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Shauna Macdonald of THE DESCENT Interview
by Tony Farinella

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THE DESCENT

THE DESCENT
Are you thinking of something to buy for someone this holiday season? How about you get them one of the best horror films of the year? THE DESCENT is out on DVD right now with the Original Unrated Cut. I was recently fortune enough to interview the star of the film Shauna Macdonald. We chatted right before the Holiday season about her involvement in the film and a variety of topics. Shauna came off as extremely polite and cordial during the interview. She has a bright future ahead of her. I hope you enjoy my interview with Shauna.


TONY: How did you first get involved in THE DESCENT and what were you initial thoughts on the script?

SHAUNA: I first got involved in the film when my agent sent me the script, which was before meeting the director. It was just for a meeting, which is pretty unheard of. A lot of times if they send you the script, you are invited to read. I thought that was very nice and it was a good sign. I got to have a conversation with the producer and the director. I got to ask a lot of questions about things and really understand the character better. I also got a call-back to read part of the script with Alex Reid and I loved it. It was great reading it with somebody else because you have that validation that what you are reading is a very good script. My first reaction to the script was WOW! It was an amazing script and I can't believe I get to play this kick-ass female. I couldn't believe I was up for the lead.

TONY: Your character in the film is very complex and dealing with issues of grief, loss, and tragedy. Did you do any research on those issues and how did you get in the right mind set?

SHAUNA: That's a good question. Sometimes I do a lot of research for characters and have done that in the past. Sometimes I pick and choose what I want to do with the character. I did a lot of research as far as what she would have been like in her life during this time. I did a lot of climbing like I think she would have done. It's not said in the script, but we did make up a character history for everyone. I did work on that a lot. As far as the whole bereavement thing, I wanted to go into it blind and try and draw on any experiences I had myself. The only reason I was able to do that was because it jumps to one year later. She's had a chance to get some semblance back into her life. Also, it's not one year later and she's in a normal situation. If it had been that, then I definitely would have had to do some research. I didn't think it was important for this because we were taking her into a cave. It was a different atmosphere. We also got to shoot it chronologically, mainly because of technical issues. Because of this, I was able to track in my mind what is going on with her. The quick answer is no, I didn't do any research. But I chose not to do research. I'm glad I did that. I think it allowed me to be more free and to go into it blindly. I worked very closely with Neil Marshall (the director) and we really worked together on her journey.

TONY: Because of the physical aspect of the film, how hard did you train?

SHAUNA: We trained really hard. I was cast a month before the filming started, so I was climbing a lot on different walls in North London to prepare. I was running hard and trying to get as physically
SHAUNA in THE DESCENT

SHAUNA in THE DESCENT
fit as I could. I wanted the character to look capable. There was nothing in the script that said she was super fit at this stage in her life, but I wanted to be fit to manage the shoot. It was a very physically draining shoot. You are shooting for 12 hours a day, and if you are not fit, you are not fully focused on what you are doing. You are too busy thinking about how tired you are, instead of thinking about what you are supposed to be doing with the script. It was a very tiring and physical shoot. I also wanted to know exactly what we were doing technically. Fortunately, myself and the other actresses involved got to do this two-week boot camp where we got to learn everything. We really learned all the technicalities on what to do. So when it became time to shoot, there was no time wasted. We weren't fiddling around with our harnesses and trying to figure everything out. We just got on it and we knew what to do. I'm a very fit person anyway. I ran two triathlons this year. I love being fit and it was great that I could take my love of physicality and pushing myself into my job. I got to explore her psychological journey along with her physical journey. By the time the film ends, she's a savage monster. You wouldn't really mess with her or want to come across her in a dark alley.

TONY: I just watched the film and it seemed like everyone on screen had great chemistry together. How important is it to have that on and off screen?

