“It was a difficult challenge I think at first, just because I had never done something like that,” actress Kiele Sanchez told Dread Central of her casting as ‘Stella Oleson’ last November during the principal photography of 30 Days of Night: Dark Days in Vancouver, Canada.
Bundled in a cold warehouse in Terminal City on the set of director Ben Ketai’s sequel to 2007’s hit 30 Days of Night (the sequel Dark Days bows direct-to-video from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on October 5), The Perfect Getaway actress was thoughtful regarding her assumption of the film’s lead character, as originally essayed by Melissa George, and spent time waxing on that as well as the other challenges inherent in portraying the character.
“I think that in the first graphic novel Stella starts off as so different (from the sequel) that it gave me a lot of freedom to sort of do it my own way,” said Sanchez of the character of Stella, a woman whose husband, Eben (played in the original by Josh Hartnett), and fellow townsfolk met their grisly end in the original film in the Alaskan town of Barrow. “I think also, due to the fact that there’s been eleven months (of narrative) between the end of the first film and this one, that there’s been a lot of transformation that happened to Stella over that time period so that also gave me a lot of freedom to pick up in a different place,” continued Sanchez. “Not just because it’s a different actress that is playing the character, but because Stella is in a different place.”
Co-written by director Ketai and series originator and co-producer Steve Niles, 30 Days of Night: Dark Days (review here) opens on the heels of the original and, while serving to initially document Stella’s unsuccessful attempts at convincing the general public of the vampire menace which awaits the world following the decimation of her town, ultimately follows her descent into pure vengeance. Unexpectedly recruited by three other victims of related vampire attacks (Rhys Coiro, Doira Baird and Harold Parrineau) and alerted to the existence of Lilith (Mia Kirschner), the vampire queen ultimately responsible for the genocide of her Alaskan town’s inhabitants, Stella sets off on a mission of revenge in the underbelly of Los Angeles.
Commented Sanchez during our interview on being courted for the role in the original 30 Days of Night (scheduling conflicts forbade her from portraying Stella at the time) and ultimately portraying the character in the sequel, “It is fate,” she said, “because I loved the first film and was kind of sad that I wasn’t part of it. It’s kind of crazy how it came back and it was sort of meant to be. At the time (of casting for the first film) I was also up for (the television series) ‘Lost’ so it’s all timing, and I was actually surprised that Melissa didn’t do the second one. I was grateful. I hope I make the fans (of 30 Days of Night) proud!”
Viewers should expect a more emotionally damaged character in Dark Days, however, than was portrayed by George in the original, and while Stella was by no means weak in the first film, the widow here is a woman suffering from a mean case of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I think that it was interesting in this screenplay that she kind of goes on this journey, and I wanted to depict that whole journey from beginning to end,” said Sanchez. “In the beginning it’s about trying to convince people that vampires exist and really trying to get into the mind-frame of someone who has for the past eleven months gone around the country trying to do talk shows and newspapers and everything that she can do to get people to understand that what happened in Barrow wasn’t from an oil fire – that it was from vampires – and being laughed out of places and being called a ‘liar’ or ‘haunted’ or ‘crazy.’ I tried to get into what that would do to a person over eleven months, the trying to scream out something that you experienced as the truth, something that was so traumatic and something that literally took everything that you loved away and no one believes that that’s what happened, and what that would sort of do to someone. (Particularly) where are the vulnerabilities in that? Such rage would come from such a place. I think that’s where her ‘tougher than nails’ aspect comes from and why she’s so vengeful.”
Sanchez didn’t deny though that such a character wasn’t fun to play, and when questioned if she was enjoying herself on set, regardless of the bitter Vancouver cold, replied, “I totally am, but it’s sort of ‘out of my element’ in a way. I’ve done action movies before, but this is the first time where it’s been revenge-focused. ‘Kill Lilith!’ is the motivation for Stella throughout a whole bunch of the movie. Of course, she hasn’t been fighting vampires all of the time (during the narrative gap), and she doesn’t really want to go back into hell. She’s been trying to expose them, but she’d rather not see another fucking vampire again so making that switch, in trying to cover her fear, is the hardest thing to portray. I have stage-fright actually so I kind of have to cover up my fear in my own profession and used that (in informing my character).”
