Gretchen Lodge makes her screen debut this weekend in the latest from "The Blair Witch Project" helmer Eduardo Sanchez, the possession/psychological horror thriller "Lovely Molly." Lodge gives a ferocious, fearless and deeply intimate performance in a film that strays from the found footage genre Sanchez helped to create, instead rendering a much more personal horror film that utilizes first person camera footage as one of the many tools in the telling the story of Molly, a young newlywed who begins to lose her grip on reality. Or does she? Lodge is firmly the anchor of this film, which revolves entirely around her, and she never for a minute loses her magnetic grasp on the audience, who can't look away, despite some of the shocking and primal moments. Our review from SXSW said, "she commits to the character — so mousy and serene early in the movie and so terrifying and feral later on — with gusto. This is a role that would have scared a lot of people off – it's emotionally, psychologically, and physically raw – but she seems more than up to the challenge. She makes you, if not completely understand what Molly's going through, at least put yourself in her position."
Lodge in the role of Molly is much in the tradition of classic horror films that have introduced new talent with a brave, awe-inspiring performance by a young woman — what would Sissy Spacek be without "Carrie"? Mia Farrow and "Rosemary's Baby"? Jamie Lee Curtis and "Halloween"? Sigourney Weaver in "Alien"? Perhaps Lodge may be inducted into their legion after her turn as "Lovely Molly."
We took a moment to sit down and chat with Lodge in Los Angeles this week, on the eve of "Lovely Molly" hitting theaters after its almost year-long festival run.
“Lovely Molly” isn’t just your first starring role, it’s your first role in a film. What were you doing before this and how did you get the role of Molly? How did you get into a role like this?
I did theater growing up. I thought I would do Shakespeare for the rest of my life, because I love Shakespeare, and I just thought I would sail along in my life until I was 95 just by doing Shakespeare. But I ended up doing other theater things when I was in London, and then moved to New York. I was sort of just seeing what was going on in New York, really. I moved there for a change of scenery and of everything, and I got cast in a film called “The Scar Collector” which filmed in New Jersey. It was really fun, it was supposed to be a narrative and ended being more images and sound and stuff like that. I was filming that at the same time that the audition for this happened.
So you just went to an open casting call and got the role?
Yeah, there was a casting in Backstage and I saw it and was like “I wanna do that.” Ed was actually there, I know that he was trying to be as hands-on as possible. He was at the very first audition, not just at the callbacks, which I think was really cool, because we had one of the first-person monologues where Molly talks into the camera as the very first audition. I think it was probably very necessary that he feel that connection with the people who were auditioning.
I had a month and a little bit between finding out and starting rehearsals. It was a lot of on-my-feet research really, a lot of reading, I had my nose buried in a book and a lot of going out and meeting people and researching various treatment facilities, because I wanted to research all of the different aspects of what could possibly be going on. I spent the month beforehand doing that and trying to get every symptom, every behavioral aspect, watching a lot of reference material at the New York Library.
Was most of your inspiration for the role through clinical research or did you have any creative influences or iconic performances that you looked to?
I made a point of not watching anything because there were a lot of things that came to mind when I first read the script, the story of a very strong but troubled woman who goes through this journey, and there are these people beside her, going through it with her. But, I made a point not to watch anything that made me think of it, because I didn’t want her story to be a knock-off of someone else’s work, and I also didn’t want the interactions between the characters to be artificial. I didn’t want them to be something that I’d seen, someone who acted like this with their onscreen husband, onscreen family. I wanted it to be totally from the ground up. It was a combination of clinical type research and just weaving the story along, making up my own backstory and then also reading the backstory that we were given when we started rehearsals. And then also a lot of it definitely evolved once we all met and started developing bonds and seeing how we really interacted with one another.
Knowing Ed did “Blair Witch Project,” were you nervous, did you have any expectations of what it might be like? Preconceived notions going into the shoot?
No, and I think maybe the reason why is that when I did my very first audition for him I didn’t actually realize he was the ‘Blair Witch’ guy. I did my first audition for him, and then I found out before the callback, while I was doing my research on him. I feel like if I had known at the very first audition I did for him, it would have been different. But certainly after I found out, and when I went back for my callback, during that time, there was a week and a half in between, I rewatched “Blair Witch Project” and was like this is interesting, because I didn’t have the whole script of “Lovely Molly” at that point, but from what I saw of it, it would be a very interesting take, because he seems to get something really special and really raw from his actors, so it would be really interesting to work with him on this totally scripted piece because ‘Blair Witch’ was so much improv. That totally intrigued me.
