Into the Storm star Sarah Wayne Callies learned a valuable lesson during her time on The Walking Dead. Callies phoned us for an exclusive chat about her disaster movie that hits theaters August 8 and shared insight she learned on the hit zombie show, as well as why her character truly resonated with her in a case of art imitating life.
Movie Fanatic: As we could even tell from the Into the Storm trailer, there has to be numerous levels of challenges that would come your way from the special effects to all various types of cameras capturing the action. What was the biggest challenge if you can even pick one?
Sarah Wayne Callies: The way we shot with all the multiple cameras working at once -- the cameras mounted on the vehicles, the cameras that the actors were holding and the professional camera crew -- that was actually one of the best things about making this movie. It meant that you could do the movie almost like doing a play in the round. You just did your thing without worrying about the angles or coverage. You trust that someone would pick it up. I found it freeing.
Movie Fanatic: Then what was the biggest challenge?
Sarah Wayne Callies: Coming from television, as I do, I was very careful to track minute by minute the story that takes place in 12 hours over 10 shooting weeks. We shoot an episode of television in eight days and you work intuitively and work on the fly. That ten to twelve weeks with Into the Storm, I had to be really meticulous with that.
Movie Fanatic: One of the things that is the most striking about your character is the emotional connection to your daughter and how you have to do what you do because that is your work. One, when you read that in the script, was that a nice layer to add to your part and two, having never shared a scene with your daughter was that difficult to tap into that emotional connection with someone you never physically meet?
Sarah Wayne Callies: You’re absolutely right, that was one of the things that I found most interesting about this character is that she’s a working mom, like I’m a working mom. Just like I experience, she feels constantly torn between achieving excellence in her career and her desire to be with her children day in and day out. The reality is I’m a breadwinner for a family of four and sometimes I have to shoot on location and I’m not there. Every working mother I know, I don’t know that there is never a moment without some level of guilt that I’m (expletive) up my career or (expletive) up my kids. It felt so honest to me. For all the different roles for women that you can find in action movies, I thought it was so worth exploring. When we shot the movie initially, my daughter never appeared onscreen. We only knew her through two phone calls. When we tested the movie, we found that the audience wanted to see this little girl. So, we went back and did some reshoots and my own daughter found out about it. She said, “I want to do it.” "Well, sweetheart," I told her, "there’s a way that actors get jobs in Hollywood and that’s auditioning [laughs]." So I put her on tape and we have different last names, so it was submitted anonymously and she got the part all by herself. That little girl you see on screen is mine [laughs]! It was very cool. I saw the movie for the first time last night and I was so proud of her. I’d rather she not be an actor for a living, but she did great!
Movie Fanatic: It seems like with a film like this, there would be so many balls in the air for your director, Steven Quale. I was so impressed with him. What was your take away from going Into the Storm with Steven?
Sarah Wayne Callies: Working with Steve Quale is like playing chess with Bobby Fischer. At a certain point, you just acknowledge that he’s seeing 20 moves ahead of you. The best thing you can do is take care of your part of the story. Steve’s great strength is that he understands special effects and understands organically how movies are put together from a technical perspective. One thing he understands about special effects is that they are absolutely meaningless if the audience doesn’t care about the characters that are being specially effected. That was a big lesson for me on The Walking Dead. Nobody cares about zombies unless the people that the zombies are chasing matter to them. If I anchor my character to something real, something unglamorous, then Steve can do his magic with special effects.
Movie Fanatic: The film touches a nerve because we’re experiencing storms like never before. What do you think it is about a movie like this that people love so much, when the reality of the situation is so scary and present?
Sarah Wayne Callies: I think it’s exactly that. It’s scary to look at things head-on. When we see the state of the climate and the damage that that has been causing in the last few years and the pace things are escalating, it’s terrifying. Especially as a parent, I think really hard about where we live, and what we have in terms of preparedness. My children will be growing up in a world that is very different than the one I grew up in and might be very threatening. The great gift of entertainment is that it can be a proxy. Two things are true: One, nobody was hurt making this movie and it’s a piece of fiction. Two, this could be very, very real for a lot of people. It’s an interesting thing. We can explore our anxieties through entertainment that feels safer and yet, from an entertainment perspective, the bad guy in this movie is one of the worst bad guys out there. It’s because it’s real. You can’t kill it and you can’t fight it and win. Humans v. nature is not a battle -- nature wins every time.