Based on a true story, the film Midnight in the Switchgrass chronicles the serial abductions and murders of young women and the FBI agents that are trying to stop them. The directorial debut of Randall Emmett, the film stars Bruce Willis, Megan Fox, Emile Hirsch, Lukas Haas, and Caitlin Carmichael. It’s out in theaters and on demand on Friday, July 23, and releases on Blu-ray and DVD on July 27.
“While in Florida on another case, FBI agents Helter (Willis) and Lombardo (Fox) cross paths with state cop Crawford (Hirsch), who’s investigating a string of female murders that appear to be related,” says the official synopsis. “Lombardo and Crawford team up for an undercover sting, but it goes horribly wrong, plunging Lombardo into grave danger and pitting Crawford against a serial killer in a twisted game of cat and mouse.”
ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to star Caitlin Carmichael about her role, getting to work with Megan Fox and Bruce Willis, and her being a 10-plus year performer at the age of just 17.
Tyler Treese: This is such an interesting film and it’s based on a true story. I’m always interested in the prep actors do. Did you look into the true story much or did you just go off the script? What was your approach?
Caitlin Carmichael: I’m so glad that you think this because even myself, aside from acting and reading scripts, but even as a viewer, if something is based on a true story, it immediately hooks me. Then in the thriller or horror genre, it makes things 10 times more intense just watching it. So I was really interested in reading about the actual highway serial killings initiative started by the FBI and seeing the frameworks that our story was based upon. It gave me definitely a new perspective on the research and prep for this role, as opposed to just researching similar kidnappings or abductions for my character.
There are so many great actors involved and a talented director, what really drew you to this role?
I was really excited to play a character who got to explore such an intense storyline first off. And then there is a really unique aspect to this kidnapping abduction narrative, which is really centered on female unity and having Megan Fox playing a female FBI agent who saves herself in the end of this movie, spoiler alert, but also the women of the film come together to save each other. That was a huge means of prioritization for our director Randall, that he really wanted that to be expressed on screen. Once he told me that in my first meeting with him, I was sold. I was already signed on to the project, but that was it for me. I was so excited to get to play a character who was a part of that sense of female unity and almost sisterhood in a way.
Your character is very much at the heart of the story and drives the plot forward with this being such a key role. This being a feature film, did you feel any more pressure than usual?
I don’t know. I was trying not to think about it in the sense of pressure, but there definitely is a huge responsibility for myself and my performance. Going back to how you were saying it’s based on a true story, my character is really serving as this symbol for the girls who did go missing and in the real cases solved by this FBI initiative. So less so pressure, but I really felt a sense of responsibility onto me to bring this story to life accurately.
You mentioned unity and getting to work with Megan Fox. Did she give you any advice? How was it like working with her?
She was an amazing person to work with, and I really can’t imagine someone better to have been a part of that sense of sisterhood on our set and our scenes were really on bringing this genuine sense of fear into our characters. So we’re both talking in solitary confinement to each other, which creates this amazing back and forth mirror shot that people will get to see when the movie comes out. But being able to find this genuine fear in a form of a selfless performance and finding that truth within ourselves to express what our characters really would be feeling was something that she and I were both able to bring to life on set. So I’m really excited for people to see that when the movie comes out.
Yeah, the film deals with such traumatic subject matter and has to be a difficult performance. Like you said, you’re being bound up. You’re being tortured by this man, this killer. How difficult was it to get into the emotion and bring this character to life?
I would actually say I’m really thankful that my role had a lot of physicality involved with it, because it feels like for me, when I’m doing these stunts and especially filming Tracey’s escape, crawling through the sewage pipe and having my hands tied together with real zip ties, there’s something about having that form of authenticity that really helped me to snap into the scene. Sometimes it’s easier to really struggle in the way that my character was so that I can feel the same emotions that she would, um, rather than trying to fake anything at all. So it ended up being a blessing in disguise that I got to do all of my stunts myself, and really putting myself through what my character was experiencing and allowing myself to feel moments of perseverance and struggle that she was feeling.
Usually, when I’m talking to someone your age, they’re a new actor, but you’re definitely not a new actor you’ve been acting for over a decade now. Can I call you a veteran actor? How is it to be one of the youngest veterans?