Because you go into so many raw, emotional, primal, dark places in this film, did you have any ways to access that? To get into this incredibly troubled person who is going through this traumatic experience. Was it just being on set with Ed or are you just able to do that?
I had a really dark playlist, which is really helpful, I have to say. So dark playlist, and also just sitting on the stoop of a house that’s in the middle of the woods. Ed was so great about it because he just let me brood around the place. He was just like “go and brood.” It was a really great space to just be able to do that. I was never, never called out of character, and when I was in it I had the opportunity to access these points because I was never called back from the brink. I had the space and the time to be able to do that. I would just spend afternoons exploring the woods and then go to shoot. I know the other actors felt the same way, the ability to be able to immerse ourselves, and then go straight to set, just have the opportunity to be in that world completely, was totally there, and it was helpful.
What was the hardest scene for you to shoot?
The hardest one definitely was the scene between Molly and Tim in the basement with the screwdriver. That was really tough. It was really tough because it was working with props and feeling like this isn’t working, this doesn’t look real. The space down there was so claustrophobic and it was just such an array of things making it difficult. We were down there nonstop, it seemed like this nonstop day of just everyone crouched down in this terrible little basement. That was definitely the hardest one, because it was always sort of like bam, bam, bam do the scenes, there was plenty of time bookending them to get in and out of them. That one was just like some sort of… it was hard.
You created Molly and did all this research. Did you ever feel like you had to get away from her in this experience, or did you feel like you had to be accessing Molly the entire time?
I started off thinking “I can be her all the time” and it was really helpful, but towards the end it was too much, because then her situation becomes more and more unstable and more and more unsafe, it was like my hotel room became unsafe for me because it was too much. Molly artwork that I was making was all over the walls, the hotel became unbearable, because I felt like it was too much. I was like “I don’t want to go crazy.” I had that thought, but that’s crazy because she’s her and I’m me, but they did start to gel a little bit. I was doing this thing where I had a Molly wardrobe that I wore nonstop, I brought jeans and Molly shirts that I got specifically for rehearsal and downtime. I brought hardly any of my normal wardrobe, a few things. Towards the end I started putting on my own clothes as a comfort, I just wanted to be myself.
What’s it like interacting with audiences at festivals after they have seen the film? Are they afraid of you? Are they shocked? Do they say weird things to you?
Well at SXSW, I was waiting to do the Q and A afterwards, and some people were filing out because they had other things to go see, and I was standing by the doorway, waiting to go in, and this one guy walks down in front of me, and I was just in regular clothes, standing there waiting, and he walks down the hall and he was like, “Oh my god, that’s really creepy that you’re just standing there and I just saw you in there.” I wasn’t even looking, I was just looking down, and he must have just thought I was this crazy woman. I was like “no no no, I’m nice, come back in!” Everyone’s always “oh you’re much taller than I imagined.” I get sort of nervous afterwards, certainly when people are asking questions, because it’s sort of a free for all, you have no idea, people could say anything. But the audiences we’ve had so far at the different festivals that I’ve been able to go to have certainly been really great and really supportive. They haven’t warranted all of my angst and anguish.
If you could play any of the iconic horror scream queen roles, like "Carrie," or "Rosemary’s Baby," which one would you choose? Dream remake?
If anyone even began to mention the possibility of “Rosemary’s Baby,” I would be like “I can’t even let you finish, yes!” I adore it. I don’t think that it could be remade but another film– I hadn’t seen it until after I filmed “Lovely Molly,” which I guess is kind of a crime, but now that I’ve seen it I adore it– is “A Woman Under the Influence.” [Gena Rowlands] is incredible in that. I don’t know, I don’t think a remake would work of that necessarily. It’s not really horror but if it was remade, I would also do in less than a heartbeat, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.” In an instant. The Bette Davis role. She’s my favorite. I have many more male idols than I do female, but she’s so strong and powerful– anything Bette Davis, I am a huge fan.
What’s next for you?
I am writing right now, I am in the midst of writing a short and then also a full length screenplay. They are very different from one another but they are taking up a lot of my time, in a good way. I am ready to get in front of the camera on a role again, but also excited about these two projects. Just one of them for me to star, but both are topics that have interested me because they are two-sided. Because you can look at the two issues that I am writing about in very different ways on both sides, and that interests me.
Gretchen Lodge stars in "Lovely Molly" opening this weekend.