Australian actress Radha Mitchell has an impressive filmmography that any genre loving movie fan would be familiar with. Her roles in Pitch Black, Richard Franklin’s final film Visitors, the two Silent Hill films, The Crazies, and Olympus Has Fallen and its recent sequel London Has Fallen (just to name a few) have shown that she’s one of the strongest and most dependable performers to consistently appear in films featuring monsters, killers, ghosts, or terrorists. Her latest films The Darkness (from director Greg McLean, who she worked with on the giant crocodile movie Rogue) and the dark thriller Sacrifice both show her versatility and range as an actress, and in this interview, she discusses the challenges and rewards of working in genre cinema.
Over the years you’ve starred or co-starred in a number of genre films. You’re kind of a mainstay in the horror and sci-fi genres. Obviously, you’re great in these kinds of films, but is this a genre that you like and enjoy being in?
I guess it is. I’m not always watching these kinds of films, but I really enjoy the press that you do for them because you know you’re talking to people who are really in love with these films, real film buffs who love cinema. That is always a privilege. The stories themselves and the directors are always sort of cutting edge in their own progressive space in terms of what can be done in cinema. All that is fun. The additional elements are really interesting as an actor. You get to go to these really raw places and take the gloves off. It’s not so much about the dialogue as it is about the emotional state. There’s kind of a freedom there.
You starred in a movie called Visitors, which was Richard Franklin’s final movie. What do you remember about working on that film?
Oh, wow. Well, Richard was a cool, innovative, right-on-the-edge-of-the-genre director from Australia. He was wonderful to work with. For some reason he decided to stick me on a boat in the middle of nowhere and had me talk to a cat! The challenge of all that was unusual and interesting. It was really a pleasure to work with him.
You got to work on Pitch Black, which has grown as a cult film over the years. Would you say something about working on that and working with Vin Diesel just at the point when he was about to become a big star?
It was a fascinating time to encounter somebody’s talent. He really had a vision, and he ended up living that vision, so it was really interesting to see the beginning of that. Pitch Black was an interesting story shot by a great DP and I think it was quite experimental and I think it still holds up as a good film now.
You can be very physical with your performances – I’m thinking of you in Pitch Black, but then there’s the emotional severity and the rawness of many of your other performances. Your roles in The Darkness and Sacrifice really convey that. Say something about that.
Yeah. The visceral elements are what’s exciting about a project. The pure adrenaline, the rush that you get with these kinds of roles. You don’t find that in talk-driven characters. It’s kind of like the rush you get … I’m learning how to surf for my next project. It’s very physical and it has real impact.
Your new film Sacrifice is pretty fantastic. The opening scene where you have a miscarriage is pretty disturbing. Was that a difficult scene for you to act out?
Yeah, but obviously it was in the script. The transition was interesting. Difficult is probably not the right word, but it was interesting to me. It’s as difficult as anything else, but it was kind of complicated. It was subtle about discovering … she was trying to help somebody else, and she realizes that she’s actually the one who needs the help. It’s a pretty horrifying moment for a doctor. Particularly, in this case she’s trying to get pregnant and stay pregnant, and it’s a real moment of tragedy, and that’s how we introduce that character.
There are some really beautiful shooting locations in Sacrifice. Say something about some of the places you filmed for this project.
We were doubling the Shetland Islands with locations around Dublin, actually. We certainly had a tour of that island of Ireland when we were shooting that movie, and learned about Irish culture, which is funny because were talking about Scottish culture in the movie. There’s raw, raw beauty and beautiful landscapes. There’s a real romance there and also kind of a real darkness. That, I think, had a huge impact on how this story was told.
In some ways, Sacrifice is a good example of the state of women in horror today. It’s very much in the vein of females versus males, and vice versa. Do you have any thoughts on that?
(Laughing.) I think that’s the state of the world right now! Women have struggled to get a voice, and when you hear a woman’s voice in a horror film, usually it’s screaming. So the guys have got to be the bad guys. I think that’s going to shift when the guy starts screaming and so women have to save them, and then you can mix it all up and forget about gender at some point. Right now, though, it might be a little “us” against “them.” But I actually think this movie adds to that dialogue in that it extends the generation … the characters are a little bit older than characters that show up in this kind of genre. I think that will appeal to women of multiple generations. That’s one of the reasons why I was interested in the piece.
Sacrifice is based on a novel. Did you get a chance to read the book?
No, I was sort of buried in what I was doing. The script itself. I was landing with what was in front of me. Obviously, I knew there was a story behind the story. The writer visited us on set, and she was very happy with what we were doing. I think she was just excited that it had been made into a film. It was nice to have her around. I was reliant on the director’s interpretation of the piece.
Your performance in Sacrifice is incredibly physical. You run, you stab people, people stab at you, you’re thrown around and beat up. It’s intense.
