Radha Mitchell: Keeping us in suspense—as usual

22 May

There’s been a tendency in horror/suspense films to make the female protagonist the victim, the innocent bystander who waits for her heroic male co-star to save the day. Not anymore, which is just one reason why the recently released film “Sacrifice,” starring actress Radha Mitchell, is so appealing.

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The other reason is Mitchell herself, the talented Australian actress who has been working in TV and films since her debut on “Neighbours,”an Australian soap opera, in 1985. She moved to Los Angeles in the late 1990s and made her mark as a cast member of “High Art” in 1998. Among her other films are “Pitch Black,” “Finding Neverland,” “Silent Hill,” “Surrogates,” and “The Crazies.” One of my personal favorites was her lead role in the TV series “Red Widow,” which ABC sadly cancelled after just half a season three years ago.

In “Sacrifice,” Mitchell plays surgeon Tora Hamilton, an American doctor who moves with her Scottish husband to the Shetland Islands—100 miles off the coast of Scotland—in a career-changing move prompted by her recent loss of an unborn child. What she soon discovers in a vacant field near their home is much more unsettling than her miscarriage: the body of a young woman with strange symbols carved into her flesh and her heart ripped from her body. And that’s in the film’s opening minutes. From that point, Mitchell, known for her performances in a number of suspense thrillers (she stars opposite Kevin Bacon in “The Darkness,” which opened in theatres nationwide on May 13) begins to unravel the mystery behind this woman’s death.

“I think this film is an evolution of the genre,” Mitchell said during our interview for On and Beyond from her home in Los Angeles. “We’ve not seen a lot of suspense films like this one that I think appeals to a broader female audience—really, women of all generations.”

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What audiences will learn, much as Mitchell did when filming in Ireland, is about the legend of the Kunal Trows, characters in Scottish mythology. What her character finds leads her to believe that the corpse is a victim of a contemporary ritual based on that folklore.

“Peter Dowling wrote and directed the film, and he has an impressive resume of work, which was one thing that attracted me to this part,” Mitchell said. Another attraction was the plot, a female-centric story where a close friendship develops between Mitchell’s character and a police sergeant (actress Joanne Crawford) looking into the woman’s murder.

“It’s a very satisfying, complicated and interesting plot,” Mitchell said. “There’s a buddy aspect between these two women which attracted me. It’s a mystery like a jigsaw puzzle that keeps the audience guessing all along.”

Mitchell met with Dowling in Beverly Hills before the production started, and plans called for the shoot to be done during July. But filming actually took place during November in Dublin.

“It was cold, dark and wet, but that added to the brooding look and feel of the film,” she said.

What unfolds is a journey of discovery for Tora—finding her vulnerabilities but also her strengths.

“I was drawn to the emotional potential of Tora,” Mitchell said. “She’s a character I think many can empathize with. Often the characters you play as an actor teach you about life and help you expand your horizons. I think those are the kinds of characters we can relate to, because very few of us wake up and feel we can just take on any challenge. I love playing those types of characters.”

Mitchell joked that despite her surname, “I didn’t know much about Scottish mythology, history, or really the country itself. I didn’t know about these preserved bodies or Celtic culture. The movie gave me the opportunity to look into these ancient worlds. So I learned a lot even in the short time we were on location.”

Does she discover these continuing roles in suspense film projects, or do they find her?

“I guess you could say it’s Kismet in a way, kind of fate that these parts come to me,” she said. “I also love working with people I respect, like I did with Peter and the cast and crew of this film. It’s very much a process that we all share on set. And while I like the genre of suspense, I look for roles that reacquaint me with the craft of filmmaking, and that show respect for it. When I can find roles like those, I’m all in.”

“Sacrifice” had its premiere in New York, and is now available via Video on Demand(VOD). Mitchell is very much in demand as well. She’s readying for her next project to be filmed in southern California and around the Pacific Ocean she loves. More about that in a future interview! (Photos courtesy if IFC Films)

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