Changing perspectives

Lora Burke talks about making Lifechanger

by Jennie Kermode

Lora Burke and Jack Foley in Lifechanger
Lora Burke and Jack Foley in Lifechanger Photo: Fantasia Film Festival

Some films are more satisfying the less you know about what happens in them. After writing a very careful review of Lifechanger, which premièred at this year’s Fantasia film festival, I caught up with star Lora Burke for an equally careful chat. It was a year since we’d last spoken, when she’d recently completed work on Poor Agnes with Robert Notman, and she’d spoken briefly about this project then. I put it to her that one of the curious things about it is that she gets the most screentime even though she’s not the main character.

“Yeah,” she says. “We don’t really see Drew all that much, we hear from him. You know what? It was very much an ensemble piece. It was a big cast. I think it equally fell upon everyone’s shoulders. Which was a nice change from Poor Agnes!”

Drew is a character whose circumstances are increasingly desperate and whose one focus in life is trying to get close to her. What did it feel like playing a character who – for good or ill – stands out to someone in that way?

Lifechanger director Justin McConnell
Lifechanger director Justin McConnell Photo: Fantasia Film Festival

She shrugs. “Julia, the character, is completely unawares of it, so there wasn’t something that I felt, particularly, I had to take on. She doesn’t know, she’s just trying to get through day to day and she has no idea about this person being whatever Drew is.”

Getting by isn’t easy given that she’s been through desperate time of her own.

“I did spend a lot of time on doing justice to that for her because she’s had a crappy go of it. Just one thing after another and she doesn’t know why it’s all happened until it all starts to unfold around her... Obviously there’s that thing where you live with something and then, say, a Christmas tree light reminds you of Christmas and it brings it all flooding back. But then, the way the script was laid out, she was trying to get on with her life. She was going to this bar every night and having banter with bartender. Also, people talk about avoidance as a way – it’s not a good way, but it’s a way of coping with grief and loss.”

Julia encounters a lot of different faces in the bar, including a young woman called Rachel (played by Rachel VanDuzer) who seems to bring out a lighter side of her.

“When she’s talking to Rachel she says it, you know, I see myself in you’ – that was her connecting and just joking around... it was her way of connecting with this young girl and seeing all the life that she had to live, and trying to help her lead an enjoyable life and have fun. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen.

“It’s there in the script so you have to find a way to say okay, who is this person that goes to this bar every night. She could just be sat there wallowing in her grief which I’m sure sometimes she did, but it’s written into the script that she does have this relationship with the bartender, so she’s slowly piecing things back together. She doesn’t want to be at home, she’s got nothing left, so she goes out and speaks to people and connects that way.”

I suggest that she also has to be the normal person in the film, in terms of bringing us down to earth and reminding us that the kind of horrors Drew has become inured to would usually provoke distress.

“She’s the humanity, I think, in the film. She has that grasp on real life and then everything else is weird, that’s going on.”

Almost like a non-genre character in a genre film.

“When I was working on it I felt that, yeah, she’s just a woman plucked out of real life and put into these genre surroundings. For her, she doesn’t know anything’s going on, until the reveal at the end.”

And then she’s plunged into a situation that constitutes an even bigger acting challenge.

Lifechanger poster
Lifechanger poster

“Yeah! And I haven’t seen the film as yet so I don’t know how that turned out, but yeah, it was challenging. I come from a physical, dance background, so I can physically embody other people, but it was a challenge.”

I ask which scenes, other than those final ones, she feels are most important to revealing who Julia is and how she fits into the story.

“Definitely sitting at the bar with Sam, the dentist, because that’s when we find out a lot about her, what she’s been through, her whole backstory and how she came to be – that was kind of a huge one. And then the stuff with Robert, deciding to let him in... and how she cops with just more and more things going wrong. You look at some people’s lives and they just get dealt a more and more crappy hand, and you can either take it one way or the other. But I think that was the final straw for her. She’s had enough of everything life can throw at her.”

So how does she feel about the Fantasia screening?

“I’m so excited!” She beams. “It’s amazing because being new to the genre last year I didn’t know a lot about Fantasia until Poor Agnes got in and we were were really well received and made welcome by everyone, so it’s good to go back for a second year with a new film – and a very different character!”

Between this festival and the last time we talked, she’s been busy exploring different possible career directions.

“I’ve been doing a lot of TV auditions this year. I always thought I wanted to go down the TV route, especially with some of the great TV that’s being made at the moment, but with the last couple of feature films I’ve made I’ve just really enjoyed the whole process. And theatre, because I started out in theatre a long time ago, you know, in school and stuff. I’d love to come full circle and get to be on the stage. It’s such a feeling to know that there’s no ‘Cut!’, you know? Once you’re in it you’re in it, and that’s your performance.”

And you don’t have to worry about what happens to it afterwards?

She laughs. “Well, no! But you do get to revisit it night after night though, and the next night it’s a different performance and then another. So I’ll put that out there – theatre directors!”

As if to remind her that she’s in demand, her dog has been trying to get into the room, so we say goodbye and I let her go to take care of him. Lifechanger screened at Fantasia on Friday and UK film fans can look forward to seeing it at Frighfest next month.

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