Midnighters is the new thriller from Julius and Alston Ramsay about a New Years Evening gone horribly wrong. The film stars Alex Essoe, Perla Haney-Jardine and Ward Horton and is now out in select thearers and available on VOD.
Alex Essoe spoke with us last year about Midnighters when the film premiered at LAFF. We talked about her work making the movie, her influences as an actress and some of her earlier roles especially in the 2014 horror drama Starry Eyes. Here is that interview followed by a special part two published tomorrow.
Andrew Hawkins: Hello Alex Essoe, this is Andrew Hawkins from Trouble.City, how are you today?
ALEX ESSOE: I’m good, Andrew! How are you doing?
AH: I’m doing really good. Today, I wanted to talk to you about your new film Midnighters, and to start off I’d like to ask you: What is your plot summary that you’d tell anybody about this film?
ALEX ESSOE: Oh boy. Not great at these because I talk too much, but I will try to be succinct.
AH: Oh, no worries.
ALEX ESSOE: It’s a dark, atmospheric, character drama. It’s a sort of noir about a couple who, during a night of merrymaking on New Year’s Eve, find themselves thrust into a very complicated crime syndicate, I suppose. I’m so terrible at this! I should never pitch movies, it would be a disaster.
AH: Oh no, it’s fine. You know, on IMDB, there’s the plot summary on there that says that it’s kind of Hitchcockian, and through the story it kind of has twists and turns and there’s a lot of crime element and thriller elements. What do you think about that sort of summary, do you think that’s kind of accurate?
ALEX ESSOE: I think that’s very accurate. I describe it sometimes as Hitchcock meets Mike Leigh because it has a very gritty 90’s stark feel to it which I thought was cool. That’s very much in the visuals, it’s beautifully shot.
AH: There are some very intense moments in the film, too. Talk to us a little bit about your character Lindsey as she goes through this story which is basically her plot, as she’s the main character of the film. She deals with things like home invasion, with possible vehicular manslaughter, murder, and then torture, further into it. How did you approach this character and everything she has to go through?
ALEX ESSOE: Oh, gosh. Well, I just started with who she is. I didn’t prepare anything for the things she went through. I just started with who she is, what she wants, and then what would happen if that person was thrust into a situation and then I just kind of let whatever came up, come up. Whatever happens, happens. Lindsey was a challenge for me, which was why I wanted to do this in the first place. Even more so than someone like Sarah Walker (of Starry Eyes), she’s really very guarded, very passive-aggressive.
She doesn’t share herself with other people easily, not even her husband. She struggles with this identity that she’s trying to bury, this history that she doesn’t even want to be associated with. And there’s this sort of idyllic life that she wants to have but she can’t have because of the decisions and the choices she makes. I just, I don’t know, I think that there’s something very heartbreaking and subtle about that. Especially since, you know, what often happens with extremely repressed people is that it reaches a boiling point.
What I found interesting about this is that it’s almost sort of a character study of a person who reaches that boiling point. Someone who spends their whole life arranging themselves and, because of their situation, [laughter] can’t take anymore, and you see that other side of them come out, which is always fun for actors.
AH: It’s funny you mention that and kind of go into detail, because earlier you talked about how this film is part drama and it also has this tragedy element to it, especially with Lindsey and all of the characters you wind up meeting. But mentioning Sarah Walker, I just wanted to tell you I absolutely love your work in Starry Eyes, and it’s amazing.
ALEX ESSOE: Oh, thank you!
AH: What are your thoughts on being a leading actress in these incredible indie films, whether they’re horror genre or thrillers? What are your thoughts on doing this work?
ALEX ESSOE: Oh, my god, it’s exactly what I wanted. [laughter] It’s absolutely a dream come true. I mean, I got into acting to do the complicated, the unattractive, the tortured; I wanted to explore all the dark corners of the human experience. Yeah, I couldn’t be happier. I’m flying high.
AH: Oh, that’s cool.
ALEX ESSOE: When I was in Vancouver and I was going to school, I used to make my own short films all the time. I had a writing partner and sometimes we would do stuff together, and we’d do stuff on each other’s projects. Living in LA, my whole focus has been acting because it has to be [laughter], because it’s so incredibly competitive. But really, the ultimate goal for me is to get to a place where I’m making my own content, my own projects, exploring the things I want to explore. So I’ll always be into the darker stuff, I think.