This being a horror-action hybrid, though, Sanchez’s challenges didn’t reside purely in the dramatic.
“The technical stuff is much harder for me,” stated the actress, whose other horror credits include the 2008 feature Insanitarium. “I’m much more used to manipulating emotions and accessing them (as an actress), and in that I feel very comfortable and confident. With the action stuff I literally went from being a vegetarian to eating meat again, to the point where I literally starting drinking two raw eggs in a smoothie every morning and worked out very hard, even though I was working long hours, just to physically be capable to do this role. We had to do some gun training, too, which was probably the hardest for me because I don’t like guns at all. I thought my shotgun would be really scary, but it’s my handgun with the blanks in it that scares me the most because I want to drop it and run away.”
She whispered with a smile.
“But I can’t.”
With Sanchez having suffered physical damage during the production (a thumb dislocation for one) as well as the inherent physical demands, she reflected, “It’s tough to remember where you are at emotionally after having run up and down stairs and through here and through there and being sweaty, instead of just concentrating on the emotional things you carry into a scene. It’s also like, ‘Oh, I’m injured’ and just having to remember all of your ailments let alone what you need to do emotionally. I found it kind of a screwy thing to keep track of. But with all of that chaos you hope that you are still telling the story and not getting caught up in any of those things.”
This being a 30 Days of Night film, requisite gore, too, had to be endured, and she commented,
“We’ve done a lot of bloody scenes where we are shooting out of order, and I come to work and then they put blood and cuts and bruises and dirt and sweat and everything on you, and then they jump to another scene, and you are back at your trailer and it’s like, ‘Oh, this is just the one blood-spattered shirt with the jeans that are kind of torn here,’ and then they clean up some of the blood and the cut on your lip and put you in another blood-spattered shirt with a different pair of ripped jeans. So you are going back and forth sort of all day, which is a little crazy, especially for hair and makeup, but it’s fun!”
As for shooting winter Vancouver for summer in L.A., “I didn’t really think about it,” stated Sanchez, “but there’s definitely been moments where I’ve been here shaking in a tank-top on this dry-dock which was the most miserable place to shoot ever! We were all miserable. They were all night shoots, and we hadn’t seen daylight in five days, and you come to work and you are basically working in a submarine, and everyone is on top of everyone, and you are stuck there all night, and it is freezing. I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this! Can I quit?’ It was terrible, but we got through it.”
As for the amount of inspiration she took from the Niles-penned trilogy of graphic novels on which the 30 Days of Night series is based, Sanchez allowed that, “I had to be careful because I did take a lot from that, and I wanted to pay homage to the comic book, but I had to be careful because (in the comic book) she starts off so strong, where’s she’s just a bad-ass from the very beginning, and you can’t really start off a movie as a bad-ass. There’s got to be some history as to how you got to be that amazing so there had to be an arc and a journey there for Stella; I almost had to be become Stella. I do a lot of geeky actor homework so I literally for this had to go through each scene and break it all down and figure out where I was to be emotionally and physically and what I am bring into the scene. Just all of that for every single scene, since we are shooting out of order, so that I could just look at that and see where I am at.”
At the time Sanchez was unsure whether all her hard work had paid off.
“I haven’t been offered to see any (of the assembly cut),” she laughed, “but I wouldn’t want to anyway because I hate seeing myself, and it would probably crush me. I would find eight million things that are wrong with my performance and it would crumble me. I have other actor friends that can watch themselves and laugh and say, ‘That was a good one!’ and I wish I had that! It’s torture for me.”
Photo credit: Chris Large
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