Known for nail-biting thrillers like Offensive and Dead End, award-winning actress Angela Dixon won Best Actress at the Artemis, Women In Action Film Festival in LA and has garnered much praise from critics and audiences alike; ‘a towering tour de force’, ‘electrifying central performance, ‘powerhouse performance’, ‘superb lead turn from the totally committed Angela Dixon’.
In the international action-thriller Never Let Go, Angela is Lisa Brennan, a single mother on overseas vacation with her child. When her infant is abducted, Lisa takes the law into her own hands, weaving her way through the murky backstreets and barren landscapes of Morocco, Spain and the UK to find her child. In this breakneck-paced thriller, Angela did all her own stunts and fight scenes in guerrilla filming conditions. During this one-on-one interview, Angela reveals what attracted her to this film and the challenges she faced in bringing this desperate character to life.
What attracted you to this film?
Angela Dixon: It’s almost a no brainer, because it’s quite rare that actors are offered these kinds of roles. Lisa is bereaved and she really drives the film. I like the fact that she was not just an action hero, but a complex individual who had strength and power, and who also had frailties and vulnerability. It was very important for me to draw both of those out. I worked with Howard Ford, who I’d met a couple of years before. I loved his style and the way he managed to bring the heart and soul into his films. I just couldn’t say no.
What did you draw from to portray the anguish of a mother facing the sudden abduction of her child?
Angela: That’s really interesting because as an actor, you’re using yourself, your experiences, your emotions, and the way you think, and you’re molding all that to fit the story and character. You’re almost like a piece of clay; you’re sculpting yourself with the help of the script and the director. So I had to find parallels and substitutions in my life to help me flesh out the character. And I had a substitution for my daughter—my brother—who’s older than me. Once I did that, the rawness of imagining that I might lose this individual from my life, of seeing him being kidnapped and taken away in the back of a car, of trying to run to him and being unable to get to him, it broke me. I literally fell to the floor and started sobbing uncontrollably. I immediately called him and said, ‘I love you.” I told him I was worried about him and he said, ‘I think I should worry about you, you’re the one who’s flying to Morocco.’ So it was a combination of combing through your own personal life and finding those references that fit and hang on to the character. I also have a very vivid imagination and my mind, body and emotions click into the fantasy of it in a way. So I’m able to willingly suspend disbelief and throw myself into the role.
The film also speaks to betrayal of the worst kind. Without giving away a key plot point, what did you draw from to evoke that emotion?
Angela: I think there were a number of betrayals. There’s a sense of trust in authority, which isn’t there for Lisa. I think there’s something about trusting yourself as well. At the start, she doesn’t trust herself. But her journey enables her to find real redemption and trust in herself, which is important. The moment you’re talking about, we were losing light and we literally had only five minutes to shoot that particular scene. The sense of betrayal was very real in that moment.
The physicality of the role appeared especially demanding. How did you prepare for those long runs, climbs and jumps?
Angela: I’ve always been physically fit. When I met Howard, we were kindred spirits. He’s always been fit and doing lots of exercise. We were the only two people on location that would be up before the crew. We would be punching and exercising at the start of every shoot. When I first learned about the role—about 9 months before shooting began—I wasn’t cast yet, but Howard said, he’d been thinking of me when he was writing the script. He knew I was fit and strong, knew that I trained and boxed, so it was at that time that I upped my training. Then, about a month and half before the shoot, when I still wasn’t 100 percent sure I’d be in the film, I did two to three hours a day of running, weights, and boxing.
I understand you did most of your own stunts and fight scenes? Do you have a martial arts background?
Angela: No, I don’t. It was very ad hoc. We had Glenn Salvage who played Dimitri, who helped us with fight training. Being a low budget independent film, most of the scenes had to be done in one take with no rehearsal, so many of the fight scenes were done ad hoc. I did all the fight scenes and stunts. Howard would try some of the jumps himself before letting me do them. We were also fighting the sun for light in many scenes, so we’d be filming three to four times as much as one would a normal big budget feature. One day, we found a village that wasn’t apprised of our arrival for filming. We were losing the sun, but an hour after we arrived, Howard had shot this footage that looked like the set had been dressed for three days. It’s literally like filmic alchemy.
Why do you lean toward these action-oriented women in jeopardy roles?
Angela: Women in jeopardy, I like that expression. I love to be physically active, and you take your roles into your physicality. They combine things that make me feel alive. There are a lot things being written about women in jeopardy, with the assumption that women over 35 have a tough life. But when you go to auditions, you tend to get cast in roles that you previously did well. I, for whatever reason, seem to be able to generate raw emotion quite dutifully and immediately. Whereas other actresses may have to fight hard to get it, I seem to access those emotions quite easily. To be honest, I’d love to do a comedy.
How is Angela Dixon like Lisa Brennan and how is she different?
Angela: I think we’re similar in that I’m very good in emergencies. If we we’re in trouble, you’d want to have me around. I react very well to that kind of stress. I’m quite the protector. I would protect people around me. I’m tough and resilient. But I’m also quite gentle and vulnerable.
How has Stefan Gryff influenced you as an actor?
Angela: He was an amazing actor—he recently passed away—who used to run workshops. I met him at the Actors Centre and I did a film-acting workshop with him. I would do a scene followed by an on-camera interview, and I was great in the scene but terrible during the interview. I would work opposite well-known actors. For over eight years, when I wasn’t involved in a project, I would work with him and he really gave me faith in my ability. He was quite strong in his feedback and didn’t mince his words. So he instilled discipline into me. He was my only mentor and he really believed in me.
What can you tell us about your upcoming films: Black Site and Homeless Ashes?
Angela: I just wrapped Black Site. It’s a sci-fi action film written and directed by Tom Paton, who is very talented and very driven. It’s a women-driven film and I play one of the main leads, the boss of an alien deportation center. It was filmed in a nuclear underground bunker, where it was freezing. I was shaking and they had to give me hot water bottles to keep warm. Homeless Ashes is directed by Marc Zammit, a young filmmaker who I respect. I play a woman who is in an abusive, violent relationship. I enjoyed the intensity of it, and if you get it right, it’s important to shine a light on that topic.
|The multi-award winning Never Let Go is now available on DVD and VOD.|