Parents who are forced to helplessly watch one of their children contend with a terminal illness, especially one that leaves them without control over their instincts and actions, is a undoubtedly devastating process. But when the parent’s loyalty to caring for their sick child puts their other children at risk, they’re forced to contend with the difficult moral question of how they should best protect their entire family. That conflicting judgment is powerfully showcased in Joely Richardson’s upcoming horror thriller, ‘Maggie,’ which will be released in select theaters and on VOD on Friday. The drama, which was helmed by first-time feature director, Henry Hobson, showcases the Golden Globe Award-nominated actress’ character, a loving and supportive mother with three children, as she harrowingly watches her oldest daughter be stricken with a deadly disease. But the family matriarch’s religious beliefs strongly contrast her maternal need to try to save her eldest child as she’s also trying to hold her family together.
‘Maggie’ follows a necrotic viral pandemic that has spread across the country to small town America and infected the 16-year-old titular character (Abigail Breslin). Authorities have established a protocol for patients infected with the deadly virus: they are removed from society and taken to special isolation wards to complete the agonizing and dangerous transformation into one of the walking dead. The authorities do not speak about what happens after that.
Wade Vogel (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is not ready to give up his daughter. After weeks of searching for Maggie when she runs away after receiving her diagnosis, Wade brings his daughter back to her home and family, including her stepmother, Caroline (Richardson), and her two younger siblings-for whatever time may be left as the teenager begins an excruciatingly painful metamorphosis. Having lost Maggie’s mother years earlier, Wade is determined to hold on to his precious daughter as long as he can, refusing to surrender her to the local police who show up with orders to take her. As the disease progresses, Caroline decides to take their two younger children and move out, leaving Wade alone with Maggie to watch helplessly as she suffers.
Richardson generously took the time recently to sit down for an exclusive interview at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, the morning after ‘Maggie’s world premiere during the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, to talk about starring in the horror thriller. Among other things, the actress discussed how she became interested in playing Caroline in the drama, in part because as she was drawn to the character’s conflicting love and need to take care of Maggie, while also protecting her biological children; and how she enjoyed having the movie premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, as it’s her first project that has screened at the festival, and New York is one of her favorite cities in the world.
ShockYa (SY): ‘Maggie’ had its world premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. What was the experience of premiering the film here in New York at the festival? How have audiences responded to the movie?
Joely Richardson (JR): Well, that was really lovely for me because I’ve never had a movie play at Tribeca before. Four years ago I was here doing a small play, and I went to see a movie from a friend of mine that was playing during the festival. It’s nice when you’ve been in the audience of a festival like this one, and you get to have one of your own films play here. Tribeca’s a brilliant film festival, and New York is an amazing city; along with London, it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. So this festival is special on all counts. The type of film ‘Maggie’ is great for Tribeca. I hadn’t seen the movie until (its World Premiere on April 22), and it was great to see it here.
I thought Henry did just a beautiful job with the film. We’re talking about zombies, and the word I’m using to describe it is beautiful, which is odd. That’s the power of the movie.
SY: You play Caroline in ‘Maggie.’ What was it about the character, as well as the script overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
JR: What I truly liked the character of Caroline didn’t fully make it into the final version of the movie. You know when you’re making films that things can be edited out; it’s a total crapshoot of what the final story will be. You really have no idea how movies will turn out, especially one with this type of script, which kept changing a lot.
In the original script, she had much more of a fight going on with her feelings about religion, and how she thought God would show her the way. I find that to be very interesting when people who have a real dilemma think that they’ll be saved if they always pray. She had so many dilemmas going on within herself, including her love for her stepdaughter, her husband and her own children, who she wanted to protect. So that really interested me about the story, but it’s not really in the final edit.
I also wanted to work with Henry. We had a Skype call before he offered me the role, and I liked him very much after that conversation. To also work with Arnold and Abigail, and the chance to go to New Orleans, really appealed to me. (laughs)
SY: Speaking of the fact that Caroline is driven in part by her religion, while that aspect of the character wasn’t predominantly shown throughout the final version of the film, how important do you feel those beliefs were in influencing her actions and feelings towards Maggie?
JR: I think in the end you do see that Caroline cares for both Maggie and Wade. I didn’t have any idea if she’d be a nice or nasty character in the final edit; I had no idea how she’d come across. You try to be objective about the characters you play, but you can’t always tell. But I thought she came across okay. She makes a hard decision that’s tough for anyone to make-what do you do to protect the family when one person is very ill and infectious. I think she ultimately takes a practical route.
SY: Like you mentioned, the film emotionally focuses on how families care for their sick relatives, and how the ill contend with their diseases…
JR:…including the right to die, yes. There are many big themes in the movie, which is why I think people call it poetical. That word really applies, because it is a family drama that also deals with people turning into zombies. There are all sorts of issues that are explored in the film, including segregation, which makes it poetic.
SY: How did you build your working relationships with Arnold, Abigail and Henry, before you began, and during, filming, to showcase how families care for their sick relatives?
JR: Well, I met Henry first via Skype, and then he was the first person I met with in New Orleans. Abigail and I bonded almost instantly, because I have a young daughter (who’s a few years older than Breslin). I also got to know Abigail’s mom, and we spent a lot of time in the make-up trailer together. (laughs) She would tell me all about social media, and who was tweeting what.