I guess no one’s ever called me that before. So I’m going to put that in my notes app with the date, thanks, Tyler. That’s a very cool compliment. It’s definitely, I feel very lucky to have found my thing so early. I know a lot of people who grow up and they’re trying different hobbies and sports and arts and talents, but since I was three and a half acting is what I’ve been doing. So it’s the most central part of my identity at this point.
Lukas Haas gives such a sensational performance as the truck stop killer here. It’s uncomfortable to watch some of these scenes. How intense was it just filming with him and how intense were those scenes to shoot?
Our production was actually shut down twice because of COVID-19, which was a traumatic experience. I’m sure for our director Randall more than anyone else, but it actually allowed for us, as a cast, to have a lot of time to rehearse together and do extra table reads and develop this sense of chemistry off camera. And I think that that was immensely beneficial for myself and Lucas hos to be able to spend time together and get to know each other so that there was a sense of comfortability to really dive into the intensity of our scenes together. And he is an amazing person and someone else who grew up as a child actor in the industry, we already had that connection and had lots of different anecdotes to share with each other.
Your character doesn’t really interact a ton with Bruce Willis in the film, since you’re missing, but that has to still be a very cool bucket list thing working with such a legendary actor. What was your thoughts on getting to work with him?
It definitely was. Right before I auditioned for the movie, I was in my freshman year at UCLA and I was taking a film class and we had just studied Die Hard. So I think I was entering the audition in the space of filming. This movie is a little bit more of a fan than usual, just because I’ve been staring at his face for about two weeks straight in analysis of the movie.
You’ve done such great charity work, helping those with cancer, raising money for girls in STEM programs and feeding the homeless. It’s great to see someone, you know, giving back so much and at such a young age. Can you discuss your philanthropy and what you do to give back?
Absolutely. Growing up, my mom has always stressed the importance to me of giving back, and that’s something that’s really guided me throughout my childhood. Especially today through my work, as the west coast teen ambassador of the American Cancer Society, we have been able to launch the ResearcHERS’s campaign funding female cancer researchers, and inspiring young girls in STEM programs. That is a campaign that we launched together.
Aside from that, I have a huge passion for giving back to the homeless. So I was able to launch my own initiative called stars of blessing, which was acknowledged by the Starbucks Foundation, allowing people to use their mobile points on the Starbucks app to feed the homeless at no expense to them. For my third philanthropic endeavor that I’m focused on, I’ve been sponsoring a little girl at community hope school in Namibia, Africa, since I was seven years old with my own money that I’ve made from filming. So giving back and philanthropy has always been a huge priority in my life, and I hope that as I grow in my career and have a platform I’m able to use it for good.
That’s so awesome. What do you feel is like the next step for your career? Obviously, you’re going to college still, but what is your next step acting-wise?
For my next step? Well, as you said, I am going to college. I just registered for my junior year of classes at UCLA. So I’m an American lit and culture major, and I just declared my film, TV and digital media minor. So I’m really excited to see how my education will help me explore the history of filmmaking and with my majors, themes of creative writing and gender studies, psychology and philosophy. I think this will really help me grow as an artist, both in front of the camera and start to explore what that means for me behind the camera as well.
You mentioned going behind the camera. Long-term goals, would you want to direct? Do you want to write scripts? What else are you interested in?
Absolutely. I would love to be one of those people that says I could do it all, but I’m directing and producing my own movies will probably be first up.
This is such a great film, very dramatic, Four our readers, how would you pitch them in checking out Midnight in the Switchgrass?
How would I pitch the film? Oh, no one’s ever asked me this before. Hold on, let me think. I got to come up with an elevator pitch.
We’re testing your behind-the-scenes skills here. That’s a little test.
Testing my behind-the-scenes skills. I think that the most powerful line in the movie, to me at least, is Megan presents the question, “If no one’s looking for you, are you really missing?” I think that could be the tagline of our movie, ultimately. So we’re giving a voice to the numerous amount of missing girls whose stories that we’ve never heard. So I think that’s a really interesting aspect of the trueness of our movie.