The seductive supernatural thriller Dead Awake is set against the backdrop of a mysterious tragedy that shattered the lives of three people a decade ago, and which sets them on a path to uncover the truth that lies between the living and the dead. When Dylan (Nick Stahl), a depressed assistant at a funeral parlor, decides to fake his own funeral to see who will show up, he ends up befriending a mysterious street junkie named Charlie (Rose McGowan) and is reunited with an old love from his past (Amy Smart), whom he abandoned 10 years prior. He then must confront his past and get the answers to an old mystery before he can proceed with the business of living his own life.
In this exclusive interview with Collider, actress Amy Smart talked about her desire to work with the film’s director Omar Naim, how much she enjoyed working with Nick Stahl and Rose McGowan, that psychological horror can often be much scarier than outright gore, how she would love to emulate the careers of Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet, and how she’s hoping to do another comedy soon. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
AMY SMART: I was fortunate to get offered the role. I met with Omar Naim. I’m a really big fan of his. I loved The Final Cut. I just thought it was an original film. So, after reading Dead Awake, I decided that I wanted to work with him. I also like Nick Stahl a lot, and Rose McGowan. I thought it would just be a really interesting, unusual, original movie.
Do you prefer the type of situation where you can just meet with and talk to someone about a role, instead of having to audition?
SMART: It’s a mix. Sometimes, when I do audition, I feel like I’m won the role because they’ve seen what I can do and, therefore, that’s why they’re hiring me. So, there is a gratification from that. But then, I also really like meeting with filmmakers and talking about it and them already trusting that I could play that role. It’s a little bit more of a creative collaboration.
What was it about this project and this character that appealed to you and made you want to get involved?
SMART: I loved that she had this past with this ex-love of hers, and that she’d moved on, yet she still has this hope in her heart for her old love. And that she’s a nurse. She didn’t really follow her dreams, but she’s settling and trying to make the most of her life. And then, out of the blue, she reconnects with her old love. I liked the history of it. I liked the characters and their tortured past.
What can you say about this film to interest audiences in seeing it, when there are so many films opening at this time of year?
SMART: Anyone who’s a fan of Omar Naim will really enjoy this. I loved The Final Cut and thought it was so amazing and original. And, this film is the same way. You can feel him, as a director, in this movie. In the end, it’s hopeful, but it goes through a roller coaster of love and pain and allusion. It’s about Dylan (Nick Stahl) trying to figure his life out and being haunted by something. I think everybody, in their life, is haunted by something that they struggle with inside, and it’s really lovely to see Dylan really try to work out this demon that’s been eating away at him and that’s been holding him back in his life. That’s his journey in this movie. And, he meets this junkie, Charlie, who he’s befriended, that Rose McGowan plays. Then, he reconnect with his old love, Natalie, which I played. It’s about the journey that Dylan goes through to find out how to free himself from the torture that he has inside of him. In the end, you’re left feeling resolve. It’s not like you feel torn to pieces and you leave feeling gutted. But, the journey of it is really fascinating, and Omar is such a brilliant filmmaker that I think people will enjoy it.
Once you were cast in the role, were there any changes made to the character to better suit your vision of her?
SMART: It was pretty much what was there when I read it. In the editing room, they definitely changed things around, here and there, which makes it feel a little non-linear. That works really well for that movie , but wasn’t necessarily in the script that way. But, the character was the way she was, on the page.
Shooting something like this out of order, were there every times where it was difficult to keep track of where you were at in the story?
SMART: Not really. Sometimes it can be that way, but for me, when I’m working on a script, I work on the whole script and the whole journey, so I’m pretty clear where the character is, at certain points. But, it is easier when you film a little bit more in sequence ‘cause you just never know how scenes are going to turn out. You have an idea in your head, but then it can totally change. There can be something new that you discover the day of, and you don’t understand how it’s going to play into the rest of it. That can be challenging, but that’s just part of the process.
Is Omar Naim a very collaborative and hands-on director?
SMART: He’s very hands-on. He definitely knows the kind of movie he wants to make and what he wants it to feel like. He’s a collaborative director, but he definitely has an idea of what he wants for the characters and what they’re supposed to convey in a scene. I really liked working with him a lot because he gets very passionate about the story and each character. And, this movie looks really cool.
What was it like to work with Nick Stahl? Did you do anything specific with him to develop the relationship between your characters, since there’s so much history there?
SMART: It’s funny that the first job I ever did was with MTV’s Rock the Vote, and it was a vignette that we acted in together, and we hadn’t worked together since. It was perfect because we had had a connection so many years ago and stayed friendly throughout the years, so when it came to this movie, we already had a relationship, but it wasn’t very developed. With Nick, he’s so deep. He really feels and he’s good at expressing himself. I think he’s a really brilliant actor because he goes there. He’s not scared to put it all on the line. He’s just a really great, solid actor. I felt really fortunate that I got to work with him.
