You won’t know her from television or blockbuster hits, but if you attended any film festival in the last five years, you’d probably recognise Tegan Crowley’s face.
Crowley has starred in multiple award-winning indie films, most of them with a common theme – dystopian futures where Crowley fights for her life.
Plague (dir. Nick Kozakis, 2015), the low-budget zombie flick, had her as a lead character trying to survive enraged humans in the midst of a zombie outbreak. 2043 (dir. Eugenie Muggleton, 2013) placed her in a world thirty years after a viral epidemic. Short film Tanglewood (dir. Jordan Prosser, 2016) stars Crowley as a woman whose relationship breaks down after civilisation collapses, and on opening night of the 2011 St Kilda Film Festival she featured as an unnamed woman witnessing a terrifying and beautiful destruction of mankind in Explosions (dir. Christopher Frey).
Tegan Crowley’s latest appearance is in Blue Games (dir. Eugenie Muggleton) and that film’s producer, Stephanie Westwood sat down with the actress to discuss her presence in Melbourne’s on-screen downfall.
You’ve played characters in the midst of a zombie virus outbreak, in a wasteland years after society has collapsed, on the run from unseen monsters, in some kind of sci-fi apocalypse where humans are exploding into light… Do you think you’re drawn to genre films? Or are genre directors drawn to you?
I’m drawn to the directors and they seem to be drawn to me. If they’re passionate and excited about the story and its characters, I know I’m part of a good thing. All stories are important and each has its audience, but I do find it fascinating how dystopian themes and post apocalyptic worlds have really taken center stage over the last few years.
Being able to step into a character and a world in which anything you do could make or break your survival, helps me to understand the lives of many people whose real lives aren’t too dissimilar from a dystopian world. It’s a way to use story and dystopian themes as a cautionary tale for those of us who choose cruelty and greed – and gives voice to those who have experienced real horror. Genre films also expand imagination and empathy – which is awesome.
Even though your characters have been so different, they all face similar hardship – in harsh worlds with terrifying enemies. Do past experiences acting help your performances?
I think a little bit of my soul is in every film I have ever made and in turn, a little bit of the character and story of each film sticks itself to my soul… so, every film, and all my life experiences, snowball into helping each performance. Dystopian sets, costumes, make up and characters are amazing too – you quite literally just have to stop and look around – you’re there in the thick of it…. that really excites and helps me as a performer.
Are you actually a horror/zombie movie fan?
Funnily enough… I’m not! Hahaha. I’m such a chicken and get scared too easy… bad dreams, man.
In Plague you are in the middle of action – running from zombies and fighting with fellow humans – whereas in your latest short, Blue Games, your character is much more internalised, isolated. Can you talk about the different way you approach these characters in these worlds?
It’s all in the writing and the world the director conjures. The pre-production discussions about each character helped me to envision both Evie and Lily. Costumes, make up and sets were both very different from each other. Relationships to other characters on set also helped to inform what kind of people both Evie and Lily were.
On Plague, I was thrown into the thick of it. It was 40 degrees almost every day, I was really hungry, hot, felt disgusting, we were surrounded by bush fires in Mansfield and were either outside all day or sweating our butts off in a tin shed, almost always covered in flies. There were guns, creepy guys, weak husbands…. I just had to be present and look around.
Blue Games, I was always by myself… I was so lucky to be filming with all my closest friends, but during each take, I was alone. Lily is a loner. Then when she is confronted by the kid and Jonno, she’s having to experience and think on her toes as to how best to juggle and manipulate the other characters…. she’s a watcher, a hunter.
Women tend to get pigeon-holed in genre films – the virgin, the first victim to die, the sole survivor who has been traumatised. How do you feel about these stereotypes – do they inform your performances at all?
I try to steer away from stereotypes. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have scripts – especially Blue Games, where my character is written very well. There’s always something personal that the character is going through or striving for that resonates with something inside of me and my life… so I try to focus in on that, and as much as possible, not lean towards stereotype.
What are you working on at the moment? Any more zombie flicks on the way?
My production company, Drifters is in post-production for our debut film Shove, and we’re also in pre-production for our second film Just For Tonight. I’m trying to write a feature or series. Also, I’m really wanting to develop new film ideas with Eugenie Muggleton – ‘cause we got a good thing going on together!
Now that you’ve got zombies/post-apocalyptic films down pat, is there any genre or film style you’d love to tackle next?
I’d love to be in a Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach/Greta Gerwig film! I’d also love to be in a biopic… not sure of who though, would love to play a person who has lived. I’m deeply drawn to making people happy… so whatever and however I can do that in a film, I’d love that.
The next time you can see Tegan Crowley at the end of the world is in Blue Games, premiering at Flickerfest this Saturday, January the 13th in the Best Of Australian 1 program. Tickets available here.