Mena Suvari first appeared in a couple of episodes of Boy Meets World, so when American Beauty became both a commercial and critical success, she’d paid her dues and played a range of characters. Despite working steadily since then, that film seems to be the one thing everyone knows her from.
With WE tv’s South of Hell (the first season of which marathons on Black Friday) – created by Jason Blum and Eli Roth (Roth directed the premiere) – might just change that. In the series Suvari plays a woman who is forced to co-exist with a demon – and uses that demon to return other demons to Hell.
Suvari spoke with a group of journalists/bloggers recently about tackling not only a lead in a series, but a double lead.
Hi Mena, thanks for talking to us today.
Mena Suvari: Thank you for having me, yes.
So can you first talk about what it’s like filming two different versions of yourself at once?
Suvari: It’s pretty challenging and it was a new thing for me to be doing, a new sort of undertaking because I had to wrap my head around trying to understand how we were going to shoot these scenes and what it was going to look like.
It pretty much involved me working with the actress who put stand in and play opposite me and direct her as to how we are going to perform the other character.
So if I’m starting by shooting the Maria footage of the scene, then I would have to kind of coach her and tell her, look I think this is how I’m going to perform Abigail after this and try and ask her to kind of give me that same performance so that I could work off of her.
It was a lot of fun, but it is definitely something that I didn’t have experience with. I’ve worked with green screens and things like that in the past, and was trying to understand how we were going to do splits, only shoot certain angles of my stand in, have Abigail come in to the shot, how it’s going to be edited–and so it’s like a new thing for me to learn.
Plus twice as much work.
Suvari: Yes I mean — it’s very different characters, and completely different emotions involved so for sure.
Great. And then also so far at least we’ve seen the first episode, it seems like it’s going to be a very physical role, can you talk kind of about some of that, filming the physical scenes, the action scenes, that kind of stuff.
Suvari: It was really exciting for me. I mean I loved the whole concept of this project when it first came to me, and when we were shooting the first episode which Eli Roth actually directed.
Getting into these fight sequences, working with the stuntwomen, doing my own stunts, and the effects and everything involved, it was a lot to do.
And I remember, James Manos, our show runner, kind of said to me, “You know what you’re getting yourself into, kid, huh?”
I’m like, oh god, yes. Not only having to understand the whole concept of each these characters and Maria’s background and Abigail but then having to doing a lot of the physical activity too is pretty well-rounded.
Well I’ll tell you, I think what put me in the show is performance so far.
Suvari: Wow thanks! Thank you.
Now, is there – I guess with the series, the beauty of it, is it going to be like more on Abigail and kind of have the two ladies came together.
Suvari: I would hope so. I mean, I think right now we’re just kind of focusing on this, on Black Friday, kind of seeing where it goes but I would really hope so, I mean that would be a lot of fun and it was definitely really exciting for me to be able to take on a project where I knew that we will be able to progress and really film an entire season versus just working a project whereas I’m going to really do a pilot many times, that’s just something that’s phased within the industry and viewers.
So it was really exciting to actually be working we could create, like this real, friendship and network with everyone and tell their story. So I think there’s so many ways that it could continue to progress. There’s a lot of twist and turns on this one so, we’ll see.
I see. and also, as far as her look, black obviously is her color, but did you have any say in how her wardrobe, I mean the leather jacket with that outfit works perfectly.
Suvari: Thanks I love it. I love it she has like a fashion sense. Yes I mean it’s definitely a collaborative effort for sure. There’s so much that goes into working on anything and film and television it’s like that, there’s so many cooks in the kitchen kind of thing.
So everybody has an idea of how to express this vision and then – but we had a fantastic crew and everybody had to decide who Maria was versus Abigail and really kind of exhibit their personalities.
But there was a lot of that went into making that decision. We had to find like the right way to express them.
I watched the episode last night, we were allowed to see the first one it certainly is exciting and scary. I know that Jason Blum and Eli Roth are the executive producers.
So first I thought they probably wouldn’t have a lot of creative input but as was said earlier, that Eli directed the first episode. So I’m wondering how much he will be involved throughout the season creatively and whether or not other well-known horror film directors are coming on board.
