Interview with Sarah Wayne Callies for INTO THE STORM

We catch up with the former WALKING DEAD star about her latest film…

This week, INTO THE STORM, starring THE WALKING DEAD’s Sarah Wayne Callies storms (sorry) into Irish cinemas. We caught up with the actress to find out more about storms, the physical demands of the role and whether she’ll ever complain about the weather again…

What drew you to INTO THE STORM?
Sarah Wayne Callies: Two things; on the one hand it was the kind of movie that I love to watch. I’m a big fan… Movies like this are super satisfying, because that’s what movie theatres are for; the big screen, amazing audio and sitting in the dark with a couple hundred people, and going on a thrill ride. None of that special effects magic matters, however, if you don’t care about the people involved, and the thing that I just loved about Allison is that she is a working Mom. I had never played that before, but I am obviously a working Mom in my own life and I just loved the portrayal. I just found it really honest, the portrayal of a woman who is constantly torn between trying to achieve professional excellence and trying to be there for her daughter; and in a way, feeling like she is failing at both, no matter what she does.

As humans, we cannot fight or defeat the weather; all we can do is hunker down and hope for the best. Was this fear factor part of the appeal?
SWC: It’s an interesting antagonist, because you’re absolutely right; of all the projects that I have worked on… You can kill zombies if you’re on THE WALKING DEAD, you can fight the government, like we did on PRISON BREAK and shoot people and do all kinds of things, but in any story about man vs nature it’s not even a fair fight. There is no way to battle a tornado and win, the best you can do is run and hide, and try and help as many people as you can in the process, which is a very different kind of experience. It is also one that everyone walking out of the theatre recognises at some level; this is a true story, this is something that happens to people. There is always an endemic natural disaster, no matter where you live. They exist; hurricanes, landslides, volcanoes…

Allison is an environmentalist at heart, and there are hints, in the film, that climate change is a contributory factor to super storms like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Irene, was this something that appealed to you as well?
SWC: It’s an interesting thing, because the climate debate has so many hot emotions on all sides. It seems to me that coming at it obliquely made more sense. We seem to be in an age where people are very polarised, and love to shout at each other [laughs] and there is not a lot of listening involved. One of the great things about entertainment is that you have a chance to enter into those discussions under the radar, in the name of entertainment, rather than hitting something too hard on the head. I do this Allison’s perspective is that the climate is changing in ways that are dangerous and erratic and probably man-made, but she’s not polemical about that, she’s just doing her job and doing her research to try and make things safer for people.

How did you research the role?
SWC: On the motherhood side of it, I am a Mom and I shot it away from my daughters, so that took care of itself [laughs]. I reached out to a Professor of Meteorology and Climatology at a university near where we filmed. I cold called him and said ‘I have got this college Meteorology textbook, and I can’t make heads nor tails of it, and I need your help’. He was very generous; he sat down with me and explained how storms organise and the jargon involved in identifying them. He really broke it down for me, and then the whole time I was watching him for the character as well. A lot of people involved in Climatology are academics and they are really intelligent and intellectual, but many of them got involved because they grew up thinking storms are f***ing cool! There is a sense of awe and wonder and joy, when they see these massive weather events. I just thought that was really neat; that there is this childlike enthusiasm in all of them.

Did the found footage style of the film – and having cameras all around you – alter your performance in any way?
SWC: Yeah it was a great way to work, because at any given time we had all of these practical cameras. Nathan [Kress] was holding a camera and Jeremy [Sumpter] was filming, and there were cameras mounted on vehicles. Then of course, there was the tremendously amazing and professional camera crew, who were also filming. It created an atmosphere almost like doing a play in the round, where you don’t have to target your performance in a certain direction so it can get on camera and you can get that story point across. You can sort of do your thing, and trust that one of these cameras will pick it up, and it’s also not a movie where every line has to be in a close up with your face in the middle of the screen. It’s OK if an important moment happens over your shoulder or the back of your head. It feels very raw, and I think that works from a storytelling point, because it pulls the audience in a little bit more, I think it feels like they are experiencing it from a first person perspective, but as an actor it’s great!

You have a lot of stunts and wire-work, and obviously you are being belted with rain for a lot of the film, how challenging was that?
SWC: Oh, I love it! I guess I was a bit of a tomboy and maybe never grew out of it, so I really dig that really physical stuff, and the stunt work is great. Part of it maybe comes from laziness, it takes most of the acting out of what you’ve got to do. When you’re running through the rain and someone is throwing hail at you, you’re not thinking ‘What’s my motivation!?’ [laughs]. You get through it! Just survive! Say your words, don’t fall down, and you can call it a day. It’s not comfortable, this was not a comfortable shoot; we were wet and cold a lot, but it also felt a little bit like showing up and going to a grown up obstacle course and playground every day! That’s a pretty cool thing to do for a living!

I bet you’ll never complain about the weather again after this…
SWC: [laughs] That’s a very good point! I think what I probably will do is take the warnings much more seriously, every now and again people get blasé. I grew up in Hawaii and every now and again there would be a hurricane warning, and sometimes you run the risk of going ‘Well the last one didn’t hit us, I’m sure we’ll be fine’… I think after a movie like this, I am liable to be the one going house to house with duct tape! It’s definitely made me aware of the weather in a different way.

What’s next?
SWC: I just finished a movie India called THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR, which is amazing and a really cool creative experience. I wrote a screenplay for Gale Anne Hurd – one of our WALKING DEAD producers – so she and I are in the process of trying to get that made. Other than that, I am reading scripts and figuring out what comes next; just a good old fashioned ‘get a job, as an actor!’

INTO THE STORM is released in Irish cinemas on August 21st

Words: Brogen Hayes