From writer/director Blair Erickson, the indie horror thriller Banshee Chapter follows journalist Anne Roland (Sleepy Hollow’s Katia Winter), on the trail of her missing friend (True Blood’s Michael McMillian), who disappears after experimenting with mind-altering drugs. Aided by a rogue counter-culture writer (Ted Levine), Anne finds herself drawn into the dangerous world of top-secret government chemical research and the mystery of a disturbing radio signal of unknown origin. The film is based on real documents, actual test subject testimony and uncovered covert programs run by the CIA.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Katia Winter talked about how she came to this project at the very last minute, what attracted her to this story and character, the experience of working with actor Ted Levine, how much she enjoyed playing an investigative reporter, and how getting to do a proper stunt for the film made her feel like an action hero. She also talked about what it’s been like to be a part of the cast of the hit Fox series Sleepy Hollow, where she plays Ichabod Crane’s wife Katrina, a witch trapped in a mysterious netherworld, and how much she’s been learning about her character’s journey with each script. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
KATIA WINTER: Actually, it was very last minute. I got cast literally three or four days before we started shooting. I was in Stockholm, at the time, visiting my family, and I was going to spend a month there. And I got a call from my manager saying, “You should read this script and go on tape.” So, I did. And then, the next day, they were like, “Can you fly out to New York?” It was fun, but it was just very hectic. I had to not only learn how to drive, because I didn’t have a license at the time, but I was driving and acting, at the same time. It was fun, and I’m so glad I did it. It was a very last minute job, but it was fun to do.
Do you like getting cast so quickly that you don’t have to wait around and wonder if you got the role or not?
WINTER: It’s funny, but it happens to me, all the time. I get cast at the last minute. I don’t know, maybe somebody drops out and they can’t get someone, and someone is like, “Oh, how about Katia Winter?” I’m so jealous of actors who are like, “Yeah, I spent two months in Italy, researching my role.” I had two days, and most of that was on a plane.
When you did read this script, what was it about the story and character that interested you?
WINTER: I always like when things are loosely based on real events. That always makes it more interesting because there’s a lot of research you can do. Dimethyltryptamine is a fascinating drug. I’ve never tried it, but I was debating how method I should go for the part. I was watching a documentary about it, and everyone who’s taken the drug says the same thing. Obviously, it’s impossible to prove whether it’s a hallucinogen or whether they actually experienced alien entities around. That really fascinated me. I watched a lot of documentaries about people who had taken the drug. There’s a lot of information there. That’s always fun. When the topic itself is really interesting, that certainly helps.
This is an interesting character because she’s layered with this serious intensity, but she also has a wit and an edge to her. Was that all on the page, from the beginning, or did you bring some of her personality to the role yourself?
WINTER: I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Because I had such a short period of time, I had to just take it scene by scene. Luckily, it worked. Also, I was working with Ted [Levine] and we were finding the balance together. It comes to life when you’re on set, working with other actors. You never really know how it’s going to play out. You can prepare however you want to play it, but that dynamic usually changes, depending on who you’re acting with. And then, you’re like, “Okay, this is how we’re going to play this.” It’s fun to work it out together, with other actors.
WINTER: It was great. He’s a real artist. He doesn’t want any part of Hollywood, really. He’s very picky about his roles. He purely chooses his roles because he falls in love with a character. It’s admirable. Most actors have to take jobs, once in awhile, and some roles are better than others. He’s just so good at doing these extreme characters. He’s definitely fun to work with. I thought he really brought a fun factor to the film.
Because this character is also an investigative reporter, did you do anything to get into that type of mind-set?
WINTER: When I was filming, I remember thinking about how fun it would be to be a reporter. I had a dream, when I was little, to become a police officer and a crime investigator. It depends on what kind of stories you’re reporting, but it’s very similar. You’re finding out the truth. It depends on what kind of reporter you are, but in this case, it definitely felt a little like law enforcement. It’s fun. It’s interesting. You’re trying to get the truth out of people, you’re finding clues and evidence, and you have to go back and dig through the facts. I was thinking it would be a really fun profession to have. Maybe I should have chosen something else. I really admire really, really good reporters. Obviously not the gossip ones, but it could be quite an interesting profession, depending on what you’re investigating.
With such a short time before you had to start shooting, did it help that your director also wrote the script, so that you could ask whatever questions you had while you were shooting?
WINTER: Yeah, and he was so great to work with. I don’t know if many people know this, but he’s a bit of a genius. I think he graduated high school when he was 12, and college when he was 17. He’s literally a genius. He’s so intelligent and really smart. He knows everything about everything. He’s a walking dictionary. Outside of the story and script, we had endless conversations about politics, the world, science fiction, writers, films and directors. He knows everything. It was definitely inspiring to work with him. You instantly put faith in him. As soon as an actor has faith in a director, you just go with it.
WINTER: I remember the stunt that I had to do. It was the first time I had to do a proper stunt. When the tank explodes, that took a whole day to set up and people were very nervous, which made me nervous. They were very organized, and they tested it so many times to figure out the heat of the flame and how far I could be from the flame. And my clothes were coated in some sort of liquid that couldn’t catch on fire. It was very simple, but the fact that it took a whole day to set up with all of the safety regulations, everyone was so nervous ‘cause to reset that shot would take forever. They spray your hair and everything, and once they get the liquid on you, they only have two minutes to shoot ‘cause then the liquid gets warm and they have to reset. But, that was fun. I get why people love doing their own stunts. It’s such an adrenalin rush when things are exploding. You have to be very coordinated, even though it’s very simple. When you’re stressed out or nervous, the logical side of your brain goes out the window and you have no idea what’s happening. But, that was a lot of fun. I felt like an action hero.
Obviously, you want any project that you’re a part of to be successful and well-received, but how awesome is it to be a part of a TV show like Sleepy Hollow, that was really the only instant hit of the fall season and got the first Season 2 pick-up?
WINTER: It’s absolutely amazing! I’d only ever done films, apart from a guest role on a TV show. The turn-around is so quick. When we’re filming, it feels like you’re performing for an audience because the fans go crazy about the show. When you read a script, you’re like, “Oh, my god, they’re gonna love this!” It’s fun! It’s an instant reaction. It’s definitely fun to have an instant fan base. I’ve never really had a fan base before. I’ve done a lot of independent films that not a lot of people have seen. But, this is such a big network and it reaches so many people, instantly. I’m like, “How many people watch the show?” I’m getting it now. I’ve never really been on Twitter and I’ve never really interacted because I’ve never really had a fan base before. But when you Tweet something about the show, people get excited. I’ve done some live Tweets during the show and it’s so much fun because of all the questions they throw at you. I tease them back, being very sarcastic, which I’m sure irritates people, but it’s fun.
WINTER: I know the bigger arc of the character, but I don’t know the little things. Every time I read an episode, I’m like, “Oh, okay, this is interesting.” So, I know big events, but not what’s gonna happen throughout the season. Every time I get a script, I’m like, “What’s happening?!” I get to know her more and more, as time goes on.
Are you personally rooting for Ichabod and Katrina to reunite in the same physical space, at some point?
WINTER: Oh, yeah, for sure! As long as I’m in purgatory, there’s very little that they can do with me, unless they show flashbacks. So, I’m dying for them to get me out of this hell.
Banshee Chapter opens in theaters on January 10th.