Fresh Meat is a manic horror-comedy from New Zealand about a group of screw-up criminals that take a suburban family hostage. The family just happens to be a bunch of cannibals. The leader of the criminals is a badass named Gigi, played by Kate Elliott. She’s the only capable person in the group, and she carries herself like she knows it.
In a Q & A after a screening of Fresh Meat, Elliott and director Danny Mulheron both described the Gigi as “Clint Eastwood in hot pants,” which is surprisingly accurate. I also thought of her as Tura Satana from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by way of Milla Jovovich.
I had a chance to speak with Elliott last week while she was in town for the Tribeca Film Festival. She was with-it and and perceptive, and she had a really good sense of humor about the film given all the zaniness involved. When I first stepped into the room, I was immediately struck by her appearance because she was dressed sort of like Wednesday Addams gone punk rock. Even though I can’t quite explain why, it just seemed right on.
[For the next few weeks, Flixist will be covering the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, which runs April 17-28 in New York City. Check with us daily for reviews, interviews, features, and news from the festival. For all of our coverage, go here.]
How did you get the script for Fresh Meat?
I met one of the casting guys at a cafe and they couldn’t find the right girl to play Gigi. They were originally looking for someone that was younger than me, but he said, “Actually, you’d be a better fit for it.” So I read it, and I read it as a straight horror initially. I knew that Tem [Editor’s note: Temuera Morrison] had signed on, and that was a big thing. And they also said, “You’ll get full armory training and fight training,” and I was like, “Yup! Cool.” So I went in and did a little bit with Tem and they were like, “Cool.”
At the Q & A the other night you said you were also doing boxing at the time. Was it for a role or just fitness?
That was just for me. I’d been boxing for fitness, and I was good at it, and I liked it, and I loved doing it. So the film came along at the right time.
How much did that feed into all the action you had to do in the movie?
Oh, heaps! It helped amazingly! I wanted her to be like a boxer in terms of the fluidity. I wanted her movement to not have hard edges. I wanted the way she handles things — the way she walks, the way she goes up stairs and stuff — to be almost like a dancer, and yet in the same sense like a boxer. You know? Like duck and weave.
Yeah, there was a badass grace to Gigi.
Was that always something you saw in the character?
Yeah, yeah! That’s what I wanted her to be. I wanted her to hold herself as much as possible, which is mostly a front because she’s such an unhappy girl at the time. But I wanted her to be– And it also comes from that “Clint Eastwood in hot pants” thing. There’s a stillness to him, you know, and then from that comes a presence and feeling of authority.
You were saying that you originally read Fresh Meat as a straightforward horror. How did you feel about the film turning into a comedy?
I definitely made it more difficult, but I think it’s a great idea. If it helps put bums in seats, then it helps. I liked it a lot.
Was there a lot of improv on set?
No. We followed the script, pretty much. But we did a lot of rehearsal stuff with improv to figure the characters out. That was a good time.
Could you talk about working with Temuera Morrison and Hanna Tevita?
Tem was amazing. He was one of the reasons I took the film in the first place, and he’s so knowledgeable, especially about the fight things, and I knew that most of my fight sequences would be with him. And so I just tried to learn as much as I possibly could off him. It was a good time.
And Hanna had never worked before — it was her first film. I guess I tried to be like what Tem was like to her, in terms of teaching her how to behave on set and stuff like that; telling her to stop windging when we were being hung upside down.
You gotta be tough as an actress in New Zealand, you know? You just got to roll with it.
You had mentioned some difficulties about being an actress in New Zealand. What’s the industry like there for performers?
Well, I mean I’ve been incredibly lucky. All of the good roles, or most of the good roles… 90 percent of the good roles I get, I know when I’m going to get a role, I’m well known and well liked. But we just can’t make as many films. If I was to do everything I got offered, I might work six months a year.
Mmm. So we have to go overseas. We usually go to Melbourne or Sidney, and some of us go to LA. Plus you’ve got to make your own work, which makes you sort of resourceful, so I write as well, and I make projects with my friends and friends in the industry. Just trying to keep as busy as possible.
Like making shorts or…?
Yeah, making shorts and writing webisodials, and stuff like that, you know? Acting in my friend’s stuff, keeping the community alive.
What was the entire atmosphere on set like for Fresh Meat?
It was really fun. Jovial. It was a good time with lots of pranks. Stuff like that.
Any pranks in particular that stand out?
Mmmm… Leand [Macadaan], the guy who played Ritchie, he was hilarious just as a person. So mostly they were on him.
Like hiding his clothes when he was in those skivvies?
Yeah, stuff like that. That and putting stuff in his coffee, you know. Just messing with him. [laughs]
What was the most difficult part of shooting for you?
Probably the physicality of it. It was the most fun, but it was also the most difficult. Like all of the harness work. Hanging upside down for hours and hours and hours.
Like literally hours?
Yeah. I mean, they would take us down and put us back up again, but it took all day to shoot that stuff. Two days, actually. And that was the only time I used a stunt double. Just for some of that, because it’s too hard on your body, so you have to swap out. You just can’t hang upside down by your hips for 12 hours. [laughs]
That would be kind of torturous. [laughs]
It was torturous regardless, but with me and the stuntie working together we managed to do it.
