Orbital dynamics

Charlotte Sullivan on Radius and the challenges of playing an amnesiac

by Jennie Kermode

How do you talk to a stranger when you don't know who you are either?
How do you talk to a stranger when you don't know who you are either?

When an amnesiac man (Diego Klattenhoff) wakes up after a car crash and starts finding dead bodies, he soon realises that something is vey wrong. But there's worse to come when the cause of the deaths emerges. It's him. Anybody who comes within a 50 foot radius of him dies.

That's the plot of Caroline Labrèche and Steeve Léonard's Radius, which screened at Fantasia earlier this year and is now available on VoD. Charlotte Sullivan plays the only person seemingly unaffected by the man's curse. She took the time to tell us how she got involved with the film.

"My agent had read the script and really loved it, and I think one of the unique factors was, well, usually when you're female and you're looking through scripts - and this is not always the decisding factor - but usually the inevitable love scenes crop up. The really unique thing with this project was that you could anticipate that there could be some kind of love connection between the two lead characters but it was completely different. I think that was partly due to the fact that it was directed by both a man and a woman and written by both a man and a woman, who also happen to be a couple, which is really unique. so my agent read it and said 'it's so different from anything,' and then I read it and I auditioned for it, and I got the part and it happened really quickly - I think within two days, three days, I was in Winnipeg shooting. It was very, very fast."

Was it hard playing somebody who, like the male character, doesn't remember anything about her life before the story begins?

Exploring a house that may or may not be home
Exploring a house that may or may not be home

"Yeah. It's weird," she says. "You usually have backstories for people and if there isn't one on the page you create one in your mind and so yeah, that was really challenging. the hardest part also was that pretty much in every scene there's something dramatic happening, and just our energy level was so high. It was really exhausting, because we were either trying to commit suicide or somebody wa dying in a scene or I was getting stabbed with a hypodermic needle. There was never just a scene of he and I sitting having a coffee, it was always, just, we're on the run, it's high octane, and that was a challenge, to do that for a whole month. Me and Diego were just really drained. So that was also really hard, and to work out how I would play her without her having any recollection of her life before that day."

It's also a film with a curious lack of intimacy.

"I think the only time me and Diego's character touch... I think there's twice. I think I hug him in an elevator out of relief at getting back in his radius, and then the other time he touched my pinky when he both woke up. And that was interesting. It was kind of like we were robotic with one another. We didn't smile much. I think there's one scene where I smile when I discover that my character doesn't like pizza, or didn't in her past, and that's like the one time you see her with a smile of any kind."

This creates an interesting relationship between audience and character, with both finding out about her past at the same time, bit by bit.

"It's a revelatory thing, discovering these little puzzle pieces, and yet she doesn't have any emotional connection to any of it. I struggled with that a lot, so hopefully it didn't come out onscreen. It was such a challenge to not have it just be one note all the time, and to create a female character that isn't always in distress, as is often the case. On every project you always have a hard time trying to feel like you're making something authentic and that can be a challenge whether or not your character has memory."

That was just one of many challenges.

"The timeframe in which we shot it was in Winnipeg during the height of bug season. We always felt like we were running from bugs. We had a huge, torrential, really quite dangerous storm that halted shooting, so we ran from the storm. It was a lot of running!" She laughs. "I don't think I've been that beaten up in a long time.

"The other hard aspect was that we shot mostly nights, so we'd come home at, like, six in the morning, and I have a daughter who is just getting up and at 'em at six, and I was like, 'Oh my God,' and I really just felt like I was going to die. But it was with really good people, so that just makes it much easier, when tou're working with people that you really, really like and you're in it together. It makes a huge difference, or I don't think I would have been able to survive properly."

What was the team dynamic like?

Trying to map out what to do
Trying to map out what to do

"Caroline and Steeve, they're quite unique characters - they're like twins, in a weird way. I really enjoyed their dynamic. They're very bizare in an eccentric, beautiful way. I really like them a lot, and they created a very funny environment on set even when we were filming things that were quite intense. Diego was my partner in crime. I struggled a lot with the film and he was there for me."

Did they do much work to create chemistry between their characters?

"Normally you hope that you have time but there just wasn't that luxury," she says. "It was almost like cramming for an exam. I think any time that Diego and I wanted to talk about something, we always were there for each other, and we became really close friends. It was difficult; it was challenging emotionally, keeping that energy level up, because it can get really draining when you spend hours on film sets, they can be like 16 hour days, and so if every scene has to be high stakes, high pressure, then you're just feeling kind of emotionally beaten up." She laughs.

With a high concept film like this - and one which sustains the mystery surrounding its premise all the way through - it's difficult to avoid spoilers. With that in mind, she tells me about what the most pivotal scene was for her.

"It was the scene where I discover who Diego's character really is... That was so hard to do. It took four or five hours to shoot it and I'd been screaming so my voice was shot. I think we had lunch after, and then I literally went straight back to a bed and fell face first onto it. I think it was hard for Diego too - we both had a really intense time with that scene. That was a pivotal point for my my character because you're putting all the pieces together - the whole time, you're trying to find out who you are, and then... it's a really weird thing."

And her final thoughts on the film..?

"It was really good to have a female character who's unique and doesn't really resort to the typical sexual type of behaviour. It's a really original piece and I hope that people like it."

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