Sunday, 10 March 2013

interview: Elaine Cassidy

I interviewed Elaine Cassidy by phone in June 2001 for a Fangoria article about Alejandro Amenabar’s ghost story The Others. As with the Eric Sykes and Christopher Eccleston interviews, this was done without any knowledge of the film which was shrouded in secrecy before release.

I haven’t seen The Others. I’m assuming you haven’t either.
"It comes out next month, I think. I think it’s coming out in July over here. I was just thinking about it the other day: ‘Oh my God, I’ll get to see it soon.’”

Was it last year that you shot it?
"Yes, last summer."

How did you get the role?
"I was over in London for three weeks doing a workshop at the National Theatre with John Crowley. I was staying with my agent at the time because she’s really really nice and decided to put me up, we get on very well. Alejandro was over in London at the time, so she arranged to meet him. I read the script and then I met him the next day. He was really interested in me for the part, which I was delighted about. I just watched Open Your Eyes the night before and the minute I saw that, I was like, ‘Oh my God, yes. Not only do I want to meet this man but I really want to work with him.’ I was really, really delighted with how it came about."

Had he seen any of your other films?
"He’d seen Felicia’s Journey."

What was it about the script that appealed to you?
"Well, for me, you get to read so many scripts and most of them are diabolical, to put it mildly. You just know when you’ve got a good script, when it’s well written and that does most of the work for you. And the fact that he was going to be involved with it just made it a complete definite. I had to do it. I wasn't too sure what was going to happen at the end. It was suspenseful and really well written. It was gripping and got my attention. I found the story really interesting."

Tell me about your character.
"She’s mute. And the reason for her being mute - she wasn’t born like that - it gets explained in the film, right at the end. She’s very unstable, she’s very nervous, she’s not confident at all. She clings to Mrs Mills, who acts as a mother figure to her, more so her than the gardener. But it’s like the two of them are her family. Mrs Mills will tell her what to do and she’ll be her voice - because she can’t talk."

Is it easier or harder to play a mute character?
"I don't know if it was actually hard, but it was quite frustrating. because she wasn’t in it that much. I would have liked her to be in it a lot more. When you have more scenes, it’s easier to establish your character more than when you’ve got a smaller part. You don't get so much out in fewer scenes, so you don’t get that much information about them. Unless there’s a book or something. Also, Alejandro left it up to me to decide what way she should be played. He seemed happy enough with what I was doing, but that was quite tough for me as well.

"Obviously if there was something he didn’t like, he’d say, ‘No, no, I don’t like that.’ But I felt a lot of pressure. I feel very confident about how it’s going to turn out because at the end of each day he’d say, ‘Yes, I’m very happy.’ So that helped me a bit, but I didn’t get as much input from him as I would have liked. But I still really enjoyed working with him. He’s happy so I’m happy because my job is to portray the character the way he wants, and I seem to have done that. So I’ll just wait and see. I’m very cynical about myself."

How did you find Nicole Kidman to work with?
"I didn't have many scenes with her, but when I was on set with her she was really, really focused. She was just so confident during scenes and she really, really pushes herself. So she’s a really, really good worker. From the scenes I saw her in, she was doing a really, really good job. So that’s why I can’t wait to watch it, because there’s so much that I didn’t see being filmed, so it’ll be like watching a film that I wasn’t in. But yes, she was really, really good."

How did you cope working with a Spanish crew?
"I would have liked to have been able to speak Spanish. I thought, ‘I’ll go over and learn Spanish,’ but everyone was just talking in English so that didn’t really happen. But there wasn’t that much difference. There were a few times when communication was a bit hard but everyone had a good level of English so it was fine. It might have been just twice when communication broke down for a few seconds and that was it. You had to explain it again in a different way. But by the end of the film, everyone’s English had improved so much. Even people who couldn’t really speak it and could only understand it - by the end of the film you were able to have conversations with them. So that was brilliant. But there wasn't much of difference on set. They were allowed to have beer and wine at lunch, but that was about it."

What about shooting the film in semi-darkness. Any problems with shooting on dark sets?
"No, not really. It never struck me as that. I wasn't conscious of it, but I suppose it was good to get you into that mode of thinking, for it to be dark when you walk on set. But it never struck me consciously as, ‘Oh, this is getting me in the right frame of mind.’ Although I suppose subconsciously it might have done that. When we were shooting the exterior scenes, it was very smoky because they had the smoke machines going. But because it was outside it was really difficult getting the smoke to stay. So there was a lot of waiting around for that - and it was really smelly as well. The thing I remember most about when we were in studio is that it was really, really warm because when we had the cameras rolling obviously we couldn’t have the air conditioning going. Between takes they’d put the air conditioning on, but that was the only thing."

