Madaline is a young, single mom who returns home only to find herself sent to a remote convent after signs of the stigmata begin appearing on her body. This is the premise for the upcoming occult thriller WELCOME TO MERCY and I was lucky enough to speak with writer/actor Kristen Ruhlin who plays the title role of Madaline. During our chat we discussed everything from demonic possession, traveling to Latvia, and what it’s like to levitate.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Thank you so much for talking with me today Kristen! To start things off can you tell us a little bit about your character in WELCOME TO MERCY?
Kristen Ruhlin: Madaline is a single mother who grew up being sent to America to live with distant relatives never having any true backstory of her own life. She makes the journey home at the dying wish from her father who bates her with exposing the truth of her past. She’s a conflicted but strong woman.
Nightmarish Conjurings: What was it about Madaline that attracted you to the role?
KR: I have always been drawn to characters that come from some kind of tortured past that is surrounded by secrets. I like the mystery of not knowing. It feels real to me. While I know in most storytelling it’s breaking rules to not give full backstory’s or to clearly define characters - but in life people we meet are mysterious, their backstories are muddled or they lie from themselves and to others. I like exploring that human side we all share.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Since the film is heavily drenched in religious iconography, did you do any particular research to get into Madaline’s head?
KR: I mostly pulled from some personal experiences I have been through in my own life. I’m a single mom to 2 boys - toddlers. It wasn’t too much of a stretch there as we traveled across country, alone to Latvia and it was scary. I’ve experienced difficult things in life and hardships that I also related and put into Madaline. It was very cleansing to play her emotions out.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I’m not sure exactly where the movie was filmed but the scenery was breathtaking. What was filming like and since this film hints at possession, was there anything weird that happened on set?
KR: Riga, Latvia. Such a beautiful place and even more beautiful people. True gems and a delight to be there. I want to go back. While filming nothing too odd happened that I recall. While I wrote the script, I did experience very odd things that happened when I started researching demons, and how they infect people. I actually became very sick for 6 months after I wrote it. It started with just a feeling at night, like 2:45am stressing that I am awake at the “witching hour” like a true horror fan, then I said in my head, “Jesus, Jesus…” because my Granny had always told me as a child, if you say that you’ll be safe. Then I followed up with thinking in my head laying there, “the devil isn’t stronger than Jesus so do something if you are, prove it…”. Then my boyfriend at the time, who was asleep next to me, and Jewish, sat up still asleep, eyes closed, and said, “They said he was a miracle baby.” That’s when stuff started.
Then it started that I was up at 2:45/3am every night, not able to breath from my nose. My dog would stay up with me, go to the bathroom with me - never left me alone. I finally saw an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist who put me on several different antibiotics that never worked, and after a MRI we determined I needed surgery because there was a mass in my naval cavity. I was also experiencing strange things around me, that other people witnessed too, like things moving on sets. Sounds crazy, it’s so weird. Anyway, my breathing got so bad it started affecting my speech. I went to New York to have the surgery. Along the road trip I couldn’t take it anymore and I literally, at 3am in some seedy Kentucky motel, just fell to my knees with my dog and prayed to God to help me because I couldn’t live like that anymore. I drove the next day, still not able to breathe or speak at this point, 6 months of this, went to bed in a Columbus hotel that night and finally fell asleep for the first time in months. I was dreaming that I was drowning, then I woke up at 3am, exactly 24 hours from the night before when I asked for help, and water was pouring from my nose, and it was gone. After 6 months, doctors, medicine, MRI, driving to get surgery cross country, and it was over. That was 4.5 years ago. Knock on wood. I promised if it went away I would tell everyone what happened, so I am. I prayed for help and I got it. I’m really grateful and I 100% believe everything from the dreams, odd things in my house, and the illness - it was all related to the script. I don’t like to dive into evil research and things like that anymore.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I am shocked - that’s an insane story and I’m SO happy you are doing okay now! Demonic stuff can be scary to research and it’s clear that it really took a hold of you. Shifting gears a little, I wanted to touch upon the stylization of the film as this was one of my favorite aspects of the film. What was it like doing the scenes where you found yourself possessed and levitating?
KR: The levitating scene was fun. It was on wires and rigs. I love the cable work. I could do it all day every day. The best workout, the most fun. I did all my own stunts, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was one of the coolest experiences in my life. The possession was hard emotionally, but very intensely satisfying at the same time. I love those moments as an actor.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Last, but certainly not least, do you have any other projects you are working on that we should be keeping our eyes out for?
KR: Yes, I’m writing a coming-of-age script for Cary Granat that follows a young girl on a world wide adventure who unlocks the truth behind some of the world’s greatest mysteries across all religions. It’s very Gen Z but relatable and gives hope to a generation who maybe is a bit lost, who needs to believe in miracles again. Then I’m producing a thriller next month in LA - it’s a female driven American Psycho. Very sharply written, very dark humor. Then in early 2019 I’ll be going back to Latvia for another film. Latvia’s new, biggest fan right here!
WELCOME TO MERCY opens in select theaters, VOD, and via digital platfroms in the US on November 2, 2018. Also, check out our review of the film HERE.