your initial thought?
I guess my initial thought is, “Oh, okay. A zombie movie”. This is a genre I’ve often enjoyed. I remember going to the theater to see 28 Days Later when I was a teenager, and how blown away I was, and moved and compelled. Then when I read David’s script, that’s the feeling I had. It’s so exciting to, well not yet see, but for lack of a better word, see the zombie movie that takes place after the movie we’re used to seeing. I was just fascinated and loved David’s short films, and just felt grateful to be a part of his first feature.
Yeah, 28 Days Later. It really does feel sort of like a spiritual sequel to that film. David’s talked about how this is a response to what was going on in Ireland, politically, at the time. When you’re making this movie, do you feel the weight of that climate? Or when you watch it, the current climate?
In terms of the political climate, and the themes and undertones?
Yeah. I think you feel that a lot hopefully when you’re making a good film, in terms of work always seeming to parallel themes and issues and contemporary culture. In our last week of pre-production, Trump got elected. I was alone in Dublin then, watching those results come in. We were sort of surrounded in a time that was mimicking a lot of the themes in what was going on in the time when David wrote the script.
Does that affect the mood on set?
It certainly affected my mood on set, yes. It definitely did.
The Cured certainly has its share of scares. But I found it to be deeply sad more than anything else. It’s packed with regret, loss, the fear of the other. How do you want the audience to engage with this movie?
Good question. I think probably different people will have different responses. I think this film incorporates a lot of themes and ideas, and I can imagine people having a lot of their own individual reactions or projections, or takeaways from it. Obviously, some people love the genre just to see the scares. I would imagine that will be an individual take, I think. What I love about it is, there are moments when we were shooting it and it just felt like we were shooting a small Irish family drama. Then next thing I know I’m running away from zombies in the street. I think the film will hopefully have things for everyone, including people who maybe aren’t used to or typically drawn to this specific drama.
Do you ever think of your films existing next to others in this genre?
No, I don’t think so. I think I’m always just sort of focused on the film I’m making, not really thinking about the comparisons, or the outcome even. Just always trying to be present and fortunate and lucky to be on a set doing what I love to do.
I think it’s interesting, looking at your filmography, you’ve certainly made films that shared themes with The Cured. I guess this and Flatliners are your most overtly scary horror film projects. Is there a reason why those are coming now?
I mean, I’m not sure. For me, I’m just sort of always drawn to what I’m drawn to. I’d say Hard Candy definitely had a component of it as well.
Oh god yeah.
I’m never, “This is what I’d love to do next”, or, “This is what I’m going to do”. Maybe that’s not a good thing. Maybe I should be more strategic or something. But no, I just sort of take it film by film, and how I’m feeling at the time, and what speaks to me or compels me, or the people I’m fortunate enough to get to work with.
Could you talk a little bit about working with David [Freyne]? The film is phenomenal looking. I imagine the budget’s relatively small, but it feels like a big movie.
Well yes, and this is a testament to David. A, it’s his first feature. B, the budget was, yes, very, very small. What he was able to accomplish and how just amazing and composed, and a lovely energy he created on set. I will say too, just an extraordinary crew. It takes an extraordinary crew to pull that off with the amount of money and the amount of time they had, with just so many different elements, and days with a massive amount of background.
I think David just sort of blew me away every day. He’s just a wonderful person to work with. He obviously has a very clear and very assured vision. But also incredibly collaborative and works with everyone to make, I think we all just worked together, obviously, to make the best film we could. I was just a small part of that.
Did you have much rehearsal time to build these relationships? Especially with [Sam] Keeley?
We had some, yeah. Not too much, as you can imagine on a film of this size. But yes, we did have some. I will say, Sam is just a superb actor. I just loved working with Sam. He is just so present and generous. Doing scenes with him was truly a highlight. Truly a highlight.
As the film builds, it really does become this gut-wrenching back and forth between the two of you. I certainly fell for it. I was pulled into this deteriorating relationship.
I can’t wait to see all his work in the future. I think he’s really, really special.
You mentioned the background of this film. I was really taken by all the background actors in this movie too. You have to have a great zombie cast, and The Cured has that.
They were amazing. Also, it was cold. It was the winter in Ireland. People were just so, I was just blown away at their performances. I’d be on set and be watching a lot of those sequences, and was scared. I was legitimately afraid. I was like, “People in the theater are going to get really freaked out”. Yes, I think the crew, the background, I think everyone just really gave it their all and did such an amazing job.
Our time is short, but before you leave I just wanted to see if you could talk a little bit about The Umbrella Academy. I’m a big fan of that comic book, and I’m really excited about seeing the Netflix adaptation. Forget those X-Men.
(Laughter) Well, I don’t know if we should say that, but that’s what you said, not me, for the record. Well, I can’t really say that much as you can imagine, but I’m very excited. We just finished shooting the first episode in Toronto. We have a little break before we go back to shoot the last nine episodes. It’s just an incredible team and a wonderful group of actors. Mary J Blige just signed on, which is so exciting. I’m really excited about it. I hope you like it when you see it.
The Cured is currently in select theaters and available on Digital HD/On Demand.