Amenabar is seen as an amazing young man, but you were one of the few people on the film even younger than him, who could look up to him.
"Yes, but even so, he’s still so young. I was still completely amazed by the fact that not only did he write and was directing the film, but he was composing the music as well. He said he’d started on that. It’s just amazing that while you’re talking to him, and while he’s shooting the scenes, he had the whole film edited in his mind. He knew exactly what he needed and where to stop in each angle, because he knew what he was going to use. I just couldn’t believe that anybody could have the whole picture in his head. There’s a lot of people who would never reach his level in their lifetime. So yes, I looked up to him for that fact, but still always remembered how young he was."

The Others is your fourth feature film. Do you feel you’ve progressed from film to film?
"I’m learning more from each film. You’re working with different people so you learn different routines and different ways of doing things. Some directors just direct differently. So you learn a bit from each and hopefully take it on with you to the next, and hopefully it improves you. Even just being around different actors, you learn how they do what they do - so you can take what you want and leave what you want."

Was Felicia’s Journey the big breakthrough for you?
"Oh yes. I didn’t even know what a director was supposed to do before that! Even though that was my second one. I didn’t even know what an actor was supposed to do before that. I remember the first time I met with Bob [Hoskins], and Atom [Egoyan] was there too, and Bob was going, ‘Oh yes, I’ve been thinking about my character.’ He was just talking to Atom about it, and I thought, ‘So that’s what an actor’s supposed to do!’ I was being really conscious about it: I have to think about this and I have to think about that. Hopefully it was all going subconsciously from what Bob was doing because he was quite amazing.

"He’s a really instinctive actor. I remember one thing that he said on the first day was that it’s all in the eyes. If you’re not feeling it, the camera won’t know. I remember thinking, ‘What? What’s he saying? How will the camera know what you’re thinking?’ But after watching him, I realised that what he said was completely true, that you can tell if it’s being felt or if it’s acted - that there is a difference between the two. Not only that, but Felicia’s Journey also opened up so many doors to other jobs as well."

As a young actress, did you have any qualms about taking a role in a fairly nasty film?
"To tell you the truth, before I saw the film I thought it was a love story. So you can tell how shocked I was when I saw it! I read the book twice, but I was only looking at it from Felicia’s point of view and the information that she knew and I was skimming over everything else. In a way, without knowing what I was doing, it was probably the best way to go about it. Because she doesn’t know that he’s a serial killer. I didn’t know that it was that sort of film, but even if I had have known, it probably would have excited me even more. I knew when I read that script that it was really well written and I really wanted to get it, and thankfully I did. But yes, I was completely unaware as to how dark it was going to be."

Was it a shock when you saw the film?
"Yes, I didn't know what to make of it. I watched it the first few times on video. The first time was with my mum and the second time was with my friends. I was talking to Atom afterwards, when I rang him, and he was saying, ‘What did you think? What did you think?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, um...’ I can’t really lie, I just go around trying to avoid saying certain comments that I don’t want to say. Because I didn’t want to say, ‘I don't know what to make of it.’ But then when I watched it for the first time in Cannes, the first proper time that I saw it on the big screen - because I missed so much on the small screen, I realised that no, I really like it. I think I’d gotten used to it as well, so I really enjoyed it that time I watched it. Since then I think I’ve seen it ten times at whatever festival it’s been at. And each time I’ve noticed something else. But I haven’t watched it in about two years."

I understand you’ve been working with Bob Hoskins again on The Lost World for the BBC.
"Oh, that was cool, working with him again. We had a laugh. This time I learned from him, not how to act but how to avoid acting because he told me how you can get out of scenes by just saying, ‘My character wouldn’t have done this.’ Oh, that sounds pretty bad! We had a blast. I learned how to play kaluki, which is card game. We were in New Zealand for two months and we were the only two that didn’t have anyone come over and visit us so we were a little bit homesick by the end, him more than me because he’s got a family."

On Lost World, how did you cope with the dinosaurs? Were you acting with stuff that wasn’t there?
"Yes, we were doing blue screen and we were acting with the end of a pole with a flag at the end. Actually, the first day that I had to act with dinosaurs, the props guy very kindly made a little pretend mask of a dinosaur and put it on top of the pole. Which was more comical than anything! But it was fine. I didn't find it hard at all because when you’re acting, half the time when you’re doing a scene - it depends on the camera angle - sometimes the other actor can’t be there so they’d have to actually be the camera. So you look at a point on the camera and you pretend it’s them and you do the scene, but you’ve done the master shot so you know how they’re reacting to you and stuff. You can play off that. So sometimes you’re acting to a little mark on the camera, so it doesn’t make much difference if you’re acting to a bit of tape on a pole. You just have to think, ‘Right, there’s a dinosaur there. How would I react? I’d be pretty scared if I thought it was going to eat me."

