Charlie Blackwood, actress and lead in new indie horror feature Matriarch, talks to us about spotting the opportunity on Shooting People, working with co-star and director Scott Vickers, and tackling a lead role by immersing herself in the experience.
You play the lead in new horror feature Matriarch, which has just been picked up for distribution. Can you tell us a bit about the film, your role and how you got involved?
Yes, Matriarch was picked up by Lionsgate for distribution and was released in the USA on the 9th April this year. It will also be available across Europe soon with other distributors that are yet to announce. Matriarch is a horror/thriller indie film, which was shot on location in Scotland in just over two weeks. It's about a couple Matt and Rachel who have a crash in the countryside, and they seek help from some local farmers. Things start to take a sinister turn; Rachel is pregnant and they want her baby. As Rachel and Matt try to leave, Rachel goes into labour...
I found the film on Shooting People and applied for the role. The initial audition was in Manchester and then I went to Glasgow for the recalls. I was over the moon, when I found out I had been cast. I fell in love with the script and character when I first read it, so was delighted to be cast in the role of Rachel.
What was your process for finding the character and from where did you draw inspiration?
I was drawn to the character of Rachel straight away. When I read the script, I found it so emotional, I cried and knew I could draw from and build upon those feelings for the shoot. My sister was pregnant with her first child during the time I was shooting Matriarch, so I tried to put myself in her shoes as much as possible. I felt quite protective over my sister during that time too, so I think I used that emotion as well.
You’ve started in a number of short films before making this step to lead a feature. Besides just being obviously longer, how was the experience of shooting a feature compared to short?
It was all encompassing and I was quite isolated in a way. We were shooting in a remote location and I was staying in a cottage nearby with hardly any phone signal, so I didn't really speak to anyone outside of the cast and crew for the whole two weeks. Actually, I really liked that. I was completely immersed in the world of the film for most of the time. The shoot days were long and after we wrapped each night I'd go back to the cottage, shower, eat, look through my lines and then head to bed to start at 6am again the next day. I loved every moment of being on set; filming Matriarch has probably been one of my best experiences so far in my career.
I suppose the main difference to shooting short films was that we were quite restricted on time and as the lead in the film, I had a lot of scenes I had to get through each day. I was very aware of that. Not in a negative way, but I suppose I was conscious of the fact that we sometimes only had time for one or two takes, where possible. I tried to give my best performance and nail each single take, every time, in order to move on to the next take in a timely manner.
Scott Vickers directed the film and also stars. Is there a noticeable difference between being directed by a fellow actor and a director without that shared experience?
Working with Scott was just amazing. He 'gets' actors, their dialogue and what they need to hear. Scott made everything appear very simple and straight forward on set, even if there was a problem, he would come up with a solution almost instantly and we would be rolling again in no time. I think Scott prepared a lot before the shoot, which really benefited the team. His storyboard was incredible, and he knew exactly what he wanted from each scene.
Equally, Scott was very happy to collaborate and listen to new suggestions. He allowed me to change some lines if I wanted and would always welcome any ideas that were brought to him. A lot of my scenes were very emotional and there were some graphic scenes shot on a closed set, however, I always felt relaxed and knew I was surrounded by a very supportive and considerate cast and crew lead by Scott. Scott’s a powerhouse on and off set and definitely a force to be reckoned with in the film industry.
If you could offer yourself some advice at the start of the project, what would it be? What’s the biggest lesson you learned during production?
That's a tough question as I don't think I would change anything from my time on set. I think I was very aware from the beginning that I wanted and needed to just throw myself completely into this role and that's what I did. I suppose I would remind myself to cherish those moments on set as much as you can. It was such a short time, working with amazing people, who will remain my friends for life, but that time on set, for that film will never be repeated and I miss it. Maybe we need to make a prequel!
How did your experience working on short films prepare you for the responsibility of a lead role in a feature?
I think having quite a lot of previous experience on set helped me. I knew what to expect from the shoot, I could adapt quickly to changes and I understood what was required of me technically. There's a certain dialogue on set, especially between crew members. I've always taken the time to learn as much as I can about other people’s jobs on set and why they are there. That way, I have a full understanding of how a shoot works, which I think can only benefit me as an actress on set surrounded by cast, crew members, cameras, lighting etc.
What advice would you offer actors about to start work on their first feature in a leading role?
I would say immerse yourself completely into the role and the life on set. Throw yourself in 100%, challenge yourself and push yourself creatively as much as you can. Make bold, brave choices and roll with them. Don't second guess yourself, do your best work each take and then move on.
What was it like seeing the finished film and learning of the interest in it for distribution?
It was an incredible feeling watching the film for the first time. It brought back a lot of emotion for me and I cried quite a lot actually. Seeing it in the cinema was also a dream come true. I felt incredibly proud of what we had all achieved on such a small budget. Scott has always been very open in terms of letting me know how the film was progressing in terms of distribution deals etc. It's a fascinating side of the industry and one I'm eager to learn more and more about.
What’s next for you?
I've just come back from Los Angeles. I was there for the release of Matriarch in the Cinema, on DVD, Digital and On Demand. I had a number of very successful meetings when I was there, so things are in the pipeline that I can't yet talk about.
I've also recently wrapped on a sci-fi film called Clay's Redemption. I play 'Athena - The Boss', she's a rude, but classy woman and a very tough character. I'll also be starting a few other feature films this year, including a Western!
You can see the trailer for Matriarch here.
You can follow Charlie on Twitter: @CharliBlackwood
Follow her on Instagram: @CharlieBlackwood