When Here Alone, perhaps the first art film with zombies, debuted at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, I went to a critics’ screening, only because it was the one film that fit my schedule that morning. I didn’t recognise the name of the lead, Lucy Walters – I didn’t know she was the young woman in the subway in Shame and hadn’t watched Power. She was a terrific lead, a real discovery, and the film turned out to be my surprise find of the festival, an exciting, well-acted, cleverly-directed post-apocalyptic thriller that balances action with thought-provoking subtlety. I thought I alone had made the great discovery of the festival’s sleeper. But it turned out that Here Alone would win the Audience Award!
In Here Alone, Ann (Walters), a young woman in her late 20s, struggles to survive in the wilderness of upstate New York after a mysterious epidemic decimates society. Haunted by memories of her late husband Jason (Shane West) and their baby, she also battles the current bloodthirsty threat that lurks just outside of the forest’s borders. A chance encounter brings Olivia (Gina Piersanti), a teenage girl, and her injured stepfather, Chris (Adam David Thompson), into Ann’s life and regimen of survival, but they bring their own complications.
Impressed by Here Alone and curious about its captivating and brave lead actress (what a grueling role!), I met Lucy Walters for lunch in Manhattan soon after the festival.
For the lead in Here Alone, I read that [director] Rod Blackhurst tweeted you?
That’s right. I have no idea why he thought of me. My guess is that the producer, Noah Lang, had a hand in it. That’s a very good question and I’m not sure I want to know the answer. These things are so serendipitous. My reps were not excited about it at first. But I knew some of Rod’s friends so he was vetted to some degree and then I Skyped with him and was really taken with him. Then I thought, “Why not? Let’s just do it.”
You probably took this film partly because it was a lead role for you, but if you were already a big star and this script came to you, do you think you would have wanted to do it?
So much of it is the people. Who do you want to go into a foxhole with? If you trust the people you will work with, the other stuff is irrelevant. I was hungry to take a part like Ann after being immersed for the past three years in Power. I had normally been cast as the sweet girl and Holly [in Power] is certainly not that. She’s trouble. She is so different from Ann. You’d think that an extreme, midnight zombie movie shouldn’t be realistic, but Ann felt way more aligned with who I actually am than Holly. She is not a woman who leads with her sexuality, she is not a woman who engages in quippy banter. She is just a survivor. I live my life with a furrowed brow just trying to get through it. So, I related to that and her. There’s nothing cute or sexy or anything. She is just taking life very seriously. It’s different circumstances but I take life way too seriously and just getting food some days feels like enough. It’s New York City, and if you get food and do the laundry in a day it’s like whew! It’s Ann’s grit that I responded to.
What did you and Rod talk about in terms of this character?
Because this was a small film, Rod was doing everything. So, there wasn’t a lot of time for us to get into who these people are. We did a little bit. We Skyped and had some conversations. He gave me a lot of information on what the disease was like that created the zombies. He really wanted this to seem real. But where Anne is emotionally, he let me figure a lot out for myself. I was in a weird place, I was coming straight from another film. That was all-night shoots, and you start to lose your mind when you don’t sleep for two weeks. So, I was deeply depleted when we started this film. Also, I was in the middle of my own breakup. So, I still was not sleeping during the time we made Here Alone. Which was crazy because filming it was so exhausting. Needless to say, I had done work to figure out where she was but at the end of the day it didn’t matter because I was in my own weird state and that informed her. I had mapped it out, but it was enough to be wrestling with what I was wrestling with because it showed through. That’s why I like this type of storytelling. It doesn’t have to be so demonstrative.
Between the time Ann’s husband is killed by zombies and she kills her baby and the arrival of Chris and his stepdaughter Olivia, does Ann worry about her sanity?
Probably, but she’s not worried about her own health. She is in a pragmatic way, trying to get through the day, but she certainly isn’t trying to make this cushier for herself. She thinks she has to pay penance.
She had been a nurse. Where does that fit in?
There’s a toughness to being a nurse and there’s a toughness to Ann. I remember reading the script and thinking, “Wouldn’t it be more interesting if she came from a cushier life?” We chose things like Ann’s underwear. She would have frilly, lacy bras. That made sense to me. She’s a person who likes sweet, fun things. She’d choose the frilly bra not the practical bra. That’s a key for me that this woman trying to survive in the wilderness isn’t who Ann is, although she proves to be tough enough to survive. There’s a toughness to someone who can be a nurse and that I’m so impressed by. She can’t be squeamish, she has to get things done.
In the flashbacks, she seems to love her husband Jason, but not a lot. I think he annoys her. Is that true?
They wanted the script to show that their relationship was not great. Jason’s proposal was not great. This was not a great love to begin with and now they’ve become roommates. They’re trying to do the right thing by being with each other. They have a baby…
Ann flees a deserted house with some food she took and some fast-moving zombies give chase. Did you realize how it was being filmed, how the zombies behind you would be blurry and sort of shadowy?
No. I remember wondering and hoping for the best. I didn’t want it to be a B-horror film but without the budget to do special effects, I just wondered about the quality. I remember trusting them and choosing to believe that it was going to work.
It’s not a zombie movie really. It’s a survival movie.
I agree. Going back to Shame, I think the most powerful things were those that were not spelled out for us. So, our imaginations are what make it interesting, our imaginations projecting onto what is happening with no dialogue in our scene at the beginning of Shame or what these zombies actually look like if we could see them clearly. Somehow when you actually see them toward the end of the movie, the fear dissipates a little.
Was the nudity hard to do?
Here’s the deal, I was scared of nudity for a very long time. Film is permanent. It is out there and there are just so many icky sites. So much of having to be a shape shifter because once it’s out there, there’s no reason for putting on your push up bra anymore. There it is. In a weird way, nudity is kind of liberating. It took me a long time to get there. After Power, this was a piece of cake. That has a lot of nudity and it’s all sexualized and was very scary to do. In Here Alone, the nudity isn’t sexualized. It’s realism. It’s not trying to be a hot body. That’s a scary thing to do, to never feel like you’re enough. And this one was just realism. The nudity is just in service of the role. There were moments that I was clear that I didn’t want the nudity to be all gratuitous and if it wasn’t necessary, I really didn’t want it to be in there. I didn’t want to throw a big stink, but I had to trust that if Rod told me it wasn’t gratuitous then it wasn’t. It’s a tricky thing but I’m trying to become more European about saying “fuck it.” Besides being very cold, I’m getting way more comfortable with it.
I thought when Ann washes off the mud from her nude body that it was a brave scene for you. There’s a metaphor. She can never clean off the guilt. And what this woman has to go through when she is caked in mud. Was that part of what you were thinking?
Yeah, and I sort of like the idea of going all the way. There’s nothing more vulnerable than that. There’s no skimping. You’ve got to get raw and filthy. You had to go all the way for this film and I like that.
Where does this movie fit into your career?
I’ve always wanted to do independent films and I want to do bigger and more substantial roles. I’d like to think that this will open the door to make that more possible.
Here Alone is available on Netflix now.