AH: That’s fantastic. So, talking a little bit about how you dig into these complicated characters and you portray these amazing deliveries, here’s kind of a this-or-that question: what do you find is more complicated for you when acting? Is it body horror that’s more difficult, or is it torture that’s more difficult when it goes into these really dark scenes, and these intense moments?
ALEX ESSOE: It’s interesting because they’re sort of two different animals. I mean, body horror, you have to be very specific (with) what exactly is happening to you, how it feels, and where you feel it. You have to make it all up and sort of invent the effect that these things are having on you. But in torture, you have that plus you have the person torturing you. You have your relationship with them and you’re sort of feeding on them--
AH: Sort of their reaction.
ALEX ESSOE: Oh yeah, the reaction, because part of our job as actors is to justify each other’s choices. And just for that, I could not have asked for a better scene partner than Ward Horton.
AH: Yes, your scenes with him are very intense. It sounds like you and he had a lot of interesting back-and-forth.
ALEX ESSOE: Oh my God, he made my job so easy! All he had to do was just look at me with those cold eyes, and I was just totally terrified, which is always a treat, working with someone that committed and that invested. He was a real inspiration to work with, honestly. I see him as one of those actors who brings so much to the table that they elevate your performance as well, and your work. It’s great, it’s awesome. You want to work with people you set the bar high. I like to think of it as friendly competition.
AH: I think your work with Ward Horton is some of the best standout moments of the film/ Your scenes with Perla Haney-Jardine as your assistant Hannah are great, your scenes with Dylan McTee playing Jeff are great. I want to ask you, did you have a great time on this set? You’ve been working with the Ramsays as director and writers, was this a great production for you?
ALEX ESSOE: I loved it. I loved working with them, I loved working with all of the actors, Perla is my favorite person in the world. She’s just such an exceptional human being. I always say, “You’re such an amazing, talented person! Why are you acting?” [laughter] But yeah, she is so cool. Dylan’s amazing. I feel like Dylan has a long, interesting career ahead of him. He’s also a very interesting person. Actually, on that subject, I do need to give a shout-out to Kellie Roy, who cast it. I thought her casting was so excellent. And Julius (Ramsay) is a dream to work with. He’s one of those directors who knows what he wants, does exactly what he wants, and he doesn’t waste time trying to blow smoke up my ass. He’ll just give you the direction, you know what I mean?
AH: Yeah, that’s cool.
ALEX ESSOE: I prefer that, it’s really cool. I get kind of anxious when directors will be like, “Okay, that was super good” and all of that, and they just try and sort of sugarcoat it for me. I’m like, “You know, I’m an adult.” Just tell me what you want to discuss. Just be like, “That was terrible, do that again.” I can take it, it’s okay. It’s all in the name of the work.
AH: There you go.
ALEX ESSOE: So Julius is great, he worked with Alston, his brother who wrote and produced it. Such a treat. They’re the most patient, calm human beings ever. We had a very intense shoot schedule, so it was very good to have (Julius) there. He’d keep us grounded and calm because it’s also 20 below outside. So we’re pulling these crazy days, but it was such a labor of love. Also, one of the best crews I’ve ever worked with.
AH: Well, it comes across in the film, definitely. It’s great talking to you about it. I know that we’re running on time now, but I do have one final question to wrap up with you, and if there’s anyone that you can think of, please go for it. Who do you want to give a shout-out to who is either a big influence on your work and your career, or someone who has just affected you in your art, whether it’s a director, writer, anybody?
ALEX ESSOE: The biggest influence on my career and the way I approach acting is Gena Rowlands. She is the actress for me. Actually, Isabelle Adjani is a very close second to that. Her performance in Possession is burned into my--
AH: Possession is incredible, Nosferatu is incredible, Isabelle Adjani is an amazing actress.
ALEX ESSOE: Oh God, that subway scene is so incredible.
AH: Alright, I know we’re short on time. Alex Essoe, it’s been a great pleasure talking to you about your new film Midnighters, thank you so much for giving us some time today.
ALEX ESSOE: Oh, it’s my pleasure! Thank you so much.