Pollyanna McIntosh will be immediately familiar to fans of the horror genre, having most recently cropped up in the immensely popular The Walking Dead as Anne, leader of The Scavengers. But a number of years before that, she burst onto the horror scene in Lucky McKee’s beloved and twisted The Woman, where she played the titular figure. She’s now returned as the savage matriarch from that film – albeit in a supporting role this time around – in the standalone sequel entitled Darlin’ which she also wrote and directed. We were fortunate enough to grab some time with her at this year’s Grimmfest in Manchester to ask her about moving behind the camera, building on the world created in the first film, and the challenges presented in being writer, co-star and director.
You set yourself a huge undertaking as writer and co-star for your debut directional feature. What was it that made you want to revisit the world of The Woman?
I was offered the chance to direct a sequel to a film that I would have to be in. I then challenged myself further by writing it. But in doing that, it means that I was so much under the skin of the project that it makes both acting and directing in it easier because I know the thing inside out. I know exactly how I wanted it to look from writing it, what the themes would be, and how I want to pull them out. It came from my own head so there was only one way to get it right, although that could have been the wrong way (laughs).
Did it feel directing whilst you were acting in a scene?
I really like to work close with the actors when I’m shooting anyway. I like to set up the framing and ensure it’s going to move how I want it to from behind the camera and I also enjoy being up front with my performers too, because actors really appreciate that. You’re not miles away in video village. Also, acting in the film was perfect, because… how much closer can I be to the actors? I’d written [the character of] The Woman to be more at the fringes than you’d imagine for a sequel to The Woman. So much of her world had been explored and told and I thought Darlin’ was at the heart of The Woman – the funny, goofy music-loving kid from the end of the previous movie. She was the one I wanted to make this film about.
As an exercise I did an edit [of Darlin’] where I took The Woman completely out of it so I could just focus on Darlin’s story and ensure the film was working for her journey, because that was the most important aspect. That was something Lucky suggested. The only other thing he said was he wanted to see more of The Woman in my script.
Lauryn Canny is astounding in the title role. It’s a leap with her going from being feral to communicating with civility. How did you work with her to bring out the performance?
I swear to god she came into the audition ready to play this role cold. If we had starting shooting the next day, she would have been grand. Lauryn wanted to have all the research I’d done for playing The Woman, but she was ready to go. She’s really talented and empathetic. She’s also a 19 year-old doing her first lead in a movie.
And it’s a very physical role.
She did feel, as anyone would, a certain concern that she was getting it right. There was one moment with Lauryn where I could sense she was kind of physically embarrassed about doing something. It didn’t feel right for her and I think she was worried that it might come across as OTT. We went off and talked about it together. I reassured her if she ultimately thought her delivery was hokey, it wouldn’t be in the final cut. I wasn’t so sold on that line that I was going to insist it stayed in the film. If it didn’t work, it didn’t work. I said if she trusted in herself and that even if the first take might not work, she’d still find that in the moment somewhere. It’s a level of trust between and actor and director that helps make that leap and it ended up working beautifully.
The end of the film is left pretty open, particularly in regards to your character. Have you had a little idea where it could go next?
I would be totally open to playing her again, as long as it was a good script. I don’t need to write or direct another one because I like that both films have used different directors and writers.
Is there another filmmaker and performer whose work you’d like to emulate in a sense?
I believe Bobcat Goldwaite is a filmmaker who has always done exactly what he’s wanted to do. He’s not been compromised in the negative way and he’s done different kinds of films. We’re great friends and I think I’ve definitely been influenced by his view of the world. Having been an actor for so long, this is a different kind of career for me and I don’t want to play this in a business sense. I want to make the film I want to make and they’re not always going to be to everyone’s tastes. I want to tell stories that have a through line as far as how I want an audience to connect with them, but I just want them to go all over the place, and I think he’s a really good example of that and going your own way.