Savage Instinct: Interview with The Woman's Pollyanna McIntosh

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Steve Thornton

Actress Pollyanna McIntosh

Unless you are a regular on a TV series or doing a stage play, it is rare for an actor to have the opportunity to reprise a role that he or she especially enjoyed doing. Scottish-born actress Pollyanna McIntosh is one of the lucky exceptions to this. In the 2009 horror feature film Offspring, she was cast as “The Woman,” one of the descendents of a feral flesh-eating cannibal tribe that feasts on the locals in order to fill their empty bellies.

McIntosh has recently been able to show moviegoers that her cannibalistic alter ego is much more than a lean, mean eating machine in Offspring’s award-winning sequel, The Woman. It was the film’s producer Andrew van den Houten who campaigned for her to step back into this role.

“I’d worked with Andrew in a [2005] movie called Headspace,” recalls McIntosh. “He directed and produced that movie, and he must have seen something in my performance, because a few years later he came to me with a book called Offspring by Jack Ketchum, which is where The Woman character first appears. I was in London when Andrew texted me and said, ‘Read Offspring and tell me what you think.’ So I did and I couldn’t put it down. I texted Andrew back and said, ‘I just read it in one go. Could I be so lucky as to think you’re considering me for the part of The Woman?’ He said, ‘Yes, the part is yours. I know you can do it.’

“Halfway through shooting Offspring, Andrew felt I was having too much fun in the role and wanted to keep my character alive to make a sequel. Later on, he brought in Lucky McKee, who directed The Woman, and showed him Offspring. Andrew said to Lucky, ‘I’d really like to work with you and have you direct the sequel. Do you like this actress [McIntosh]? Do you think you can take her character further?’ Lucky said, ‘Yes,’ so while he and Jack Ketchum got to work writing the script, Lucky and I talked with and e-mailed each other for the next four months talking about pretty much everything in the film from a creative standpoint, which was a gift for me.”

In The Woman, a successful country lawyer, Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers), puts his life and those of his entire family in jeopardy when he captures and attempts to “civilize” the last remaining member of a tribe of cannibals. Having already played The Woman in Offspring, it was not too difficult for McIntosh to pick right up where she left off.

“The character is very much the same and I feel she was very much in my bones at that point already,” she says. “However, her situation is quite different, and the genius of what Lucky and Jack did with The Woman is that they took an aggressor and made her a victim. She’s still the same person, but in a very different situation. So I took everything that I’d worked on in Offspring and went back to that kind of animal research, spending time alone in the woods and feeling my body outside of our modern civilization as we’ve created it, which is a wonderful thing to be able to do. It’s such a rare joy. How many of us actually go out and spend four days completely alone - it just doesn’t happen any more.

“So that was wonderful and I had to look into The Woman’s life as it was almost before Offspring started, to her life with her family as well as her purpose and own sort of mythology along with the things that sustain her. The latter involves the hunt and her own territory and having those two things taken away from her and being locked in that cellar, which was the most difficult thing for the character. She then had to try to figure out how she was going to get out of there and back to what she craved and needed to survive. My character also had to figure out who this family was, what they wanted and how their tribe worked. One of the neat things about this movie is that this supposedly civilized family ends up being much more messed up than my feral cannibal character.

“It’s funny, people say to me, ‘Gosh, this must have been such a hard role to play,’ but the thing is I enjoyed doing the build up to it and the research and collaborating with Lucky as such an early stage that by the time I got on-set I just felt so ready,” continues the actress. “Then I had the added joy of being greeted by this incredible cast - Sean Bridgers, Angela Bettis [Belle Cleek], Lauren Ashley Carter [Peggy Cleek], Zach Rand [Brian Cleek] and Shyla Molhusen [Darlin’ Cleek]. We had so much fun and focus working together and such laughs off-camera that it seemed really organic and joyful. If anything, I think what initially worried me the most was being confined and manacled for an entire film. However, I found myself very comfortable in that position because it fit the role and motivated me for my character’s wants and needs.

“There’s a scene where I’m being fed by Sean’s character and it was a very emotional one where I had real tears rolling down my cheeks. I felt so safe on that set and working with Sean, Lucky and the DOP [director of photography] Alex Vendler, who really understands actors. In this scene I’m standing there completely in character chained up, covered in dirt and being fed by this man.

“It’s utterly demoralized and my character truly doesn’t think that she’ll ever be able to escape at this point. However, she tries one last trick, which is to make him think that she’s weaker than she actually is. Again, I was crying real tears but I didn’t take any of that away with me after we finished shooting. The only feeling I had when the cameras were turned off was of utter satisfaction. That’s a really great thing to be able to say because sometimes when I’m cast as a dark character like, for example a grieving mother, which I recently played, I will sometimes take it [the experience] home with me. There was something about this set and this cast and crew, though, that I didn’t have to do that. It was really an unbelievable experience,” enthuses McIntosh.

Having made her professional debut onstage at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in her native Scotland, the actress moved to London at the age of 16 and then in 2004 to Los Angeles. During this time she carried on acting in, as well as, directing a variety of theatre projects on both sides of the Atlantic. McIntosh’s first U.S. feature film job was playing Stacy in the aforementioned Headspace, which was followed by roles in 9 Lives of Mara and Sex and Death 101 starring The Mentalist’s Simon Baker.

“I think the first time I felt intensely involved in the way that I really like to work and where I felt like I was starting to get bolder and grow as an actress was in a short [film] I did called Pavilion,” she notes. “I worked with an actor named Dash Mihok, who has done all sorts of projects including I Am Legend and Romeo + Juliet. We played a couple who survives an airborne disease that brought about the end of the world. Our two characters were spending their last night together before they, too, died. It was a really intense, beautifully written and emotional piece and I came away from that project feeling very proud.”

McIntosh’s other big screen credits include Land of the Lost, Burke and Hare and the short Foxy and Marina as well as a guest-starring role in the hugely popular Scottish detective TV series Taggart. At the time of this interview (October 2011), the actress was about to start filming a new comedy/drama film called I Do starring alongside fellow Brit David W. Ross (who also wrote the screenplay, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Alicia Witt and Maurice Compte. Prior to this, she completed work on another movie, The Famous Joe Project. “I play a sort of coked up California party girl who has lost her way and ends up going through rehab where she learns a few [life] lessons,” says McIntosh.

“I also have a couple of other auditions this week that I’m looking forward to. As is true of most actors, one month we can take everyone out to dinner and then the next month we can’t pay our rent, so the possibility of more work is always a good thing.”

Please note, all photos above from The Woman are by Chelsea Boothe and copyright of Modern Woman LLC.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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