Known for ZK: Elephant’s Graveyard, Speak No Evil and Cut!, Gabrielle Stone is an accomplished actress with an impressive resume of work. In Stray, Stone is Jennifer, a troubled young woman with a disturbing past and a penchant for killing. Penned and helmed by award-winning writer-director Nena Eskridge, Stray follows Jennifer as she struggles to break free from a cycle of violence and seek love and redemption in a small town. In this one-on-one interview, Stone reveals the challenges she faced in bringing a flawed and exceedingly complex character to life.
What attracted you to this film and the character of Jennifer?
Gabrielle Stone: I read the script and the role was an actor’s dream. There are so many layers to her. She’s so broken but so strong. She really spoke to me, and it was something I wanted to do. The script was written so well that it was really a no-brainer.
Did you audition for the role? If so, what was that like?
Stone: No. Someone had recommended me to Nena. She reviewed my demo reel, we had a phone conversation and she hired me for the role. A pretty easy process on my end.
What did you draw from to develop Jennifer as a troubled, complex character?
Stone: I think, in any character, the challenge is find the parts of you that are in that character. And even in a dark character, there are ways to do that. I really enjoyed being able to pull bad experiences from my past—heartbreak and deaths—that I had to deal with. So I used those in ways that made Jennifer always be in that fight or flight mode. And I hope that’s what translated on the screen.
How collaborative was it working with Nena Eskridge as writer/director? Were there elements of Jennifer you added beyond the script?
Stone: Because Nena is an actor’s director, she was always open and wanting to hear my opinions and ideas. So we would kind of morph everything together when we were on set. She really had a delicate process in putting the film together. She flew me out a few days early and we walked around the town together. She showed me all the different places, letting me into much of the backstory and personal elements she had put into the script. So I really felt I had acquired a deep knowledge of Jennifer before we even started shooting. As far as adding my own elements, I think that happens naturally in any character, but Jennifer definitely had some aspects of myself. Nena was always open and wanted that.
What did you find most challenging about your role in the film?
Stone: I think to not overdo things. When you’re doing a drama, there’s always the tendency to go all the way all the time. But you really can’t in something like this, where there’s so much going on. You have to pick and choose when she’s going to let everything out and let all that stuff come to the surface, and when to keep it internalized and not go so big with it. So that was the challenge of finding the really important moments in a slew of so many important moments.
I sensed that. There were a couple of scenes where you really could have gone over the top and turned Stray into a slasher flick, but you held back and kept her humanity.
Stone: You have to do that, especially when you want people to connect with the character. It’s hard when you have a main character that’s so up and down. You have to give her qualities that people can connect with, so the audience isn’t just hating her the whole time.
What was it like balancing a character who is at once dangerously psychotic and yet in some ways surprisingly sympathetic?
Stone: It’s really about looking at Jennifer as a whole and finding places in all the heightened things she was doing and going through, then finding what I connected to and related to. When I was on camera, I wanted to make sure that the things I connected to where things that I pulled back on. So the audience could see the humanity in her and the realness of identifying with how they might have felt that way at one time in their lives. While the circumstances are outrageous at times, there are parts of Jennifer that everyone has experienced or at least seen someone they know go through. So I wanted to make sure that when we got to those moments, they were very real.
As a dancer, do you ever have the urge to do a dance film?
Stone: I did a film coming out next year called Dance Night Obsession with Harvey Lowry as director and featuring Antonio Sabato Jr. I only have one dance scene in it, and it’s not even my style of dance. But it was a blast.
What’s next for you?
Stone: I just shot a horror film in L.A. called Rock, Paper, Dead, directed by Tom Holland. I also wrapped a full-on comedy called The Competition directed by Harvey Lowry.