Star of the upcoming thriller opening November 9th
“It was a big role that took a lot of work. I’d do it again because I had such a good time making this movie,” actress Rachel Nichols purrs, her praises practically radiating from our phone receiver as we chat about her time on Franck Khalfoun’s P2 (opening November 9th). Nichols, until now, has carried a lot of supporting roles in horror films such as Lucky McKee’s The Woods and Platinum Dunes’ The Amityville Horror. She also held a steady stint on the hit J.J. Abrams-created series “Alias.” In Nichols’ latest thriller, it’s showtime, baby. A challenging leading role finds her playing Angela Bridges, a woman trapped on Christmas Eve in a parking structure with a security guard (Wes Bentley) vying for her attention in the worst ways possible. So, without further adieu, here’s the conversation that transpired when Nichols gave ShockTillYouDrop.com a jingle…
ShockTillYouDrop.com: Your character, Angela, from the get-go, breaks stereotypes right away in this film when it comes to on-screen heroines.
Rachel Nichols: One of the most interesting things about Angela is the script sets her up one way. When you first see her, she’s clearly intelligent, business-savvy, young and successful and she’s very well put together. She’s got family stress, she’s busy, but she’s very prim and proper. The path that she has to take from the first images we see of her to when she wakes up in a dress, changed to a table and being served Christmas dinner to escaping to then the other stuff she ends up doing – the path she takes is so incredible. That dichotomy from where she begins to where she ends is very striking. It really supports the whole fight or flight thing – and she stays to fight. It’s empowering for all women because I would like to think if I was in that situation, I could fight to save my own life and get out alive.
Shock: Funny that you mention “the dress,” because Wes puts you in this white slip. Horror movie rules dictate that, at some point, you’re gonna get wet…and you do.
Nichols: [laughs] You have no idea the amount of rules I established in my contract: I will not get wet and show nipples. There will be no nudity. I was very strict with that because they put me in this Marilyn Monroe dress, I was like, Ahh, okay. At first they had me in a negligee and I was like, there’s no way I’m running around a parking lot in Victoria’s Secret skivvies, I just won’t do it. Then with the wet conversation, I told them immediately that I’m not gonna show them any special stuff. We got together in Toronto and there were a bunch of different options. They took this dress and sewed a bra into it, I wasn’t going to run around for two months without a bra, I thought that was inappropriate. But in place of the nipples there’s clearly a lot of cleavage. So we made a compromise.
Shock: No complaints here. When we spoke to Franck he owned up to pushing you through the physical wringer on this film…
Nichols: This was definitely the most demanding job I ever had. But my time on “Alias” was not fun, we had a lot of fight scenes in that. This, however, we shot for two months straight, working nights. I was in a dress with bare feet and they made these weird pads for the bottom of my feet. My arms are bare, my legs are bare, I’m wearing handcuffs for most of it – the handcuffs were real throughout, even when I’m driving the car. The bruises were unbelievable. As hostile and angry as I was, and as much as I wanted to kill Franck, Alex and Greg, I think it actually really ended up helping make the whole thing real for me.
Shock: Franck expressed that very same sentiment – you lent the film realism with your pain. But you almost had to have expected some abuse from these guys. Were you familiar with “High Tension” and “The Hills Have Eyes”?
Nichols: I was familiar with their stuff before, clearly they have a distinct vision for this genre which is something that should be respected. So frequently movies of this kind can go awry, or be over-the-top or unbelievable. But I think they tapped into something viable as far as a situational thriller is concerned with this script.
Shock: I noticed a lot of the crazy driving scenes were actually you behind the wheel.
Nichols: That’s mostly me driving, we had a wonderful stunt woman, but during the driving sequences you’re seeing a lot of my face. This was not a high-budget movie where we had a poor man’s process and a rig for a stunt man to drive for most of it. My stunt woman did the car accidents and some of the speeding with the sparks because I don’t want to set myself on fire. But the struggles with Wes, and driving with the handcuffs was me.
Shock: And the dog attacks?
Nichols: That was me except when he bites me in the leg, that’s not my leg. I’m scared of dogs as it is, so that was petrifying for me.
Shock: Aw, but they’re just actors too.
Nichols: They’re still rottweilers! Those things are huge and that dog was sooo big. They had three different dogs: one for the close-ups and the fighting, they had one that did all of the jumping and then another one for the chasing. That thing is actually chasing me. As much as they told me he was chasing the red ball at the end of the corridor, I was running as fast as I could and he still passed me. One dog they trained had this Pavlovian response to my dress so every time he saw me he’d go crazy like, Ha-ha! That’s the target!
Shock: And now you know, if you’re ever chased by an angry dog, say your prayers.
Nichols: I’m gonna get toasted if a dog ever chased me.
Shock: What was your off-camera/on-camera dynamic like with Wes?
Nichols: When first met on the movie, they didn’t know who they were going to get for the guy. When they got Wes I was just that much more interested. I’ve been a fan of his and having a supporting actor of his caliber – where there are only two leads in this film – was very comforting to me. Because it’s two of you against the world and you’ve got to have someone you love and trust. Wes became that to me. We shot nights and on the weekends we’d stayed up late anyway. We became really good friends and spent a lot of free time together, but as soon as we stepped on set he would scare the shit out of me! That’s just the way he would work. He would scare the shit out of me. He was so protective the whole time, but a couple of times I feared for my life, I thought he might hit me. He’s just that extraordinarily intense, when he gets working it’s an amazing thing to watch.
Shock: Emotionally how do you hold it together through the high-impact scenes? For example, when you’re in the car and you’re pleading with him not to doll out punishment to somebody…
Nichols: I had done extensive work with the script with my acting coach and Alex and Greg. You just have to go through a script like that and, as an actress, make sure for each scene, especially the ones that are excruciating, you write all over your script. Jot down little things to help your mind keep going like when you’re about to get run over. When you’re shooting those scenes you have to have little pieces of wisdom to help you keep it going and keep it real. It was draining, the day we were shooting the scene where I’m in the car with Wes and my boss is in danger. I was just exhausted, I could barely walk. My tears were all dried up, you gotta keep your head on straight or everything will be painfully one-note on screen.
Shock: Shooting in a parking garage for long durations must have been oppressive as well.
Nichols: It was hard to shoot in a parking garage for so long because we were underground, it was dirty, and it was a working garage so there was exhaust lingering in the air all of the time. You get to work and I’d be in hair and makeup, as soon as the car picked me up to take me down into the garage, everything just sinks and you dread going into this dungeon for twelve hours. I was happy when we said goodbye to the parking garage. [laughs]
Shock: Now the obvious question you’ll probably be sick of by the time the press for this film is over: Have any creeps bothered you in a parking garage?
Nichols: I went to school in NYC so I never really had to go in any parking structures and I’m from Maine. Maine doesn’t really have any parking structures. Since shooting the movie, however, I am much more aware of my surroundings and if it’s a late night and I’m going to my car I’ll pretend I’m just on the phone. I’ll literally hold the phone up to my ear and talk really loud.
Read our interview with director Franck Khalfoun here!
Source: Ryan Rotten