Interview Joan Allen

What is a nice Oscar winning actress doing in a badass movie like Death Race? finds out…

Joan Allen first secured international renown after bagging an Oscar nomination for her supporting role opposite Anthony Hopkins in Oliver Stone’s Nixon, and then received a second nomination a year later, in 1997, for her role in The Crucible. Her filmography is littered with fine performances, including her recent turns in Yes, Sally Potter’s cross-cultural love tale, and in The Upside of Anger, opposite Kevin Costner. She secured a Best Actress Oscar for her riveting performance in The Contender and earned several critics awards for Pleasantville and for The Ice Storm. She pleased audiences across the globe with her recurring role in the Bourne franchise and she is also an accomplished stage performer…


Q. So what’s a nice Oscar-winner like you doing in a badass boy’s movie like Death Race?

I know, it’s like, what’s happening? My God! Really, it was the opposite of what I’m expected to do. That’s the one thing. I got the script last summer and I couldn’t put it down. I was ‘Oh my God, I want to know what happens to this guy. I care about him.’ I found myself totally engaged, so then I called my lawyer, as he reads all my scripts, because he has excellent taste and used to be an actor. I spoke to him and said I really liked it and he said that he did too! I said, ‘I think I should do it’ and he said, ‘I think you should too’. As a rule I wouldn’t expect him necessarily to agree with me and have that reaction because he says ‘No’ a lot. But I was engaged. It’s a different genre.


Q. And I’m sure you don’t often get asked to play someone quite so malevolent?

Exactly. Maybe I’d never have that chance again. I don’t know. Malevolent is a really good word for her, a really good word. And my character, Hennessey, she gets some great lines. The line about ‘fucking with me and we’ll see who shits on the sidewalk’, I got teased about that the whole time.


Q. Having seen the film did you expect this level of violence? More, maybe, or less?

I was kind of expecting it to be about that level of intensity. What I was really taken with was the cinematography. I really hadn’t seen anything like it. The greyness of it and the way the world in the penitentiary felt, I was transported into a different place. And the way it was edited was just crazy. Some things Paul shows, but some cuts in it are very quick and he moves quickly onto the next thing. It was a ride for sure. I brought my daughter along to see it, and she brought eight of her friends.


Q. What did your daughter think?

It was like she had one male friend there. The rest were girls, and they were crazy about it. There are a couple of attractive men in it. I’m sure that doesn’t hurt!


Q. Was it a testosterone-fuelled set, with all the racing and fighting?

I wasn’t really part of all that, because I was mainly in the control tower. But Paul W.S. Anderson was just so ebullient every day. He was more like a little boy. He was so happy to be shooting this film because he’d been trying to make it for years. He was ecstatic almost every day, and that was very endearing and very infectious. If you ever felt tired or anything, he fuelled you right up again with his enthusiasm.


Q. You’ve worked with distinguished filmmakers like Oliver Stone and Sally Potter. What impressed you most about Paul W.S. Anderson, apart from his enthusiasm?

He’s very, very smart. He’s a brilliant writer. He loves actors. He talks very well to actors, an incredibly intelligent man. With his choice of genre, I think people sometimes forget how very bright he is. But he’s incredibly bright and very easy to collaborate with. I felt protected by him. Plus he knows how to do this kind of movie. It’s great to be in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing. It’s like when I worked with John Woo. If you are going away into a new genre, go to that place with someone who is good enough.


Q. What do you make of Jason Statham?

Oh yes. He’s been doing some great work. I see him on screen and I think he’s simply superb, and what a sweetheart, very understated and very hardworking. He had to work so hard in this movie because there was a special diet and really hard training to get that ridiculously amazing body. It is just ridiculous! But he worked his butt off to get that. I have tremendous respect for him because he’s extremely disciplined. Somebody told me yesterday that he’d been an Olympic diver. I had no idea.


Q. So would you play another badass in a full-on action picture?

I would love to. Absolutely! If it’s a good story!


Q. But from one extreme to another, you’re set to go back to the Broadway stage with the play Impressionism…

I am going back to the stage for the first time in ages. It will be 19 years next year.


Q. You’ve already won a rack of theatre awards. Why go back now?

I read a play that I could not say no to. It was as simple as that; I really was not intending to go back to Broadway. Years ago I worked with this wonderful director called Jack O’Brien and he called me out of the blue a couple of months ago saying, ‘Darling, I have this new play. It’s gorgeous. It’s the most beautiful play I’ve read in years. You have to do it with Jeremy Irons and me. You have to!’ He was standing there with the script and I said, ‘A play, Jack? It’s been a long time.’ I wasn’t looking to do one. He told me to read it, which I did, and I was shaking and crying. It is a beautiful play.


Q. In which case why did you take such a long break from the stage?

Simply, I’d had enough. It’s very gruelling to do eight shows a week. I’d been there. Done that. Not as interesting as it was. You get through the show and once I’d go, ‘Okay, tomorrow night I’ll do this or that’. It used to interest me. Maybe I’ll feel that way again but it got to the point where it seemed more gruelling than fun. And if you feel that way, I say don’t do it! But I read this play, it’s a limited run, it’s Jeremy Irons, it’s a beautiful story. I’m exhilarated by this and feel I can maintain that exhilaration pretty much for four months.


Q. What ambitions remain for you?

There are people who I look at and go ‘I hope I work with that person’. I’m sure I could create a long list of people I’d love to go to work with. Also I’d like to do a little more in comedy. To do something warm, in somewhere warm! I’d like to travel more. My daughter likes to travel and I’ve gotten into the habit of taking her places so I’d like to explore some more of the world.



Death Race is at Irish cinemas from September 26th