With the Arrow Video release of The Woman (packaged with the prequel Offspring) due soon, we caught up with director Lucky Mckee to discuss the film nine years on…
STARBURST: How did you get round to co-writing The Woman with Jack Ketchum?
Lucky Mckee: I was pitching a project with this producer Andrew van den Houten. It was an adaptation of a Jack Ketchum novella called The Passenger. I pitched that hoping that maybe he could help get it financed, and he didn’t think he would get the budget that we thought was necessary to make that film, but he had just finished this his movie Offspring, which he directed from a Jack Ketchum book. He was curious if I was interested in doing a sequel to it and I was like, I don’t know, maybe. But I read the book, and I went up to New York, and I looked at the film that they had made, and I was really impressed with Pollyanna McIntosh did, and I gave Ketchum and Andrew my spin on where I thought the story should go. I was saying ‘you know we could do like what Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke did with 2001 where we come up with a story together and then you go off and write the book, and I’ll make the movie’. He said why don’t we just write both together so on that night in a restaurant in New York, it was this amazing collaborative relationship started with Ketchum. We ended up writing two, we wrote the script in the book together and then a couple more novels and a bunch of short stories and stuff, and it’s just really special.
Did you have any idea of how different you wanted it to be at the time?
Yeah, I have my specific kind of style, I guess, and a very specific sense of humour. And also I didn’t want it to be Offspring continued. I wanted to do something different with it. Polly was the best thing about that movie. The ferociousness that she brought to that character, and that’s hard to do, without being worried about coming off as silly. She just completely committed to it and it’s a powerful, powerful force. I loved her character so much I was like well I’d like for her to the hero in the second movie. She didn’t know me when she read the script, so there’s no trust there. She was looking at it as if it was going to be made with the same style and tone as the previous film, She was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this’, so we had a lot of conversations about it, and I told her how I like to handle that kind of material. I’m the kind of person who would like to be able to look myself in the mirror every night before I go to bed. So there are certain lines that I won’t cross with the subject matter. We built a mutual trust with each other early on, and she finally felt comfortable.
Now with Angela [Bettis], it always takes convincing with Angela to do anything. You know she wants to get to the core of why are you doing this - why do you want it? Why do you want to go to these places? Why do you want to go through the dark and this and that?
The young daughter, Lauren [Ashley Carter], who plays Peggy, I met in New York. She’d worked on a previous film with a producer, and I thought she was a really good match for being Angela’s daughter. We just got along instantly, and she really can be dark - she’s done really well for itself.
In terms of the male actors, Sean Bridgers was an old friend of Angela’s. She’d been trying to convince me to work with Sean, ever since we first met when we were making May. And, boy, what a joy to work with that guy. I’m worked mostly with women in my career, director to actor wise. So, this is the first time it has like a full experience with a dude. He’s amazing. That is the hardest part to play, especially if you’re a decent guy really, and he is that kind of person, and it’s fun to jump in those wicked roles and try to figure out how people get to a place where you think you could act like that.
I feel like this movie’s like even more appropriate now - even more on the button than nine years ago or whatever.
How has it been looking back at the film with the upcoming reissue?
Working with the people at Arrow Video has been the best experience I’ve ever had working with a distributor, they completely understand the movie. The artwork is beautiful, the presentation of the Blu-ray is beautiful, and they get it, you know? The trailer that they cut together just blew my mind it was like ‘wow they get it’.
Is it strange for you to have it paired up with Offspring?
Oh yeah, I’m totally fine with it. In the UK, it’s coming out in that double bill with Offspring, but in the States, The Woman is just coming out down alone - possibly because they’re waiting for the rights to turn back around on Offspring for North America. One of the most special things about The Woman being paired with Offspring is that my wife, Vanessa, got to do the cover for both, and it’s just beautiful. I love the colours that she painted for The Woman, and the one for Offspring also is just gorgeous. It’s really special that we get to do this stuff together, it’s pretty neat. I think it’s cool and I hope that when people see those two films that it leads them to Polly’s film Darlin’. It’s a very bizarre trilogy!
What was the most challenging thing about filming The Woman?
The subject matter - honestly - it’s not fun to shoot a rape scene. It’s not fun to shoot people being violent, trying to do that in a way that’s on it, you know, because the fucking terrifying, you know, like, there’s a scene where the parents are fighting in the kitchen. And towards the end of the film, the dad’s hitting the mom and the kid is just sitting right there, and you see this truly monstrous behaviour. That’s hard, man. My way of directing is getting in the mood with the actors and getting down on the ground with them - being as close to them as possible when we’re filming a given scene. I don’t like to just look up at the monitors, you know, I like to be close to them going through it with them.
It was hard to shake what it’s like writing the material. If you’re going to a very dark place psychologically and then acting it out with people, you go to a super dark place. And then you edit it for a year after that, and I had to go on the road and talk about it every day, it really wears on your soul, so the subject matter was hard - also the food. The food was terrible on the movie every day. The food was horrible so that that makes people pretty grumpy. The thing is, about halfway through the shoot, I figured out to get a friend of ours to go pick me up a hamburger every day, and that’s that got me through the rest of the shoot. It was a gritty four weeks in a super low budget movie.
One of the great things is you get to the end, and then it throws in something brand new that you’ve not seen throughout the whole film, just little references of dogs…
Yeah if you go back a second time, you can hear her the whole time, it’s all there, but yeah that was a really fun surprise. We call the character Socket - the girl that played her, Alexa Marcigliano, was really trying to get into the stunt world, and that movie really launched her, and now she is doing stunts on all these big shows and stuff like that, so that’s great.
When the film played at Sundance, you had some adverse publicity due to a member of the audience - did that help or hinder you at the time?
It ultimately helped the film. I mean, to go through it when it happened was not enjoyable! We did all the post-production in a house in Oklahoma in the middle of nowhere, like in the woods. It was three other guys putting the film together and me, so we’re really in a bubble making that movie. You know, I get really nervous before showing a film the first time, so going from that bubble to the Sundance Film Festival with hundreds of people sitting there watching your movie, I could barely stand up I was so nervous! Towards the end of the movie when stuff started getting more intense, this girl got up and started to walk out of the theatre and just completely tapped out and fell into the seats. They took care of her, and I was trying to get them to stop the movie, but they didn’t. Then when the movie was done, a guy walked up and just started railing on me and my team. Someone caught it on tape, and it ultimately gave us some more attention than it probably would have gotten, because it really, really pushed his buttons. I don’t think he knew what kind of movie he was in for! And then people were getting upset at him, yelling at the guy and defending me and filmmakers - it was crazy, man, it was very surreal because I’m already going through the anxiety of showing a film for the first time, and have that happen! But it’s a good memory, you know, funny when it wasn’t at the time.
What do you have next on the horizon?
I’m working on a very special project that I can’t talk about it yet, but it’s something that I’ve been wanting to make for a very, very long time. It’s something deeply personal in the way that May is really personal to me, and even The Woman actually is really personal to me. So, yeah, I’m very lucky that I get to work on this project, I just can’t talk about it.Arrow Video’s release of The Woman and Offspring is available from Monday, May 25th. You can read our review here and order here.