May 16, 2019 Interview – Pollyanna McIntosh
Unpredictable and unique, the path of Pollyanna McIntosh has been an interesting one. Born in Scotland, yet growing up in both Portugal and Colombia, she would then return to her homeland to begin her exploration in acting. Soon off to London to pursue theater and film acting more, by 2004, McIntosh would relocate once again to Los Angeles, since seeing her career take off in various directions.
A talented, well-rounded actress, she has made a name for herself with 2011’s The Woman and as lead protagonist Jadis on the hit AMC series The Walking Dead. Always looking to expand her horizons, she has recently turned her attention to filmmaking, directing, and co-writing her debut feature film, Darlin’.
A sequel to The Women and 2009’s Offspring, which came before, in addition to working behind the scenes, McIntosh also finds herself reprising her role as ‘the woman.’ A dream come true for McIntosh, Darlin’ continues to make its way across the film festival circuit with an eye toward future distribution, thus bringing it to an even larger audience. Glowing with excitement about it all, the actress-turned-director recently sat down to chat about her admiration for storytelling, working on Darlin’, plans for future films, her time as part of The Walking Dead, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in film and television for nearly 20 years. Briefly, tell us, what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
Pollyanna McIntosh – I think I’ve always been a very gregarious person and people have always interested me. I, like many people, had the experience of watching things when I was quite young that made me feel like there was a lesson to learn in the world. I think that is really what my passion is both as an actor and filmmaker.
I guess I want to connect with people and it’s a great way to do it; both working with other actors where you are right there in the moment, but also the reach it has beyond that. I think I just want to be talking to a lot of people at the same time.
Cryptic Rock – It is a great medium to do so. You can reach a lot of people through film and television.
Pollyanna McIntosh – Yes, and like I said, I grew up watching so many wonderful things that I admired. There is a magic in storytelling that has been with us since the dawn of time. Now it can be done so visually, as well.
Cryptic Rock – Exactly, and stories make us who we are. You have worked in a variety of different genres from Thrillers to Comedy, and of course, Horror. Do you enjoy that diversity?
Pollyanna McIntosh – Absolutely. I think most actors will probably tell you the same thing – they go into this game to embody different experiences and different people. Variety is always the spice of it for us. It’s so much fun to go from the scary villain to the nervous, ditsy crazy in a Comedy or whatever it might be. It’s still character work for me, and I love it.
Cryptic Rock – It’s great to have that diversity. Beyond acting, you have delved into directing, recently releasing your feature directorial debut, Darlin’. You take on the leading role, reprising your role from 2009’s Offspring and 2011’s The Woman. That said, how did Darlin’ come about for you?
Pollyanna McIntosh – I played the character in Offspring, a movie that Andrew van den Houten directed and produced. That character was taken on into a second movie called The Woman, directed by Lucky McKee, and also produced by Andrew van den Houten. When Andrew came to me and asked if I would like to direct the next film in the series, I couldn’t resist. I wanted to write the script so it could be personal, and something I could live with the amount of time you do live with a film as a filmmaker.
That was something I really enjoyed. I was very inspired by the world Jack Ketchum created in his novels that translated so well into film. Lucky co-wrote The Woman with Ketchum; I call him Dallas, Dallas Mayr is his real name. In this case I wrote it on my own, but with Ketchum’s blessing luckily before he passed away.
Cryptic Rock – Fascinating. This is obviously something you have been passionate about for many years. What was it like to sit down and write a script for something you have been involved in so intimately?
Pollyanna McIntosh – I won’t say it wasn’t intimidating. (Laughs) It certainly was to follow a film like The Woman, which I admire so much, not only for the writing but the filmmaking, as well. It was a challenge, but once I started researching feral children I knew I wanted to focus on Darlin’. I knew I wanted to focus on her story: she had so much heart and she was the one who led me into the story I came up with.
Once I started being led by Darlin’, I got really excited about the concept. Like I say, The Woman is really something to follow. I knew I had it in me; I had experience both writing and directing. I co-wrote a film called Reciprocal Beat, which is now in pre-production. I had also written and directed a 35-minute short film called Perfect, which I’m developing into a feature film. I also directed a lot of theater. I just had to dig into that confidence and go with it. I knew that either Lucky, Andrew, or Dallas would tell me if I was writing something that was really shit. (Laughs) Otherwise, I was safe and I got on with it; it was fun.
