The Wasting isn’t your typical horror film. The female-driven movie centres around Sophie (Lauren McQueen), a British teenaged dancer whose father (played by Gray O’Brien) uproots the family suddenly, leaving his despondent daughter under his abusive care and cutting her off from her worried friends (played by Canadians Alexz Johnson, Sean Saunders Stevenson and Brendan Flynn). Yes there’s a hauntingly ghoulish subplot in there that’s reminiscent of a Gaskell or Poe story, but the film also tackles the all too prevalent acceptance of toxic masculinity and anorexia in a refreshingly original way.
We had the wonderful opportunity to chat with multi-talented Canadian It girl Alexz Johnson (Instant Star, Degrassi: The Next Generation) who starred in and produced The Wasting. The following is a condensed and edited version of that conversation.
Brief Take: Congratulations on the film! No offence to the other actors, but your character was my favourite. Grace is no nonsense, isn’t afraid to say what everyone else is thinking and a real ball buster. What did you like best about playing her and what drew you to the project in the beginning?
Alexz Johnson: Oh thank you! Carolyn Saunders is a dear friend of mine and she’s the director of the film. She approached me in the beginning stages. The Wasting really has to do with psychological and mental illness and eating disorders, really. Stuff that I think is so prevalent in our society but people are so afraid to talk about it for some reason. I know that the majority of young women fall into some kind of time in their lives when they’re hyper conscious of their bodies and psychologically they go through some kind of torment. I’ve been in the industry so long and seeing this, especially within the acting industry, I was like, “Wow, this would be a really cool film to make”. The script that she was writing and the psychological spin on it, I think, was really really cool because it makes it all exciting to watch. It’s taking something real and putting it into this alternate universe, which I thought was really cool because I hadn’t seen it done before. So when she approached me about playing Grace, it was a natural role for me because I’m an older sister and I have a lot of really amazing female friends. So it just felt like a very comfortable and natural character to fall into for me.
BT: As a singer-songwriter, you’re very collaborative in terms of your storytelling process. Was Carolyn the same way?
AJ: Oh yeah, absolutely. I play music in the film as well. So yes, she was. Working with Carolyn was really amazing. Having a female director was a special experience for me.
BT: And you filmed the project completely in the UK, is that correct?
AJ: Yes we did. Up about two hours outside of Worcestershire. *laughs* I can’t sound English when I say that. But yeah, it was awesome. It was really cool because we were in this old, kind of haunted estate. It was fun.
BT: And yet you were working alongside a few Canadians. What was it like working with Brendan Flynn and Sean Saunders Stevenson? The group of you, including Lauren McQueen, really came across as old friends in the film.
AJ: I love that! That makes me so happy. Honestly, my goal was that I wanted to break the ice. We did hang out but didn’t have much opportunity to become close. I think it’s just a testament to the actors in the film. They’re all such sweet kids and it was just really easy to fall into that friendship quickly. It was just natural.
BT: Going back to what you were saying earlier, the film is a heightened fantasy but intermixed in that are issues that are, unfortunately, very real to many young women. There’s the anorexia and the loss of control (and doing everything in one’s power to regain that control) due to the weight of toxic masculinity constantly surrounding them. What do you hope your young female fans take away from this movie?
AJ: I have always had a real soft spot for thrillers and really exciting psychological thrillers. I’m not really into gore but I really like the script for this film. I hope they take away some solid seeming of truth, that this is the outcome of not dealing with eating disorders. We didn’t create this film as a way of starting a movement to speak out against eating disorders, but I hope that people who see this really fine thriller, can also take away from it the feeling of having a voice to speak out against them. It leaves people with something to think about and something deeper than some of those empty horror, genre films. And I love that it’s a female-driven project and that makes it even more exciting.
BT: What are some of your favourite psychological thrillers?
AJ: Oh, Se7en. I also love Black Mirror! I think it’s amazing.
BT: Right now you’re promoting the film, of course, but you’re also promoting your recent album. Are there any actor/singers who you look up to as role models?
AJ: Wow. When it comes to music I love Annie Lennox, obviously Carole King, and I’m really inspired by Anna Kendrick. I think she’s a wonderful actress and she sings.
BT: Which albums have you been listening to lately?
AJ: Lately I’m been listening to a lot of Enya. I don’t listen to top 40 stuff. I’ve been listening to Brandi Carlile’s By the Way I Forgive You album. She should win a Grammy for that record. It’s beautiful. I love it.
BT: Are there any directors that you’d like to work with in the near future?
AJ: Oh, of course. Sarah Polley, Greta Gerwig, and I’d love to work with Lake Bell. I think she’s amazing. I’d jump at the opportunity to work with any one of them.
The Wasting is playing now at the Imagine Cinemas Carlton in Toronto. Q&As with Carolyn Saunders (Writer/Director) and Alexz Johnson, Shelagh McLeod and Brendan Flynn will be taking place on the evenings of March 2nd & 3rd