Stanley Film Festival 2015 Interview: The Ladies of SUN CHOKE On The Dark Side Of Humanity
Sun Choke is an odd film. It holds many secrets and doors, both closed and open. It's a film that may reveal more of itself with multiple screenings over time, but it's a mysterious lady that doesn't like talking much. For more on what I mean, read my original review here.
At the Stanley Film Festival this past weekend, I sat down with stars Barbara Crampton (Irma), Sarah Hagan (Janie), and Sara Malakul Lane (Savannah) to discuss the darker side of human nature and how acting through such emotions can free one to get closer to others.
[Photo by Jessica Barnthouse/Wicked Bird Media. L-R: Sara Malakul Lane, Sarah Hagan, Barbara Crampton.]
ScreenAnarchy: Let's jump right into the deep end. What was the most difficult part of production for each of you?
Sarah Hagan: My character had a lot of seizures, and that was difficult to do. Ben (Cresciman, director) made it so we only had to do one take or a few close-ups, so that helped. Physically, it's intense. It's an intense movie emotionally and physically. It's the whole thing.
Barbara Crampton: Yeah, it's the whole thing. I don't think there was any one thing, emotionally or physically that was harder than anything else. The movie's about lonliness and isolation; just the material itself was very hard to address on a daily basis. When I first read the script, I thought, "I don't know if I can do this. This script is passionate and very deep and dark and sad." But the characters were written so well and had so many points of view. Just showing up everyday was tough. We all had a sense of looking at ourselves on a very deep level. There aren't very many funny moments in this movie, maybe one or two small moments. It's pretty dark. As if Lars Von Trier were more depressed than he really is, which is saying a lot. But it's also a very beautiful movie, because it exposes some parts of ourselves that we don't always look at. And it's beautifully shot. What each character wants, in many scenes is visceral, on an almost animalistic level and that's where the beauty of the film comes from. What do these characters really want? There's beauty in that, and I think Ben did a great job with that.
Sara Malakul Lane: There was a lot of physicality involved in my role and Sarah put me through a lot of difficult stuff, daily. I had to be choked and tortured, and that was stressful. We wanted to make it look as real as possible, and the way Ben wrote it was so raw and the way it was shot was so raw, that there was not getting away from the pain we had to go through.
Sarah: Sara was a trooper. I definitely pulled her hair.
Barbara: She's evil, man.
Sarah, you were so messed up and dangerous in the film that I wasn't sure how I was going to sit across from you and interview you.
Sarah: Hahahaha! I didn't hold back.
Barbara: She did not.
Did Ben give you any detailed backstory on your characters?
Sarah: Not a backstory; I kind of developed that on my own. He did give me a lot of movies to watch, like Antichrist and Repulsion and Dogtooth. As far as the seizures, he sent me a lot of YouTube videos of real people video taping themselves actually having seizures. That's a weird thing in itself. I had a lot to work with that he gave me for reference points. The character developed as we were shooting, as well. I think they all did was we were shooting, because we tried to shoot chronologically, which was super helpful. A lot of the house stuff that you see, Barbara and I doing our day-to-day routine, we shot that first so we could get a grasp of the house and where we were in that time.
I was trying to figure out what exactly happened in the flashback in the beginning; you're at the house, covered in blood, and it looks like you've attacked someone, but it's never explained. Do you know what happened in terms of story?
Sarah: We have an idea.
Barbara: She's had episodes, Sarah's character, but is always to get better, and I'm always trying to re-route her, like a rocket that's off course that you have to always steer back on course. To get back to the most healthy place she can possibly be. At different times in her life, it's been very bad, and at others, okay. My view is that I can make her as good as she can possibly be most of the time, if she just does what I want her to do. There was possibly one time about her maybe trying to commit suicide. We don't really know.
Sarah: We like to leave it open to the audience's imagination. We have our own thoughts for sure. When you play someone like that, you figure it out. When it's shown onscreen, audiences have different reactions.
Barbara: That's how it is in real life. Something happens, and I have my viewpoint on it, and you have yours. They're opposing. With our characters, they're very oppositional.
Sarah: When you play someone, you have to empathize with them any way you can.
Barbara: Even when they're doing bad things.
Sarah: Even when they're doing bad things. Like Barbara said, Janie's view of Irma is different from Irma's own view of Irma---and vice versa.
How long did production take?
Barbara: 18 days, maybe three weeks. We moved briskly along.
Sarah: We had two weeks in the house and one week on location in the apartment and driving around.
Actors love meaty roles, and these ones are intense. Did it feel good to explore the darker side of humanity or were you freaked out?
Sarah: Yes! For all of us, I think, it was a challenge, but we all enjoyed that challenge. That's what we want. As actors, we want to take risks. I embraced this role.
Barbara: This movie forces you to take a look at yourself. We all have different versions of a Janie, Irma, or Savannah that are all conflicting within us. We're all a bit un-well, I think, and Janie's the extreme version of that. We all have an Irma, who wants to be disciplined and get better and wants to be controlling.
Sara: Then there's Savannah, who's kind of normal but very lonely, too. It's a reflection of who we are. I think when people see this, they see some of themselves. Obviously, Sun Choke takes it to an extreme artistic level, but that's what you want when you watch a movie.
Barbara: All movies inform us how to live in the world and how to be. That's the beauty of storytelling and filmmaking. You watch a movie, and it tells you how to love or what to remove yourself from. You definitely do have a feeling, after watching this movie, on where you stand. You will have a viewpoint about relationships and the darker side of a person's character, what you take from that, and what you want for your life or not want.
What's been the audience reaction so far?
Barbara: We haven't really screened it anywhere before, just for family and friends. When people watch the film, they're a little stunned by the end, I think.
Sarah: They have a lot of questions, which is good. I'm excited.