It was great also working with Arnold, since the movie often features he, Abigail and me in the one house where we filmed. But even though we had a small cast and crew, since it’s a small independent film, it felt so claustrophobic in the house, because it was very small. So everyone would hang out on the porch to get some air whenever we had a break between scenes.
There was a very nice, relaxed feeling, and a lot of that experience was led by Arnold. Abigail and I have been been in little independent films before, but he’s done blockbusters, and they’re very different experiences. (laughs) But he never once complained, and was an absolute trooper.
SY: Since ‘Maggie’ is a horror-thriller that’s in part driven by visual effects and action sequences, what was the process of shooting the movie independently on location, like you just mentioned?
JR: Making independent films can be very exciting, inspired and in the moment, especially since you shoot very fast. But I like filming in all the different genres, including TV, which is also fast-paced.
My father (Tony Richardson) was a film director, and he believed that you couldn’t get better quality than with location filming. I was impressed with the producers and Henry that they shot the entire film on location, like in the real house. I do feel like it adds texture and truth, because with a story like this one, you do need that element; it needs to be strongly grounded in reality.
Independent films tend to be very creative, because as actors, you tend to make it up a little bit as you go along. In Henry’s case, he really did his homework. He made a whole mood board, so he knew what he was doing.
But there weren’t any marks put on the floors for the cast. Usually on TV and in films, you know where the characters are going to go in advance, so there’s also a set place where the cameras are going to be situated. But I actually liked the improvisation on this film. (laughs)
SY: Speaking of improvising, how does that process influence the way you approach the way you’re going to act in your scenes? Do you think the process is beneficial to filmmaking overall?
JR: I think if you’re in the moment, and truly embedded in the character and story, the improvising comes naturally. If you’re not submerged enough, then it can be trickier. So it’s a really good test of where you are as an actor.
SY: One of the interesting aspects of the film is that there are certain scenes where there isn’t much dialogue, and much of the communication between the characters is done through their body language.
JR: Yes, it’s so minimalist! That aspect was amazing. There was a lot more dialogue in the original script.
SY: Do you feel having that dialogue was beneficial to developing your characters and the story?
JR: Well, that was more of Henry’s decision during the editing process. There was a lot more talking in the scenes when we were filming. To my knowledge, virtually every scene has been cut quite extensively, and some scenes were even cut out. So that was more of an artistic call that Henry made, and I think it was a very good decision.
SY: What was the overall process of working with Henry, since he made his feature film directorial debut on the movie?
JR: Well, Henry impressed me on many levels. For a first-time director, when he was working with Arnold, Abigail and me, he was very specific with his notes.
You have to do what you’re told as an actor, even if your instincts are fighting against it. It’s not our film; it’s the director’s film. If something’s really against your instincts, if you’re really lucky, you’ll get to do a take your way. But usually you’re wrong, because the director has a vision for the film.
Henry had a vision, and knew down to the letter what he wanted. He as very specific, and that requires a level of confidence. It surprised and impressed me he had that confidence as a first-time director.
SY: The town and state in which Caroline and her family live in the film isn’t specifically mentioned, which makes the story relatable to more audiences overall. Do you feel it was beneficial not to mention the exact area where the family lives, in an effort to show that the devastating effects of an outbreak could happen to communities across the country?
JR: I think living in an world that’s non-specific, like in the film, is beneficial to this type of story. If you set this type of story in a world that’s too specific, not everyone can relate to the story. I think Henry was trying to be as broad as possible.
SY: ‘Maggie’ will be released in theaters and on VOD. Are you personally a fan of watching films On Demand? Why do you think the platform is beneficial for independent films?
JR: Well, I would embrace any type of release that would enable viewers to see the film. But to me, as a cinema-goer, I love going to the theater. There’s nothing quite like the experience of buying your ticket and sitting in the theater. But I also like to watch films in my home, as well. But whatever keeps the business healthy is beneficial.
SY: Besides appearing in films throughout your career, you have also starred on such television shows as ‘Nip/Tuck’ and ‘The Tudors.’ What is it about television that you enjoy working on so much, and how does it compare and contrast to starring in movies, particularly indies like ‘Maggie?’
JR: Yes, I’d definitely love to star on more television series. After I starred on ‘Nip/Tuck’ and ‘The Tudors,’ I wanted to concentrate more on starring in films and in theater. But we’re not lucky enough to choose how things turn out. I have been lucky, though, because I have been able to do films and theater. But now that five years has passed (since she appeared on both shows), I’m starting to think, I’d really like to do TV again. (laughs) Hopefully in the next couple of years that will happen.
SY: In addition to films and television, you have also appeared in theater, like you mentioned, including several plays here in New York, including last fall’s ‘The Belle of Amherst’ and 2012’s ‘Ivanov.’ How does performing in live theater compare to acting in movies and on TV series? Do you prefer one medium of acting overall?
JR: Well, with theater, there are long rehearsal periods, and with some films, you only get a walk-through. You don’t get any rehearsal time at all on some movies, and you just go out and shoot your scenes. Every project’s different, and that’s what personally excites me about acting. But they all have their separate challenges.
What’s funny is that what you think will be the most difficult scenes to shoot will turn out to be the easiest ones. Then the little scene that you thought would be so easy ends up being hard. You never know what’s going to happen, so the whole thing’s an adventure, and you always have to be prepared.
Written by: Karen Benardello