By Paul Risker.
From B-picture phenomenon Sharknado (2013), an abducted daughter in the revenge thriller Rage (2014), a rendezvous with history in A Conversation: Anne Frank Meets God (2014), to the fantasy leanings as the title role in Jem and the Holograms (2016) – the past, present and future has contributed an interesting onscreen identity for actor Aubrey Peeples. Her country music vocals in a lead role on the series Nashville (2012) only serve to contribute further to a diverse set of credits that comprise her filmography.
In Rage (formerly Tokarev), Peeples’ Caitlin Maguire is a modern-day Helen of Troy, whose fate sparks an eruption of violence on a more intimate scale than the Trojan War. But it does see a collision of gang heritage and familial tragedy following the death of reformed criminal Paul Maguire’s (Nicholas Cage’s) daughter, one that echoes the ancient past as a violent quest for revenge. This stylized revenge thriller shows signs of ambition from its writers, Jim Agnew and Sean Keller, and director, Paco Cabezas, who with a little guts exploit the idea of cause and effect and the truthful relationship between the two to imbue the film’s finish with an emotional edge.
In conversation with Film International’s Paul Risker, Peeples shared her youthful inspiration and how, in hindsight, she came to realize the attraction of performance. Discussing how the audience’s interest in hidden motivations is at the heart of these archetypal stories, she also discussed the contrasting techniques of film and television, her approach to the art of performance, and merging herself with her onscreen characters.
Why a career as an actress? Was there that one inspirational moment?
When I was three or four years old my parents took me to see a musical, and I just knew that it was something I wanted to do. I decided to make them put me in musicals, and so I grew up doing theatre, but I also took voice lessons and started doing professional theatre around town. Then when I was around eleven years old I started doing film and television. It was a journey of doing more and more while figuring out what it was I wanted to do in the entertainment world. But I knew from a young age after seeing people perform that I wanted to act and to sing, and out of that grew the realisation that not only did I want to write, I also wanted to write my own music.
What was it specifically about seeing other people perform that piqued your interest in performance?
Well, I don’t know if I realized this when I was that young, but what I say now to people when they ask me “why” is that it is magical. It is the closest thing that we have to magic because we are making mundane life beautiful. I think that people often forget how special it is, and just such a thing as walking around your house we capture and make special.
Secondly, it is the easiest way to translate a message to people across the world, which in itself is something special. I always say that singing, writing and acting are the world’s Post Office. Anything that people can see all around the world, a message you can translate to all those people and affect in a certain way is something beautiful, and it is something I want to be a part of.
Rage is a fall-from-grace story or rather a relapse following redemption. What makes these stories so enduring that we continue to retell them time and again?
Well, it’s about caring for someone so much that you would go to the extreme of sacrificing yourself and the things that you believe in for another person. This is a powerful statement that resonates with a lot of people, because everyone wants to be cared for or about in that way. Even though it’s all from a good place, the extremes that Nicholas Cage goes to in Rage are obviously frightening. I believe people like to see this in order that they can understand the motives behind what may be perceived as an evil deed.
On the subject of evil deeds, do you believe it is possible for pure evil to exist? Whilst people are capable of bad deeds, they don’t necessarily define them as an evil person. It’s more a case that people are flawed, because pure evil by my definition is not created through circumstance but is born.
I don’t know – that’s a good question. It is something I have never really thought about before, but again I do believe that there is always a reason, whether it is because of the way your mind works or the way you were raised, and people love to see that explored in storytelling. I don’t know if pure evil could exist, but I do think that pure evil asks to exist.
Rage calls to mind the famous quote pertaining to Helen of Troy as “The face that launched a thousand ships.” Whilst your character is featured at the beginning and at the end of the film, Caitlin is the catalyst for the mystery along with every event that casts a light on past events. The onscreen time of a character such as Caitlin has no correlation to her significance, and even with limited screen time shows how such a character can still be the beating heart of a narrative.
