Q&A: Star Alexia Rasmussen on the Dark Psychology of “PROXY”
The longer Zack Parker’s absorbing psychothriller PROXY (expanding its theatrical release today and available on VOD via IFC Films) goes on, the harder it is to know what to make of its heroine. FANGORIA spoke to the actress who met the challenge of the twisty role, Alexia Rasmussen.
PROXY (reviewed here) stars Rasmussen as Esther Woodhouse, a pregnant young woman who suffers a horrifyingly brutal attack in the very first scene. She survives, but her recuperation takes some surprising and unnerving turns thanks to a new but not necessarily trustworthy friend named Melanie (Alexa Havins) and a bad-ass chick named Anika (Kristina Klebe). It’s the first venture into the cinematic dark side for Rasmussen, whose previous feature credits tended toward lighter fare like OUR IDIOT BROTHER and LISTEN TO YOUR HEART—though she did co-star in Sean Durkin’s short MARY LAST SEEN, which evolved into the acclaimed MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE.
FANGORIA: Were you familiar with Zack Parker’s earlier movies before you won the PROXY role?
ALEXIA RASMUSSEN: No, I hadn’t seen any of Zack’s work, but once we made the decision to work together, he sent me a copy of SCALENE, and I watched that and was like, “OK, this is gonna work.”
FANG: What were your first impressions of the script and the many twists and turns it takes?
RASMUSSEN: I thought it was a fascinating and different approach to filmmaking. I mean, people talk about the first five minutes of SCREAM and the building up of Drew Barrymore’s character, and it sort of took that to an extreme level, which I thought was really cool. It’s exciting when you feel like you can’t predict anything—and when you make a prediction, it’s immediately dispelled.
FANG: Your character is involved in some brutal scenes, especially the first one; did that give you any kind of pause?
RASMUSSEN: Well, it’s absolutely a very serious event that occurs, so I don’t want to downplay it at all; just because it was really fun to make doesn’t mean I wouldn’t take something like that seriously, but it did get my attention. From a very objective standpoint, I was like, “This is clearly a story that’s going to be full of moments like that,” so it did give me a little bit of pause, but not in a reticent way.
FANG: Esther also goes to some very complex and dark emotional places. How much preparation did that entail?
RASMUSSEN: It’s hard to explain, but it’s so exciting as an actor to get to do that. It’s weird to look forward to being miserable [laughs], but I relished the opportunity to be this lonely, insecure, maybe strange person. It’s like playing a dark piece of music; it can really, really feed you.
FANG: Considering that Esther is the story’s protagonist, did you or Parker feel any need to focus on eliciting sympathy for her?
RASMUSSEN: It’s interesting you asked that; I don’t recollect having any conversation about, “How can we make Esther likable?” But what was important to Zack and me was not playing her like she’s a nut. She’s a person with needs who exhibits strange, curious behavior, and there are many people in the world like that. It was important to portray her as a vulnerable person who’s coming from a really difficult place, and so I guess in a way, it was important for me to have sympathy and empathy for her, but not to play her either way—not trying to have her to be loved by the audience or hated by the audience, you know?
FANG: Was there any side of yourself that you were able to bring to the character? Any experiences you might have had?
RASMUSSEN: Oh, absolutely [laughs]! I mean, like the scene with Melanie, definitely; anybody who’s been rejected in love or in their professional life can really relate to that moment. It’s the feeling of being completely shut out, and I’ve definitely felt that way before. There was plenty of Esther that I felt I could identify with, like the feeling that my own head can be a scary or lonely place to be.
FANG: How was it working with Alexa Havins and Kristina Klebe?
RASMUSSEN: Oh, I loved both of them. Like their characters, they have totally different energies. Alexa Havens is just a true pro. She’s so practiced from years and years of working, and very efficient and fun and totally present. Kristina was a live wire; she had a lot of energy, ideas and strong feelings, and that’s also totally exciting for an actor.
FANG: Was there any staying in character between takes, or were you able to have fun and shake off your roles when you weren’t filming?
RASMUSSEN: It sort of depended. Sometimes we would do a scene and then we’d cut and it would be so funny, because the bizarreness of Esther would just make us chuckle. And for other scenes that had heavy-hitting emotional stuff, I tried to stay available, because it’s so easy to lose that, at least for me; I had to cling to it. But it wasn’t exactly staying in character, it was more like staying in the emotional mindset.
FANG: How about dealing with the prosthetics and blood involved in a couple of your big scenes?
RASMUSSEN: Oh, that was my favorite part [laughs]. I loved working with our makeup and effects guys; they were so talented and did so well with limited resources. That’s when it gets to be cool, when you’re really making movies, you know?
FANG: So it wasn’t too uncomfortable shooting that opening scene?
RASMUSSEN: That was a tough one, physically, for both me and my assailant. It was hot and I was lying on the ground and getting pummeled, but luckily I had the prosthetic stomach on, so that took a lot of the shock out. The shot leading up to it was hard too, because it was a long Steadicam tracking situation, and we were losing our light, so it was a stressful point in the shoot, getting it timed correctly and making sure we captured it just so. I think we did about six or seven takes—which is a lot for someone holding a Steadicam!
FANG: Have you done any other roles requiring prosthetics before?
RASMUSSEN: No, this was literally my first time with any kind of effects stuff, and it was a treat. I didn’t realize at first that I would have to wear a sort of post-maternity belly, given what has happened to Esther. So there was always something there under my clothes, which was actually sort of a great tool.
FANG: The film is longer than your average independent thriller, and it’s also a very precisely told story. Was there anything significant you filmed that wound up getting cut out?
RASMUSSEN: You know, I can’t totally remember, but my feeling is no, because Zack is a precision artist. He knew going in exactly what he wanted and how everything was supposed to look, and I honestly feel like there wasn’t a lot of extra fat. I could maybe see him trimming some bits off either end of a scene if there was extra space there, but generally I feel like it was pretty taut already.
FANG: Do the two of you have plans to reteam on any future projects?
RASMUSSEN: Oh gosh, I hope so!
FANG: What else do you have coming up?
RASMUSSEN: I shot a film in the fall that was really cool called CREATIVE CONTROL, which takes place in the future, but not in a totally far-reaching sense. It’s the near future, and it’s a stylish and interesting relationship drama that I think will be really interesting, and will hopefully make the festival circuit.
Pick up FANGORIA #332, now on sale, for interviews with Parker and Klebe on PROXY.