IAR INTERVIEW: Sarah Wayne Callies Talks 'Into the Storm'

Thursday, 07 August 2014 08:44 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR INTERVIEW: Sarah Wayne Callies Talks 'Into the Storm'

With Into the Storm hitting theaters this Friday, audiences can experience the abject terror and helplessness of a major natural disaster from the comfort of an air-conditioned theater.

A found footage thriller, Into the Storm takes place in Silverton, a small American town that becomes the center of a tornado convergence.  As these twisters ravage the town and countryside, a high school principal battles through the storm to find his son, aided by assorted townspeople and, more importantly, a team of professional storm-chasers.

The real brains of the storm-chasing operation is Allison, played by Sarah Wayne Callies, who earned herself many fans as Dr. Sara Tancredi on the cult Fox series Prison Break.  She is undoubtedly best known for her role as Lori Grimes on AMC's phenomenally popular The Walking Dead.

IAR was on hand at the Los Angeles press day for Into the Storm, where Callies discussed how she ended up with the role, playing a meteorologist, acting while giant fans are running, dangerous stunts, her daughter's unexpected appearance in the film, and what's next.

"I did the traditional route of auditioning. I was doing Walking Dead at the time and we were just filming my last scenes. And this project came up and we were in the awkward position of not allowing anybody to know about it," she said.

"We were trying to find a way of keeping this secret but still being involved in this project because we thought it was very cool. So Melissa McBride actually, who plays Carol on the Walking Dead, taped me in her trailer [laughs] and we sent the audition in. I sort of jokingly said something about like, 'If I get this, I’m going to get you a bottle of wine.' I saw her last week at Comic-Con, she’s like, 'Where’s my wine?' [Laughs] So I’m going to send her a nice bottle of wine soon.

Since this role could have spoiled Lori's fate on the AMC show, Callies said, "I was in the interesting position of having to lie to everybody on the set because of course you get there and they’re like, 'Oh my God! Is Lori dead?' I was like, 'No, there’s like a three episode hiatus for me and we’re all taking time off this season.' Then the episode aired and I got a lot of phone calls from people going, 'You lied to me.' 'I didn’t lie to you. I’m an actor.'"

As Allison, Callies plays an expert meteorologist with a PhD and seemingly bottomless knowledge of storm phenomena.  The jargon presented occasional issues, but the actress was ready to portray Allison's intellectual side, saying, "My parents are professors. So I grew up in an academic household. So my first impulse when I got this part was to call a professor. So I did. I cold-called a guy at the University of Michigan Department of Meteorology and Climatology and said, 'I need to sound like I know everything you know, but I don’t have time to do a PhD. So let’s sit down.' And he was very, very generous with his time."

"We met halfway in between Ann Arbor where he was an emeritus professor, so where he is on campus and where we shot in Detroit," she continued. "I just walked him down a list of the stuff I didn’t understand. He drew pictures on napkins and I took the napkins into [director] Steve [Quale] and sort of went, 'Okay, so vorticity – a word I hadn’t heard of before – this is what this means and this is how we kind of leverage it.' Because I think a movie like this, we’re trying to present something that’s very raw and grounded. And so if any of us don’t know what we’re saying and it sounds like Hollywood filler, we get into trouble. So we did everything we could."

No amount of preparation or expert consultation could prepare Callies for the special effects simulating tornado conditions on set.  "The first time they turned the 100 mile-an-hour fan on me, it blew me 20 feet off my mark," she recalled. "And the cameraman, he’s like, 'You’re supposed to be there.' I was like, 'I tried. I aimed for that and I vectored off.' It’s a really fun experience and it’s exhausting but I’m also very grateful to Steve for it because without that, you suffer the indignities of trying to act a tornado. That’s not going to work. What are you going to do? It’s never going to be good."

One sequence in particular finds Allison clinging to an airborne truck as it is violently hurled about high above the street.  Proud of her stunts, Callies declared, "That’s me. The one thing they didn’t let me do was hit the pavement. That was the one thing. And I was up for it but the insurance company just stepped in. 'You’re not dropping your actress 30 feet.' That was so much fun. That was so much fun. I studied aerial arts in grad school. I did three years of trapeze training. At a certain point, if I had been good enough, I probably would have run away and joined Cirque du Soleil. So this is my shot to kind of do that kind of thing."

"It’s surprising how technical the work was. There were some very specific things about what parts of your body to move to sell the action and things. And I watched the stunt woman rehearse and rehearse and rehearse and we worked on it for a long time," she said. "But I mean, it just makes you feel like a kid. You’re on a playground and you’re flying through the air and that’s your job for a day. It was a ball. It was absolutely a ball. Richard [Armitage] was great about it too because his experience from The Hobbit movies of that kind of wire work and all the effects and stuff. He’s such a pro. He really, literally, held my hand in that scene and was lovely about it."

Her character is a storm chaser, but she's also a mother, and that aspect of Allison was particularly important to Callies, who said, "Part of what I liked about this role is she’s a working mom and I haven’t done that before as a character. And it’s something I really relate to, that constant feeling that you are either letting down your family or your career, that you are trying to achieve excellence in both worlds. You’re trying to raise creative, courageous kids and sometimes those kids are not going to see you for weeks at a time. Every working mom I know is sort of constantly walking some kind of a tightrope of guilt. So that was one of the biggest discoveries for me and it was what kind of drew me to playing this character because it’s a place to explore that."

"The actress who plays my daughter is actually my daughter," Callies revealed.  "So yeah, she was there. And she will continue to be an actress over my dead body [laughs]. But she wanted to do it and so I put her through her paces. We’ve got different last names. She auditioned all by herself. Nobody knew who she was. She got the part all by herself. She showed up on set and they were like, 'Wait! Okay.' It was great working with her. It was a lot of fun. But my mother’s protective instincts want to make sure that she does something respectable with her life like work in a factory or collect garbage – like anything other than act for a living."

With Into the Storm arriving in theaters this Friday, August 8th, and her work on Walking Dead concluded, what's next for Sarah Wayne Callies?

"I just finished a movie in India called The Other Side of the Door that’s one of the coolest creative experiences I’ve ever had. Acting-wise, I ran off of the set and I did a play at the Kennedy Center for a couple of months and that was good fun," she said. "Then I’ve been writing. I’ve got two screenplays in development, one actually with [producer] Gale Anne Hurd. We had such a great time together on Walking Dead that I wanted to sort of keep the band together. So again, as a working mom, I can write from home, so try to find a balance between the work away and the work off camera."

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