Perhaps best known for her starring role in AMC’s The Walking Dead, Sarah Wayne Callies will next star front and center in Steven Quale’s tornado movie Into the Storm. She plays Allison, a meteorologist attempting to track a deadly outbreak of storms in order to gather life-saving evidence. Our group of visiting journalists got a chance to talk to Wayne Callies about her role while on the Detroit-based set. She commented on her excitement in filming the action scenes, her character’s goals and ambitions, and how this isn’t a story of a traditional romantic relationship. She also talks about her time on the hit AMC show.
Also starring Richard Armitage, Matt Walsh, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Arlen Escarpeta, Max Deacon, Nathan Kress, Jeremy Sumpter, Kyle Davis, and Jon Reep, Into the Storm opens August 8th. Hit the jump for our conversation with Wayne Callies from the set. Spoilers follow.
Sarah Wayne Callies: She’s your source of exposition. She’s a professor of climatology and meteorology so I got to look up 30 words I’d never seen before. I now wake up and literally start watching the Weather Channel; it doesn’t go off until I leave. So she starts with a group of storm chasers and what’s kind of interesting is the question: Is she going to switch over from the storm people to the human people? And I think that she’s the one through whom we tell the story of the balance between science and people. Pete comes down on one side of that and Gary represents the other side and she kind of gets pulled between. What I think is really interesting about the story is that the two most important people in the story to Allison, the first is her daughter who doesn’t appear in the movie. So she’s got this five-year-old kid at home that she’s trying to get back to and that’s an interesting thing that the person heaviest in Allison’s heart we never see. And the second is, by the end of the movie, Gary and Allison have become enormously significant in each other’s lives because they’ve saved each other’s lives and she’s helped him try and save his son. And so what I loved about it is the story of how in crisis, people who are unknown to one another can become incredibly important, incredibly vital, incredibly intimate in the space of six hours. And if these two people had not encountered one another in these circumstances it could take years for them to ever develop the kind of trust. We learn who we are in the most extreme circumstances and we spend all the rest of the time posturing about the people we think we are. But then something massive happens and you learn in the space of thirty seconds whether you run towards it or away from it or whether you just stand still and let it come at you.
A little similar to The Walking Dead?
Wayne Callies: Yeah and part of what I loved about this story is, The Walking Dead, from my character’s perspective is the story of a family. It’s my son, it’s my husband I’ve known forever. It’s his best friend, my friend who I’ve known for 15 years and I loved the idea of exploring that through the lens of strangers in this. But I’m really fascinated about what happens to people when we take away the safety and the iPhones and the predictable and blah blah blah. And people become…Gary’s not a hero. He’s an assistant principle and Allison’s not…there’s nothing badass about her. She stays in the weather van and points the other guys towards the tornado. She’s a mom, she’s a prof. And all of a sudden they are in a situation where you either step up or you don’t and I think they surprise themselves a lot of times. Plus there’s some really cool special effects.
Is there an actual love story?
Wayne Callies: Well I think intimacy is a word that’s used more physically than it needs to be. To me it’s an intimacy of trust. There are times in your life, sometimes it’s when you fall in love with someone and sometimes it’s when someone saves your life. I’m sure there are other times it happens but when you just instantly choose to trust someone, and you go, “Yes, right now because my life is already in your hands,” or because there’s something intuitive that happens you just choose to bypass all of the paces that we put other people through before we’re willing to trust them. There’s a whole bunch of research on this and a lot of writing about people who experience near death experiences together. There’s a kind of a bond, and I call it an intimacy, that occurs. It’s very hard to replicate any other way. And I think it’s a capricious intimacy not necessarily a comfortable one, it’s not necessarily an eternal one but in that moment and then kind of reverberating afterwards. It’s probably a very small slice of what people who serve together in war experience but that’s ongoing and that’s built into the psychology of the military obviously…did I mention there’s some cool special effects? Big tornadoes!
Do you have any trouble putting yourself into the space without seeing the tornado?
Wayne Callies: It’s interesting because the green screen can be really intimidating and I watched a ton of green screen movies beforehand to just sort of go okay that didn’t work, I’m stealing that, that’s great. But in some ways as someone who is trained in theater first, it’s kind of like doing theater. You don’t usually have the Battle of Agincourt going on. You kind of have to imagine that there are horses and men. I think that’s the whole opening monologue of the play, using your imagination. So there’s ways it’s familiar. I think the challenge is syncing it up with everyone. Being like how big is your tornado? And there’s the takes where Steve goes, “You were all looking in different directions!” And then some poor PA gets the job of standing there with like a tennis ball on a stick trying to be invisible.
We heard you might have had some wirework?
