Interview: With “Let Us Prey” actress Pollyanna McIntosh
With chilling horror Let Us Prey premiering in Manchester as part of the city’s horror film festival Grimmfest, Jayna Patel caught up with female lead Pollyanna McIntosh , to talk women in horror and working with Game of Thrones actor Liam Cunningham.
Reaching out to shake Pollyanna McInstosh’s hand as we are introduced in the stylish foyer of Manchester’s Jury’s Inn is an intimidating experience. At five foot ten, she towers above me in killer heels, looks effortlessly elegant and completely holds her own. As soon as we start talking its clear there’s a warm open aura about her, her answers to my questions laced with a rare, laid back sense of humour.
“I feel like we should have a blackboard on every set so that we can make a note of funny things that happen so we can remember,” she jokes, illustrating she’s clearly fun to be around.
No stranger to horror films, Pollyanna has made a name for herself, playing a cruel captor in Melanie Light‘s short film The Herd and as Sarah; a wife who travels with her husband to the remote Scottish borders, only for the getaway to turn into a nightmarish experience in 2014’s White Settlers. Then of course there’s Let Us Prey. She stars as a rookie cop, posted at an abandoned police station holding a mysterious stranger (Liam Cunningham) able to get under the skin and into the minds of everyone inside.
“He’s a brilliant actor and he’s a very down to earth, he’s very funny, he’s very impish,” gushes Pollyanna as she describes working with Liam Cunningham. “He’s kind of naughty and I’m kind of naughty so we had a good laugh together.
“He’s also incredibly professional and prepared, he’s been doing this a while and you know when Liam’s on the set because people stand up and take notice,” her mischievous grin quickly subsides into an expression of utmost respect as she praises her co-star.
“So he’s a good fun kid at heart but he’s also a grown up to have on your side, you know, he’s a good actor’s advocate, he’ll give you advice till the cows come home. But he’s also a silly buggar so…” she trails off winking playfully.
Both performers together sound like a recipe for side splitting laughs, so something funny was bound to happen on the set of Let Us Prey, so much so that Pollyanna finds it hard to recall a specific occasion, until she nonchalantly lets slip one rather memorable moment.
“The thing with the funny things that happen on set is they’re often in jokes, you know, and they’re born out of a whole month of building up relationships or building up a joke. But yeah, we kind of all almost got set on fire I guess, was hilarious.”
She explains that real fire was used on set and at one point one exit was blocked by a pipe used to let all the smoke out for the fire so “we didn’t all gas ourselves inside” and that the temperamental pipe wasn’t working. The other, actual fire exit was also blocked by fire.
“It was kind of a weird situation to find yourself in. There was just fire all down the sides of the walls. We were going down some quite tight spaces and at one point the blankets had been removed from set because they were thought to be a fire hazard but then the next day I was told to put that same blanket round me as I ran through the fire and I had a problem with that so I said: ‘can we wet them down and get them all soaking wet so we don’t actually go up in flames?’ It is great fun but yeah that was quite scary actually,” she adds in a softened voice.
She scoffs when I ask if she does her own stunts or has a stunt double: “Err…I don’t think we had the budget for a stunt double [on the Let Us Prey set]. I don’t think they thought it was necessary either and frankly it probably wasn’t. I really do enjoy doing stunts. I really enjoy getting involved and I always think if you can be as realistic as possible then that’s always best.”
But there is more to Let Us Prey than naughty male leads and near lethal accidents on set. Pollyanna portrays the grim back story of her character Rachel, who was abducted and abused as a child, only to survive and make a career for herself as a cop.
“It was really unusual, really mad story. I loved Rachel’s character, how she doesn’t take any shit. She knows who she is and she’s both professional, kind of uptight in a way but she’s very, very capable of taking care of herself when the shit hits the fan. And yet she has this past, she has this background of abuse- so that was a new thing for me to go and research and figure out what the consequences of that and how her character would be. To me, she’s a very conflicted and complex character. So someone who’s, in Rachel’s case, very strong and yet very wounded, was interesting to me.”
The fact that its Rachel’s first day on the job means her tough exterior is superficial and deep down the new recruit is daunted by everybody and everything.
“She’s kind of edgy and weary of everybody cos she’s the newcomer and yet they will know about her cos she’s got this past that was in the press when they talk about ‘the girl who came back’, she was a child who disappeared and was abused… So they kind of know who she is but she doesn’t know who they are. She’s a little weary of everybody and yet she doesn’t ever want to show any vulnerability because, of course, underneath it all she is incredibly fragile and damaged. She is kind of showing this front all the time.”
Pollyanna adds in a lighter tone: “maybe she’s weary of everyone but she really has no idea that it’s going to go as fucking crazy as they do on her first day!”
