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Alan Ritchson

Wingman Wednesday

Jenny Stead

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One of the more murderous characters in the grindhouse series “Blood Drive” goes against everything procedural cop shows have taught television viewers regarding serial killer profiles. As the overbearing and emotionally abusive Domi, Jenny Stead brings a dynamite dynamic to the raucous show. Whether she’s figuratively smothering her onscreen husband Cliff or literally smothering yet another victim of her cruel cravings, she is a powder keg who is one short fuse away from going off… and she is glorious!

We recently sat down with Stead to discuss flying freak flags, judging Domi’s book by its cover, and why “Blood Drive” is so special.

TrunkSpace: We have been asking this of every “Blood Drive” cast member we speak with because, well, it just seems like an obvious first question. (Laughter) Did you ever wonder if the material you were working on in “Blood Drive” would ever make it to air?
Stead: Listen, when you read David Straiton’s IMDb credits you kind of figure that he knows what he’s doing.

But, um, okay, in the spirit of full disclosure (and at the risk of sounding like a complete doofus), I didn’t actually read the pilot until I was called back! I was contracted to do a play over most of the shooting of “Blood Drive,” so I didn’t think I had a chance to be anything more than (hopefully) a day player. When they called me back for Domi, I finally read episode 1 and all I remembered was Grace’s line offering a little extra adrenaline-inducing action, “Back door, Barbie. One time offer!” and I thought, “Woah! What!?! Oh, it’s some sort of soft core porn! Why am I reading for this?!”

I didn’t get the extent of James Roland’s genius and truly wonderful humor until the first table read. The entire cast was incredible, but Alan Ritchson and Christina Ochoa blew me away. Straight off the bat they had this great chemistry, but more than that they had already found the romance and the comedy so beautifully written into each show. It was really only after that read that I had a clear understanding of what we were doing and I was amped.

TrunkSpace: On the surface, your character is a fish out of water in the “Blood Drive” world, but in reality, she probably fits in better than most. Is she camouflaged on purpose or is Domi just who she is?
Stead: No one fits in in the Blood Drive, they are all misfits and weirdos and that’s one of the relatable aspects, right? Because we all have a freak flag, we just fly it at different heights.

I could write a solid thesis on my take on Domi’s backstory, but at the end of the day, it’s all just my own trajectory and I’m sure people like to imagine her beginnings for themselves.

I do, however, think it’s a lot of camouflage. I think Domi is trying very hard to pass for the average, suburban housewife. I think that dictates everything from the color of her lipstick to the shirts she, obviously, forces Cliff to wear. I think she probably grew up in a trailer and has worked very hard to become what she imagines society deems appropriate.

TrunkSpace: There’s that old saying, “It’s always the quiet ones…” Does that apply to Domi?
Stead: Sure, Domi can be an observer, but I wouldn’t describe her as quiet. Cliff can’t get a word in, poor guy! I do think the old saying about judging a book by its cover is pretty apt though.

TrunkSpace: Throughout the series your scene partner is your onscreen husband Cliff, played by Craig Jackson. Did having a static scene partner help you find a comfort zone, not only as Domi but in her role as not-so-loving wife?
Stead: I struck gold with Craig Jackson, he and I were like two kids in a candy store. We did not stop laughing and appreciating every minute on set.

Domi and Cliff have a particularly unique physical relationship. I don’t think Domi is fond of being touched at all. It takes a certain element of macabre to turn her on and Cliff is the only person who gets that. The fact that they’re often static physically and occupying separate spaces certainly played into the strained aspects of their marriage. It also meant that when they do become physically close it’s with a very deliberate intention, which makes it kind of sweet, and hopefully, even a little hot.

TrunkSpace: When did Domi and Cliff’s relationship go sour? As they reminisce, they sure seem to paint a pretty picture of the past, but was it ever pretty or are their nostalgic brains skewing what actually was?
Stead: Unless you think a honeymoon shag requiring a bellhop bleeding out all over you is pretty, I don’t think that’s the most accurate word! (But hey, each to their own!)

I think they were probably really lucky to find each other. In my head, they met as children and started killing early on. Craig and I like to imagine that Cliff helped Domi kill her foster parents. That’s why Domi has no surname because she got rid of her slave name and likes to be known by one name, like all the greats… Stalin, Hitler, and, you know, Cher.

TrunkSpace: Domi clearly has a murderous blood drive of her own. What do you think Domi’s weapon of choice is?
Stead: Anything sharp. A scalpel, scissors, small blade… her teeth! She definitely prefers to take her time and is fascinated with the human body, but she can also be like a shark near blood and go into a complete feeding frenzy. But for her, murder is definitely art.

TrunkSpace: Your onscreen husband Cliff has weaknesses that are clearly visible. Domi, not so much. Does she have any weaknesses?
Stead: I think her weakness lies in her deep desire to fit in. I think she tries so hard to be normal but has zero aptitude for normality. Luckily she has no emotions, so she doesn’t feel too bad about it all.

