The T.S. Nowlan and Justin Barber film Phoenix Forgotten is out and stars the incredible Florence Hartigan. I was granted the chance to speak with her about the film. We also chatted quite a bit about other life in the universe.
The New Zealand-raised actress will also be lending her voice to upcoming animated film Malevolent which also feature the voices of Morena Baccarin and William Shatner.
Check out our conversation and feel free to chime in with your thoughts on UFO’s and life on other planets.
RONN!E: I wanted to ask you first about Phoenix Forgotten. You did this movie with Justin Barber and T.S. Nowlin, who both wrote it, and I was wondering how did that movie fall into your lap? Was it a regular audition or…?
Florence Hartigan: Yeah! I did have to audition. I had worked with Justin on some previous projects–he has a production company and I’ve done some commercials and music videos and stuff like that for them. So he and T.S. had, you know, an alien feature film project they had wanted to make and they asked if I could come out and help them out and do a teaser for the movie and shoot some test scenes. So I was involved with the movie a couple years before it got made. But I knew they would be opening it up to big studios, so I didn’t think I would necessarily get to be a part of it. When you’re an actress you have to prepare yourself for all kinds of disappointment. *laughs* So when it came around and I got to audition I was like, okay, well at least I got to audition! And luckily I won the part and was able to be in the final project, which was really cool for me to be on the ground floor and see what it was all the way through. That doesn’t happen very often, so it was very cool..
RONN!E: Did you have a lot of fun filming that movie, because it looks like you went a lot of places and had a lot going on.
Florence Hartigan: We were in a lot of places. Luckily California has a lot of desert. We shot into Borrego, you’re from Seattle so maybe you wouldn’t know, but it’s a beautiful national park in California. [Actually Anzo-Borrego Desert State Park] And we obviously shot in Phoenix, as well, since that’s where the movie’s set. And we shot in Acton, California, and I got to go in a Cessna, which is a really tiny little plane. So it was really cool. We were all over the place and it was fun. I love being on location because, the sets are fun, too, but if you’re on a soundstage it’s just like a different feeling than being in the real environment. For me, it’s fun to feel as real as possible. We were kind of empathizing and we’re in these real places and so it kind of made my job very easy.
RONN!E: Did you have a favorite scene from this movie?
Florence Hartigan: I really loved talking to–in the movie, it’s kind of a documentary. That was the aim, it feels like a real documentary, like something a young Werner Herzog would have made. So we have real people in the movie and we’re improvising and just asking them questions, like in the moment, and just talking about things that feel real to them, that are based on their lives. So I really loved talking to a couple of our guys, like the guy who played the pilot in our movie, he has real experience in search and rescue missions. Kevin–I can’t pronounce his last name–Kevin Boontjer. He was great. They were really fun to talk to. And Jay Pirouznia, who is the cop we speak to in the movie, he has the best stories! He used to be an undercover cop and he has pictures in his office that are like him next to piles of cocaine that he busted. It was really fun! They are such neat people. And it’s interesting as an actor, one of the things I love about being an actor is, obviously, being able to step into someone else’s shoes, so to play someone who is investigating people was interesting and it’s interesting to come across people who, in their everyday lives, deal with people’s worst day of their lives. These guys have dealt with missing persons cases and for that to be like, that’s your normal. You wake up and you go into the office on Monday and you deal with somebody whose life has been struck by this tragedy. That’s a really interesting thing to hear about.
RONN!E: Definitely. I can completely understand that. So Phoenix Forgotten, being about UFOs, do you, yourself, believe in UFOs?
Florence Hartigan: Oh sure! I’m open to it. Do you listen to This American Life ever?
Florence Hartigan: It’s so good!
RONN!E: What’s that about?
Florence Hartigan: It’s a podcast. It’s about life in America. I highly recommend it. There’s one recently about–because I’ve always been someone who’s like “the universe is huge, there must be intelligent life”, right? I mean, I’m not ruling it out. The universe is infinite. But isn’t it like a sad thought, that maybe there isn’t?
RONN!E: Oh, yes.
Florence Hartigan: So part of this podcast was about that theory. And I’d never really thought about that. If we’re the most intelligent lifeform this universe has to offer…
Florence Hartigan: That’s really sad, right?
RONN!E: I wouldn’t know how to take that.
Florence Hartigan: No one’s coming to bail us out. This is it. The cream of the crop.
RONN!E: Gosh, I hope not.
Florence Hartigan: And there’s no other habitable planet, you know? This is a unique, weird fluke.
RONN!E: This one planet.
Florence Hartigan: So I particularly believe in alien lifeforms and they’re just taking their time getting to us. *laughs*
RONN!E: I think I’m right there with you.
Florence Hartigan: Or they’ve already been here.
RONN!E: And they’re like “naw, that’s all right, we can turn around”.
Florence Hartigan: “We’ve seen enough. Thank you.”
RONN!E: So one more question about Phoenix Forgotten, I wanted to know what your thoughts were, when the movie came out there were a lot of comparisons to The Blair Witch Project, and they weren’t really favorable. I’ve seen the movie and I really liked it, so… What did you think of critics comparing it so much to The Blair Witch Project when it’s clearly a very different film.