Your character’s not in the book, is she?
"No, she’s not in the book. I was told actually there’s a black and white film which I still haven't seen. I’ve been trying to get my hands on it to watch it. She was introduced then. So I went to read the book, because it’s brilliant when you’re doing a project based on a book and it reads pretty similar to it because you can read that and it’s just like a bible. It gives you so much information. Even stupid things; like when I was in Felicia’s Journey I was highlighting things like what she cooked for breakfast. I know it sounds really finicky but it all really helps because you can make a little lining inside you: this is what her daily routine would be like. It builds up her character in your head, and her lifestyle and it all comes together then. I was reading The Lost World thinking, ‘She’s going to come in any minute. She’s going to come in any minute.’ Like she was going to come in halfway through. I kept waiting and waiting and she never came into the story. It was before I’d actually met the director. I’m still glad I read it anyway."

Does your character have any action or is she there to just scream and run away?
"Oh no, because she’s lived in the jungle all her life. So she’s not a wuss. She’s been shooting since the minute she could hold a gun. She’s not a girly-girl at all. In a way, she wants to be a girly-girl because she sees magazines from England and she sees all the dresses and stuff. Peter Falk plays a friend of her parents, who both died, and he’s a reverend. So she’s just been brought up in the ways of the tribe, but when all these explorers come over she tries to be as sophisticated as she can, like she thinks a lady would behave in her world. So she’s a bit of a tomboy. I get to hold a gun but I never get to fire it. It was still fun though."

Did you have to do any stunts?
"I did two, I think. I remember I had to walk across a 30-foot rope. I was standing on one rope and I was holding onto the other. It was a bit of an anticlimax, honestly. When I arrived I was e-mailing my friends: ‘I have to do my own stunts. Some of the others have to get stunt doubles but they’ve no stunt double for me.’ Then I went to do it and I was like, ‘Um...’ I was harnessed so I knew that if I fell nothing was going to happen, so there was no fear factor in it. So I had to make myself be scared. It was a bit of a let-down, I wanted to get my hands dirty; maybe next time."

Do you still work in an office between acting roles?
"I haven’t actually done that in a year. I did last summer, I did it for a month. Because The Others kept getting put back, so that’s why I was able to do it. So I worked for a month as a receptionist. Yes, I’m going to do a bit of temping, because otherwise you’d just go mad."

Do you tell the people you work with that you’re also an actress?
"I suppose by the end of it, they normally find out, but I don’t say it. At least one person in the office will know because I have to be able to get days off for auditions and stuff like that. So I can give them a reason. But I wouldn’t go in and go, ‘Hi, my name’s Elaine and I do this.’ If they ask, I’ll worm my way around not telling them, but if I have to tell, I will. Because it just sounds bizarre to say that I’m an actress. It just seems a bit surreal. It doesn’t feel like that’s my occupation. It’s strange but it’s fun."

What’s the Irish film industry like to work in at the moment?
"At the moment it’s really good. Three or four or even five years ago, it was really slow because the government raised the taxes or something. I can’t exactly remember, but there was no incentive to film in Ireland. But now it’s changed and there’s so many productions going on. Which is brilliant for crew, because they’re actually having to bring people in to work because there's not enough. So it’s good at the moment. It’s really buzzing."

Do you think something like Disco Pigs could have got made without government subsidy?
"I don't know about that. Because with Disco Pigs it was just that the right people read it and fell in love with it. When they were first trying to get the finance, when Kirsten was going over to get that, half the people were going, ‘But I don’t get it. What? I just don’t get it.’ Then other people completely got it. So that one, I don’t know. It’s completely strange. Thank God the right people got in touch with us. It was completely handled the right way. It’s not a commercial film, which is what makes me like it even more. The story is a bit more interesting that way. With most commercial films you know what’s going to happen at the end by the time the opening credits have finished. Though there are exceptions."

What are you working on now?
"Well, all the work this summer has gone. It’s been cast while I was in New Zealand, so I wasn't really up for any of that because I was working. So I’m trying to get some work for autumn. There is work that I could get but it’s just not very good. I’ve come this far, working with such amazing people, that I’m not going to settle for any less. Hopefully I’ll be able to work with people who still want me. I don’t know. There’s a few projects; the first three scripts that I read when I came back from New Zealand, I really liked two of them. And that’s really, really strange. That’s never happened to me. Normally it’s one or two a year that you really like, and this is two out of three in one week. So I’ll just have to wait and see what happens."

Are you looking at trying to work in Hollywood eventually?
"Well, I’ll basically do anything if it interests me. If it’s got a good script and a good director, you really can’t go wrong then. That’s what I want to do. I want to work with amazing people and learn from them, because I’m still completely learning. Also, another thing I want to do is workshops. I did a three-week workshop when I met Alejandro and I’d forgotten about that. I was thinking about it the other day, saying that I’d love to explore other areas. And even if I never use those skills, I have them just in case. It can’t do any harm.

"So at the moment I’m looking for a place with my sister, so that’s taking up my time, but when I get that sorted I’m going to check up websites and find out what workshops are going on. If they’re in New York, Paris, or any going on in Ireland, I’ll just go and do those. But as regards to America, yes if it’s good I’ll go to the Moon. I don't care where it is. But I can’t sell out. Sometimes it’s very flattering when you’re offered something and you just know it’s not for me. You have to say no.”

interview originally posted 19th May 2008

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