Mickey Keating’s latest feature is one stylish thrill ride, but its success rests largely on the shoulders of its leading lady, Ashley Bell.  As the vulnerable yet tough-as-nails Vivian Fontaine, Ashley Bell exudes a strength worthy of the status as a horror final girl.  We sat down with Bell to discuss the uniqueness of working with a director like Keating, what a pain mother nature was during the shoot, and she gives one hell of a tease for her next project.

I had not met him until I read the script, and when I read the script there were three reasons why I wanted to do this film: 1) Mickey Keating 2) to work with Mickey Keating, and 3) because Vivian is not a victim and the script was SO unpredictable. I had to play it. I read it, and you go on this crusade to make it happen.
Um, a lot of time on the elliptical (laughing). Yeah, you know it’s exciting because you do all your preparation and what not, and you have your beats, and my journals look like something akin to the cork board on Homeland. Then you show up, and we were shooting about an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles in this extremely rugged desert terrain, and boom! It all comes to life. You know what I mean? And being physical comes easy, you’re just playing up against that landscape and the incredible cast that Mickey’s assembled. Pat Healy, Alan Ruck, James Hebert. It just all comes to life.
Well, I found a tactic, during a bit of sunstroke, midway through the shoot I said to Mickey, “I have this idea that Vivian would find this pill bug in the middle of the desert.” Mickey said, “Oh I love it!” So I said, “Great!” So he told me to go find a pill bug, so that morning, before set, I sat out in my garden gathering up little pill bugs in eco-friendly Tupperware with little flowers, and there was this pill bug scene where Vivian’s so isolated and just took to this other creature. That’s the thing with working with a director like Mickey. I mean, he had rehearsals before the shoot, but, you know, there’s no time in film, but there was rehearsals and he carved the time to ask, “What are your ideas? What do you want to do?” And he made it a collaborative process. It was absolutely huge to be creating in an environment like that.
I would not go there! (laughing) What’s on the page is what’s on the stage. That script compelled me to, well I read that script and when I put it down I said, “I have to do this! I have to.”
Oh absolutely. I think what audiences will find is that it’s totally unpredictable.
Oh, so fast. You’re immediately freefalling into this environment. And that was what was so exciting, when the film premiered at Sundance, we all packed in at midnight. We were all sitting in the back but you could see the audiences’ shoulders just go up around their ears and that’s the fun of this genre! That’s the fun of being able to watch it in a theater or on Video on Demand with your friends who love getting scared together. That’s what this film has; that thrill.
Thank you! I don’t know! I mean growing up you read about these stories and in NYU the plays I was exposed to featured these strong female characters. There’s something about that that really excites me. There’s something about watching a character at one of the most terrifying moments of their life trying to figure out how to survive, and the steps that are literally needed to move forward and not buckle in fear. That’s something that really intrigued me this character and this script. The first scene out for Vivian is one of the most terrifying things that any of us could ever go through. How do you take that step forward? And kind of asking that question and working through that was, I mean, I would pray I would be as strong as Vivian in that situation.
I think I drew more from watching 3 Women. Mickey gave me a lot of things to watch, to have running through my head, but everything from High Tension to 3 Women and everything in between.
That again was another tribute to Mickey, because during the whole rehearsal process he also set up time for all of the actors to connect. So, you know, Pat and I met, we had a little bit of rehearsal, and I knew what was coming. I mean, I knew what was coming my way and Pat is a brilliant actor, so even when I was out there on my own, I’d know what he was packing, you know what I mean? (Laughs) And again, that’s also what struck me, is when I was reading, it was a cat and mouse game set in broad daylight. In the middle of the desert. My character is vulnerable, totally exposed. And trying to crack that, trying to prepare for that, it was like, “I could be hunted at any moment. He could be anywhere, and everywhere!” That was what struck me.
It was totally fine. We were so taken care of. Brutal is junior high school. This is an acting set, we’re fine. There was this one scene where I had to go in this cave to do one of the big dark scary scenes, and the crew was like, “Ok, Ashley, we’re going to bring you to your mark,” and I look down and there was a rattlesnake. And it moved! Between rattlesnakes and bees and the sun, there was never a dull moment on the set. It was fantastic.
Well, I have to be very thankful to NYU and I have a theatre background. I’ve done six months on Broadway, so I give my voice credit to all of my voice coaches. That’s my job; to scream.
Yes! On the notion of working with Mickey Keating, I’d seen Pod and his hand as a director on that, I’ve been so impressed watching his work. And what was so exciting, as a random sidenote, is that when Carnage Park premiered at Sundance, we had the script for Psychopaths up there. We were talking about the character that I’m playing, and the beats of that script, which is just heaven for an actor. Mickey said that this was going to be completely different than anything ever done before. I don’t want to give anything away because I think audiences will be truly shocked when they see Psychopaths. You will not expect what you see from the whole ensemble.
Carnage Park poster

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