At the young age of 27, Rachel Nichols has already paid her dues in a variety of different films (DUMB AND DUMBERER??), music videos, modeling gigs, and most notably, t.v. shows - being featured prominently on ALIAS and THE INSIDE... But to a genre crowd perhaps unfamiliar with her work, Rachel immediately made an impression with her memorable turn as a babysitter in Andrew Douglas' remake of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. (True, she wore a belly-shirt like no other, but it was her sly, seductive performance that made the character stand out in an otherwise unremarkable film.)
Now she's landed a role that may very well etch her permanently in the hearts of horror fans: Angela, the brave heroine who faces off against a very disturbed security guard in P2 - which comes to us from the twisted minds behind HIGH TENSION and THE HILLS HAVE EYES.
I was lucky enough to receive a call from Rachel a few days ago (that's right, she's got my digits! So what if her publicist gave them to her...) and we spoke about, among other things, what it was like working with those mad geniuses, and why she drinks beer at 6 in the morning. (Don't worry, she's got a good reason.)
Thanks so much for your time, I'll try not to take up too much of it.
Rachel: Oh no problem!
I'll try my best not to ask the same questions you've been asked a hundred times already, although I'm sure I will anyway.
Rachel: (laughs) That's okay, if you do, I'll tell you that I've already answered that one.
And here's one of those questions! What initially attracted you to P2?
Rachel: The horror genre is obviously a huge one, and I read a LOT of scripts from that genre. And when I read this one, it was different, because of two things: one, the basic story of the parking garage, I had never seen that before. Of course, the woman-in-peril, the woman-as-survivor, flight or fight - that's part of many horror thrillers, but the parking lot idea was one I'd never heard of. The second reason I loved it was that the circumstances felt very real. Any woman will tell you that she's got special tricks when she's in a parking garage, she's got special things that she does, she's got a special place where she parks so she always remembers where her car is. It felt viable, like a viable object of fear, and I think doing a horror movie that could potentially resonate with your audience is the BEST kind of horror movie you can make.
Have you ever been in a situation remotely similar to the one you encounter in P2?
Rachel: I have definitely had creepy situations where, you know, it's late at night and I'm getting out of the subway and someone's following me, stuff like that - but certainly I've never been abducted at any point in my life, or had to fight for my life, although I do like to think that Angela has taught me something and I'd be able to survive if that ever came to pass... I don't love parking garages, I grew up in Maine and we don't have parking garages, I went to school in New York and there aren't really any parking garages there - but out here in L.A., gosh they're all over the place. And you know, I just keep my head high and walk briskly, and I unlock my car right before I get to it, and then I get in quickly - I'm one of those, I'll admit it.
Are you claustrophobic, afraid of the dark - any kind of phobia that you use when you're acting in some of the more intense scenes?
Rachel: Yeah, I'm actually very claustrophobic. I saw this movie called THE VANISHING when I was young, and it had this woman buried alive - and to me that is the worst thing I can imagine in the entire world. So when I'm in a trunk, or a small space and having to struggle and move - that's a very tangible fear for me. There's a scene where I'm underneath a car and he lets the air out of the tires - that kind've stuff gets my heart beating, I have shortness of breath, it's very very real for me.
Tell me about the parking lot, is it an actual lot or is it a set?
Rachel: It's a real parking lot, we shot nights - woo hoo! shooting nights is terrible! - we shot nights for two months in a parking garage that was underground and active in Toronto. There was lots of exhaust and people were driving through, in and out.
So are there people rubbernecking and watching while you're trying to film a scene?
Rachel: Well, we shot from 6pm to 6am, we didn't have that many people. There were a few people, on Friday nights some drunken people would walk through the garage and be like "Hey what are you guys filming?"
So much of the movie is just you, and when it's not just you, it's you and Wes. Is that a big challenge when you have to film so many scenes by yourself?