Do you have a favorite scene in the movie?
You mean once it’s cut together or to shoot it?
Because it’s quite different.
To shoot it, it was definitely the fight scene with the cop. We had choreographed it amazingly, and we were so into it there were definitely jabs and punches that weren’t supposed to be there that he just took. [laughs]
And it was really visceral and just really fun. It’s the reason I wanted to do the film in the first place. And then once it’s cut together…? I don’t know. There are lots of bits I like in it. Oh, but firing the shotgun was fun as well.
Had you ever fired a gun before?
No, I’d never fired a gun before.
Well, I know that must be weird in America. [laughs]
[laughs] Actually, I haven’t fired one.
Oh, you haven’t? [laughs] And it’s a shotgun too! You don’t go to a little handgun, you go straight to a shotgun!
That’s like going to college before finishing primary school.
Yeah! So the first time I did it, it was terrifying, but after that I was like, “Fuck yeah! This is amazing!” I just wanted to do it more, you know? But then cut together… Yeah, the fight scenes are great, and the milk stuff is hilarious because I don’t do that ever.
But every time I watch it I’m just like, “What. The. Fuck. Seriously? This is ridiculous.”
How many gallons of milk were used?[laughs] Well! It was coconut milk.
Wow… That actually sounds pleasant almost.
It was okay.
They warmed the set up for me, so it wasn’t freezing cold. But it was hilarious to shoot, because I normally make wordy dramas, and now I’m standing here pouring milk over myself, going, “This is what my career’s become!” [laughs]
You got to have those laughs, you know? You can’t take yourself too seriously.
There ya go. And also if there’s just local work six months out of the year, it’s always good to be working.
Oh yeah, it’s great to be working, yeah. I mean, you can work more if you go overseas. But yeah, I’m always happy for a job.
Is there any crossover between wordy, character-driven stuff and doing a hardcore genre picture?
Crossover in terms of style or acting?
Well, yeah, I approached it like I approach a wordy drama: trying to find the truth in the scene and trying to play it as straight as possible.
I noticed you also do voiceover work. Could you talk about that?
Yeah, lots of voiceover work. Lots of baddies and Power Rangers and monsters and stuff like that. That’s fun — that’s really fun. And easy [in one respect] since there’s no hair and makeup. Just go in your pajamas.
[laughs] What’s the process like? I’ve always wondered about voice acting.
Well, it depends on what the show is, but most of the time I’m syncing stuff that’s already been shot or animated, especially for Power Rangers Samurai and stuff like that. So it’s already shot/animated, and there’s a monster or actress that’s talking, and so I have to mimic their voice patterns and make my own character out of the voice. I mean, it’s hard. It ends up feeling kind of like a sport, like, “Right! [claps hands] Let’s get it this time.” It’s like a dance, because the way people talk is very unique to the person. For example, mimicking how I’m talking right now, the rhythm of the voice is like a song.
That reminds me — there was an interview with you online where you mentioned acting as sort of like being a chameleon.
Do you find that happening a lot in role after role?
Yeah, but I just find that in life. [laughs]
Yeah, I adapt to the people I’m around. It makes me a good actress, it makes me a terrible human being. [laughs]
But I take on a lot of a character, which makes it difficult for family members to be around me depending.
Is that sort of like a method acting thing?
It must be, but it really just comes organically for me. I don’t have any other choice. So I mean, yeah, it is method, but it didn’t come from me studying it. It just came because I started shooting at 14 and that’s the only way I knew how to get the performance I required and I don’t know how to do anything else.
You started at 14 and have worked in both TV and film. Do you have a preference for one or the other?
I just have a preference for awesome characters. If it’s a play, if it’s a web series. Shooting features? Yes, it’s romantic and it’s lovely and it’s wonderful and I’d like to do more of them, but I’d rather work with interesting people and interesting characters than do some big-budget American film where I play some bland, stupid girl running around, you know?
Yeah, like being “Running Girl #4” or something.
No, no, no. I can’t do it!
Or, you know, like those kind of vapid, stupid girls.
Like the Shia LaBeouf love interest or something.
Yes! Exactly! That’s what I was trying to think of! Like in Transformers. I just… I couldn’t… Yeah… Not doing that. [a beat] Apart from the money!
I’m not gonna say no! Well, I dunno. Now I’m going back on myself.
I remember there being a lot of jokes about pizza at the screening. Do you have a preference for New York style thin crust or Chicago deep dish?
I have not had a pizza here yet, but I’m going to make the person showing me around out here take me out to pizza. We’re going to do that. I mean, I flipped pizzas in LA when I first arrived there and didn’t have a job.
Just at a restaurant and doing the dough?
Yeah, everything: front of house, dough. We did everything. A place called Lucifer’s Pizza in Hollywood. I worked there for a while. It was a good time.
Do you still make a mean pizza?
Yeah, I reckon, I totally make a mean pizza, but I have yet to have New York pizza, and I’m sure they do it better than I do.
Look for a place with a coal over — that’s ideal.
Well, we used to bring in water from New York.
I need to do some sort of science experiment because I want to find out how much of a difference that makes.
The water from here is better than the water in LA. The dough tastes different. So we used to bring in water from New York since it’s just better. Full stop. [laughs]