What would you do if you were one of the last people on earth? Water is scarce, people are being killed left and right, and you are stuck trying to piece together a way out.
That's exactly what Haley Lu Richardson's character, Kendall, has to deal with in The Last Survivors, a new post-apocalyptic film about the few remaining humans in the middle of a worldwide draught.
We got the chance to talk with Richardson about the film and her role.
With your background in dance and your other roles in dance, how were you able to land this particular role? How did dance effect how you interpreted the role?
"This was actually the first film I had ever done, and we filmed it almost four years ago--and it's finally coming around--and it's finally getting released. Pretty exciting! I had had some small parts as a dancer, some small acting roles, but I had never known what it was like to carry a movie. So when I met with these guys, I was a little skeptical of what the movie was and if I would be able to do it. But I love the role and I love the script--I just loved Kendall's journey, and I think they really saw I was going to give it my all. So I booked it, which was amazing, and it was the best thing in my life.
"And the dancing: I worked with a coordinator three weeks before we started filming, just choreographing the fight sequences. Working with a rubber gun, a rubber sword, and just getting all of the steps down so that when we were there with the emotion and everything was happening we would be safe. And definitely being a dancer and learning choreography my whole life helped, too. Because I am very comfortable with my body, and some people are very uncomfortable when they start to learn fight sequences and what to do with your arm here or there. It did come a little quicker to me.
"My only problem was that I had to make it look badass, and not like I was dancing around with a gun. But yes, my dance background helped me pick up on the choreography, and helped them to be a little more sound in the fact that we were being safe and [that] I kind of knew what I was doing."
So it was a rubber sword, it wasn't a real sword?
"Yes. In different shots we had to use a different sword. In some of the more hero shots, of me pulling the sword out of the thing [sheath], it was a real samurai sword--dulled down, but if you wanted to you could probably kill someone with it. We used a rubber sword, we used a wooden sword--in one shot we used a collapsable sword when I stabbed someone. So we worked with a bunch of different swords. Even the fight sequences, even though they go really fast, took hours and hours and hours. Hundreds of different setups to actually complete [them]."
Those were some quick and intense fight scenes! So with so many other movies out there going off of the post apocalyptic, alternative world or landscape--like The Hunger Gameswith their world under a dictator, or the Divergent series with all of the different factions--how was is joining that movie genre?
"It's cool, it's awesome! I think actors, and especially actresses, are drawn to those films because of the opportunity it gives us to be the hero. That's what was so cool for me: being a 17 year old girl playing a 17 year old girl who is stronger than any other person I have met in my life. When I was playing [Kendall], as much torment and difficulty and misery that she was going through, she kept going, she kept fighting. And that's what happens in The Hunger Games, the Divergent movies, all of them. The female character, the strong female character, just keeps going, and that's such an incredible opportunity to portray and show a bunch of other women out there that that's what we can do as young, powerful women."
You said before that filming the fight scenes took hours of filming. Did it talk just as long to learn the choreography and the coordination?
"It definitely took longer to film them, because you're not just filming the fight scene and moving on, you do it, and then you do it again from another angle. It was so awesome, because when I was doing the training, [the stunt coordinator] had everything down for the training, we had storyboards, so that went pretty quick. That was fun. But then being out there in the sun and in the dirt with blood all over my face, holding the real gun that felt like a billion pounds, that was definitely more strenuous and took a longer time. And we have other people around, so if I have my sword and I swing it, it looks like I'm slicing through someone when really they're two feet away from me. It's still people lives that are at risk: the other actors, the camera people, everyone who's around. There's a real sense of [knowing] we have to be safe, we have to take this all super seriously. There's really no joking around when you're working on a fight scene and you're working with weapons and whether they're real or fake because things can go wrong when you least expect them to. So the training was more fun, and we got it quickly, but the filming was the real deal, so that was more strenuous and took longer."
