Continuing our exhaustive coverage of The Descent 2 this week we’re excited to present an exclusive interview with Shauna Macdonald. First coming to the attention of UK viewers in the popular BBC television spy drama “Spooks” where she played the character of Sam Buxton for two series, she was then cast in the leading role of Sarah in Neil Marshall’s The Descent which brought her worldwide acclaim. In addition to reprising her role in the sequel, Macdonald will also soon be seen in forthcoming genre pics The Mutant Chronicles and the big screen remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night.
A thoughtful, softly-spoken subject in person, I caught up with Macdonald on the main stage of The Descent 2 as the crew worked around us busily prepping the next scene of the shoot.
Phil Newton: Hi Shauna, so you’re back for the sequel. Did this come as a big surprise to you?
Shauna McDonald: I was surprised that they were thinking about doing one! I remember when it was first mentioned it to me, this guy next to me I knew he was something to do with the film, as in one of the executive producers or financers – someone you never see – and he said “what do you think about a sequel”? I said “you couldn’t do a sequel, it’s a self-contained piece”, and then it sort of set that idea in my head. Then they properly asked me what I thought and I said “yes, why not, but who’s involved?” I was really cagey about getting involved, I just wanted to know what it would entail and where it was going to go but it was explained to me that it would be the same feeling, be a lot of the same people – we’ve got the wonderful (cinematographer) Sam McCurdy, we’ve got Jon (Harris) who was the editor and is now the director, a lot of the same crew – and I said aaaah. So it’s the same sort of feeling and it’s just taking their stories further and I thought that’s actually going to be quite nice.
PN: I think you said at the time that you believed there was no way out for Sarah at the end of the original film, so how has this been resolved for the sequel?
SM: Well it’s the same day, we start off at the end of the action with her in the caves and she gets out – I don’t want to tell you how she gets out – but she gets out quite dramatically, almost by mistake. Then we find her roaming the roads and she’s taken to hospital, so her journey starts with her coming round in hospital with amnesia. She doesn’t really know what’s going on, she knows who she is, she knows that she’s been down a cave, but she doesn’t really know much above that, she’s completely shut down. She’s also a murder suspect so her role is to help the rescue team find the girls.
PN: I was going to say, how do they persuade her to go back down into the caves, I think that’s the last thing I’d want to do in the circumstances?
SM: Well, they’ve got to find these girls and soon and she just thinks they’ve been involved in some kind of caving accident so she wants to help to find them and it’s not until they’re well and truly down there that she really remembers what’s gone on. She gets flashes of things.
PN: Could you say a little about the scene you’ve been shooting today?
SM: Yes, well, we’ve got to get from one part of the cave to another and this is a scene where it’s the death of a character. We’re doing the stunts just now, which is really challenging.
PN: The original film was very physical, so was it easy to get back into character? Had you continued your climbing and fitness regime in between the films?
SM: After the first film I really got into doing things like triathlons and marathons, stuff like that, but then I had a baby! I’ve got a little one year old, so the whole time I was pregnant I really did slacken off, but I aimed to do the London Marathon in April so I trained up for that and I also did some fighting training just to get myself prepared for being hit and hitting and it was hard work. Sometimes it was really hard getting the motivation because it’s tiring being a mum with a baby who’s gorgeous but doesn’t like to sleep all the time, but you know the incentive was to get back into leggings and a vest top and also I wanted to be good. I remember feeling just awkward with some of the fighting in the first film because I wasn’t prepared and I thought no, don’t have that detracting me, I need to think about my moves, I want to be able to flow with it this time.
PN: Working with Jon who edited the first film, how has that been?
SM: Well, brilliant because he’s got more of an understanding of the first film because he cut it, he made the film – I was merely in it – he made the essence of it with Neil so he’s very much on the same page as me. He’s so calm and so clear and also really open to the actors and coming in and really working through the text and finding the beats in the scene; he’s a real actors’ director.
PN: You got put through so many extremes in the first film, what new challenges have you had to face in this one?
SM: It is pretty extreme! I guess Sarah spirals down in the first film and in this one it’s her ascent back into humanity and everything along the way, what with crawlers and one or two arch-rivals popping up all over the place.
PN: Yes, were you surprised when you found out that Juno was coming back as well?
SM: Yes, I was surprised because it didn’t look good for her, but then again it didn’t look too good for Sarah! I think it’s great that she’s back because the characters are so different, I think that the audience are desperately waiting for them to be reunited to see what happens next.
PN: Of course in this one you’ve got some male characters as well, has that changed the dynamic a lot?
SM: I guess it is a different feeling when you’ve got guys on board, although a lot of the crew from the first film were guys of course, but yes, it’s a different vibe, a different dynamic. The thing is with the first one we all got along so well; the girls have become a huge part of my life, from me getting married to having a baby… Whatever I’ve been doing, whatever they’ve been doing, we’re always in each other’s lives. So when I think of the first one it was like my mates doing it and I was actually really relieved when I discovered it was going to be a mixed cast so that I wouldn’t compare it.
PN: I was going to say, you recently had a reunion with the other girls for a special screening of The Descent in London, so it sounds like you’re all pretty close?
SM: Absolutely, very much so. And it was weird when MyAnna Buring was here in Ealing Studios doing her Lesbian Vampire Killers film! So she’s been around very recently, and then my daughter was one at the weekend and Nora-Jane (Noone) was there for that. They’re very much a part of my life, it’s brilliant.
PN: Has there been any talk of a third film yet or is it too early to say?
SM: It’s sort of in the air but listen, this film was in the air for three years and God (laughs) we’ll start getting grey hairs by the time we’re asked and it’s getting made, so I don’t know.
PN: You’ve also recently worked on The Mutant Chronicles, the Simon Hunter film, can you say anything about that?
SM: That was a weird one for me. It was just one day of filming and I was playing the wife of Sean Pertwee’s character Nathan and it was just this mad scene with Thomas Jane coming in to my little cottage which I have with my daughter and I’m basically waiting to die because everybody’s got a ticket to leave and I don’t have a ticket to get on these rockets that are going to Mars or wherever they’re going. So it was just this weird, quiet scene and apparently that’s one of the still moments of the whole film because it’s all CGI and I really enjoyed doing that. Simon’s great, I’d love to work with him again, I really would, and it’s just a shame I didn’t get to do more.
PN: And what’s next for you after completing this film?
SM: I don’t know, just being a Mum for a while, it’s nice.
Thanks for Shauna for taking the time to chat with us! The Descent 2 is in post-production right now and is set to be released next year!
Next week: Natalie Mendoza