Suvari: They were very involved and I assume that they’re very involved in everything that they do and for sure, they had a huge presence on the set.
And it was like the perfect cocktail. I mean all the people that we had involved were fantastic and I’ve been a huge fan of the horror genre my whole life and so it was a just huge treat, to be able to work with Eli, Jason, and James Manos, Jr. our show runner. I was obsessed with Dexter, watched it front to back.
We also had amazing directors other than Eli. We had Rachel Talalay who did a Nightmare on Elm Street, we had Jennifer Lynch, Jeremiah Chechik, Ti West– I mean great people in the horror genre so that was something that was super fun for me as well.
I like working in this genre in this way, because I’ve always loved all the natural elements, but to be working with these directors with such an extensive body of work, it was really cool.
I know that when you’re filming, it’s very different than what you see in the final product. Since you don’t get all the post effects of CGI, when you actually got to see final product, was there anything that even scared you?
Suvari: Wow! I mean, I think because I love this genre so much, I had a pretty good sense of what they were going to do. But I was really impressed with what they did, putting together the fight sequences and seeing the effects – there was a lot that went into the hair and the make-up and the prosthetics involved.
Rick Pour was my make-up artist, and he’s fantastic and so I had a pretty good sense of what it was going to look like when we were filming, but I think I love the fight sequences, I mean especially in the first episode at the hospital.
I think that was really cool to see, and Paulina, the actress I played opposite, is really such a fighter. She gave so much in that scene and we really released a lot of anger doing it.
Did you get a lot of hostility released there?
Suvari: Yes it was great. I mean we had an awesome crew and just so much support around us and I think that’s also something that is really wonderful to be a part of.
Just knowing that you’re in great hands. There’s kind of like this release that you have just knowing that you can kind of focus on what you’re doing and that it would all come together in the way that you’d imagined.
I’m actually looking forward to see the entire series and have set to binge watch this. So it’s an awesome first episode.
Suvari: Well thank you so much. Thank you, that means a lot I appreciate it.
I wanted to ask you if the show actually shot in Charleston.
Suvari: Yes, and that was really exciting for me because I lived there when I was younger. I went to Ashley Hall in middle school, and while I was living in Charleston I ended up joining a modeling agency called Millie Lewis, which took me to a modeling convention, where I then signed with Wilhelmina and then had a television commercial, and that’s pretty much how I started acting again.
I did a commercial when I was younger in Rhode Island, but that’s what brought me into the business and I moved out to Los Angeles when I was about 15, so it was really cool to be able to go back and be working on a TV show, now that I went on I started there and I still have friends that live there so, it was just great.
I mean it was nice to have that kind of homecoming and I think it was really special to me too because it just added a different element for me with playing Maria because like I – I kind of had that same experience that she did. Growing up there was something I could really bring into my character.
Well that’s cool. Me and my wife, actually own a condo there.
Suvari: It’s fantastic! I mean it’s changed so much over the years. It was – I was living there in like 90s but yes and it’s just a fantastic city. It was just so special, it was so cool.
You can never know like where life is going to bring you. And coming back, after I had gotten my start there, and now I’m on my own show. It’s neat.
I want to ask you about kind of like the Jekyll and Hyde thing about her kind of playing. It really two sides of the coin, good and evil a little bit. And what’s that aspect like for, to kind of play that mentally?
Suvari: Well it was pretty challenging. I mean, especially when you’re working in television, it’s like such a fast schedule. You really have to have everything prepared. You don’t really have a lot of time.
I mean I was lucky that we had to take the directors that we did and Eli and Jennifer Lynch… I mean they are just so fantastic and really give you as much time as possible to go through everything in preparation, and it’s not only that type of character but then there’s so much mythology in the story.
So it was a lot and it was pretty challenging but I love it. I don’t really like it any other way. I like it as difficult as it can be, it really pushes me and I can learn more about myself in the process.
But it was great. I had to get used to that dynamic pretty much and then after like the first episode, I was good. I mean we’re all finding our footing. Because it’s not just those characters but understanding the mythology, where it’s going to go.
But then you get settled and it just gets it gets easier, a little bit more comfortable. But I mean yes in the beginning, the first episode I was like oh my god, this is a lot.
Photos courtesy of WE tv