Interview: 'Contracted' Helmer Eric England And Lead Muse Najarra Townsend Talk Unsafe Sex
Nothing promotes safe sex like the fear of an STD. But what if through a one-night stand you procured something more than a simple venereal disease - something much more deadly, rapid spreading and forever life-changing? Such is the premise of the harrowing new horror outing titled "Contracted" (in select theaters and On Demand Nov. 22 from IFC Midnight), a distressing tale of the consequences of bad choices. We were so disturbed and captivated by the visceral nature of "Contracted" that we needed to know more, so we went one-on-one and head to head with both Director/Writer Eric England and his lead muse Najarra Townsend (who gives an arresting performance!) to get the skinny on everything from the distressing make-up to character motivations. Protection can truly be life saving – here’s...
Eric, what inspired "Contracted?"
Eric England: A really bad one-night stand, what else?! (Laughs) No, I really wanted to make a genre film that I hadn’t really seen before. I wanted to do it in that infected disease sub-genre and I wanted to reverse engineer it by not taking it to the extreme like we’ve seen before and make it subtler where it’s this big revelation at the end. I was thinking what’s the best way to make that relatable and familiar to people? Sex. People can relate and it’s a great way to infect someone with something that I hadn’t really seen before.
Najarra, when you first read the script what were your initial thoughts?
Najarra Townsend: I just had a lot of fun reading it. I remember I was eating dinner while I was reading it, which I abruptly stopped and felt a little nauseous. But I thought that was a great sign though and when I finished reading it I got super excited. It was such a fun and new take on a genre.
Samantha is refreshingly a very harsh and at times an unlikeable character, which in turn interestingly clashes with the sadness the audience feels about her dilemma in the film – was this trait by design?
EE: Yeah, absolutely. It’s weird because I’ve noticed with a lot of critics we’re getting people that are really divided on it. Some people love that she’s such a flawed and troubled character and some think what she’s doing is idiotic. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing – I just tried to play it as true as possible. She’s a flawed character, she has problems in her life that she’s dealing with and then this shitty situation is thrust upon her that she doesn’t know how to deal with. Her plate is just so full that she’s going to come crumbling down and I tried to be as subtle, but at the same time obvious as possible. So you feel sorry for her, but she’s kind of bringing some of these choices and decisions on herself, which I feel is true because no one is perfect.
NT: I feel that there was a mixture of both. It was already there in the lines already and how she reacts to people around her, but the more I dug into Samantha the more I found she was so closed off and in denial. It was just how things were coming out of me.
The make-up effects and physical changes to the character are bold and brave – was it tough to take on such shocking characteristics Najarra?
NT: Yeah, but for me it was exciting and fun. I didn’t always see what I looked like, so I was constantly trying to hide myself because Sam doesn’t want people to know what she looks like. There are pictures of me on set with our crew and cast and I’m smiling – I have no idea that one of my eyes is bleeding and the other one is gone. It was so comfortable that I wasn’t even aware of how awful I looked.
Some of the effects are nails on a chalkboard effective – Eric can you talk a bit about their creation and execution?
EE: Yeah – and thanks so much. The make-up was done by a really talented artist Mayera Abeita. We gave her a little bit of nothing and said we need you to knock it out of the park and she did. There was nothing she said we couldn’t do really – it was incredible. She’s been an assistant and done a lot of day playing on other films, so this was her first real taking the reins and she again knocked it out of the park. I hope everyone starts calling her after this. But we shot this movie in fifteen days and eleven or twelve of those days Najarra was in make-up for three hours, so we lost so much time. It was a logistical nightmare to pull off, but luckily we did.
Some actresses might have been appalled at the eventual physical appearance of the character – what was Najarra’s attitude towards that aspect of the character?
EE: Najarra is a f#cking rock star. She was so gung ho and so down and never questioned anything. It was such an exhaustive process to find Samantha. But I decided I wanted to find the best actress for the role regardless of her social status and let them carry the movie. It’s someone you have to trust and I don’t know if I could have trusted someone who was a big star or someone who demands a certain salary. So Matt Mercer who plays Riley and he’s also a co-producer on the film said he knew a really good actress and the moment Najarra walked in the room I knew he was right. We absolutely fell in love with each other. She got the character inside and out – she is this movie.
Of all the immense changes to Samantha Najarra, which was your favorite and which was your least?
NT: My favorite was definitely all those veins they had to put on me. It was almost like getting a massage, which is weird. I would sit there for two hours and our make-up artists would just be painting these veins on me and it was so relaxing that I almost fell asleep in the chair a few times. My least was a tie between the square lens because it was a challenge to get it in and I needed someone else to do it for me and when they had to paint my teeth to get that grimy look. That drove me crazy because it would come off all the time – I don’t like dirty teeth.
The fantastic poster features your face in full transformation mode and refreshingly plays the reality more than the vanity – what are your thoughts on it Najarra?
NT: At first I was a little shocked. But I don’t care about looking bad – it’s part of the job. But what’s interesting is I clicked it online and ten minutes later my dad called me close to tears because he was so disturbed by it. And when it happened I was kind of like yes, this is the best response I could get. Even though my poor dad was terrified, I thought this is great. This is the kind of poster that this movie should have – I was all for it.
The end result of the film, which we will not spoil here, was incredibly effective – was it the idea you had all along Eric?
EE: Yeah, I tried to get around it loosely, but that was absolutely the idea. How do I make this movie from where it starts? That was always the idea – making the movie with that revelation.
There’s obviously a lot of things at play in "Contracted," but I was curious what you feel the message of the film is if any?
NT: I hear a lot of people saying it’s almost a safe sex PSA and I see where they’re getting that from of course, but I don’t know if I feel that’s necessarily the message. But for me I’m not sure – I don’t know.
What’s next for both of you?
NT: I just wrapped another feature called "The Toy Soldiers" and it’s a drama that takes place in the 80’s, so it’s definitely different then "Contracted!" (Laughs) That’s gonna be in post for probably a year, so you will hear about it a year from now. Other than that I’m attached to a few scripts right now, but nothings in concrete.
EE: I’ve got this script that I really love called "Hell Bent" and it’s my first foray into, I don’t want to say big budget stuff, but it’s a bigger budget then I’ve had before. We have a really big Casting Director Lisa Fields who does all the Platinum Dunes movies and Ti West movies – she’s casting for us. We’re looking to shoot that next year and it’s in the vein of "The Thing."
"CONTRACTED" OPENS IN SELECT THEATERS AND ON DEMAND NOV. 22 FROM IFC MIDNIGHT.