Into the Storm is a found footage style thriller about a team of scientists chasing unprecedented tornadoes. Perhaps the idea is that the cast look like real scientists we might not have seen in the movies before, but of course we recognize much of the cast. Particularly Sarah Wayne Callies, well known from TV’s “Prison Break” and “The Walking Dead.” She plays a scientist joining the documentary team as they chase tornadoes in a small town. We spoke with Callies about the film’s style and stunts, as well as her reflections on “The Walking Dead.”
Spoilers for “The Walking Dead” follow, and a few for the major stunts of Into the Storm, which opens this weekend.
CraveOnline: Did Into the Storm come up right after your time on “The Walking Dead” was over?
Sarah Wayne Callies: It did. You know, it almost came up before. I finished shooting my death on “The Walking Dead” and went almost straight into shooting this, and then went back to do some of those flashbacks. So I actually shot this during seasons three of “The Walking Dead.”
When you knew that job was coming to an end, and having done two big TV series – “The Walking Dead” and “Prison Break” – were you more focused on trying to do movies?
No, I think I’ve always looked for the story more than anything else. I’m not particularly concerned with whether something is theater, film or television. Although, after this I was actively looking to do a theater role because I hadn’t been on stage in a long time. So I went from Into the Storm into doing a play which was incredibly challenging, but it was a wonderful experience and really fun.
Which play was that?
It was called The Guardsman. We did it at The Kennedy Center.
So when they have you getting sucked into a tornado, are you being pulled on a wire?
Yes. Yeah, that was great. Steve Quale is kind of a mad scientist when it comes to how he gets these things done, and he had this incredible concoction of a balance between practical effects and visual effects. So he’s great at putting as many practical effects in as he can, but they put me up on the wire. Then they turned the wind machine on and they turned the rain machine on. Then they CGIed in the tornado behind me, but at a certain point, Steve came up and I said, “Do you have any thoughts, sir?” And he said, “Yeah, hold on for dear life.” I said okay. So that’s why I did, and then Richard [Armitage] came and I held onto Richard for dear life.
Was the hail actually falling on your head?
In the scene by the pool where we’re running from the hail, yeah. That was amazing. Steve is incredibly detail oriented and he ordered specially perfectly spherical balls of ice which are very, I guess, hard to come by and expensive but accurate because hail is spherical instead of these ice chips that they usually use in movies. So we had these cue ball sized ice cubes and he wanted a couple shots where there were really going straight by our faces. So our producer, Todd Garner, crawled on top of a roof and was overhand pitching these cue ball sized ice cubes. Basically just to miss our faces. You could hear the wind as they went by and one of them accidentally tagged me in the back. I thought, “Yeah, that’s going to leave a mark.” A big, heavy piece of ice coming at me from two stories up.
And did it?
Oh yeah, but to me that’s the fun of what I do for a living. I’m an action junkie and I love whether it’s stunt driving or weapon work or the wirework. It’s all good fun. It all feels like I get to work in a grownup playground.
The shows I know you from were very physical. Was Into the Storm any comparison to “Prison Break” and “Walking Dead?”
You know, there’s an added challenge of Into the Storm which is you do everything you do on the other shows, only you do it soaking wet with 100 mph fan, which I have to admit I underestimated. I just sort of figured, what could a fan possibly do? Then they turned it on and it blew me 20 feet off my mark and I went, “Oh, that’s what a fan can do.” Turns out you can lean your entire body weight into it and it’ll hold you up. I definitely got in touch with a level of reserve and digging deep as week after week after week you go to work and they wet you down. But again, it’s hard to complain about something when that something is a movie that I’m really excited about that I think is going to be pretty great. At the end of the day, it’s temporary. Pain is temporary. Movies are forever.
Obviously the physical aspect is huge, but what was your way into your character?
I mean, look, one of the things that I liked about this movie from the beginning is that those grand, satisfying special effects are all grounded in this very human, very simple story. From my character’s perspective, that story is when those sirens go off, you’re not with your kids. What do you do? So Allison is a working mom and her job as a meteorologist this summer is to be a storm chaser. Like many working mothers, all of the ones that I know and certainly myself, she constantly feels this tension between her desire to achieve professional excellence and her desire to be with her children. I think, again, like many working moms I know, she constantly feels like she’s failing on both fronts. And so that was a very simple way in to a very simple story that’s embedded in a much more complicated and grandiose visual story. To me, that story is simple. One heartbeat at a time. I want to be good at my job and I want to be better at parenting.
Was the documentary style of shooting, the found footage angle, new for you? Did it change other aspects of your performance?
Yeah, it was new to me and I found that I loved it because it meant that generally speaking, there were four or five cameras working at any one time. Nathan [Kress] might be holding one, Jeremy [Sumpter] might be holding one, there might be one mounted on one of the vehicles and then there were actual brilliant professional cameramen. What it meant is that you’re covering the scene from many angles at once, and the scenes can go on and on and on. You’re not just shooting 30 seconds at a time. You can shoot minutes at a time because you can let these scenes go on as they transfer from camera to camera. It started to feel a little bit like working on a play because wherever you are, someone can be watching you. Whether or not it’s your line, whether or not it’s your closeup. You stop worrying about am I facing the camera enough, which is something that you sometimes have to be aware of and I’m not particularly good at. Because the camera will find you, and if it doesn’t, if an important scene happens on the back of your head, that’s okay. It just means that your job as an actor is to be acting with the back of your head too. I loved working that way.
I don’t think that actually happened though. I don’t remember the back of your head being prominent.
I haven’t actually seen the movie but I saw a very early cut about a year ago. I think there are moments where I’m talking to my daughter on the phone where instead of being in a closeup, we’re kind of on a long shot through the van as they steal this moment from my private conversation. I like that. I like that you’re not pushed up deep into my eyes, but what you see is somebody’s body language as well as their spoken language.
On “The Walking Dead” how much notice did you have that Lori was going to die? Did it happen in the graphic novels also?
Yeah, I knew from the beginning that Lori was on borrowed time. Frank Darabont and I argued about it sometimes. Every now and again, he would threaten not to kill her and I would argue that I think it’s necessary for Rick’s psychology and for the story, and for Carl’s psychology. And then when Frank left the show, we spoke about it in general terms and then in April of the year that we started shooting, we started shooting in May, they told me it was coming down in March or April. Somehow we managed to keep that secret all the way until November when it aired.
You’d done four years of “Prison Break” but was the fanfare for “Walking Dead” on a whole other level?
You know, I don’t know that it was. It’s hard to be aware of what the fanfare is because I don’t really engage with the community online. I’ve got an Instagram account but I don’t read the blogs and all that stuff. The “Prison Break” fan base were tremendous and vocal and powerful. They put up a fuss when I was written off the show and they got that job back for me. I will be forever grateful to them. I think as the digital age has advanced and people have a greater platform from which to speak about a show, to show their commitment to it, the fan bases continue to grow and change but I think that’s partly a function of what we’ve got going on digitally now.
Do you keep up with “Walking Dead” since it’s gone on?
Well, I don’t have a television so I actually never catch up with “Walking Dead.” I watch seasons and a couple episodes here and there, but the people I keep up with are my friends. I’m in touch with those guys a lot, Norman and Steven and Andy and John, Jeff DeMunn who played Dale. These are people who really matter to me and those relationships I think will endure whether or not the show is on the air.