For the release of DARLIN’, I had the chance to speak with writer/director/actress Pollyanna McIntosh about her directorial debut. A direct follow-up to 2011’s The Woman, DARLIN‘ centers around a feral teenager (Lauryn Canny) who finds herself whisked off to a care home run by The Bishop and his obedient nuns where she is to be tamed into a “good girl”. However, nothing goes as planned since Darlin’ holds a secret that no one is prepared for nor is she traveling alone as The Woman is never far away.
During our interview, we chatted about everything from Pollyanna’s experience directing her first feature, to the importance of Jack Ketchum‘s legacy and friendship, as well as what fans can expect next from the powerhouse that is Pollyanna McIntosh.
Congratulations on your directorial debut! To start things off, can you talk a little bit about DARLIN’ and how the film came to be?
Pollyanna McIntosh: It came about because I had been in Offspring and The Woman playing the character of The Woman. The producer of both those films wanted to carry it on so he came to me asking if I would direct it. I felt I wanted to write it in order to really live with it for the two years that it generally takes to make a movie from start to finish. It was a really exciting concept because I love the character and I loved what was created by [Jack] Ketchum and McKee in The Woman. It’s no small thing, obviously, to take this story on and these characters and to do something new with it.
I was delighted in the task. I had a wonderful cast and crew and loved watching them do amazing work under the pressure that one is under on an indie film. And stepping back into those bare feet, or under that dirty skin, or however you want to put it, of The Woman was really cool as well! She really lives in my bones and she’s such a freeing character to play.
Jack Ketchum, who was the author of the novels Offspring and The Woman, sadly passed away in January of 2018. How important was it for you to bring this new story based on his books to life?
Pollyanna McIntosh: It was a very emotional experience, [especially] during the sound mix. Andrew Smetek, who also did the sound mix on Offspring and The Woman, we had worked together and we were both good friends with Ketchum, who we, of course, called Dallas Mayr, which was his real name. We very much felt his spirit, actually, during the sound mix. It would have been spooky had it not been for knowing the man and his work. It would have been quite spooky in the way in which we felt like Dallas was with us during the mix was cool.
He got to come and visit the set the month before he passed away. We were really lucky that he could make the trip from New York and that he was well enough to do that. He was obviously very sick at the end of his life but his smile was so bright on that set, it was such a thrill to have him there. It was just great to feel his blessing as well because when I first read his books I was so bulled over by his writing. I really wanted to do what he started justice. He’s an important guy in my life, he’s really the first person who I went to for writing advice, ever, when I was working on The Woman. I just said to him, “Hey I think I’m a writer and I would like to be writing and I just want your advice.” I’m a bit ADD and I find time quite hard to manage when I’m on my own and he said, “Just write.” That was his advice, just write every day. And that was it, just like him, very cut and dry.
Lauryn Canny was absolutely phenomenal in the role of Darlin’. How did you go about casting for her role?
Pollyanna McIntosh: We had a great Louisiana casting director named Lisa Marie Dupree and she brought us the Lousiana cast. David Guglielmo, in Los Angeles, him and I sat down to look at various different takes and images and he brought me a lot of red-heads. Then he brought me Lauryn Canny and she was not a red-head, she has jet black hair normally, and I thought, “She could very well be a great natural red-head” because of course, Darlin’ had to be. She was actually the first person that I met in the audition when I was waiting for the actresses to arrive and I thought, “I hope she’s as good as an actor in the role as she is as a person,” because she just glows with this lovely Irish honesty and humor. She’s very down to earth, very real, and very focused and I thought she would be great to collaborate with. She did an amazing job in the room, we gave her a really feral scene to do along with that awful scene in the Bishop’s office. It was important to see those scenes and she just absolutely killed it. She just has this real access to emotion and she has great empathy which means she made Darlin’ a character that we absolutely fall in love with. She also had fun with it too which I think was really important for the character. I couldn’t have hoped for anyone better.
One of the things that I found to be so interesting about this film was the religious aspect of it. What made you decide to incorporate that into the story?
Pollyanna McIntosh: The first seed of the feral element had to do when I was researching feral stories before I started doing The Woman and Offspring. I was looking again [for DARLIN’] and found this story about a priest in India who had claimed to have found two feral girls. In fact, they were just girls with special needs who hadn’t been well taken care of. It came out that he lied about it and I thought, “Why would he do that?” Obviously, it was either for money for him or money for the church or fame for him or for the church. That was really the seed of it. It just really made sense to me the hypocrisy of someone who is already abusing power, which is what this character became as I was writing. I just find that there’s such hypocrisy about the separation of church and state as well because it’s something that we really stand by here in the states as a real mark of our culture and I just don’t feel like it’s the case, unfortunately. Even more so right now, the tides are trying to be turned backwards. Of course, it also pertains to women’s rights over their bodies as well which was a huge part of the storytelling and a huge part of the religious aspect as well. I don’t see it as an attack on faith, I definitely see it as an attack on abusive power and hypocrisy which is ripe in the Catholic Church, of course, so it was an obvious place to go.
Do you think there will be another film after DARLIN’ and what other projects are you working on that we should be keeping our eyes out for?
Pollyanna McIntosh: I think that Andrew van den Houten, the producer, is keen on doing another film. Lauryn jokes about being the director of that, but I think that would be amazing and perfect and I’m going to badger her into doing it (laughs). I think, just like The Woman is a very different film from Offspring, DARLIN’ is a very different film from The Woman. So it would be really interesting to see what direction you could take it in. I also quite like the idea of a trilogy – there’s something quite neat about that too. I would play The Woman again if the script was right, though.
For upcoming projects, I have a piece called Getting Away From It All in the upcoming horror anthology Deathcember. I had loads of fun making that and actually put my fiancee, Casey Van Maanen, in the lead. He’s normally in the art department so that was really fun to do, though I may have created a monster, we will see (laughs). That should be coming out in December for Christmas. I’m also working on a dark comedy called Perfect which I made the third act as a proof of concept – that was the first thing I directed. It’ll be a very different kind of film from DARLIN’ but that’s my plan, to keep going forward making different kinds of films. I don’t want to get stuck in any pigeon hole and I think that’s one of the things I love about DARLIN’. How it was written was a bit of a mix of things – there’s a lot of humor in there, it’s a coming-of-age story, and it has horror.
DARLIN’ is now available in select theaters and on VOD.