When I saw Preservation (http://nukethefridge.com/2014/10/21/screamfest-2014-review-preservation/) at ScreamFest (www.screamfest.com), I discovered Wrenn Schmidt. I should have already known her from TV appearances on Boardwalk Empire and The Americans, but I was behind on my viewing. After praising Schmidt’s performance on Twitter, I connected with her for a phone interview last year. Preservation hits theaters and VOD Friday so everyone can see it and discover her like I did.
Directed by Christopher Denham, Preservation stars Schmidt and Aaron Staton as a husband and wife who go on a camping trip with his war veteran brother (Pablo Schrieber). They think the in-laws are going to be the biggest conflict, but the trio finds themselves stalked by a gang of masked attackers, and Wit (Schmidt) has to be the hero. Some mild spoilers are in this interview because I had to ask Schmidt about her most badass moments, but you’ll definitely want to know too after you see Preservation.
Nuke the Fridge: Could you anticipate how grueling the shoot for Preservation would be?
Wrenn Schmidt: I think I had an idea and I think my response to that was I definitely was trying to get in better shape, but my response to that was also to try and block that out. I knew if I’d known how hard it would be in advance, I’d probably wuss out. I think it was better to not have a real understanding in advance of how grueling it was going to be.
Nuke: Then did it exceed your expectations?
Wrenn Schmidt: Yeah, I would say so but I feel like in a way it was energizing when that happened, weirdly. The more challenging it was, the more exciting it was.
Nuke: Did you audition for the role of Wit?
Wrenn Schmidt: No, actually Chris and the producers, Cora Olson and Jenn Dubin, they found me through Boardwalk and a couple of other shows I think. So they reached out to me and I actually am really familiar with Chris’s work as an actor. He was somebody I was already aware of.
Nuke: Me too. I was a fan of Sound of My Voice.
Wrenn Schmidt: He does a lot of weird theater and that’s where I’d seen him.
Nuke: Since this is my introduction to you, I’m sorry I missed Boardwalk Empire, I was wondering if you were theater trained?
Wrenn Schmidt: Yeah, yeah, I’ve been doing theater as soon as anybody would let me. I started doing community theater when I was in middle school, and then I went to an art high school in South Carolina. Then in college, I majored in theater and history. Then I did a lot of theater once I moved to New York.
Nuke: Had you ever thought about playing an action heroine role like Preservation becomes for you?
Wrenn Schmidt: Not at all. It wasn’t something that I was like I’d never want to do that. It was just something I’d never had the opportunity to do. And it’s not the kind of material that I feel like actually comes my way anyway, so that was really exciting to me. Kind of like, “Wait, you guys want me to do this? Are you sure you want me?” So no, I hadn’t actually ever considered it.
Nuke: Did Preservation make you feel like you could take on more action roles?
Wrenn Schmidt: Yeah, I feel like I definitely would love to. If I was going to do another film that had that kind of action, the thing is Preservation we all did as a labor of love. We all made that work on a very small budget. I feel like if I was to ever have the opportunity again, I would want to be able to practice certain things more. Like, I need to learn better how to punch someone and how to hold a gun. But weirdly, I feel like not knowing that stuff is exactly where I should have been because it’s exactly where the character was. That’s the only thing that I think I might go about differently, just so that when it becomes crunch time, you already have more of a knowledge about what you’re doing, versus feeling like you’re being thrown into something. You’re like, “Wait, how do I do this? What is this? Huh?” But I actually think weirdly, for Preservation, it was better that a lot of that stuff was new for me. Hanging out of that tree, never done that before. Being dragged behind a bike, never done that before. And some of the rock climbing that I did do, I’ve never done that kind of thing. So it was a lot of new stuff for me.
Nuke: Did you even have a stunt double?