How was Rose McGowan to work with? What sort of dynamic did she bring to your scenes together?
SMART: I really enjoyed Rose. She’s really funny and witty. This is a role she’s never played before. Usually, she’s this hot bombshell, but she had no make-up on to play this junkie, and I thought she did a great job. It was perfect because we play complete opposite characters in the movie. We only had a couple scenes together, but I really liked working with her.
You’ve done thrillers before that have had more gore than this one does. Do you think a story becomes scarier when it relies more on psychological horror than gore?
SMART: That’s a good question. I guess psychological horror is always a little bit scarier because it’s what our minds can create. I don’t know. It’s hard to say. Sometimes gory is just straight-up scary too. I prefer the psychological thrillers myself, though. As an actor, it’s usually more to work with.
At this stage in your career, what do you look for when selecting projects? Does it start with the script and the character, or is it about the director and cast, or is it a combination?
SMART: It always starts with the script, and then who’s involved with it. You can have a great script, but you can have an unknown director and producers and actors and, just from my own experience, you have to trust the team around you to pull off a good film. I now want somebody who has someone proven themselves, on some level, because it’s such a crapshoot. You just have no idea how films are going to turn out now. I do love to meet people who are passionate about filmmaking.
At the end of the day, I’m totally willing to take a chance on an unknown director, if he or she believes in the project 110% and wants to make the movie and it’s a great script and it’s an interesting character, and all those variables. But, there’s so many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to making a film. You can have a great script and great actors, but then the editor is not great. You just never know how things are going to turn out in the end, so there has to be a good to great script and somebody that I can rely on to carry the movie, whether it’s the producers, the director, great actors or somebody that’s going to bring an element of taking the risks.
Is there someone whose career path you admire and would like to emulate, when you look at your own career?
SMART: I love Kate Winslet so much. She’s been in so many different kinds of movies and she’s such a brilliant actress. I don’t know if I’ll ever be like her, but I love her. I also love Meryl Streep. I love that she can go between comedy and drama. There’s such freedom in their acting. I would say those two are on the top of my list.
Do you have any idea what you’re going to do next?
SMART: At this point, I’ve done a handful of dramas and I’m definitely craving comedy. I just have the most fun doing comedy. It’s not always the most rewarding, but it’s definitely the most fun. I’d like to get back to some more comedy.
How difficult is it to maintain a sense of self, when you’re working in a business where you’re under such scrutiny all the time? Does your love for the craft make things like the paparazzi worth having to deal with, or is that just part of the job that you have to put up with?
SMART: For me, I was fortunate enough to grow up in L.A., so it’s always been my home base. A lot of people move to L.A. to get into the business, and it’s harder for some people to set up a life here. I’m definitely involved in other creative endeavors, outside of my acting career, that I find a lot of balance in. I do a lot of environmental work and help with different charities, and that feeds me on a soulful level. And then, as far as the paparazzi stuff, I don’t like it at all, but I know that it’s part of the job and what comes with it. I’m not into drama. I’m not into needing to get crazy paparazzi attention for being dramatic. I don’t crave that, at all. I just tolerate it and try to be as grateful as I can. I’m definitely conscious of it, but I don’t stop myself from going places because of it. But, if I know I’m going to go to a fancy restaurant where there’s usually paparazzi, I’ll make more of an effort to make myself look better. It just is what it is. I just try to stay from drama in my life. I’m pretty simple.
Do you feel like you still have the same passion about your craft that you did when you started in this business, or have there been times when you’ve had to step away and recharge?
SMART: I definitely felt like, in my mid-20′s, I had to look at my career and what I chose and recharge. I got back into acting classes for four and a half years, and went back to studying plays and doing different things on stage, and got back to the craft of it. I love doing that. I’d love to do more plays. That’s the best training for actors because you just get to work on the same character, over and over, and find different nuances and stuff that you wouldn’t normally find doing a film because films go so fast. Nowadays, you barely have any rehearsal to no rehearsal. You don’t get enough of an opportunity to keep finding the different layers in a character.
Do you think you’ll ever do a Crank 3, at some point?
SMART: I heard, awhile back, that they might make a Crank 3, but I haven’t heard anything recently, so I’m not quite sure if they’re going to or not.
Because those films are so outrageous, do you just have to let go and have fun with it?
SMART: Yeah, you completely have to let go and have fun with it. They’re so outrageous. They’re totally testosterone driven and everyone makes a complete fool of themselves. You just have to go for it or back out. Definitely, the second one was more outrageous than the first one. I can only imagine what the third one would have. It’s scary. We’ll see, as it comes.