While people’s lives drastically decline after an unprecedented pandemic ravages societies around the world, the increasing global turmoil can ultimately help families overcome their complex dynamics in order to repair their relationships. Actress-producer Sumalee Montano’s character of Tala Bayani is doing just that, as she fights to save her ailing daughter’s life after an almost apocalyptic event creates a worldwide dystopia, in the new sci-fi thriller, ‘The Deal.’

As in real life over the past few years during the COVID-19 pandemic, the two women in the film must overcome their anger towards each other as they try to continue to survive the pandemic in their world. They must also develop a mutual understanding of, and respect for, each other in order to survive in a world that’s driven by human nature being under the chaos of extreme conditions.

Montano not only plays Tala, but she also created and produced ‘The Deal.’ The drama was inspired by her real-life relationship with her mother and the sacrifices her mother made to give her a better life. After the filmmaker crafted the idea for the story, Sean Presant wrote the script for the movie, which was directed by Orsi Nagypal.

‘The Deal’ is set in a bleak dystopian world where resources are so scarce that people must pay for them with their life. An unprecedented pandemic has ravaged the planet, which has left resources insufficient to maintain the human population.

To combat the crisis, a totalitarian governing body known as The Bureau established the titular deal. Citizens who accept The Deal receive a job, housing and medical care that will keep them safe and healthy for 20 more years, at which point they’re scheduled to die.

Tala took The Deal when she was 20-years-old, pregnant and alone. She spent the next 19 years raising her daughter Analyn (Emma Fischer), and saving everything she had so her daughter wouldn’t have to take The Deal. Just five days before Tala is scheduled to die, Analyn gets an unexpected medical diagnosis. As one last way to help her daughter, Tala fights to get Analyn beyond the reach of The Bureau before her time is up.

Montano generously took the time recently to talk about making ‘The Deal’ during an exclusive interview over Zoom. Among other things, she discussed that she cherished the opportunity to create the story for, star in and produce the thriller because it allowed her to fully mold and develop not only her character of Tala, but also the overall feature. The filmmaker also shared that she cherished having the opportunity to work with Fischer to build the bond between their mother and daughter characters on screen.

The conversation began with Montano explaining why she was inspired to create the story for ‘The Deal.’ “It was such a special experience for me because I got to be both the talent and producer on it. I’ve worked on project where I’m solely acting, and I’ve worked on project where I’m only a producer,” she shared.

“This has been so wonderful because as a producer, I got to mold and develop the film, while also embodying the character,” the filmmaker continued. “The story for the film really comes from my life, and it’s based on my mom and the relationship that we had. She passed away about nine years ago, and this movie is my love song to her.

“At its heart, it’s about a mother’s love for her daughter and their mutual desperation to do what it takes to protect and save each other,” Montano added.

Further speaking of the fact that the drama is a tribute to her mother, the actress then shared how their relationship influenced her performance, and what her overall approach to playing Tala was like throughout the production. “I think some of the nicest comments and feedback I’ve gotten are from people who knew my mom. It’s been really neat to hear from her friends who’ve seen it and have said they can really see me channeling my mother,” she revealed.

“In terms of preparing to play the role, it wasn’t a huge stretch for me. I don’t want to diminish the work, but she was my mom!,” Montano noted with a laugh.

“I just had to remember that it was a different dynamic because growing up with her, of course I was the Analyn character. You see so much of our relationship and how we loved each other and fought. The film’s about the complexities of our mother-daughter relationship, and you see it all on screen,” the actress added.

“So much of what I lived through with my mom was able to come through in the story. I’m really grateful that I got to partner with an incredible screenwriter, Sean Presant. We’ve actually knew each other since college,” Montano divulged. “He helped craft an incredible screenplay, and bring the story to life.”

The filmmaker then delved further into how involved she was as a producer during ‘The Deal’s production, and how she balanced her producing and acting duties during its shoot. “In the development process, I really had so much more of my producing hat on. I actually didn’t think I was going to play the role at first,” she admitted.

“Very early on, since it’s a story that’s so close to my heart and is about my mom and me, I thought, maybe I will play the mom role of Tala, which is appropriate for my age,” Montano shared.

“But when we were in development and figuring out where the story was going to go and how our characters were going to interact and live through this story together, I couldn’t give notes if I saw myself in the movie. Sean would send me a few pages to review, and when I read them and envisioned how the scenes would look on screen, if I saw myself in the scenes, I couldn’t give notes! All of my notes were terrible,” the actress admitted.

“But if I took myself out of it and didn’t see myself in the role, then all of a sudden I could give notes that I think were helpful in the development process,” Montano divulged. “So it was interesting.

“All through development and when we pitched the story to (production company) Electric Entertainment and (producers) Dean Devlin and Lisa Brenner, I didn’t see myself as Tala,” the producer revealed.

“It wasn’t until after they signed on that they said, ‘We love the story and want to make this film with you.’ So I then pitched all of these other great actresses of color to play Tala,” Montano continued.

“Dean and Lisa came back to me and said, ‘You’ve lived with this character for so long, and she’s based on your mom, so why don’t you play it?’ I was like, ‘Really? Are you sure?,’ the filmmaker shared.

