Truly embracing the meaningful relationships and consequences that arise from the most critical situations in your life can be both a fulfilling and daunting experience. With her new independent thriller, ‘Return to Sender,’ Emmy Award-winning actress Camryn Manheim charmingly relishes the experience of working with a passionate cast and crew to create a daunting story about what happens when a well-meaning protagonist is pushed beyond her emotional limits. The film, which was released on Blu-ray and DVD today by RLJ Entertainment, features the intriguing actress in a supporting role to a lead character who becomes a classic anti-hero after starting to fight back against an injustice against her. Director Fouad Mikati’s gripping drama’s home release comes after the distribution company unveiled it in theaters and on VOD and iTunes on August 14.
‘Return to Sender’ follows the accomplished life of Miranda (Rosamund Pike), a dedicated nurse who’s an exquisite cake maker and an impeccable friend. But when she agrees to a blind date and the wrong man comes to her door, her perfect world is shattered by a brutal assault. Even after her attacker, William (Shiloh Fernandez), is convicted and begins serving his jail sentence for the crime, Miranda can’t overcome the fear and trauma enough to put her orderly life back together.
While she has a seemingly ideal life to return to, including her loving father, Mitchell (Nick Nolte), such caring friends and co-workers as Nancy (Manheim) and Darlene (Rumer Willis), and the opportunity to be promoted, she still reaches out to William, as she’s desperate to obtain her own closure over the assault. The nurse slowly builds a relationship with her attacker, first through letters and then prison visits, as a way to help her gain a better understanding of what drove him to commit the assault, and to finally accept what happened and move on. But when William is paroled and comes looking for her, Miranda seizes the opportunity to finally exact her true revenge.
Manheim generously took the time to talk about playing Nancy and starring in ‘Return to Sender’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actress discussed how she was drawn to her supporting role in the thriller, as she liked the complicated nature of the work and potential personal relationships between Nancy and Miranda; how she appreciated what a lovely person Pike was when they weren’t filming the drama, but as soon as the cameras began rolling, the Oscar-nominated actress infused her character with a natural complexity that truly showcased the emotional struggles Miranda was contending with; and how she relished the fact that Mikati and the rest of the cast and crew truly appreciated the independent nature of the film, and were taking part in the drama because they truly embraced Miranda’s story.
Shockya (SY): You play Nancy in the new thriller, ‘Return to Sender.’ What was it about the character, and the script overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
Camryn Manheim (CM): I really like the relationship between Nancy and Miranda. I thought it was complicated to have this overly vagarious, socially awkward colleague try to befriend this close-to-the-vest socially awkward woman. I thought it was an interesting challenge to take on. I also love the complication of people trying to become friends, but they miss every opportunity.
SY: Your scenes in the film showcase Nancy interacting with Miranda, who’s played by Rosamund Pike. What was your experience of working with Rosamund on the thriller, particularly since Nancy wants to support her co-worker after she becomes the victim of an attack?
CM: Well, Rosamund, as a woman and a mother, is incredibly lovely. But then when the director would call action, she would become a little bit creepy and hard to connect with, because that was what her character was like. She’s an amazingly complicated actor, and I love that she provided me with such a wall to climb over and around and through.
I’m always interested in the complexity of the character, and not what makes it easy to play them. That’s what keeps my job so fresh and fascinating. So the minute the camera began to roll, Rosamund immediately became this cold and OCD-driven character, but she played her with a smile on her face. So it was an intricate process to get around that aspect of the Miranda character, but I loved it.
SY: Since Nancy, Miranda and the rest of the nurses in the unit in their hospital wing already have established working relationships and friendships in the beginning of ‘Return to Sender,’ did you feel it was important to build the characters’ backstories before you began filming?
CM: We had some pretty interesting rehearsals with the director, and he would talk a little bit about the histories of the characters. But generally, we all do our work privately, and then we come together and try to fit our puzzle pieces together.
With the director’s help, we would find a way to do that. He’s a young, awesome filmmaker, and he knew exactly what he wanted from these characters. So he helped us find a way into our characters’ relationship. One of my favorite things about acting is finding the way inside the characters’ minds. Rosamund was also super open to rehearsing and finding what we needed to accomplish.
SY: Speaking of the film’s director, Fouad Mikati, what was your overall experience of collaborating with him on the set for the thriller, especially since it’s only his second directorial effort, after the 2010 action comedy, ‘Operation: Endgame?’
CM: Well, what I loved about Fouad is that he may have been young, but he was incredibly knowledgeable, totally passionate and very creative. It was a small budget (film), but he made it look really rich and colorful. I thought he also cast it beautifully.
He’s just very smart and welcoming, and made everybody feel incredibly comfortable. He would also talk to actors in a way that we could relate to him. So I really applaud him for the way he handled directing the film, and I think he’s going to go on and do really wonderful things.