TrunkSpace: Eyeball make out session! How does one prepare for something like that?
Stead: We were so lucky to have James Roday directing that block. He had this ridiculous stroke of genius that he wanted the eyeball scene to be an homage to John Hughes’ “Some Kind of Wonderful.” He wanted Cliff and Domi to be like teenagers who were making out for the first time. It was so clever because we played it with absolute sweetness and sincerity and then there was just this incredibly life-like, bloodied eyeball in the mix. The props department gave me one of the standby eyeballs as a keepsake. It sits proudly on a bookshelf in my lounge over a copy of “The 5 Love Languages.” It’s especially great for when my kids have friends over and their parents pick them up after a play date!

TrunkSpace: How do you share your new gig with family when said gig is a show with cars that eat people and a character who is mouth-swapping eyeballs? What is that conversation like?
Stead: I have the world’s greatest husband. He’s incredibly supportive and although he’s not a massive grindhouse fan, he’s really enjoying “Blood Drive.” My kids think it’s the best thing ever, especially when I had to do stunt training and they hear about me having to massacre an entire village. My mom’s just happy when I work and I haven’t told my dad that much about it. Hopefully I’ll never have to!

TrunkSpace: “Blood Drive” is so very unlike anything else on television. That statement is said a lot about a great number of shows, but usually it’s just said for the sake of saying it. It truly is the case with your show. Does that make being involved with it feel all the more special?
Stead: There is so much great television being made at the moment. Although on the periphery it might seem that “Blood Drive” would only appeal to a very niche market, I think they’ve managed to create something with a really broad appeal and given the genre that’s no mean feat. “Blood Drive” is special for so many reasons. The show is cool. It’s dark and gory and it’s funny and it feels particularly poignant in this day and age. I’m a genuine fan. I’m really proud of this show and it introduced me to some of the most incredible people. For such a gruesome show it was really filled with a lot of love.

TrunkSpace: Strictly from a career standpoint, is “Blood Drive” a game changer?
Stead: It certainly is a nice addition to my show reel. As far as game changing? I’m not sure I can expect a call from David Lynch, but if you’d care to put in a good word…

TrunkSpace: When you look at your career moving forward, what would you like to accomplish? Do you have bucket list items that you want to check off in your career?
Stead: It sounds corny but I just want to do good work that I’m proud of. I love what I do and I never take for granted how lucky I am to do it.

 

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Wingman Wednesday

Andrew Hall

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In the world that “Blood Drive” inhabits, Andrew Hall’s character, The Gentleman, is about as chivalrous and honorable as you will find, which is to say, he’s not very. When not feeding innocent people into his car, he is toying with the fragile emotions of his racing companion The Scholar, played brilliantly by Darren Kent. And while on the surface The Gentleman seems pretty cut and dry in his self-centered importance, there is a hidden layer to the sophisticated egomaniac that Hall teases within the shadows of the character’s psyche that plays masterfully like a comic book villain’s secret identity performing on Broadway.

We recently sat down with Hall to discuss the visual treat that is “Blood Drive,” why the series’ unique POV makes it so special, and how he achieved every actors’ dream upon learning of The Gentleman’s wardrobe accessories.

TrunkSpace: We remember seeing the “Blood Drive” trailer for the first time and going, “How can they get away with this stuff?” And then we saw the series itself and realized that you guys get away with SO much more than we initially thought you would. (Laughter)
Hall: It is extraordinary. I think what’s so brilliant from the point of view of James Roland, the creator, and all the writers on it, is the way in which they’ve managed to combine both the completely out there stuff with grindhouse, but at the same time, the referencing back to some other movies… some great movies. And then at the same time to have the kind of subtleties and intricacies of the plot running underneath and the comment on how the world works and so on… I think they’ve pulled something pretty special off. I have to say, it’s quite an achievement. To get it on air in the first place, but also to get it on air with that kind of complexity.

TrunkSpace: Which is a great way to transition into the question we’ve been asking all of your costars. (Laughter) As you looked at the scripts and got an idea of what you were about to shoot, was there ever any point where you went, “There’s no way this is ever going to see the light of day?”
Hall: (Laughter) Yeah, that was pretty much it when I read the script the first time, but certainly with episode two, which already aired. Some of the scenes between The Gentleman and The Scholar? You kind of read those and go, “What?” (Laughter) And those also changed. The first draft I saw of them there was a bit of pecking. We’ve certainly moved on a long way from there. (Laughter)

And I know for a lot of people it was very much a question of, “Really? If we do this is it going to get on air? And if it does get on air, is it a good idea?” (Laughter) I think it’s just paid off for people because I think apart from anything else, it’s the sheer quality of the end product. Yaron Levy, the cinematographer, the work he’s done on it has been absolutely outstanding.

TrunkSpace: It really is incredible what he’s been able to do and how each episode has its own feel and visual tone. It’s become part of the fun, tuning in each week to see how each new episode looks.
Hall: Yeah. I think that’s it! And yet there’s a consistent luminosity to it, if that’s the right word. And the set pieces… that beautiful setting when Slink is in the waiting room about to beat the guy to death with a briefcase. The sparsity of that setup, in terms of the kind of visuals of it and the framing of it, it’s just gorgeous. And then also to have the luxury of some really, really good stunt people. I’d say the process of filming in South Africa was a joy from start to finish. It is a really lovely team out there. Lovely people.