Florence Hartigan: I think, inevitably, any “found footage” movie that you make it going to be compared to The Blair Witch Project, because it was the first, the vanguard of that genre. And kudos to them! They did an amazing job of making it seem real, to the point where–have you done any reading about those actors? It destroyed their lives. People thought they were dead, in their real lives, because they did such a good job. Their IMDB profiles are like “they’re dead”. So it was hard for them to get work afterward. So I think in a certain way nothing’s ever going to beat that movie for what it is. I will say in terms of Phoenix Forgotten, I think the aim was always for it to feel more like a documentary, like somebody who, you didn’t just find this thing. Somebody put this all together for you to see. And my character made this movie and it has a “found footage” element to it, but I always kind of looked at it more like a true crime story with a “found footage” element as part of the storytelling. So I kind of see it as a different genre, but I understand the comparisons and if you’re looking for a Blair Witch movie, I don’t think this is necessarily for you, although it does have a little of that component in it.
RONN!E: So you also have Malevolent coming out with William Shatner, Ray Wise, Bill Moseley, and Morena Baccarin. Tell me about that. How did that come about?
Florence Hartigan: That was just a straight-up audition. Someone I’d worked with before sent me the audition and I, since it’s a voiceover you record it, and I sent it in. So I did that and I’d actually worked with this director before, and he actually sent me the audition offer. And after I’d made the film he said, “By the way, Flo, I didn’t speak for you at all. They picked you purely on your talents. I didn’t tell them you were great or easy to work with or anything. That was all on you.” And I was like “Thank you!” but I’ll just take the job. I’m okay with nepotism! So I guess I won that fair and square. But it was cool. It was fun. That was the first animated feature I’d ever done. I’ve done some voiceover stuff before, but shorter. Some cartoon stuff and some corporate voiceover stuff, but I hadn’t done an animated feature before, so I just approached it like I would an acting job. I did some really weird things with my body to make it sound like I was punching things and getting hit by things because it’s a horror movie. There is a lot of physical action, so that was a cool challenge, to try and make it sound convincing, and emotionally grounded. It was cool. I had a great time.
RONN!E: You play Kelsey DeKalb in this film. What can you tell us about your character?
Florence Hartigan: She is a very damaged human. She’s sort of like a Valley girl, which was super fun for me because I don’t often get to play that character. And I love those characters! It was cool. And she has a very dysfunctional family and uses a lot of drugs and stuff to get by. There were a lot of really fun character elements to this person. She’s very complicated and sad. Apparently, I love playing those people. *laughs* I mean, I’m saying it flippantly but I really do. A story structure is the story of a journey and I always think stories of struggles and stories of people overcoming struggles are just interesting. It’s what we want to hear about. I love playing characters that have weight on their shoulders.
RONN!E: As we’ve said, this is an animated horror movie, and I’m always curious because animated movies and TV shows always do it a little differently. Did you work closely at all with William Shatner or Morena Baccarin or Ray Wise?
Florence Hartigan: I wasn’t there on their recording day, so I didn’t get to meet them, but I met Bill Moseley, which was cool. That was fun. Yeah, I think people do them differently. We didn’t have, I don’t think I had scenes with them. Oh, I had a scene with Ray Wise. I think I recorded separately to him. I mostly just recorded in the booth. It’s kind of funny. Dani Lennon, who plays my sister in the movie, Miriam DeKalb, she’s kind of the lead on it. I could hear her but we weren’t in the same room. That was an interesting challenge in itself. But it’s cool. You have to use your imagination more.
RONN!E: What do you find harder to do, voice acting or set acting?
Florence Hartigan: I think they both have different challenges. Making it feel real and grounded when you’re in a booth by yourself, it’s easier to imagine if you *are* in a room full of people on a set. But with acting, there are a lot more things to worry about. Because you’re on camera, and you have to worry about what your face is doing and if you’re hitting the right mark.
RONN!E: A lot more choreography going on, in a sense.
Florence Hartigan: Exactly. So there are just different challenges.
RONN!E: Are there any roles or types of characters out there that you want to play in the future? Like a comic book movie or something?
Florence Hartigan: Oh man, that’d be fun. I have had to limit myself to how many comic books I’m allowed to read because I tend to get very addicted and do not put them down. I started reading The Walking Dead series and finished all of them to where they’ve been written in, like, a weekend. I have to save it for when I’m on vacation.
RONN!E: I did the exact same thing with the first 65 issues.
Florence Hartigan: It’s really good! And I’m a fan of the show so it’s cool to see where it’s the same and where it’s different. So, what did you ask me? Oh yes, what roles? I’m also a singer so I’m dying to do a musical. I would really love that.
RONN!E: What’s your favorite stage show?
Florence Hartigan: My favorite musical ever is Singing In the Rain.
Florence Hartigan: I’m talking about a movie musical, not a stage show musical. I think that requires a very different set of skills, which I would love to do one day, but I think my most dear dream is to be in Singing In the Rain. I would like to go back in time and be in Singing In the Rain, to be real. *laughs*
RONN!E: Just replace her. So do you have anything else coming out?
Florence Hartigan: Malevolent will be coming out next and then I don’t have anything else I can talk about at the moment.
RONN!E: Always the secrets with you people. Damn those NDAs! Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with me, I really appreciate it and we’ll make sure that we keep people informed about when Malevolent comes out. And we’ve already been spreading the word for Phoenix Forgotten. As I said, I’ve already seen it and I really loved it.
Florence Hartigan: Thank you!
RONN!E: I’m really looking forward to Malevolent. From the trailers, it looks really fun.
Florence Hartigan: Thank you so much!