Wrenn Schmidt: I did. I actually had a couple of amazing stunt double. Someone doubled me who actually did fall out of the tree on my behalf which I’m very grateful for, and she did a couple of other stunts that day. She did some of the dragging behind the bicycle that wasn’t close-up. Then she also did some of the stuff with getting hit in the face. That was really great that I didn’t have to do that stuff just because honestly, she’s such a good double and she made it look really good. Then I had another stunt double who did a lot of the major rock climbing. She was pretty phenomenal.
Nuke: For the dental floss scene, did you actually have to sew on the prosthetic?
Wrenn Schmidt: Yes, I did. I did and that was tough because as I was doing it it made me really nauseous.
Nuke: How many tries did it take to get that right, because you’re sewing on top of your head?
Wrenn Schmidt: We only did one take. There’s a lot in this movie that we had the one take and that was it. Either because of time or because we were using a prosthetic. When you get something like that set up and you’re racing against time every single day, you really only have one shot. It wasn’t like there was time for them to remove that prosthetic off of my head and then put something fresh on so that we could do it again. It was just the one.
Nuke: The rock climbing scene is very effectively jump cut. How much time did you and your double spend collecting those shots of Wit trying to climb the rocks?
Wrenn Schmidt: The majority of that day. I guess maybe we worked for two hours in the morning shooting other scenes, and then she was shooting for the majority of daylight. They had quite a bit of footage that they did with her, and then towards the end of the day, I picked up doing footage that was stuff that starts the rock climb, which is all me. The editor did a phenomenal job, not only at cutting that sequence but cutting the whole film. I’m in awe of the stuff that they were able to accomplish with editing because it really helps with the pacing of the film.
Nuke: What was the process of getting covered in dirt and blood for the end of the film?
Wrenn Schmidt: I have to say honestly, to answer your question earlier, that actually was the hardest part about the film, just sustaining that. There were many days where I was covered in mud the whole day. It gets to a point where it’s just really, really uncomfortable.
Nuke: Did you just go primal by the end?
Wrenn Schmidt: I would definitely say my fuse was much shorter. [Laughs] I don’t know if I was primal. It was intense because they’re painting you with makeup that’s supposed to be good for your skin, but when they have to refresh that for every take, it’s like you’re constantly getting wet. And every time that stuff dries, it cracks which means it pulls on your skin. That starts to get really uncomfortable, and it’s also a little hard when everybody else is comfy and dry and you’re like, “Man, I can’t even sit down.”
Nuke: I saw Preservation at ScreamFest but did you consider it a horror movie?
Wrenn Schmidt: I have to say, when I finally got to watch it, which I didn’t actually get to watch it before the Tribeca screening that was public. That was the first time I was seeing it all cut together and I actually got really nervous watching it, and I knew what was going to happen. I was surprised that that happened. The last 30 minutes of the film, I was really, really tense which was so odd to me. It was like, “You know what’s coming. Why are you freaked out?” So I don’t know if I would necessarily say it’s a straight horror film. I definitely feel like it falls more in the psychological thriller category.
Nuke: Did you watch the end of Boardwalk Empire?
Wrenn Schmidt: No, actually I’m watching that as soon as I get off the phone with you. I was on a plane yesterday and I got to tweet a little bit about it and my sorrow that I wasn’t getting to watch it when I had a short layover. I haven’t seen it so I’ve been trying to avoid the internet so that it’s still a surprise for me, but I’m dying to watch it.
Nuke: Are they making you blonde for I Saw the Light?
Wrenn Schmidt: I’m kind of a little blonde from another show that I did. I did a guest star on Unforgettable so I was already a little blonde from that and they’re keeping that. I would say it’s a highlighted version of my natural strawberry blonde hair.
Nuke: Does Bobbie Jett’s relationship with Hank Williams constitute a large part of the film?
Wrenn Schmidt: No, I wouldn’t say it’s the focus. It’s a nice section of the film but the focus really is on his life from his marriage to Audrey Mae to his death. The film is about his rise. That was around the time that he really started to take off.