Cryptic Rock – Sometimes our biggest obstacle in life is one’s self, isn’t it? The film recently premiered last month at SXSW Film Festival. What have the reactions been on the film festival circuit thus far?
Pollyanna McIntosh – It’s been an amazing experience being at the festivals and just hearing an audience go with the film. To have that experience all together, it’s one of those things I love about being in this industry; I’m such a movie fan, lover of the cinema, and that experience. Being there with my own film for the first time, having that, it was just an honor and joy. The audiences at SXSW are known for being good, kind, and vocal. They certainly were with us: you can hear them laughing, gasping, and getting emotional. It was really exciting.
One of the wonderful things I remember going around the festival circuit as an actor was with Love Eternal (2013), which again has a bit of an edge and isn’t a film for everybody. The difference in how the audience responded to it is a very personal thing. I’m just as happy to hear what has been difficult for audience members, as well as what has been joyful. What I am hearing so far is they can’t sleep after, and some of them want to become vegetarians. (Laughs)
I’m also hearing that the tenderness in the film is something that is really moving to them. It has really helped them with the horror element too; really helped them connect and really care about the characters. Therefore, they get more fast and furious with their feelings in the horror too. It’s been a good experience so far.
Cryptic Rock – It has to be inspiring to hear people’s reactions in real time like that.
Pollyanna McIntosh – Yes. Seeing the cast and crew at festivals is special, as well. We were all in that foxhole together and now we get to share in the joys of it. It’s been amazing.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds extremely redeeming. Seeing you do star in the film and direct, how would you compare being behind the scenes opposed to acting?
Pollyanna McIntosh – I think the difference is you are still a storyteller, but instead of being a cog in the wheel you are driving the bus. There is a leadership element to directing that is very different than being an actor; it’s something I took to very well. (Laughs) You take well to it, especially having a really talented bunch with you; cheering them on is just an honor.
I think, in this case, because I’m both an actor and director in it, I kind of had both those experiences at the same time. It would be interesting for me to be just the director and not having to be in front of the camera; I’m sure that would be a different experience.
As far as comparing the experience as an actor, I think I’m very at home on a set – so there is that crossover. It’s just a different experience: it rests on your shoulders, so you have to be a solution-based leader. You get all the adrenaline out of the way in an indie movie shoot. (Laughs) I can’t wait to do it again.
Cryptic Rock – So, is this a doorway to you doing more directing in film?
Pollyanna McIntosh – Totally. Like I say, I started directing theater as soon as I was out of the university. It’s something I have always known I wanted to do in film too. I’m so grateful this opportunity came when it did with a film that already has a fanbase; it means people will actually see it. (Laughs) I will definitely be doing more. Just as my career as an actor has been kind of all over the place genre wise, I expect the same as a director and filmmaker. I’ve got a couple of Comedies, an Action film, and a Drama all up my sleeve. There will be more.
I’m currently in pre-production for a film called Deathcember, it’s a Horror anthology for Christmas that should be coming out later this year. There are 24 filmmakers and we are all making shorts for each day of December leading up to Christmas. It kind of reminds me of Tales of Halloween (2015), which I was in. That was really fun to be a part of. I think it’s really a sentimental thing from people’s childhood, there were a lot of great Horror anthologies in the ’70s and ’80s. Now we seem to be bringing the trend back, which is cool.
Cryptic Rock – Very cool. Deathcember is something to look forward to. You talked about being diverse in your role choices. In recent years, you took on a role in AMC’s The Walking Dead. Jadis is a difficult character to figure out. What’s it like playing a role which is so cloaked in mystique as Jadis?
Pollyanna McIntosh – The whole show is cloaked in mystique. As an audience member, I appreciate that, but as an actor sometimes I want to know what happens next. Sometimes I was just as surprised as the audience with the turns in that character; it’s a new way of working for me and it certainly keeps you on your toes.
Jadis was someone, when walking into the audition to play her, I oddly felt very comfortable with and connected with. That was even though she speaks with this very strange cadence of only using the most important words in a sentence. People have their own terms for it: Yoda is one that comes up a lot. (Laughs) I just really enjoyed taking on that character. I love the fact that they wrote it for either a man or a woman; that felt very open-minded to me and it was exciting. I obviously didn’t know very much about her before I got the job.
