Being pregnant led Alice Lowe to refuse a work project, so she made her own movie involving pregnancy, writes Esther McCarthy.
WHEN she became pregnant with her first child, you’d have forgiven busy actress Alice Lowe for putting her feet up and taking a rest. Instead, she wrote directed and starred in Prevenge, a revenge horror in which she plays a pregnant multiple killer convinced her foetus is compelling her to kill.
The result is a pitch-black comedy in which Lowe’s Ruth is a not entirely sympathetic character. It’s the antithesis of how pregnant women — glowing, homely — are generally portrayed, and that, she agrees, was kind of the point.
Film executives loved the idea and Lowe shot the movie in a matter of weeks while seven months pregnant.
“I like dark stuff anyway. Part of my whole fear of pregnancy, which I put into the film, is this idea that you change as a person when you have a baby,” says Lowe. “I was just like, I don’t want to change. I still like horror and this and that. Why would I be any different?
“There was a definite impetus to show a pregnant woman in a different light, in a perversely opposite antithetical light to what the preconceptions are.”
In person, Lowe is warm and personable, and nothing like the solemn, complex women she often portrays on the big screen. Of these, the best known is Ben Wheatley’s breakthrough hit Sightseers, in which she played Tina, one of a middle-class holidaying couple who liked to commit murders in between visits to pencil museums.
The concept for Prevenge came about after Alice Lowe turned down an offer to develop a project because she was pregnant — then asked herself why she had done so.
“I’d collaborated quite well with a director and he asked if I’d want to do another. I thought: ‘I really do, but I can’t do it, I’m pregnant’. Then I went away and thought: ‘Why didn’t I just say yes? And how would that work?’
“I thought I could do a pregnant character who’s on a revenge spree. I pitched it to the company, they absolutely loved it, and the director Jamie Adams was like: ‘Well, I make rom-coms, I don’t see myself directing this, you should direct it’. As if I haven’t got enough to do! At the same time I really wanted to.
“It’s such a peculiar idea, and I think it could have been made really badly. It could be really rubbish if it was taken in the wrong direction, so I felt I really knew how this could work. It was such an idiosyncratic project, coming from your voice, that you’ve got to do it. I kind of felt like that was right, so I just went for it. But at every stage of the way, I didn’t really believe that this was going to happen,” she says.
That was partly because Lowe only started writing the script when she was six months pregnant, film projects can be notoriously slow to finance and get into production, and the birth of her first child loomed. Impending birth was a canny way to get a movie green-lit quickly, I joke.
“I might use the tactic more in future,” she laughed. “It can be so slow to get things off the ground. I did say to them: ‘We’ve got to do it in the next two months’. They were unfazed by that.”
She found that pregnancy with daughter Della Moon, who’s babbling away in the background as we speak, gave her the confidence to get the project into motion. She already has another movie in development.
“As a woman it’s very easy to second guess yourself, to doubt your own opinions and your own judgement,” she observes.
“I’ve done enough of that in my career. And it’s weird, being pregnant gave me the confidence to go: ‘You know what? I don’t know when I’m going to be working again. I should just say yes to everything’. That was my ethos.
“I was very ill and tired during my first trimester. I thought: ’Is this how it’s going to be?’ I’m not going to be able to make any money. The second trimester I felt brilliant, I was going to do everything and be really busy.
“Then I thought: ‘Wow imagine if it was like this all the time?’ I did that and it gave me a lot of confidence instead of the second guessing.
“I had such a brilliant time making the film. I think I’d have been going mad with boredom if I wasn’t making the film. Again it was the expectations that people put on you, the ‘you shouldn’t be working’. Everyone has a different experience. Some people are ill, suffer more from different conditions, and that’s all cool.
“But for me it was like why is there this pressure that it’s a one-size-fits-all attitude to pregnancy, that everyone is going to feel exactly the same? That was kind of what I wanted to say with the project as well, that this isn’t about all women, all pregnant women, it’s one individual story.”
Even by her own indie/horror standards, Prevenge brings up some dark elements. Her character, it emerges, is to become a parent alone following the recent death of her partner, which in part spurs her need to kill. There’s a real pathos behind all the fun and madness.
How does she feel little Della will respond to being involved in such an unusual project?
“Part of me thinks she’s going to be into horror. We’re a bit of a horror family — me and my partner met at a Halloween party. She’s kind of born of that kind of world, so part of me thinks she’ll be alright about it, as part of what she’s grown up with.”
She has spoken in the past about not minding being “the evil weirdo who murders people” and has starred instead in lots of cult hits, such as Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Black Books and The Mighty Boosh. You get the sense that she’s wary of more mainstream roles.
“Acting is really fun, and it’s playing,” she agrees.
“Quite often I’m thinking: ‘There’s no fun for me in this role. What is the appeal of this role? Where’s the enjoyment in it?’ I don’t know, I suppose that makes me sound very picky, but I just find there are so many limitations on the characters that people write for women, especially if you’re over 30 or 35.
“I don’t know why these roles don’t exist. Then I thought: ‘Oh God it’s me that’s going to have to make them exist’, because it doesn’t feel like other people are creating them.
“There are lots of interesting female directors coming up who are doing interesting work, but the general sort of TV things that you get coming your way as an actress, they are usually quite cliched.
“Now that I’ve got a daughter as well it has to be something special to take me away from her. I want to spend time doing stuff that feels like there’s a reason to make it and there’s a real purpose behind it.”
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