“By then, we had the script more set, but it still went through a lot more revisions. But then it became easier for me to still give notes because the base of it was already there,” Montano added.

The filmmaker then further delved into the process of creating the dynamic of the mother-daughter relationship between Tala and Analyn. She shared that she was involved in casting the role, and what her experience of working with Fischer was like throughout the production.

“It was wonderful. I was involved in the casting process, in not just seeing the tapes and then narrowing it down to our finalists, but also meeting the actors who would play the supporting roles,” Montano shared.

“We cast a lot of those roles out of London. So I got to fly to London and do the chemistry read with our finalists for Analyn. Being on both sides of it was a new thing for me, as both the producer and the actress,” the filmmaker revealed.

“It’s wild. I’ve worked so hard in Hollywood as an actor. Part of the reason why I wanted to become a producer was that so I can have a hand in shaping what stories get told and how they get told,” Montano shared.

“I think because of that, it was really important to me to center people in this story, especially women of inter-generational ages and women of color. The story is set in a beloved genre, but hasn’t historically included people like me,” the filmmaker pointed out.

“So it’s been a real honor to be able to tell a story that’s based on my mom and uphold diversity and meaningful representation in this genre,” Montano added.

Once Fischer was cast to play Analyn, Montano cherished having the opportunity to rehearse with her co-star in an effect to build the bond between the mother and daughter. “It was such a trip because this was the first time that both Emma and I were cast in roles that allowed us to be co-leads. She really brought her A-game, and I like to think that I brought my A-game,” Montano shared.

“That intimacy of the story, and us two bringing everything we had to the roles, and coming at it from our own character work and development as mother-daughter really led to some fascinating moments,” the actress revealed.

“When we first met, it was fun and exciting. We automatically landed in this great place of knowing that we were going to be friends as we made this film together,” Montano also shared.

“It’s hard to make a movie. So there were times when we started to feel as though we were mother-daughter, as I wanted to take something this way, and she wanted to take something that way,” the actress admitted.

“But I think that ended up being perfect for our chemistry as mother and daughter. You can see the way that I fought with my mom in real life on screen,” Montano emotionally divulged.

“There’s such a neat dynamic for two actors who get to play scenes where we are so loving, supportive and protective of each other. There are also other scenes where we do get to clash. So it was such a treat to work with Emma,” the actress shared.

“Being a mom now in real life, I still get a kick out of looking at her and thinking, she can really be my daughter,” Montano emotionally added. “She looks like my son in real life. So it was excellent casting…and it’s been a great experience working with her.”

The filmmaker then delved into how the movie’s setting also helped build the tension and emotions throughout the story, and shared how she enjoyed shooting on location. “I’m really glad that you brought up the locations because that was such a treat. We filmed in an actual dome in Belgrade, Serbia,” she enthusiastically shared.

“Most of our locations – I would say about 90 percent – where we shot were practical locations, and we barely built any sets. It was such a treat to see them all,” Montano continued.

“As a producer, I got to look at location photos from the location scouts and try to figure out where we were going to shoot the movie,” the filmmaker shared.

“When I saw the location photos come back from Serbia, I was like, this is nothing like I’ve ever seen before. It was just so perfect for the story we were telling,” Montano revealed.

“Belgrade had these great architectural buildings that can serve as architecture in this post-apocalyptic world,” the producer noted. “But at the same time, we had these amazing outdoor places. You see lots of beautiful greenery and nature.

“There were all of these underground tunnels, too, that Belgrade is famous for that we got to film in. So it was a dystopian dream come true when it came to the locations!,” Montano added with a laugh.

The actress then delved into what her experience was like of collaborating with Nagypal throughout ‘The Deal’s production. She called the process “phenomenal. She’s a brilliant Hungarian director. I can’t say enough about what she brought to the film as a woman and as an amazing director. She’s someone whose own lived experience really informed how she told the story,” Montano shared.

“When we interviewed her, she said, ‘I grew up behind the Iron Curtain.’ So she really has a deep understanding of what it’s like to live in a world where you have such limited access to things that can improve your quality of life,” the actress continued.

“So I think that lens that she brought to the film informed my acting and what I could bring to the project. So I feel so lucky that we were able to get Orsi. I loved her vision,” Montano also noted. ”

The filmmaker then delved into how she appreciates that the thriller is now streaming on The Roku Channel. “I love that The Roku Channel is distributing it. One of the reasons why is that you don’t have to have a Roku device to watch the movie; everyone can watch it by going to the Roku site,” she explained.

“This is going to sound like a trite connection, but it’s sincere; the fact that everyone can watch it is what we wanted. The story’s core values and themes are truly universal. It’s about a mother’s love for her daughter and their shared desperation to protect one another at all costs,” Montano emphasized.

“No matter who you are, as long as you have felt love for someone, whether as a parent or a child, or someone who’s not in your family, and you would do anything for them, you can relate to this movie in your own way. That kind of love has universal relatability,” the actress concluded.

(L-R): Sumalee Montano as Tala Bayani and Emma Fischer as Analyn Bayani in director Orsi Nagypal’s sci-fi thriller, ‘The Deal.’

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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