Interview with Pollyanna McIntosh star of White Settlers

5Pollyanna McIntosh is the amazing actress who got the horror communities attention in Lucky McKee’s The Woman. Since then she has been starring in all sorts of projects from scary shorts to TV miniseries.

This Monday the 20th November sees the release of her latest home invasion horror White Settlers which has caused its own controversy with its North vs South story line that hit the headlines because of the recent Scottish referendum.

Hilarious and with plenty to say we got a chance to chat to her about making the movie with GrimmFests Simeon Halligan and Rachel Richardson-Jones and found out all about her opinions on horror movies, the financial crisis and going into directing.

Beware there might be some spoilers included!

Love Horror: I really enjoyed the film especially your performance. The story has quite a complex moral dynamic where you could almost see Ed and Sarah your character as the villains as well as the victims.

Pollyanna McIntosh: That’s one of the things I found interesting about the script. There are a lot of stories of good and evil that are far too clean cut in my mind. I am kind of Jungian in my views on that I think we have all got a bit of both in us. I liked the ambiguity of the villains and the quote unquote heroes.

Did you have it fixed in your mind whether you where the goodie or the baddie at all?8

I think every actor has to see their character as the good guy. I mean none of us go around doing bad things thinking we’re bad unless we are playing someone who kills themselves. For me Sarah was blind to the issues that hopefully the viewer picked up of the haves and have not’s and not being aware of another culture when you enter into it and not taking responsibility for any of those things. But no she absolutely saw herself as the good guy as all of us would in that situation having our home invaded.

How do you get into character playing a victim in such a tense and at times terrifying home invasion horror? It must have been quite psychologically demanding?

Well obviously with the caveat that it’s never hard and I am glad I’m not a cola miner yes it was challenging. (Laughs) I have never done a movie where I have been running and screaming and scrabbling and crawling quite so much before. You do have to summon a lot of fear. You have to feel that loss of your partner and the confusion of the situation so yeah there was a lot of going into that place involved. It’s also kind of fun so it’s never tough for long because you’re going “wow we just got that done!” and with any independent movie that’s on a tight budget and on a tight schedule you’re always having little victories all along the line where you succeed in getting the day done which is a victory in itself.

As you mentioned the role is a very physically demanding one as well. Did you prepare yourself for that or did you just throw yourself in?

I’m a bit of a thrower yourself in with things. You know you would love to have lots of training and lots of stretching and yoga and Pilates going on before every scene but when you’re shooting nights and you’re getting about 5 hours sleep you just kind of get on with it. I have done quite a bit of physical stuff before so it didn’t feel that alien to me or that hard to do fights or do the stunt work. The shoot didn’t let up it was constant and it was fucking cold and it was rainy.

9e4d07f7-402d-4181-8fd6-6c3There where moments when you think “Arghh can I just get a wee second and a nice heater” but with a good fun crew and a good laugh going on on set it was all good. There is a moment in the film and I know this moment and I won’t say when because I don’t want to ruin it for anybody but there is a moment when I can really see in myself as me and not the character “aww you are a bit knackered there aren’t you. You really didn’t make the best decision in that situation did you because you still need to have a lot of adrenalin pumping through you and you were just actually a bit knackered.” (Laughs)

(Laughing) That must be odd watching that and being aware of it?

(Laughing) Yeah I probably would have redone that actually. You just don’t have time man it’s just nuts. It’s a nuts time for film making we can do more than we ever could on a smaller scale and smaller budget but it also means that everyone is pushed to their limit a lot of the time and your just not going to get as many takes as you would like.

White Settlers was a smaller lower budget production as you mentioned. Did you find it more freeing to work on than a bigger more over produced picture?

If we’re talking in the genre I see a lot of big studio horror pictures especially with a woman in the lead and I just see so much bouncing breasts that I can’t get into it. With those I just see the gaze of the studio saying “what’s going to sell this” and it interferes with the story for me. Whereas in the independent world especially as an actor in this genre who has done a fair bit now I can encourage things in the direction I want them to go a little bit, well more than I could before. I just feel that there is a certain freedom of expression on the independent side of the business that I really appreciate, even if I’m broke its fine (Laughs)

(Laughing) Your suffering for your art in every way!

