People Weekly '86
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Visiones Macabre '02
(Web Site Interview) Feb 2002
This interview was translated from the Spanish web site 'Visiones Macabre'. You can check out the site using the link. This excellent translation from Spanish to English was accomplished by Max Lopez, to whom I express my gratitude.
Meg Tilly is sitting down with her legs crossed on a wooden chair that won’t stop making a bothersome creaking and she moves her dark bangs from her porcelain face while she meditates the question that has just been asked. How did the script for "Body Snatchers" reach your hands?
“It was sent to me by mail" she replies with a thoughtful voice, and suddenly she begins to laugh. "Well, the truth is my agent told me it was something I wasn’t going to be interested in, but it was an offer and thought I should look at it. The script was running around the house for a few days until I picked it up and started to read it… and I liked it.”
“I phoned my agent and in an almost apologetic tone I said I kind of wanted to do the film. My agent read the script and agreed… she saw that it had some good things in it. Even on that evening we both began to ask ourselves what was in the dresser and what could be under the bed! My agent even had a nightmare… It wasn’t a movie that would do much for my career, but I was drawn by it, so I decided to interpret the role.”
One of the elements of the script which she liked the most was the pod scream, an inhuman sound that is used by possessed people to identify those who have yet to be changed.
“I thought of all the things that feel comforting, all that is recognizable and all that is normal simply changing all of a sudden into that horrendous and threatening sound", she explains. "I tried a few sounds on the road… I had to lower the windows so I wouldn’t blow out my eardrums!”
Tilly is an enigma. Simultaneously ethereal and very pragmatic, absentminded and tremendously intelligent, serene and far to nervous to sit still, she looks more like an adolescent than a happy wife and mother of two, and she is capable of doing an entire interview without talking about psychoanalytical therapy, exercise or the last furor in Los Angeles fashion. (Speaking of which, she doesn’t even live in Los Angeles.) When she speaks she places her entire body behind each word she enunciates, and she places on your face her almost catlike stare with her almond shaped eyes.
"Body Snatchers" is something new for the actress: instead of portraying the adolescent character she portrays the mother of the adolescent character. Stepmother, in fact, and it is clear that her role is that of a younger second wife… even so she takes one step further in the direction that will take her to more mature roles.
“Carol is a real person, a mother with a son and a husband." she says with a thoughtful expression. She is also a stepmother, someone who is trying to do as best as possible the responsibilities of a mother… Sometimes she does it well and sometimes, not so much. She is trying to give the best she can."
The special challenge that the role demands comes when Carol is 'possessed' towards the middle of the film and she becomes one of the pod-people, a soulless creature who has been robbed of it’s personality. Tilly utilized an internal focus in order to obtain the transformation, and chose to transmit it in a subtle and discreet manner.
“I limited myself to introduce a change in my way of thinking and the way I see things", she explains, and searches for an example. "When I look at my child I do it in a different way then when I’m contemplating a chair. They are different… the child is a living being and the chair is an object. When Carol ceases to be Carol their no longer exist a difference to her between a child and a chair."
Tilly is no scream queen, but besides that she has left her imprint on the films of that genre ever since "Psycho 2" by Richard Franklin up to "The Girl in a Swing", by Gordon Hessler; and unlike many other actresses with pampered reputations she doesn’t depreciate her work in those films.
“Horror movies can be very interesting", she quickly replies "because they can deal with intangible subjects that are full of emotion. That is why it is difficult for me to talk about my role in "Body Snatchers". I can talk and talk, but all I’d do is turn in circles around the basic theme because it is something that resists being captured by language.”
Talking about Abel Ferrara, the director of "Body Snatchers", is much easier for her. “Abel impressed me very much because his methods of work are very different to those that I’m used to seeing." She says "I’m the type of person who likes to know exactly how many steps she will have to take and when she should look up, and with him that is impossible. "Body Snatchers" has been like a ride on a roller coaster… Here we go!" Tilly moves her head from side to side to explain the experience. "In the beginning, I felt something like… you know, 'Help, I want to get off!' I would torture myself by going in circles with the dialogue, and when I reached the plate it turns out that all the dialogue had changed. That’s when I would lose my head, I would go to him and say 'Abel, you have to help me'. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go on, but I’ve been able to do it. In the end it all comes down to letting go without knowing exactly what I have to do."
“Now I feel like one of those Rodeo riders. I’m on top of a wild horse that won’t stop jumping and kicking, and it is really exciting but I grab on to his ears and his mane and I’m screaming. The result is fun, but it’s also scary!" Tilly laughs. "I would love to work with Abel again, I’ve had a good time making this movie. There are some directors you deal with and other directors you end up falling in love with, and I adore Abel.”
