In the third of our series of exclusive interviews direct from the set of The Descent 2, this week we’re delighted to present a one-on-one with Natalie Mendoza. Born in Hong Kong, Mendoza grew up in Melbourne where she began her career in Australian television before being offered a part in Baz Luhrmann’s musical Moulin Rouge! After taking the role of Juno in The Descent she subsequently moved to London where she now lives with her husband.
Looking both fierce yet sexy in Juno’s blood-splattered costume, Mendoza led me away from the hubbub of the set to the relative tranquillity of her dressing room for a confident and impassioned discussion of her work.
Phil Newton: Hi Natalie, so were you surprised when you were approached about doing a sequel to The Descent?
Natalie Mendoza: I was… but Neil (Marshall) had joked about it at the end and I thought, well, they haven’t seen me die and I was like hmmmm okay (laughs). So when I heard that they were going to make a sequel I knew it was in the realms of possibility, contrary to what a lot of people would think, so I wasn’t that surprised – but I was pleased!
PN: So what’s happened to Juno since we last saw her injured and surrounded by crawlers?
NM: She’s completely feral, that’s the best way to describe her. Obviously Juno has been left behind and she’s become quite feral over the course of the three days because of the extreme circumstances she’s been in; it’s almost like she’s become encased in this armour of primal, vicious energy because that’s what she’s had to do to survive. She has this real edge to her when you first see her, she’s not sure if she’s hallucinating because that’s what happens after that amount of time, you start seeing things. Three days in that cave is like three weeks in terms of her emotional and mental state. She’s found a way to survive and being silent is the best thing for her.
PN: Can you talk about the scene you’re shooting today?
NM: Yes, basically it’s off the back of Sarah and I coming across each other in the caves for the first time. We’ve had a big confrontation and it’s been established that I’ll make the way out so in true Juno style she takes point; you know she takes the lead, and I’m glad they allowed her to do that. So I’m leading everybody through some really dangerous parts of cave and this very unstable bridge made of rock that could fall apart at any moment, and of course it does!
PN: And how is her relationship with Sarah, bearing in mind she left her alone to die?
NM: Well, the sense of betrayal she feels is so deep and the anger has really started to fester so when they first see each other it’s just pure hatred, whereas Sarah has had time to gather herself a little bit. The way I feel is that Juno’s put on this armour, like a new survival personality which is very primal and through the course of the film what she has to do is chip that away because she really doesn’t care about anybody else because of this betrayal and the hatred that she feels. She just wants to get out alive.
PN: Has it been fun working with Shauna (Macdonald) again?
NM: Yes, of course! Shauna and I get on very well and I think we’re quite similar personality wise, it’s great; it’s just so lovely. We actually had the old cast back in one day just to shoot some old video footage and everyone wanted to come back which is a really good sign that everyone just loved making the first film. That was actually my first day of filming and it was just such a nice way to ease into it.
PN: Shauna was telling me earlier that you’ve all remained very close.
NM: It will always be a really special time for us because when we rehearsed the first one we were taken out into the sticks and trained for a couple of weeks and we really bonded very well. It’s such a tiny cast so you can’t help but become close. And even on this film with Krysten (Cummings) who’s our new girl and is playing Rios, I mean I feel like I’ve known her for years, it’s hilarious. So that’s the brilliant thing of working on a film with a small cast, you have that opportunity.
PN: Was it easy to get back into character, you’re a keen rock climber now I understand?
NM: Yes, I do love maintaining my fitness so it wasn’t that difficult for me; I climb regularly and I train every day. I think climbing is a different type of fitness though, it’s more the amount of fighting I have to do in this one, there was just no warming into it. The first time you see me I’m fighting, it’s a massive fight, and that was a real shock. It was a surprise as I’d say I’m actually extremely fit, but because of such explosive energy and because I’m also fighting men it’s very exhausting. This is like my third day and I’m really feeling it – the second day I couldn’t move! So it’s interesting the different type of fitness that’s required in this film, it’s on a whole other level.
PN: Juno is kind of the badass character isn’t she, so is that fun to play?
NM: She’s brilliant to play, she’s so different to who I am, it’s perfect. I love this character, which is why it was so seductive to come back even though I really questioned it. I hesitated in some ways because I really wanted to make sure that the integrity of the first film was maintained in the second one and I had a lot of questions and big discussions with the producers and the director before I was convinced. Then when all my questions were answered and I’d read the script I was just so excited to get back and play this character, as I loved the first film. And this time it’s great, she’s obviously quite seriously injured so as much as she’s a badass she’s also got this obstacle, which is fun to play as well. You know, it’s not just Juno being all gung-ho in the caves; this time there’s a more internal struggle going on as well.
PN: And obviously you’ve got male characters in this film, has that really changed the dynamics?
NM: It has actually, I would definitely say it has changed it. Vaines (Gavan O’Herlihy) is the person that finds me and when he finds me it’s like I’m made of stone, nothing he says affects me because I’m in survival mode. But for the majority of my character’s journey it’s mainly female and I think it’s good that it ends up like that.
PN: How’s it been with Jon (Harris) taking over as director, who of course edited the first film?
NM: It’s been the most natural process with Jon taking over, it just seemed that’s the way it was always meant to be. I don’t think people realise how fundamental the editor is in filmmaking and he contributed in such a major way with the first film, you know he really edited it very well and he just got it. So that was the big clincher for me because when I found out that Jon was going to direct I was like brilliant, I’m in, because I really have such faith in him, he’s got such great taste in terms of the way he edits.
And that’s where Neil comes from too, he’s from an editing background, and so it just felt right. It’s funny, it’s like Neil and Jon could be brothers, they’ve got a really similar kind of energy and they’re very laid back and calm and so I knew there would be a really similar feel on set. Of course Jon’s also added his own spin on it but he’s also maintained the integrity of the first one and that’s brilliant.
PN: Would you want to be involved in a third instalment should the opportunity arise?
NM: Actually there has been talk about a third film but I kind of think that my character, her journey, should end with the second film because I feel like the second one makes sense in a lot of ways because it (The Descent) was actually quite frustrating to watch. It provoked the audience because there were a lot of questions unanswered and miscommunication occurred and as an audience member you were like (groans) why didn’t you talk, you got it all wrong, whatever, and with this film it’s more about redemption, it’s about a coming together whereas the first film was about the splintering of the group and friendships. So I think two is good. If they want to make a third, well… (laughs).
PN: What are your future ambitions? We’ve recently seen you in the most recent series of “Hotel Babylon” here in the UK, so are you keen to do more TV work?
NM: I don’t really want to do TV to be honest. I took “Hotel Babylon” because I wanted people to recognise that I was living in England and I just wanted to introduce myself to the English audience and obviously I thought doing a series on the BBC would be a very good thing. Unfortunately I was playing an Australian and so people assume that I speak with that kind of an accent all of the time and so I don’t know… It was fun.
You know, I really love good TV, I’d love to do a great American series or British series but first I think producers need to allow the writers to have a bit more freedom – that was a lesson I learned from doing some British telly – but hopefully that will change. I’ve written a pilot recently which looks like it’s going to be picked up, so I’m all for good television but I don’t know that I’d sign up for a long three series deal unless it was something very specific that I thought would challenge me. Film has always been my thing and I’ve just done another film called The Canopy so it’s nice to be able to be free again to be doing film and theatre. Film and theatre are my first love.
Thanks to Natalie for taking the time to chat with us, and for all those involved with the production who made this interview possible! The Descent 2 will be released in 2009!
Next week: Krysten Cummings!