The vampire movie has been done so many different ways, you’ve probably seen the scary vampire, the tragic vampire, the romantic vampire and even the action vampire. You’ve never seen the spaghetti western vampire movie before though. Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour’s vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an Iranian vampire tale, told in long atmospheric takes playing to mostly silence.
The vampire is played by Sheila Vand, who also co-stars on the new fall show State of Affairs on NBC. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night opens Friday in theaters and State of Affairs airs Mondays on NBC. We got to speak with Sheila Vand about her new film and television show by phone this week.
Nuke the Fridge: Had you always wanted to play a vampire?
Sheila Vand: Not really. I actually thought vampires were really cheesy until I had the chance to play one and realize how cool they actually are.
Nuke: Did you know there were so many different interpretations of vampires, from the Bela Lugosi Dracula to Nosferatu?
Sheila Vand: I knew about them but I hadn’t really looked into it until I was doing my research for Girl. I actually have Bela Lugosi on record now and I read Interview the Vampire and watched Nosferatu to get more into the lore. But at the time when Lily said that she wanted to make a vampire movie, most of the stuff that was out there was cheesy.
Nuke: This was around the Twilight era then?
Sheila Vand: Yeah. Even when the film came out and I would tell people I did a vampire movie, I felt like I was constantly putting this disclaimer on it, like, “It’s not like Twilight!”
Nuke: So you hadn’t thought about vampires before, but did it turn out to be a dream role?
Sheila Vand: It did. It absolutely did. I think the fact that it was written for me was really dreamy because Lily new me by then and so I felt like I was playing something that I was genuinely right for. I’m really fascinated by characters who are outsiders and that have a darkness to them because it becomes a forum for me to explore my own darkness. I really felt like I got to do that with this role. The Girl has stuck with me in a way that no other character I’ve played has. I miss her sometimes so I channel her on my own, which is a little creepy, but because I miss her. I miss that girl.
Nuke: Do you think you might play her again? Does Lily have any plans?
Sheila Vand: We’ve kind of talked about the idea of a prequel but I’m not sure where her journey’s headed right now. She’s been making a graphic novel on the side because she had created this whole backstory for The Girl and she realized she had all this extra material. So the second issue has just come out of the comic book and the second issue is the prequel. Maybe that’s foreshadowing. I certainly hope so. I would definitely play her again.
Nuke: Was this your first lead in a feature?
Sheila Vand: Yeah, I guess so. I’d done one other feature where I was in an ensemble of leads but this was really the first time where I feel like I was the central character.
Nuke: Was it a big moment in your career then?
Sheila Vand: At the time it didn’t really feel that way because I knew Lily from before and I didn’t audition for this role. It was written for me, so it didn’t really become real until the whole thing was done and I watched it and really understood that I was the lead in a pretty amazing film. It’s more surreal now than it was when we were in the making of it.
Nuke: How had you known Ana Lily before?
Sheila Vand: A mutual friend introduced us because she thought we’d hit it off, and then we totally hit it off. I did a few of her short films beforehand and I really enjoyed working with her, how detail oriented she was and how much she cared about process. So when she asked me to be the lead in her unwritten feature, I said yeah.
Nuke: The scenes are very long. How many takes would you do of those long scenes?
Sheila Vand: Not many actually. The timing of our shoot was pretty concise for budget reasons, so we actually moved really fast. But we had prepared for so many months before the shoot, our preparation was probably 10 times longer than our actual shoot. So we were pretty clear on what she wanted from us when we got to the set.
Nuke: What did preparation entail for you?
Sheila Vand: There were tons of films she had us watch. Everything from spaghetti westerns to abstract cinema to vampire cinema. She had me watch a lot of YouTube videos of animals, like snakes and cats. She wanted The Girl to move a little supernaturally and she really wanted me to have those influences in my mind. And then we also did some rehearsal for the more choreographed moments where she wanted things to be very particular compositionally.
Nuke: The film is in black and white. What did you look like in color as The Girl?
Sheila Vand: So weird. Sometimes they would switch the monitor to color, I think just when they were figuring out some technical thing. So we would all kind of throw up in our mouths a little bit because when you shoot something in black and white they way that they did, it doesn’t translate the same way in color. Even the makeup is done in a particular way so that it reads for black and white. For some reason, the way I remember it is in black and white. I don’t remember the experience of making this movie being in color. And there’s also something about the city we shot in, Taft, CA, was really muted and was appropriate for black and white.
Nuke: You said it was a big moment when you finally saw the film. How many times have you seen it now?
Sheila Vand: I guess I’ve probably seen it now six or seven times. I just recently stopped watching it when we do Q&As. I used to watch it every time and now I’m trying to pace it out a bit more.
Nuke: But you don’t have a problem watching your own performance?
