Actress Amanda Viola joins us on Close-up Culture to talk about her role in We Take The Low Road.
The film – which will premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival on Thursday (23 May) – is a western-style drama that follows three vigilantes who set off on a whirlwind ride in pursuit of violent justice and riches. Viola plays Bobbi, a tough and quick-witted member of the trio.
Q: With reference to Wiki Leaks and simmering tensions over wealth disparity, ‘We Take The Low Road’ seems like a pressing and topical film. Do you think this film reflects a lot of the tensions in US society at the moment and how things could escalate?
A: Wealth disparity in America is a major problem and it is exasperated by the total failure and corruption of our healthcare system, which is what this film hinges on. There are people everyday having to make the devastating choice between paying for their medications at inflated prices or paying for groceries or rent or child care and so on.
Americans are dying everyday because health insurance companies and big pharma and the politicians they pay for are choosing profit over people. I bet if you asked, everyone knows someone whose life has been negatively impacted by insecure health insurance and/or drug costs. I think this film explores the underlying anger and helplessness a lot Americans feel at the hands of the healthcare industry.
As far as escalation goes, I’m not saying that I think this is what we are coming to but I do believe this country is reaching a serious boiling point and due to the current political situation we have, nothing would shock me anymore.
Q: As I understand it, this is a film about revenge and a chain of violent action. What do you think the film says about America’s connection to violence?
A: America, especially with its relationship to guns, loves violence. We see it everyday in our headlines.
If you look at some of the core American values, from the second amendment being more important than the safety of our children, to the invasion of Iraq (and other countries) to capital punishment, America has an obsession with solving problems with violence. So these characters are just representations of that exact thing. They have been pushed to the brink of desperation and they see no other way of attaining justice.
However, the opinion of the film is clear in that violence begets violence which leads to more destruction and unintended consequences.
Q: How did you find the experience of playing Bobbi and going on a journey with her?
A: Playing Bobbi was so interesting because when just looking at the text, she doesn’t have as much dialogue as the other main characters and you sort of know the least about her than anyone else. So I had to really dig into her humanity and what drives her and figure out how to portray that in parts of the story where there is less talking and more action from her.
Another part I loved about playing her is that she is a great archetype feminist character because she isn’t motivated by romantic love. Her true motive is justice, at any cost. She’s willing to put herself on the line to protect others even though she has a deep-set feeling of never really belonging anywhere. She’s a true fighter and exudes strength that comes from deep compassion for those she feels are being wronged.
Q: How did you find the experience of acting in the more violent scenes and handling guns? Did it take getting used to?
A: In order to act truthfully in those scenes I had to access a very carnal version of myself which definitely felt disturbing at times. I would find that in between takes or after we finished a shot I would have to concentrate on unclenching my fists because I was so full of rage and violence it would take me a minute to unwind.
We shot most of the violent scenes in one day, which everyone on the production lovingly called “Bobbi’s murder day”. I had to get myself into that zone all at once so then when that day of shooting was over I was able to decompress and let go.
The guns were (obviously) props but they were weighted pretty close to what the real versions are so holding them and pointing them at a character in a scene felt very realistic and powerful in a way that made me uncomfortable and to be honest reaffirmed my own personal distaste for guns.
Q: Did you have a good bond with co-stars Brian Sutherland and Rich Morris?
A: Yes, working with Brian and Rich was amazing. They’re both such gifted actors and great people. It was interesting because all three of us approach acting using different methods so it also served as a learning experience for me because I got to expand my craft.
One of my favourite memories of the shoot was actually on one of the most stressful days we had where we were out in the middle of Vantage, WA shooting on a process trailer. It started raining and lots of things were going wrong (anyone who has ever worked in the industry knows there are always these kinds of days) and we were singing bits of songs we knew. We asked for a suggestion and Jerry [Spears, the co-director] said Come Sail Away by Styx, so we looked up the lyrics, and by the end of the song everyone had joined in. It broke the tension and stress of what had been going on.
Q: What was it like working with two directors – Domenic Barbero and Jerry Spears – on the project? What was their dynamic?
A: To be honest, when I first booked the film and saw there would be two directors I was a bit worried about whether there would be confusion or conflict when working or too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, but in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Jerry and Domenic work so seamlessly together, they are an amazing team. They both approach filmmaking from different angles so they were very complimentary to each other. On set, Domenic’s approach was from an aesthetic standpoint, colour, picture, and Jerry’s focus was mainly on actor performance and making sure we were always getting to the bottom of every scene.
The five of us (Jerry, Dom, Brian, Rich and I) would meet at the beginning of the day to talk about what we were doing and what we needed to accomplish and we’d meet again at the end of the day to discuss the discoveries we made with the characters and how we were going to continue to shape the arc of the story. It was very symbiotic and I’m so grateful I had these guys and everyone else on the production to work with. It was truly a great experience.
Q: I understand you have been acting since you were 7 years old. Can you tell us about your background and why you love this profession?
A: If you ask my mom, she’d tell you that since I was very young I’ve always been a bit of a ham, very dramatic. I’ve always just loved the art of performance, even before I understood that what I was doing was art.
Nothing gives me a greater high than performing on set or stage. Acting is beautiful because it’s really the art of understanding people- what drives them, what brings them pain or joy and how they express it, or cover it up. It’s also a craft that you never stop learning, it’s a constant progression. It’s an endless pit, really and the discovery process is very moving.
I think Julianne Moore said it best with: “The audience doesn’t come to see you, they come to see themselves.”
Q: What is next for you? What are your hopes for the future?
A: After We Take The Low Road premieres this week at SIFF, I’m jumping right into another film called Big Trees which is an indie-buddy-dramedy set in the Sequoia National Park in my home state of California. The film is going to be almost entirely improvised which is an exciting new challenge for me.
Jerry Spears and I recently co-wrote and shot a short film and are engaged in other writing projects currently. I’m so inspired by women like Issa Rae and Brit Marling who have a holistic approach to what they’re doing; writing, producing and acting. So I hope to follow the path women like them have forged and continue being a storyteller.