SHAUNA: It's very important. You can't be in someone's pocket all the time, because that is counterproductive. He really wanted to get girls that worked well together. He got us together for a couple of nights and we really did bond. It shows because 2 years later, we are still very much in contact. It worked. It was very clever casting because he picked a group of girls that really worked together. There was never a problem. We didn't have any divas or any no dramatics at all. He picked girls that were very hard working and who were up for it. They had to have a sense of humor too, so maybe he picked girls that he wanted to go out with. (laughs)

We all managed to stand by each other and stick to it. Honestly, shooting a film like this is very hard. You have to support each other or the experiences are really dismal and miserable. Because we did support each other, it was a lot easier. We were very much aware that it was an ensemble and if we weren't an ensemble, the film suffers. We are all very proud of ourselves for achieving what we did. It's a huge bonus that we are all still friends.


TONY: Tell me your most vivid memory from shooting this film?

SHAUNA: Probably the bloodbath. When I got into the bath of blood and have the fight with the female crawler, that took a day. I was swimming around in this very hot substance for a full day. It was very smelly! It dyed my hair, my knees, my elbows, my skin, and everything. At the end of the day, I got home and I was acting very weird. I didn't know why I was acting weird. I was bumping into things and talking nonsense. Finally, I realized I was severely dehydrated. I had basically been in the bath sweating forever. You don't realize it because you are wet the whole day. I would say that was my most vivid memory. Also, the shots of me in the bloodbath and then I get out
SHAUNA in THE DESCENT

SHAUNA in THE DESCENT
and have a fight with the crawler. It was all done chronologically. I knew those were such epic parts of the film. The shot of me screaming, the shot of my eyes, the shot of me taking the crawlers eyes out, and the shot of me coming up from the water; I got to do all of that in 48 hours. I was like oh my god, I'm kicking ass! I also thought I better enjoy this because it's not going to happen again. You have to remember this moment because when you are an old grandmother, you'll remember the time you kicked ass in the film.

TONY: THE DESCENT was not like other horror films that rely on torture and mountains of blood to scare the audience. It had blood, but it was more psychologically scary. Was that something that attracted you to the film?

SHAUNA: Yeah. The crawlers actually don't make an appearance until much later in the film, and if they never made an appearance, it would still be a brilliant film. It really plays on peoples fear of the dark, being lost in the dark, being claustrophobic, and of being scared of the unknown. You don't actually have to see the unknown. In ALIEN, you don't get to see the alien for a very long time. I think that's brilliant for the audience. It's a brilliant device of horror storytelling, because you don't show your box of jewels until you have to. Because then you have done it and then it's sort of fight, fight, fight. There's only so many ways you can fight and only so many ways you can hide. That suspense is great. If you do it cleverly, you get the audience to stay with you longer. It takes a good story to do that and characters you believe in.

TONY: I was very impressed with how the film didn't turn all of the girls into sex symbols. It really treated them as people. How happy were you about that?

SHAUNA: I was thrilled! I wouldn't have done the film if it was going to be about the girls being really sexy and sex symbols. I definitely wouldn't have done it. Not because I don't think there is a place for it, I just think it's really boring. It's been done so much, why would you want to do it again? I was so pleased that it was not even an option. I read the script for the first time, and I wondered if he was going to have sexual shots. A lot of times it's not in the script, but there's a shot of someone look really sexy and saying nothing. I was really hoping there was nothing like that. He talked to me before and told me it wasn't going to be a wet t-shirt competition or anything like that. He told me these are real girls fighting and it will be as real as possible. It's so much better because of that. Also, because of that, we look sexier.

TONY: The film has been received well by critics and fans, how happy are you about that?

SHAUNA: I'm really happy and thrilled. I hope that it's a film that lasts for a long time. I hope one day that my grand-kids and kids can watch it and think it's a brilliant film. I hope it's a horror film that stands the test of time like ALIEN or THE SHINING. It doesn't matter how many years later that you watch it, it's still amazing. I hope that happens. I think it will because it was picked up all over the world and people loved it. We also have a brilliant fan base and I get some great fan mail about it. People really responded to it and I'm over the moon about that.

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Other columns by Tony Farinella:

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Tony Farinella
Tony is an Oak Lawn, IL based film reviewer and columnist looking to have fun and share his unique views on film with everyone. Tony also has an unhealthy obsession with Vanessa Lengies, but that is neither here nor there.


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