TrunkSpace: Keeping with the visuals, we are reminded of that great scene in episode 2, “Welcome to Pixie Swallow,” where the cook is carving the Elvis character and the door keeps opening and closing and revealing different aspects of the butchery. It felt like you were watching a really great visual indie as opposed to a TV series.
Hall: I think that sums it up, absolutely, because another way would have been that you’re in close on a knife doing all of the dismemberment and all of those things, and it’s a kind of a gorefest from that point of view. And now, you’ve got somebody who’s got the imagination to go, “And you know what? Let’s shoot this where every time the door swings, there’s a different bit of the body missing.”

In that same episode as well there’s the beautiful tracking shot following the waitress through the bar, necking her lover, out into the kitchen, past the chef, and then it’s only at the end of that where you see the human leg being fed into the mincer. And what a great performance from Roxy in that. I mean, it’s just terrific.

TrunkSpace: Had the show went in that direction, with an in-tight, straightforward look at the gore, it would have completely changed the tone of the show. And in a lot of ways, the characters are handled in the very same way. They could have been very one-dimensional, but they are not that way at all.
Hall: I think that is a tribute to the writing, and also to the casting, Nancy Bishop CSA… just watching everybody else work and watching the way in which everybody else brought an added dimension to their character and watching everybody give the script the respect it demanded. If the script wasn’t good in the first place then what tends to happen is, it’s quite easy to go into a sort of autopilot mode or to feel that you’ve got to make up for a deficiency or whatever it might be. But I think what people got very quickly was on the one hand, the script itself and the situation demands a heightened style when you’re approaching it as an actor, but that heightened style only works if it’s anchored on something complex going on underneath. I guess some of the, in theatrical terms, the farce… if you’re doing farce as a genre, you are putting ordinary people in extraordinary situations and they keep making the wrong choices and that’s what makes farce funny. But if people go into a farce going, “I’m going to be funny… I’m going to be in a farce,” it dies on its knees. It’s the very fact that the characters themselves take the situation seriously that feeds it.

And I think right from the beginning people just got that, that you needed to just put the amp up to 11 a little bit, but then have it rooted in something… a kind of true inner life story. And for me, what’s also going to be a joy is just watching the way in which the scenes between Thomas Dominique (Christopher) and Marama Corlett (AKI) unfold, because the journey through that story, I think, is a very surprising one as well.

TrunkSpace: Your character The Gentleman seems like a pretty complicated guy. On the surface it seems like he is what he is, especially when we see by way of what Grace and Arthur see, but then there’s that side that The Scholar sees. And that’s a point of view that, as a viewer, hasn’t been revealed yet.
Hall: Yeah, I think that you’ve got it. I think approaching The Gentleman… he’s a pretty vile character, it has to be said, but the vileness in everybody comes out of something that’s happening underneath. So the cruelty to The Scholar, there’s something happening inside The Gentleman that generates that. Whatever it might be. Ultimately that front has to be hiding something damaged, insecure, desperate… all of those things.

But again, it’s part of the journey, I guess, with the characters, in that you have to find the engine running underneath that provides that desperation. So obviously in the Grace character then the desperation is about her sister, which then leads her to do things, which amazingly, Christina pulls off. She’s happily feeding people into engines and you’re kind of feeling sympathetic. (Laughter) How does that work really? And that first scene where you’ve got two pretty nasty people who are intent on molestation, you’re kind of rooting for her, but if you step back and say, “Hang on a sec, she cuts peoples’ arms off and puts them into her engine? Really?” (Laughter)

I have to say, the other thing about that as well was Danielle Knox, the costumer designer from the South African end of things. Such high quality. I walked in and there was this array of stuff laid out for me to try on, virtually the day I landed. Already it’s starting to build the anchor for the character, somebody for whom appearance is so important. And I have to say, to get the sword stick, it’s every actors’ dream, for God’s sake. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: When you hear about a project built around man-eating cars, normally it’s the kind of project where there is no costume designer and they say, “Can you bring a couple of outfit options to wear?” (Laughter)
Hall: (Laughter) “Do you happen to have a camcorder we could borrow?”

Obviously we knew that NBC/Universal were involved, but it’s the quality of the end product. Certainly I remember when I landed in Cape Town not being absolutely sure of what was waiting and then to find this fantastic operation and the whole building of the studio in the city center building in Cape Town and everything that went into that as well.

TrunkSpace: We’ve been speaking to many of the “Blood Drive” cast members and everyone genuinely seems like they had a wonderful experience shooting the series and that they were all-in on it from the start, which seems rare?
Hall: Yeah, it is rare. And again, collectively everybody took a deep breath and went into the deep end. I think everybody kind of got that. Because it is something so genuinely different from anything else that you see out there. It’s one of those those things where everybody on board just takes a deep breath, closes their eyes and goes, “Geronimo!”

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