(Laughing) You said that not me! You’re supposed to make me sound intelligent not like a pretentious asshole!

Sorry. Going right back, how did you get involved with White Settlers initially?1

It happened in a really sweet way. I was up at GrimmFest in Manchester for a short that I did with Reece Shearsmith called Him Indoors which Paul Davies directed and he’s just won the Méliès award for his second short The Body I am actually doing a feature with him in December it’s going to be great fun. Anyway we had this short and GrimmFest had already played The Woman the year before and they wanted me to come and do a Q&A and host another Q&A for a film called Stiches which Ross Nobel had done and I thought that will be fun because it’s nice to interview other people and not hear your own voice like I am now talking endlessly about myself.

So I went along and I met Rachel (Richardson-Jones) and Sim (Simeon Halligan) who are a couple and Sim directed White Settlers and Rachel produced it and they also produce GrimmFest and they said “hay we want to do something with you” and they were lovely and I thought okay let’s hear what you’ve got. They came up with this script they thought I would be perfect for and I read it and I went “Hmm no its not quite for me” which was a shame as I wanted to work with them but they then said we have this other thing and they showed me White Settlers which Ian Fenton the Scottish writer had written and I thought yeah let’s do this. It all came in a very organic very personal way which was very nice.

With the GrimmFest guys in charge it must been good having people with such a love of horror making a horror movie?

Funnily enough horror isn’t their first lover as far as movies are concerned which sounds ridiculous as they run GrimmFest. But Sim is really into thrillers mostly and I felt that White Settlers was a lot more of a thriller than it was a horror in that it is actually a film that could be rated 15. In fact I thought it was going to be rated 15 but I am hearing it’s an 18 which is weird.

6That’s interesting.

Yeah I know because actually there is no sex of nudity in it. Maybe there are a few too many swears I don’t know. There isn’t a hell of a lot of gore in it.

In many ways all that makes it a lot more powerful.

Oh good I am glad you feel that way because I felt that way. I just felt it was a really tight script and a really realistic situation. I have a fear of break-ins I’ve been broken into a couple of times and it does make you a bit more nervy. I read the script literally under the covers one night and went “oh no what’s going to happen” and I thought that will be an intense film to watch and something I could definitely relate to. I think Sim and Rachel will continue in the genre and do thrillers and I know Rachel is a big Sci-Fi fan so I think they have a lot of scope to do a lot of different kinds of movies.

So good people for you to be involved with if they are experimenting in so many different areas.

Yes. I always like working with people who are passionate and know how to get things done. There are a lot of people who try and make movies out there and it’s a very very hard thing to achieve and these guys have stepped up and got on with it very fast and I can tell they will do well in the future.

Being so heavily linked to GrimmFest what where the screenings like at the festival?

It’s a funny thing because I was on the poster for that festival but they actually did preview screenings in the regular cinema in Manchester they didn’t actually play it at the festival. What was played at the festival was two other films of mine called Let Us Prey and a short called The Herd which I highly recommend because its real horror. It’s like a feminist vegan horror short and I don’t think you will have seen one of those before. They were wise not to play it at the festival because when you are releasing an independent film and you want to get it on all the VOD platforms which is where most of these films get their money these days you need to have it in 6 cinemas for at least 4 nights so they used the cinema in Manchester to do it before the festival. It played at FrightFest and Sitges in Spain. It’s going to Australia for a festival and it’s going to LA this coming week for Screamfest. It’s done the rounds and people seem to like it.

How did audiences react to the film?2

Well so far. At Sitges it was hilarious because the crowds are very vocal and it was a sold out screening and when I smash that guys face in they just roared and went nuts. They love it! It was a pleasure especially for me it’s nice to be able to connect with people. You make these movies for the audience and to be able to actually meet them after screenings is just a pleasure. They are always nervy and think it will be a problem to take a selfie with them and I think are you kidding me this is who we made it for so let’s do this so it’s nice.