Working on The Walking Dead has just been the best experience of my life. The amount of people I’ve gotten to meet, where I get to share in their world of the love of the show, is such a frigging honor and joy. This show means so much to people, and to be part of that means so much to me. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun! It’s just so much fun playing this character and working with these actors; Andy Lincoln is such a present actor and we have a lot of fun working together. Everyone else is just like family. I just pinch myself all the time.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like it has been a blast. Jadis is a character where you don’t know how you feel about her; you don’t know if you like her or hate her. She is somewhere in between; you are not really sure what you think of her.
Pollyanna McIntosh – Yes, I think she is a truly nuanced character. They wrote the character for either a man or a woman to play, and that is exactly the point – she is not driven by her gender, neither in the writing or her personality. She’s a leader: she changes her mind, keeps secrets, and it’s not going to work out well for everybody around her. She is extremely loyal to her people, so I can get very grounded in that; she does have a cause and responsibilities to uphold – she doesn’t take that lightly.
A lot of people say to me, “I really hated your character in the beginning, but now I like her more.” “I really enjoyed hating her,” or “I really loved her from the beginning.” People have very different experiences with her. She would say she is neither the bad guy or the good guy: she’s herself, which is really cool to play.
Cryptic Rock – You have done an exceptional job with the character. Last we saw Jadis, she went off into the unknown with Rick in the helicopter. It is a mystery what will happen next because Rick and Jadis are not dead. We just do not know what will happen.
Pollyanna McIntosh – I know, and I wish I could tell you. (Laughs) I know they have plans for three movies coming up, and it would make sense her character would be in the first one because, of course, they’ve gone off together. If we’re going to see Rick, presumably, we are going to see Jadis, or Anne, as she is calling herself now. Nothing is set in stone just yet; we’re all excited to find out how it’s going to go down. Yeah, I want to know too!
Cryptic Rock – Everyone wants to know. It’s been a good ninth season. We have leapt 6 years into the future with the story, as well. With everything that has happened, have you been keeping up with it?
Pollyanna McIntosh – Yeah, and boy, Samantha Morton’s character is scaring the shit out of me. She’s great; it’s really creeping me out. The whole character really gets under my skin, which to forgive the pun, is the point I suppose. (Laughs) Also, seeing Judith taking over and being such, again, a complex character, but strong leader.
There is an interesting crossover happening now with Fear of The Walking Dead with Dwight (Austin Amelio) going over there, as well as Morgan (Lennie James). Then there is a great cast with Maggie Grace, Garret Dillahunt, Jenna Elfman, and Danay Garcia is fantastic as well. Both of the shows I’m still keeping up with and loving.
Cryptic Rock – It should be fun to see what happens with both shows. Last question. What are some of your favorite Horror and Sci-Fi films?
Pollyanna McIntosh – The Shining (1980) is a strong one for me: I think it holds up real well and is really scary. It’s very visceral and has great performances. I am a huge fan of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and in some way, I think that has influenced Darlin’ as well; that late 60’s/ early ’70s look with the colors. Again, the characters, you are so with them; Ruth Gordon is fantastic in that film. Those two are my favorite, but The Wizard of Oz (1939) is a Horror film too, and that’s definitely a favorite for me.
Cryptic Rock – Good selections. Have you seen anything new you enjoyed lately? Did you see 2016’s The Neon Demon?
Pollyanna McIntosh – That film literally gave me a panic attack. I was watching it just as I was starting to write Darlin’ and a fashion industry Horror story. I felt it went a little awry in the third act though. I went to a screening where Nicolas Winding Refn talked about it and he was saying he was kind of led by one of the performances in the film because of what he was seeing with Jena Malone. He said he was so led by her performance in a scene with Elle Fanning, and he brought her into it more and it changed the third act more. Hearing that, it made sense to me. To me, I felt it was going in a very strong female perspective, experimental movie. I feel then it kind of went a little too batshit at the end. I would love to see what his original script was.
Cryptic Rock – Right, it is the type of film that sticks with you though. Those are the types of films you want to see.
Pollyanna McIntosh – You know how heartening this is to hear and how I much I needed to hear this right now? It’s so true. I think, in this day and age, we’re not given that breathing space with storytelling as much as we need it. I think that people undermine audiences and expect them not to be able to deal with a film that brings that, and I think we can.
A lot of this sort of derivative commercial stuff that is coming out, they are spending a lot of money, and they want to get that money back. I just hunger for that kind of film that questions how I should feel about it, stays with me, and I have a new perspective every time I see it. I think that’s wonderful and what I hope to do with Darlin’.