So your character Kendall...she's a force! She's a force to be reckoned with throughout the whole film. Being the sister figure to Alby, and the girlfriend to Dean, and having to blow the other guy off because she can never like him that way. Having that persona with the guys and then having to put on that tough exterior with everyone else she comes into contact with. Would you change anything about your character, if you could? Either the writing of your character or the way you portrayed her on screen?
"Performance-wise, there are many things I would change about the way I played her, because I played her four years ago. It's very hard to watch and not want to go in there and change things. But structurally with how the story was written, and especially how she interacts with Dean's character, you can tell he used to be taking care of her, and now the roles are reversed because he's sick and dying. She is the only strong one, and she's forced to take care of him now. So that kind of dynamic is really cool and I like the way that was written. The whole time you don't really know if they love each other in a brother sister way, or if they wish that they could be together. And I think that's kind of cool, and something to think about while you're watching it.
"With Alby, she's motherly. She has a connection to this kid that probably would not have happened if not for the drought. I sometimes think about what happens when they get on the plane. Do they get away? Do they go somewhere else? Find other people, find a better world? I just hope that they have their happy ending. It would be really sad if they ended up dying after all that."
It would! It reminded me of The Giver with that kind of ambiguity at the ending.
"That's so strange, because I always thought of The Giver with that ending, too! You never know if they find that other world or not. That's very strange you saw that, too!"
Yeah, she reaches up for the propeller and it fades out. You're left with the sound of the propeller in your ears. It reminded me of the ending of The Giver, cresting the hill and seeing the lights of the town underneath him. It could be a whole new start to a new chapter, or the plane could sputter out.
"Or they could just fly and they never get anywhere. But I am always hopeful, and hope something happy happens after the end."
Yeah, I hope they get somewhere. I was really sad when Dean had to bite the bullet, so to speak.
"Yeah. But he went out fighting, too. It's really cool [to see] all the loyalty of the characters in this movie. Like when Michael W's character didn't rat me out, when he says there's one more in there, we think he means me, but then we realize there's someone else from his group that's in there. He says there's one more so that I can survive. Even though he was a traitor and started fighting for the bad guys, he was loyal to [Kendall] and we had a sort of family. And Dean, he came out and he saved me--he literally risked his life so that I could survive. And I'd do the same for Alby. So I just love that the people in this movie area really good people, and they end up winning, which is amazing and beautiful. It's happens a lot, but it's important that it happens, because good should prevail."
Throughout the whole movie we see the bad guy going around and killing all the people who are drinking his water, stealing his property, and we don't know if good is going to win. He's killing so many people, you don't know if your life will be next. You don't know if the next shot you see will be down the barrel of his gun or if you're going to get into the compound and fight him off. So that was the open ended question, for me, throughout the film: where are they going to go with this? Is good going to win out, or is he going to kill everyone?
"Well it seems almost impossible. And Kendall defies the impossible! It definitely was a fun character for me, because I got to be so badass. Those last fight scenes where I am covered in oil and I am just a stone cold killer was just so epic for me as Haley and as an actor. I am never going to take that for granted--that was awesome."
Is there anything you're working on now that you can tell us about?
"I've got two other movies coming out that I'm really excited about. I've got a film that I did called The Young Kieslowski. It's a quirky coming of age comedy with two teens that lose their virginity to each other, and the rest is history. So that's coming out at the end of [July]. Then I was in another film called The Bronze with Melissa Rauche, she's very cool, and Thomas Middleditch. It opened Sundance Film Festival, which was really awesome! That one's coming out October 16, 2015. So those are two things to look out for. They're all very different, which is something I'm thankful for. It's nice to not be stereotyped into a specific genre or character. So knock on wood that that continues, and I continue to explore vastly different characters and roles."
Fingers crossed! Thank you, Haley!
The Last Survivors hits shelves on Blu-Ray and DVD today, August 4th! Be sure to pick up your copy (and a large glass of water) and prepare for a whole new kind of adventure!