Sheila Vand: For the most part I don’t, but it really depends on the particular project. With this project, I’m so proud of it and I believe in it so much that I enjoy watching it. That’s not always true.
Nuke: Did you get to audition for State of Affairs because people had seen A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night?
Sheila Vand: Not really. The audition came around right around Sundance so not many people had seen A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, although I’m sure it didn’t hurt that I had a film at Sundance at the time.
Nuke: What are we going to get to see you play on State of Affairs?
Sheila Vand: A totally different character. I play a CIA analyst who works directly under the president and throughout the season I kind of become Katherine Heigl’s closest confidante.
Nuke: In what episode do you come in?
Sheila Vand: I’m a series regular so I’m in all the episodes, but my main arc happens in the middle of the season.
Nuke: So which episodes should we look for as big episodes for you?
Sheila Vand: Seven and eight are really big, so stick with it. I’m in all of them so my character’s Maureen James. They call her Mo so you’ll get a good dose of Mo if you like Sheila Vand on TV.
Nuke: Did you get to do any research with the CIA?
Sheila Vand: Yeah, two of our executive producers are ex-CIA and one of them briefed the president for two administrations, so that was really amazing. They were just like living breathing resources. We are in constant contact with them. Whenever we have a question, we can just text them. They read every script to make sure that things are authentic. Again, I wasn’t really that into politics but through this project I’ve learned a lot.
Nuke: Is there a lot of difficult technical dialogue to master?
Sheila Vand: Yeah, there is. It sort of feels like you’re speaking a foreign language at first, even though you of course look up everything you’re saying, but it’s different to understand vocabulary than it is to really know it. It’s cool because that’s the luxury of being a series regular is you really do get a lot of space and time to live with the characters, so I actually feel like the jargon is starting to come naturally.
Nuke: And you do speak foreign languages, right?
Sheila Vand: Yeah, I speak Spanish and Farsi.
Nuke: Which language did you speak first?
Sheila Vand: I learned Farsi first but I was born in America, so I kind of learned Farsi and English at once. Then Spanish I learned later in school. It’s funny, on State of Affairs so far I’ve spoken French and Arabic, neither of which I actually know, so that’s been interesting.
Nuke: I saw you were in the Beverly Hills Cop pilot and I’m fascinated by that because I don’t get how that doesn’t get an immediate green light. What was that show like?
Sheila Vand: That was cool because I got to meet Eddie Murphy who’s incredible. Right away when you see him acting you realize why he is the legend that he is. And it’s such a beloved franchise, it was fun to do the pilot but it was definitely sad that it didn’t move forward. I think it didn’t quite find its place as a TV show.
Nuke: Would you have been a regular if it had gone?
Sheila Vand: Yeah, I was a regular in that too. It’s cool. That was really my first real pilot season so I’ve had a pretty good track record so far, but it is also funny to me that I played a detective in that and I play a CIA agent in State of Affairs because I’m naturally kind of a rule breaker and I’ve always had problems with authority. Now I’m playing these authority figures.
Nuke: What was Brandon T. Jackson like as Axel Foley’s nephew?
Sheila Vand: Brandon was fun but I think he had some huge shoes to fill because people were sort of expecting him to just be Eddie Murphy and it was really important to him to make the role his own. But at the end of the day, I think that was part of the trouble with that pilot, that Eddie Murphy guest starred in it and when people saw it, they were like, “We just want Axel Foley.”
Nuke: Well, nobody saw it. It didn’t make it past the network.
Sheila Vand: Yeah, no one saw it, the pilot didn’t get picked up but Beverly Hills Cop IV the movie got greenlit, so somewhere in there.
Nuke: If State of Affairs is on all year, will that be your main thing or will we see you in anything else?
Sheila Vand: Yeah, they’re trying to follow the cable model so it’s only 13 episodes. So I wrap in January and as an actor it’s kind of great because you get to have this awesome regular job for half the year and then I’m going to be on hiatus for six months and get to do other stuff. I’m already doing an indie right now called The Highway is for Gamblers. It’s a really cool, eerie script about a girl who goes missing at a rodeo and he friend goes to find her and experiences all the violence of the open road looking for her friend. I play a supporting part and she’s written as there’s something slightly supernatural about her. I have a southern accent in it and that’s fun because that’s like getting back to my weirdo roots again doing something more out of the box. Then going back into the box, I’m also in a Lifetime miniseries called The Red Tent that’s coming out in December.
Nuke: What do you mean by your weirdo roots? Have you always felt that way?
Sheila Vand: I’ve always gravitated towards the abstract as far as cinema, theater and storytelling goes. I’m just a lot more interested in the surreal. I like naturalism too and I appreciate it but I’m more fascinated by the power of imagination and I think we have this amazing ability as humans to think outside of what we perceive. That’s the space I’m the most interested in. That’s why A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was really special for me because it explores something supernatural and strange. It’s hard sometimes to get parts like that.