Well, I completely agree with what you are saying, and from my perspective it doesn’t necessarily matter the size of a role in order to create a character, because a person is a person regardless of how often you run into them.
Having the opportunity to work with Nicolas Cage, when first meeting him did you have a certain impression already formed based on his onscreen persona, and how did this compare to the actuality of meeting him?
I never form an opinion of someone’s personality or personal life based on what they do onscreen, because the two are completely separate. Also, I don’t think that it is necessarily fair, although it is unfortunately a big part of our culture. We have a habit to assume things about someone based on their job, but if Nicolas Cage had a desk job people probably wouldn’t be inquiring into his personal life.
I have a lot of respect for him regardless of his pop culture representation, because of the roles he has taken on as an actor – Raising Arizona, Adaptation and Leaving Las Vegas. So having the opportunity to meet him and observe his process was extremely gratifying. He is very down earth, loves his family, and is focused on his work, but he is also able to goof off. As both an actor and person he’s professional, and so it was a pleasure to work with him.
Having worked in both television and film, how would you compare and contrast the two mediums?
Well, they are technically different – not necessarily the technique but the way that television is shot is very different to film. So there’s that to consider, which of course means that you have to hold yourself to shooting a certain way, depending on the project.
As an actor I focus on the individual character, and for me it all goes into shaping and being that person. So when I am playing Layla on Nashville I try to not let the way something is shot affect the character. We are working on a show that values the actor, and even though the scenes are so short after they have been edited, during the shooting of the show we are allowed the time to explore our characters. So for the little bits that you see, there is a lot that goes into getting there. That approach is gratifying for an actor, and I feel honored to be a part of a show that honours that.
From project to project, how valuable are the experiences of working with actors and directors? How do those relationships and experiences shape you professionally?
Each job shapes you, gives you more experience and helps you learn about yourself and what you can bring to a role. It also helps you to learn about other people and their processes, and so each job is a little journey that you gather more knowledge from. But it’s like that with life and not just work. Everything you do shapes you as a person. People constantly change, and so I feel so honored that I have been awarded such great opportunities to work with so many great people that I can learn from.
Looking through your filmography from Sharknado, Rage, A Conversation: Anne Frank Meets God to Jem and the Holograms, they are an interesting set of films and roles. How do you perceive those films within your body of work, and what was their appeal? They speak of an actress looking to diversify and tackle a range of projects.
I want to play a lot of different roles, and why would you just want to play the same character over and over again? For me it’s about the individual project and the individual character – what I value in that project and role, find interesting or what not.
I just feel honored that I have been able to do so many different projects, and especially things like Gem and the Holograms that are respected. It allowed me to be a part of something that has been loved for so long, which is truly wonderful. So I would like to continue to play very different roles, and to be involved in very different kinds of projects. Hopefully, we’ll make that happen.
Going from exploitation work with Asylum, to revenge thrillers, historical drama and arriving at fantasy with Jem and the Holograms, how did the style of each of those projects push and challenge you as an actress?
It is about the individual character, and because every person is different so every character should be different. Each character has a different journey that you go on and experience with them – maybe they become a part of you or you almost certainly become a part of them. But again each one is an experience that you learn from in order to be able to use and contribute to characters, because part of yourself always goes into them. So I definitely feel that each one becomes a part of me, and then for the future if they change me I can hopefully bring all of that experience and my own self who has been changed by these roles to the creation of a character.
As an actor, you are always looking at character, but can the story be the predominant reason for working on a project or does it always need to be a mix of character and story?
It is just about the individual projects and the character, and seeing if it’s something you want to be a part of. Thankfully, I’ve been given a lot of opportunities that I am really excited about, and I guess we’ll just see what happens.
Paul Risker is a critic and writer for a number of on-line and print publications, including Little White Lies, Flickering Myth, Starburst Magazine, and VideoScope. He is currently based in the United Kingdom.