Rachel: When I first read the script, my first thought was "They've really got to cast someone fantastic as Thomas" because it's just the two of us, it's a two person job, it's a tango that we both have to be good, because we both have to help and support each other. When they told me they were going to hire Wes, I was even more excited about the project because I've respected Wes for so long and he's obviously an actor of a certain caliber, and I thought "Okay, this will be great for me to work with him, because I know he can do the job and I know he can do it well." Without even having met him, just based on what I've seen him in. And then when I met him - he became my saving grace in the movie, we became extremely good friends, he was very protective of me... Because of that we had our own shorthand with each other while doing these very intense, very emotional scenes. Knowing that I could trust him and that he would support me and that we could grab a beer at 6am - that was really important for me.
I was going to ask what it was like in that situation, because sometimes people like to keep their distance from each other, they want to method act and remain in the moment.
Rachel: I'm not method in that way, neither was Wes. We really needed each other, it was a hard shoot. We could go out and have a great time... The best thing was that we became such great friends, but we'd go to work and he'd scare the shit out of me. We didn't have to be method because as soon as he went into being Thomas, and I went into being Angela, I felt like I had never left the scene the previous day, we were just absorbed by the scene we were in.
Did you shoot in sequence, or was it broken up?
Rachel: It was pretty broken up, we shot the beginning at the end, the dinner scene more in the beginning... The dinner scene we shot first, and it was good that we got it out of the way, because that was the most civil scene between Wes and I, and I think it would have been much more difficult to go back and shoot that.
What can you tell me about Franck Kalfoun's technique, because I know this is his first big feature, how would you describe his approach to directing?
Rachel: Franck was great because obviously Gregory Levasseur and Alex Aja were there every day, and they're good friends with Franck, and they had experience where Franck did not - and the three of them worked very well together, they had written the script together, Franck was the conduit between Wes and myself and Alex and Greg, because my French is terrible, and Wes doesn't speak it at all. Alex and Greg can speak English, but they're better at expressing themselves in French, so Franck had a very hard job to be in the middle a lot. I think he has a bright future, I really do.
So Alexandre was on set the entire time?
Rachel: Alex and Greg were both on set every day, all day long.
So was he like Franck's mentor?
Rachel: Yeah, I mean they were just there to participate. I've worked with a lot of first time directors, and it would have been nice for them to have friends that had experience on set. Greg and Alex are obviously very talented, and the have a great knack for creating suspense, and I think the three of them together made the best possible movie.
What was your preparation like?
Rachel: For me getting ready to play the role was physical AND mental. Physical because its an incredibly strenuous role to play and it required a certain amount of strength: the running, the swinging of the axe - those things aren't light - struggling with Wes, the handcuffs, the dogs - it was extremely demanding. I have a trainer in L.A. who I had used on ALIAS, and she got me in fantastic shape. We didn't want Angela to suddenly show up in this white dress and she's just jacked, we weren't going for that - we were going for stamina.
Then of course the mental preparation, there was certain amount of work that was done on set with Franck and Alex and Greg. I have a brilliant coach in L.A. we really went through the entire script. It's really important for me in any role to go through the movie scene by scene and write notes in the margins - motivations, intentions. You really have to dissect the script, because if you're shooting 68 and you haven't shot scene 67 yet, you still know where you're going to be mentally, so you can keep continuity of performance.
What's in store for you in the future? I see that you're in the upcoming CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. What was that like?
Rachel: I'm in it for probably the blink of an eye. I play Suzanne, who is one of "Charlie's Angels," one of the women that works in his [Hanks'] office. I got that job while we were shooting P2. Whenever I had an awful, awful day filming and I was bruised and I was so hurt and in so much pain, I would think to myself "In a month I'm going to be working with Mike Nichols!" It was amazing, I really got to work with my idols on that movie.
I'd like to say a hearty "You're Welcome" to Rachel Nichols for the time I gave her. It was certainly no problem for me to - okay, I'll admit it - the pleasure was all mine, she couldn't have been cooler... P2 opens November 9th.