SY: Speaking of filming on a smaller budget, what was the experience of shooting the film independently like overall? In general, does making a movie independently influence your creative process when you’re shooting?
CM: There are good and bad aspects to both types of filmmaking. When you’re working on a small, independent feature, I feel like people are in it for the right reason. They’re doing it for the love of the art, and the story really spoke to them. That aspect makes independent films a wonderful experience.
Not to say that that can’t happen with a big budget film, as that often happens, too. They’re often fun to work on, too. But sometimes they can become clouded with having too many cooks in the kitchen and too much money. But they do have the budget to do extraordinary things, both visually and creatively.
But on smaller-budget independent films, you have to be more creative in the way you go about getting your shots and making your days. It’s also like, “Oh, my mom made the costumes.” (laughs) That’s one of the reasons why I started acting in feature films, particularly independent ones. I (act in them) all the time, and just did another one, called ‘Cop Car.’ (The Kevin Bacon-starring thriller was released in theaters on August 7.) I also continue to do them because they have more interesting material, and can push me to take bigger risks.
SY: Since most of your scenes in ‘Return to Sender’ are in the hospital wing where Nancy and her colleagues work, did you film on location in an actual hospital? Overall, do you prefer working on location for your projects?
CM: We did film in a hospital, and it obviously did help create the atmosphere and world for the story. Whenever you’re on a set and there’s a fake wall, and there’s just ply wood behind the window, it takes a moment to adjust to that. I love filming on location because they help set the scene.
But there is also something nice about staying in one location when you shoot on a set. Then you really know your way around and how to get to where you have to be next. I’m a creature of habit, and like to know what I’m dealing with. So sometimes it takes me a moment to get my bearings together when I show up on a different location every day. Incredible set designers can also turn (props like) a tin box into something magical.
But I will work anywhere that they have a set, because for me, it’s about the story. So I will go to the far corners of the world to speak a great script and tell an interesting story.
SY: Throughout the thriller, Miranda is struggling to overcome her attack, and is trying to find a way to overcome her fears, even though she distances herself from Nancy and their other colleagues and friends at times. Why do you feel it’s important to showcase such a powerful emotional struggle during such a realistic and harrowing conflict in a film?
CM: Obviously, I do think it’s important to have courageous female characters. The more women we have in these amazing roles, where they get to showcase their strength, creativity and intelligence, is great for humanity. That’s what most women are doing all the time, but we don’t always get to see them in those roles.
What I love about Rosamund’s character in particular is that she’s so complex. Quite frankly, she’s not entirely likable all the time. There’s something so off about her that you’re trying to put your finger on throughout most of the movie, and she gives you clues along the way. Rosamund’s portrayal is so honest that by the end of the film, you know just how disturbed Miranda really is.
I think there are other ways to handle similar circumstances. But what makes this film so fascinating is how Miranda handles it, which makes her fragile, strong, angry and vengeful. That’s shown in how beautifully Rosamund plays the role.
SY: Besides films, you have also starred on such television series as ‘The Practice’ and ‘Ghost Whisperer.’ What is it about TV that you enjoy acting on, and how does it compare and contrast to shooting movies?
CM: Well, the thing that’s incredible about television is that you get to create a character over a long period of time. For example, I played Ellenor Frutt for eight years on ‘The Practice.’ How she started was very different from how she ended up, because that’s how life is over eight years. She learned so much, and got smarter and more human and strategic. She also became a mother. It’s a real life developing in front of you, and that process if fulfilling.
There’s also a lot less anxiety and more confidence on a television series. While you show up on a film set having done your work, you never quite know if you’ve hit your stride. With television, you do hit your stride, and then get to really fly. Characters on television are more flushed out and richer, because you get to spend so much more time with them.
I spent nearly a decade with Ellenor, and learned so much from her. I think she changed because of me and (the legal drama series’ creator-writer-producer,) David E. Kelley, who was so sensitive to who I really was, and who I was playing.
SY: It was announced (in mid-August) that you have joined the Deaf West Theatre production of ‘Spring Awakening,’ and this will be your first show on Broadway since 2007. The show (whose previews began on September 8 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York, and will have a limited run through late January,) is being performed simultaneously in English and American Sign Language. Why were you drawn to take part in this production?
CM: Well, this is a revival of ‘Spring Awakening,’ and it’s being put on by Deaf West Theatre. Half the cast is deaf, so the entire show will be performed in American Sign Language, and will also be spoken. I have a long history with the deaf community; I was a sign language interpreter for many years. So it was an amazing opportunity that I was available to be in this play that’s connected to a community that I have a strong bond to, and love so deeply. So when they told me that the play was coming back to Broadway for a limited run, and I was available to come to New York, it seemed like it was meant to be. I jumped at the opportunity to do it.
Written by: Karen Benardello