A versatile talent with a broad body of work, Radha Mitchell began her career in Australia. She quickly took center stage in the critically acclaimed indies, High Art and Love and Other Catastrophes. Her major film work includes starring roles in Pitch Black, Man on Fire, Finding Neverland and the action blockbuster London Has Fallen.
In the thriller, Sacrifice, Mitchell plays consultant surgeon, Tora Hamilton, who moves with her husband, Duncan, to the remote Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland. Deep in the peat soil around her new home, Tora discovers the body of a young woman with rune marks carved into her skin and a gaping hole where her heart once beat. Ignoring warnings to leave well alone, Tora uncovers terrifying links to a legend that threatens to tear apart her marriage. In this one-on-one interview, Mitchell reveals the challenges she faced in bringing her complex character to life.
What attracted you to this film?
Radha Mitchell: I liked doing this character in this genre. It has a very particular perspective and a raw set of needs. It was that character, polarized against this kind of history, the subjugation of women, that was fun to explore.
How did you prepare for the role of a surgeon who in essence becomes a detective?
Mitchell: Strangely enough, I’d been prepared for it in shooting a movie called the Crazies. At that point, I just wanted to learn something basic, like how to take blood pressure. So they sent me to a gynecologist who gave me some shorthand on venereal diseases, childbirth and female issues—from a doctor’s perspective. She just took me from room to room so I learned a lot on that day. But I never thought I’d need to use this information. Then strangely enough, I found myself playing a gynecologist some years later. So I felt that I had the training. It was an interesting transition for a character who suddenly finds herself on the run.
Sacrifice speaks to betrayal in all its forms: betrayal in marriage, betrayal by in-laws and by the island folk. How do you think this changed Tora?
Mitchell: I think it speaks to the part of you that wants to ignore what’s right in front of you because it’s easier. In this case, it would have been a lot easier if Tora could just turn her eyes away, because she’s turning her own world upside down as she uncovers this horrific mystery. It’s going to prevent her from having the perfect life she’s wanted for so long. But she has a real sense of integrity, and I don’t think she has a choice. She’s courageous in a way that she doesn’t even realize. And those qualities were compelling because she doesn’t come into the story as a hero at all, but crippled by her own needs. And yet, at the end, she’s able to save someone else. Tora is an interesting character, and characters like Tora are more fun to watch.
From a somewhat laid back surgeon to this tireless, heroic sleuth, Tora was indeed fascinating to watch.
Mitchell: I think she was totally driven by the adrenalin of needing to know the truth. And also being hunted. There are scenes where she’s running around in this dark abandoned hospital, which were quite exciting to shoot. It was like playing hide and seek, except I was running with these high heels. It does adrenalize you. And that’s the kind of energy Tora brought into that space. The stakes become incredibly high and her desire to uncover the truth is something she doesn’t shy away from.
Sacrifice also addresses a woman’s fear of infertility. Did you draw from someone who went through this to develop your character?
Mitchell: I’ve played other characters that had the same issues. I think it’s like the fear of death, where you can relate to that at a certain age. Nothing lasts forever and the choices you make are important. The film also addresses the fear of infidelity, which is really at the heart of the story—the paranoia that you’re going to be left and that a second wife will replace you. But it ultimately empowers women by showing that it’s not that important to hang on to something that’s dead or over.
The film raises the question of sacrificial religious sects being alive and well in some areas. Do you think they still exist?
Mitchell: I’m sure they do. We see evidence of fundamentalist behavior constantly in the news. There’s bizarre, freaky human behavior that still goes on. We come from a history of damaged generations. If you look at the history of humanity and how it manifests in these generations, it can be quite twisted. When Sharon Bolton was exploring the story, she was referencing things that had happened. And there are these twisted things that go undercover in very powerful communities.
What did you find most challenging about filming Sacrifice, and of playing Tora?
Mitchell: Actually, it may sound boring, but the weather was a challenge. We were supposed to be shooting in July in Ireland. But the shoot was delayed until November. And I discovered that I was allergic to the cold, which was a great excuse for me getting back to my trailer. My skin would react to the wetness in the air, and I’d get these hives. But the cast was great, and between playing these intense scenes, we were laughing most of the time. Playing high drama is fun for an actor.
You worked that backhoe like a pro. Did you practice on it or had you done that before?
Mitchell: I had to learn how to drive it and dig these holes in the ground. They don’t give you a lot of time to learn these things, but I’m actually doing some construction in my house right now, and it’s good to know that if I need to dig a pit out back, I can do it myself to cut down on some of the cost.
(cover photo of Radha Mitchell by Gen Kay)