Actress Ashley C. Williams discusses her blistering turn in the dark psychodrama JULIA.
Currently in US theaters and VOD is writer/director Matthew A. Brown’s darker-than-pitch female-centric psychodrama JULIA, a disturbing, violent and elegantly perverse study of a young woman who finds salvation and redemption via severe transgression.
JULIA is an immaculate indie film; thoughtful and intelligent, it plays with tropes and clichés and creates from them. a work of stylized art. But as good as the film is (and it is very, very good), it relies extensively on the woman at its core, the central presence of the character whose name graces the title, played by the beautiful, articulate actress Ashley C. Williams.
Horror fans will of course forever cite Williams as one of the unfortunate living links in the chain that made up Tom Six’s original THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE and, although she exhibited decent range in that, um, cheeky and extreme work, it’s nothing compared to the performance she delivers here.
JULIA calls on Williams to delve deep into the dark to help etch a portrait of a meek, victimized young woman who, after surviving a sexual assault, finds both solace and empowerment in the grip of a secret cabal of women who, spurred by a more-than-a-bit-sinister doctor, are rebuilt as angels of death. And though Julia does indeed begin her road to repair by bloodily righting wrongs, she cannot be controlled for long.
To give away more would be to wreck the joys of watching Williams’ carefully controlled performance uncoil like the figurative serpent it is. So affected were we by the film and its star, that we had to reach out to Williams and ask her a few questions.
Here are those questions. And although Williams answers them with authority, the only real way to have your own questions answered about JULIA is to find it and see it…
SHOCK: You shot the film in early 2013; when you talk about the movie and the character now, do you feel somewhat distanced?
WILLIAMS: I think I feel outside of it as far as being the character is concerned. When I talk about it, it’s like I’m speaking about someone else and the same thing happens when I watch the movie, I feel like I’m watching Julia, not me being Julia. But even though it’s been a few years since we shot the movie, the film has constantly been in my life We’ve played festivals all over the world, I’ve done countless Q&A’s; but it’s exciting now that it’s been released and I’m still very happy that it’s in my life.
SHOCK: The character is like a timid mouse, initially. She’s a victim who, even when she turns the tables, still seems somewhat “off”. Your personality is far removed from this, or at least appears to be. Did you have to fully immerse yourself in the character and was it emotionally difficult to do?
WILLIAMS: Julia goes on a transformative journey and that’s what intrigued me about her story when I read the script. In fact, there are, believe it or not, many similarities between us. We were jumping all over the place when we shot and I had to check in with myself every scene; I had to ask myself “where is she emotionally? Is she now the victim or the vengeful goddess?” So on that level, it was difficult to navigate where she was at any given point. But playing her as a victim was easier. It was harder to do the powerful, determined strong woman. Ultimately, I learned a lot from her and I absorbed some of her personality into my own life.
SHOCK: Many critics will try to paint JULIA as a political film. And granted, men are not presented in a positive light but then again, neither are women, particularly. Do you think this a gender political film?
WILLIAMS: It definitely wasn’t the director’s intention to make a movie about how women are treated by making men these hateful creatures. It’s not an empowerment film. He wasn’t trying to make a film about empowering women. It’s a story about a girl who goes on a journey and awakens to her most primal, evil self.
SHOCK: I see plenty of indie horror and much of it isn’t very good. JULIA is such a sophisticated piece of work; I just hope it doesn’t get ghettoized with much of the genre slop that’s being pumped out. In fact, I can imagine if a name like Lars Von Trier’s name was on the poster, the movie would be celebrated as a an audacious work of art. Do you even consider JULIA a horror film?
WILLIAMS: I don’t. And I was really excited when I read the script because of the depth of the piece. Ever since THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, I’ve been offered horror film after horror film and I’ve turned most of them down because, if the right people aren’t behind something like JULIA for instance, it becomes distasteful and I didn’t want to get trapped in that cycle of making subpar films. So, this film is revenge story first, a psychological film with some horror elements like the amount of blood an violence. But it’s a very dark, moody, noir is how I see it; a stylized piece of stunning visual work that sets it apart from many indie horror films.
SHOCK: I know shooting scenes involving sexuality on-set is often a lark. But how about watching yourself on-screen, especially during sequences of sexual violence?
WILLIAMS: I think when we shot the film I was actually a bit worried, wondering if I was going to look okay as this was my first really sexual scene that I’d ever shot in a movie so, yeah, I was concerned on set. But it was easier than I thought because it’s technical and you stop and start and stuff. But when I saw the sexual scenes, I was in awe about what the director did with it. None of it is gratuitous and it’s beautifully shot; if anything, watching it I was like, “hmmm…so that’s what I look like when I, um (laughs), am in a situation like that!” But then I go back into the movie and I can enjoy it without thinking of myself.
SHOCK: You’re still a gigging actress. But after making such a sophisticated piece of work like JULIA, are you going to try to keep on this path, making these more European flavored, elevated genre films?
WILLIAMS: Yes. That is my goal and JULIA is a good start. Moving on up is my goal as an actress and I’m really only attracted to a good script and finding a director who has a vision. These days such things are rare and sometimes, I do get the need to take a project just because I want to work, of course. But I am gaining more patience as I age. And if that means not working all the time just to find quality projects, so be it.
SHOCK: But you know, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is actually a very clever, sophisticated film too…
WILLIAMS: It is. People think its just exploitation but it’s beautifully shot and stylized and a black comedy. Tom Six did an incredible job. Some may disagree. But the fact is that some people can only see the surface sometimes…
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