You were born in Scotland, what did you think of the portrayal of the North verses South divide in the film?

I was sure it didn’t come off anti-Scottish, coming from a Scottish writer I didn’t really feel that that was a massive problem. I thought it could have actually been set anywhere. It was really about the have and have not’s and that idea of going into the culture without understanding it which I think you can take as a theme into a lot of things in the world. I don’t want to be grandiose as it’s not a political movie but you can apply that theme to our situation in the Middle East or even dating someone from a different culture. All sorts of irresponsible ways in which we deal with people’s hearts and lives that you can relate it to.

To me the Scotland/England thing was not forefront but I thought it was interesting it came out at the time of the referendum. That was crazy because it was such an incendiary situation and people where really getting on to it and holding their flags aloft. I don’t think the film is going to change anyone’s minds whether they should have voted for independence or not. I think it was a story that came out of the writers own situation and culture references and that makes for a good script because you should write about what you know but other than that. You didn’t see it as political did you?

No I didn’t. Like you say it was fate that it came along when it did. One really good thing about it was that it had these very real and relevant elements such as the fact that the couple are buying the house in Scotland because they can’t afford the London prices.

Exactly. That to me was really the crux of it. The banks and the recession and greed and the fall out of that you know. Especially because of the way it ends. Even the baddies didn’t want to go too far. They weren’t psychopaths they were also dealing with their own sorry situation. Fuck the banks is really what I think!

4I also think that alongside these very current themes is a very archaic conflict. Like so many other films following the same set up White Settlers plays on a lot of our fears of having our controlled, urbanised environments invaded by wild untamed and uncivilised nature.

That’s a theme I love. That’s the theme of The Woman and its close to my heart. That discussion is close to my heart and I hope to continue having that in my work. I think we can all pretend to be civilised as much as we like but we are all animals at the end of the day. We are going to protect our families and strive for what we want. We are only pitted against each other in the level of violence that that film gets to because of those who take advantage and because we don’t try and relate to each other and understand each other first.

We can dehumanise the other. So much of horror that interests me is about dealing with the other and how you can dehumanise someone you perceive to be lesser or in too much of a position of advantage than yourself. I can talk about this shit forever but essentially I think we could all get back to nature a little more. What we need is to be a blend of human animals to counteract this level of stress we are forced to live under and the lack of control we have over our situations because we do live in a world run by the economy.

It’s the illusion of control isn’t it?

Exactly and that is encouraged by those that want to take our money.

Wow we’re back to ‘fuck the banks’ again aren’t we? You really are trying to start a revolution aren’t you?!

(Laughing) Yeah you’ll see me at the protests!

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Do you enjoy horror films (seeing as how you have appeared in so many)?

I have grown fonder of it in the time that I have been making these kinds of movies. It was something that terrified me before and that I stayed away from as a viewer but I respect it a hell of a lot more now. I have gotten to go to many festivals because of the work I have done and I have gotten to see how other film makers work.

When you are dealing with life and death you are always going to be able to find interesting themes and go anywhere with them. Before I think I just thought horror was something a bit silly and bloody and it didn’t interest me. Now I have seen so many great independent film makers work I realised its endless, it’s endless what you can do with horror.

What’s next for you?

Well I am on my third draft of a film I am going to direct next year called Perfect which is a dark comedy. I will be playing the lead so its slightly megalomaniacal of me but I hope to make a very personal, funny, dark, provocative film. Then I have a picture with Paul Davis in December called Its Walls Were Blood which is me and Steve Oram and I get to play a vampire. That’s funny and dark and a portmanteau like in the Amicus and old Hammer style. It’s attracting a great cast and I think going to be a big draw I am looking forward to it.

imgresAs you’re going to direct yourself have you been picking up tips from everyone you have worked with?

I have been watching for many years (Laughs)

And you feel you’re ready now?

Yes I’m ready!

Well good luck with that and thank you so much for talking to us.

Thank you I am on my second glass of wine so I am fine.

White Settlers is out Monday 20th October.

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