Tilly was born February 14, 1960 in Long Beach, California, but she was raised on an Island close to the coast of Canada. Her first ambition was to be a ballet dancer. She began very late when she was a teenager, and based on discipline and decision she managed to get far by studying with the famous ballet dancer Melissa Hayden of New York; but the hastiness of a test to form part of an important ballet company caused an accident which changed the course of Tilly’s career… for the better. While recuperating she decided to move west and try her luck at acting.
Even though she didn’t have a film history worthy of that name – only a brief appearance as a dancer in "Fame" where her dialogue ended up on the cutting room floor - Tilly didn’t take long in landing the role of Matt Dillon’s friend in "Tex" . In 1983 she had three more starring roles: "The Big Chill", which brought her much critical acclaim, and two horror movies, "Psycho 2" and "One Dark Night", directed by Tom Mcloughlin.
Tilly doesn’t have a good memory of this last one – an exercise of suspense not well distinguished with terrorized teens in a mausoleum - but she enjoyed her stay in the Bates motel.
“Psycho 2 was an excellent experience in which I learned many things", Tilly says. "It was one of my first movies, and Tom Holland, the screenwriter, was very nice to me… he helped me in all that he could. Whenever possible I prefer to work with the screenwriter" she continues, and it’s clear she is getting excited with the subject, "because you have someone who can answer all of the questions about why, when and how. If the script has been written in a hurry and hastily then it doesn’t matter, but if a lot of work and mental energy has gone into it I like to do what the screenwriter wrote.”
"Psycho 2" was very mistreated mainly because it was the sequel to the classic from Hitchcock, but – leaving aside the opinion that the movie deserved - many critics praised Tilly’s performance. 'Variety' complemented her by saying that she was “something that isn’t seen very often, the damsel in distress that is capable of looking vulnerable and likeable and, at the same time, capable of defending herself in any situation and making it believable.”
Her next film of the genre was "Impulse", by Graham Baker, a 1984 production that with certain alterations used the premise from 'The Crazies', and in which Tilly was the only person not affected by the wave of liberation from impulse that turned into a living hell the town she lived in.
“It was a good experience" she remembers, "even though it isn’t one of my favorite movies. I worked with excellent people, and we all used the best of ourselves, but it isn’t one of the movies I cherish the most.” Those movies include "Agnes of God", for which she obtained an Oscar nomination portraying a naïve nun who probably murdered her baby.
Tilly was fascinated by her character in "The Girl in a Swing" – a story about supernatural love which has been compared to Portrait of Jennie – but she was frightened to see the tremendous editing done to the film during it's exhibition in the U.S.
"It was a two and a half hour long movie" she recalls, "and when I saw the director's final cut I was very proud of it. Then I went to the premiere and they had destroyed it. It was scary. Then they sent me a copy of the U.S. version and it was even worse, I felt violated. Many people have told me that they don't understand it, that all I do is scream and run naked from one place to another, and they are right, that's all that's left of the film" says Tilly, frowning, "but that's not what I did, and I didn't accept the role to do that, evidently. Karin had so much character, so much strength, so many different levels… and the leading man of the story was incapable of treating her the way she deserved. Each time she tried to tell him the truth he refused to listen to her."
"I made that movie practically for free; I would change wardrobe in the back of a car" Tilly continues to explain, "but I fell in love with the character, and I wanted to interpret her at all cost, and they violated her. I was furious and that's why I refused to do any type of publicity for the film. I didn't want to say anything bad about her because I am still in love with that character, but I felt like they had betrayed her and I didn't want to have anything to do with it. I would like for them to one day release the original version because I feel very proud of the performance I achieved in it."
After "Leaving Normal", a buddy and road film, Tilly faced Body Snatchers. She had already used some prosthetics in her hands in "Agnes of God", but "Body Snatchers" has been her first experience with special make-up in a grand scale.
“If they have covered your face with latex you have to control yourself mentally so you won’t think" she explains. "If you start thinking you will succumb to panic. I had a bit of a cold, and frankly I didn’t have a good time. There was a moment in which I knew I had to sneeze, and I thought 'Don’t do it, you will ruin the mold', and I managed not to sneeze. Once they took my face and my body… well, it was a strange experience, and I haven’t even seen the final product. That is why it’s so fun to make movies… you get to do lots of things you would never do in your normal life. I can’t say that it was one of my favorite experiences, but I like the fact that I did it.”
Tilly gets enthusiastic in explaining that she is anxious to see Body Snatchers completed. “It is such a rich idea." she says. "It is related to the fear of not having control of your own body, and that the whole world has to think in the same way. In actual society it seems like everything is reversed, as if we were returning to a terrible conformity, which is imposed by force, labeling people who refuse to accept it as 'evil'. I don’t wish to overcharge the movie with those subjects, but they are things, which I’ve been thinking much about lately and I feel like they are reflected in 'Body Snatchers'.”