It wasn’t just a playing a challenging character that attracted Pollyanna to the Let Us Prey script. Despite growing up Portugal and Columbia, the actress was actually born in Scotland, so the film’s location was very close to home.
“Oh God, yeah, where I was born, that was a long time ago! We shot some of it in Scotland and some of it in Ireland and actually a lot more of it was shot in Ireland than in Scotland. We shot it in Roger Corman’s old studios in Spiddal by Galways so it’s really like pretty, sea-sidey and then we were there tearing it up, causing havoc!
“But shooting in Scotland was lovely because we were shooting just outside of Glasgow and it was really cobblestone-y and very pretty, but it was in the evening so it had darkness to it. And then they’d be people hanging out the windows of their houses going: [puts on a Scottish accent] “You’re doing a film can I be in it!”
Director Brian O’Malley was also a significant pull factor to the project for Pollyanna, who reckons he’s one to watch out for in every film genre, with Let Us Prey being his feature film debut as a director.
“He’s lovely, he’s really lovely. He did an amazing job on this film, I think he elevated it greatly with his direction… he’s just a very good man actually and he’s sensitive and considerate and I was extremely collaborative to the point of making massive amounts of notes on the script and there were a lot of changes made before we started. He was just great to work with.
“It is always really exciting to be around somebody making their first feature, especially somebody you believe in. I’d seen his shorts before and they’re also quite incredible. So yeah I’m sure Brian will go on to make great movies.”
“You see what horror buff I am?! I’ve never seen that movie, I have no idea what it’s like but I’ve heard we’re quite similar, or that we’ve got certain elements similar. I think, what sets it apart for me was this very central, complex, driven female character who’s past gets slowly unravelled as the film goes along. And you never see her boobs! So that’s quite good.”
Playing the lead role in Lucky McKee‘s dark and disturbing flick, The Woman , versatile Pollyanna has played a diverse range of female characters meaning she strongly disagrees that women only fulfil a “damsel in distress” role in modern horror.
“Speaking of boobs, I have played a variety of female roles, but there needs to be loads of female everything. But not as many boobs, well boobs are all well and good but I do tire of them a little bit, done in this kind of way, it’s distracting sometimes, when it’s good for the story, it’s good for everybody, sometimes it’s just a bit of affront… excuse the pun.”
She pauses for a second recovering from her breast related tangent before adding solemnly: “I think we could do with a few more complex female characters and a bit more variety and a bit more different looking type of women, different sounding type of women, different ethnicity, and different characters. Yeah we’ve got a way to go.”
“Because female roles in horror are sexist?” I ask, prompting.
“Well this is the funny thing. I’ve never really played the damsel in distress and yet I still get labelled as ‘scream queen’ cos I’m a woman in horror and I think that scream queens died quite some time ago. Yeah, certainly the studio driven pictures, you know, you can drive yourself mad watching those things. I think in independent horror there are actually a lot of interesting female characters and women do play a variety of roles. But then horror’s a genre you can see, you can look at it that way, like you say, that there’s sexist elements to it, but I also feel like horror’s been pushing the boundaries and challenging the system for many many years. Since the 70s, it’s been a place for political and social argument and I think it continues to be so.
“I’m looking forward to seeing more female directors in horror, more female writers. I was just was just down at Fantastic Fest in Austin, The Soska Sisters [prolific twin horror screenwriters, directors and producers Jen and Sylvia]were there and I was like ‘Yes! Some chicks!’”
The Herd is the perfect example of female direction, being a feminist movie, as is The Woman, albeit directed by a man. Pollyanna assures me audiences have strong appetites for both films and feminist, female focused films are growing in popularity.
“The response I get from The Woman, which again is a very strong, female driven and feminist film, is that they just can’t get enough of it. And if people watched as many movies as you could make of that subject, as many times as they watched The Woman, there’s clearly an audience for that.”
Though she’s not afraid of being stereotyped as the damsel in distress, she is weary of getting typecast as a horror actress.
“It’s funny cos you do these festivals people know your horror stuff but I’ve done a lot of other things…promise…! It’s been alright actually cos I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of other things as well but certainly for the genre films, obviously audiences know this kind of work of mine and that’s all good too.”
Swapping being in front of the camera for the pen, Pollyanna is in the middle of writing a comedy she plans to direct next year called Perfect. “I think I enjoy comedy best cos I find it most challenging, it really scares me.”
Though she’s shooting another horror at the end of November called It’s Walls Were Blood, alongside Steve Oram-“ I’m playing his wife, and I’m also a 120 year old vampiress…I’m kind of a bitch too, but I’ll get over it,”-if this amusing interview is anything to go by, Pollyanna McInstosh is definitely one to watch out for in comedy as well as horror.