Never Let go is the blistering new action thriller from Howard J. Ford who co-directed and co-wrote the critically lauded zombie epics The Dead and The Dead 2: India.
The film is an intelligent and emotionally draining depiction of abduction and the extreme measures one mother takes when she is forced to protect her child.
Crucial to the movie’s refreshing sense of realism is an electrifying central performance from British actress Angela Dixon as ‘single mum with a set of skills’ Lisa Brennan.
The Peoples Movies presents an exclusive interview with the leading lady of the must see thriller of the year.
By what process did you become attached to Never Let Go ?
I met Howard on a yacht at the Cannes film festival at a networking event in 2011. We only spoke for around 15 minutes but there was a strong creative connection. I think we both recognised that we shared a deep sense of heart and spirit at the core of our work. Over the years we kept in touch. What I didn’t realise was that I was being auditioned the whole time – which makes sense really doesn’t it? Working with people is not just about whether they have the skill and ability. When filming you need to trust and if possible like the people you work with. Over time Howard came to know that I would show up, he knew that I was physically, emotionally and mentally strong and he knew I could act. Around 3 years after our meeting he started to write a story and had me in his head as he wrote it. In his first email to me he said ‘I really will keep you in mind for a great role when the right one comes along’. Howard is a man of his word.
Never Let Go features many strong female characters how well do you feel women are represented in action films and indeed cinema in general ?
It’s an interesting question. A couple of years ago I did some research on the actors at the national theatre. I was shocked at the disparity between male and female roles. Of course the national has a lot of classic works and historically it is the male story and the male voice that we are used to seeing and hearing. I think we are so used to it that it’s almost unnoticed. Women take up roughly 50% of the population and yet last year only 12% of all clearly identifiable protagonists in film and TV were female. So in answer to your question I don’t think women are represented enough. Also there’s a danger with female action characters that they can be just imitations of their male counterparts.
Lisa has a mixture of male and female energy and she fights like a man but her journey through the film is a female one and Howard allows the audience to see that. I think that the tide is turning. Gina Davies is leading the way with her Institute on Gender in Media, many prominent women in the business are speaking out and we are beginning to see women have more influence in story-telling across the board. There is still a long way to go but I am proud to be part of that movement towards gender balance.
What inspirations did you draw from in your portrayal of the emotional and psychological facets of Lisa Brennan ?
It was really important to me that Lisa wasn’t just an ‘action’ woman. I wanted to create a fully rounded complex character to do justice to the story. I spent a long time working with and creating her emotional, mental and psychological world. I combed through my own internal world and identified areas I could use to map onto Lisa’s. Where I couldn’t find a personal reference I conjured it up from my imagination. It was an intense and very emotional journey. When you hit upon the right note all your senses let you know it’s right. I was trying to find who or what could be my substitution for Sophie. When I found the right person my knees gave way and I sobbed uncontrollably on the floor of my living room. I then made a hysterical phone call to that person to say how much I loved them. It’s a very odd job we do isn’t it?
How much has Never Let Go helped your confidence as an actress ?
NLG has given me an opportunity to really use my craft. All too often an actor is given a couple of lines or a poorly written or under developed character. The worst is when you have a short scene where you are merely an expositional mouthpiece. In those circumstances it is very difficult to do a good job. Lisa is a well written character in a great story. Being able to play her under intense and difficult circumstances – I wasn’t waiting around in my Winnebago between scenes – has definitely given me more confidence. My voice no longer waivers when I say ‘I am an actor’.
The pace of the film is relentless, how demanding was the shoot and did you suffer any injuries ?
Yes the pace is relentless! It was a physically demanding shoot. I did a lot of running barefoot, scrambling up, over and on unsafe buildings, I also jumped off and between some of them. I had the odd cut and graze, pulled and strained a fair few muscles, trapped nerves in my shoulder and knee but considering I was doing some potentially dangerous stuff I consider myself lucky to have come out of it mostly unscathed. I trained really hard beforehand, around 2-3 hours a day. I was really lucky that my boxing teacher Steve Cole let me train with him so I was ready for it. I am still having physio to sort out some lingering aches and pains but mostly fine. It was all worth it.
What for you was the best part of making the film ?
There were moments when I was filming where it felt like I was absolutely doing what I was born to do. It’s an amazing feeling, it’s like your heart explodes and every single cell is vibrating in harmony. My favourite moments were when our small team worked together in real synergy. At times we were so connected that there was no need for words. In those moments we were just completely in the flow and you really feel that when it happens. It’s something very special. This was low budget filming with high end results. Watching Howard create this film was like witnessing alchemy. People would be staggered by how ‘Never Let Go’ was pulled out of the bag.
How much are you looking forward to making an appearance at this years Film4 FrightFest and what are you expecting ?
I am very excited. I went to see Howards’ last film ‘The Dead II’ with the fabulous Joseph Millson at FrightFest 2013. It was insane. The audience were amazing, there was a real buzz. I’m not entirely sure what to expect. I hope that audience enjoy the film.
What can you tell us about your future projects ?
I have a lead role in Indie feature ‘Homeless Ashes’ with Marc Zammit which I’m really looking forward to. I’m hoping that NLG will help me get a new agent. I want to find more great work so I can use my craft again. I’m really excited about the opportunities NLG will bring. I’m ready for them. Watch this space.
Much gratitude to Greg Day for arranging the interview and special thanks to Angela Dixon for her honest and insightful answers.
Never Let Go screens at London Film4 Frightfest on Aug 28th 2015 at 9.00pm as part of the Discovery Screen 1 thread.