I like that. But there’s a certain elegance to the piece too. She’s a doctor. She has a mentality as a doctor. She finds herself in this extreme circumstance that she can’t ignore. There’s a mystery that she feels compelled to resolve. The deeper she gets into it, it turns everybody that she trusts into people that she can’t trust. She has an innate sense of integrity that compels her further into this investigation. That leads her to discover some strengths or skills that she didn’t know that she had. She even handles a Bobcat. Can you handle a Bobcat? I can, after playing this role. She can run fast, and stab people and all these things, but she couldn’t have done those things at the beginning of the story. She evolved into a different character by the end.
[quote] The film directly addresses female paranoia in an extreme way
This movie has an innate sense of paranoia to it. After doing the film, did you go home a little paranoid or look at the world any differently?
(Laughing.) I’m a Scorpio. I don’t think Scorpio’s ever trust anybody! They always second-guess everything. “Oh, yeah? What does that really mean?” It’s good for the character. The film directly addresses female paranoia in an extreme way, which was fun for me to play with. I think the writer did something to empower her. She turned it into a female story.
You were in another movie called The Crazies where you played a doctor faced with a town turning against her and her husband. There are similarities there.
We were both doctors, right? (Laughing.) In The Crazies, I wanted to learn how to take blood pressure because I didn’t actually understand what blood pressure was, or what it was a measure of or how you take that measurement. So they sent me to a gynecologist. They didn’t tell me that. So I was taken on these rounds in this gynecologist’s office. I learned about venereal diseases and things I didn’t particularly want to know at that time. In a way, I was completely prepared for this film. The character I play in Sacrifice is a gynecologist. I’d already had the training, strangely enough. It’s a bizarre story. There’s an elegance in how both of those films are shot. Both had excellent DP’s. I liked the lighting of The Crazies. There’s a syncopated timing to the way that story was revealed. I think this movie has some of that as well. It’s all about unveiling the plot, and the audience is guessing along with the character. Sacrifice, more than in The Crazies, the characters are more compelling because their emotional needs are more relatable.
It’s rare these days to see female-driven thrillers or films of any kind, really, and you’re great in the lead. I’d love to see more movies of this type with you.
The movie does something to open up the dialogue of who the audience is for these kinds of films. It’s certainly for a broader female audience than you would traditionally associate to wanting to see stuff like this. It’s cool. It’s going to appeal to multiple generations. The issues are obviously very female. Having a real woman – she’s not an action hero – take on this challenge is something that women will relate to and appreciate.
Your director of The Darkness is Greg McLean, who you worked with before on Rogue. Talk about working with him and the differences between the two experiences.
Well, in Rogue, he got me eaten by a crocodile. In this one, he stuck me in a house and the creatures are coming into the house. What’s wonderful about working with Greg is that he’s just such a lovely presence and such a natural leader and all of his sets are so much fun to be on. In this case, it felt like we were at a Halloween party. We really enjoyed creeping ourselves out. There was a lot of screaming going on and there was a lot of laughing. I think he really enjoys setting up a certain kind of subtlety in the storytelling. The build is very subtle. A lot of his stuff deals with extreme situations, and in this case the build is quite subtle.
Who do you think the audience is when it comes to films like The Darkness?
I think there’s a broad audience for this film. The rating of the film certainly opens it up. Anybody can go. The effect of it is that there’s a subtle, creepy feeling that creeps up on you over time. It appeals to anyone who likes the Blumhouse brand. Anyone who is looking for a little bit of a thrill. Blumhouse is the perfect umbrella for the project. There’s an audience that really appreciates this genre. It’s produced by the right company.
Do you have a few horror films you enjoy watching more than once?
The Swedish movie The Vanishing, Cat People, Gremlins. I want to watch Gremlins again. As a kid, that was a totally creepy film. I like it when they’re a bit sexy, when they have a scintillating edge to it.
Earlier this year, you reprised your role from Olympus Has Fallen in London Has Fallen. Was there a difference for you to play the same character again? Were there any differences for you between the two films?
In London Has Fallen there was an extension of the characters, and you get to see a little bit more of them, personally. Hopefully, you’re left with a little curiosity about which next country could be attacked and how the hell is he going to protect them then!
What is it that you look for when projects come your way? What is the deciding factor for you?
I think if the story is innovative on some level. Obviously, depending on the talent you’ll be working with. The next movie I’m going to do is a surfing movie. It’s a female-oriented story, with a woman director, with a really sweet message. I like movies that have something positive to say, and that have the talent behind it that they can execute that. I often find myself in movies that are quite irreverent, like The Darkness. It doesn’t necessarily have a super intense positive message, but it does have a spirit behind it that is exciting, and it’s a little wild. I like that.
If you were to take one thing with you from your experience while working on The Darkness, what would that be?
Don’t let a rattlesnake in your kitchen! It’s a slow, creepy build and as if it leaves you with any residue of the movie … like The Vanishing left me years ago, then I think we will have accomplished what we set out to do.
Sacrifice is available on VOD and will open at the Arena Cinema in Los Angeles on May 7th, courtesy of IFC Midnight.
The Darkness opens theatrically on May 13th, courtesy of Blumhouse Tilt.