Wayne Callies: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. So much fun. I did wire rehearsal where they put me in a…not a full corset thing but I don’t remember what they call it. It’s a specific kind of harness that’s only on your hips. And then they just had me walk in a straight line at the hundred mile an hour fan and really it’s extraordinary and they just blew me right off my feet. And they would kind of stabilize me and bring me back down. I kind of love that stuff you know? When the car flips and guns and wires and big explosions. I dig that. It’s really fun to be a part of. It’s like when you’re a teenager watching Lethal Weapon. You go oh that looks like so much fun to make. And then you’re here and like “It is! It’s a lot of fun to make!” If only I had Mel Gibson and Danny Glover too. It’s all right. Richard Armitage and Matt Walsh are every bit as good.
In the scene we say you filming, you were trying to save another character…
Wayne Callies: At that point in the story we’ve gone from “oh my god we’re going to catch a tornado, this is great” to “holy cow there’s been some major destruction.” And I think what’s challenging often…I’ve been reading a lot about the history of tornado warnings and stuff in the United States, is there are always people who go, “Nah I’m fine.” And I think for her it’s the first time she’s going wait a minute this isn’t going to be just some storm out in the middle of a field that we get to film, this is going to come straight through a town and nobody is prepared. So that is kind of where that scene is at.
Matt Walsh was saying there’s some tension between your characters?
Wayne Callies: Yeah, Matt and I argue about this all the time. The tension between our characters is, from my perspective, because his character’s an asshole. But no, it’s a relationship between a woman of science who’s job it is to get some data and a bit of a maverick filmmaker who is willing to take much bigger risks. And I think from her perspective he can take all the risks he wants but she feels responsible for the lives of everybody involved. And it’s not just him right? There’s all these other people on our team and I think she’s the one who makes the call and in her mind she would rather err on the side of safety and not get the shot for the movie if it means everybody goes home alive at the end of the day. Like the making of any movie there comes a point where everyone goes “We don’t have time for this anymore!” And that’s when tensions escalate between us. It’s fun playing it with Matt though. One of the first days we were hanging out together, we went to go have dinner, get to know each other a little better and watch a movie. And we got massively lost on the way back because he told me he didn’t need a GPS to get home. So then I was navigating and he got irritated with me and I was like I turned the GPS off because you said you didn’t need it, turn it back on! Okay we were half fighting and half laughing through the whole thing. And we got to where we were meeting a bunch of other people half an hour late. They were like where have you been? And we’re like I don’t want to talk about it. Don’t want to talk about it but we’re here. So now every time we drive together we make sure we get in one good navigational fight. He’s great though.
So if the end game for his character is to get into the eye of the tornado, what does your character want?
Wayne Callies: Well the end game for me arguably is to get my instruments on TITUS into the middle of that tornado but I take it a step further which is I want everybody in that tornado to get back out. I think for her it’s much more about the significance of tornado data than it is a shot that’s going to invest people. But she’s not naïve. She also recognizes that, we talk just a tiny little bit about climate change and stuff like that. I think she’s someone who recognizes the power of images to really bring home to people the idea that yes these are really big storms, they’re getting bigger, there’s more of them. There’s emotional leverage with the public to be had with these images. And that can hopefully bring a little bit more awareness about climate issues. So I think she’s all for, she supports Pete’s agenda completely but he maybe has a single mindedness that I think she finds a little short.
Where does she come down on global warming vs. not?
Wayne Callies: It’s very brief but I have a line that says warmer seas have something to do with it. I think that as a woman of science she just looks at it and goes there’s more storms, they’re bigger, and that correlates to certain things that have changed. That sure looks like a pattern. She’s not a legislator. She’s not necessarily trying to change someone’s mind but I think her approach is if we just accept what’s really there then we can warn people so that they are prepared for what’s really there. Whereas if we pretend it’s something else that’s happening people are more likely to be unprepared for what’s really happening.
With this and Walking Dead, are there certain projects that you seek out?
Wayne Callies: I’ve always refused to work because the show is so exhausting. You know in the third season with everything they hired basically a second cast with David Morrissey so there are sort of two stories happening and that means that those of us that have been around since the pilot finally have the energy to go do something else. I just never worked on a big old studio fun summer weather extravaganza and it’s a whole lot of fun. And some point I’m going to haul off and do a bunch of theater or something in New York and be a little quieter.
You recently said that Lori has to die.
Wayne Callies: That was little bit, pardon me good people, a journalist getting really excited. It happens in the comic books. I think it does something very important to Rick. If they can do that to Rick without killing me, I’m all for it. But my point to that from the beginning is I will never say you should distort the story in order to keep me employed because I think that’s ridiculous. I’m here to tell the story. At the point at which it becomes the best way to tell the story is to take me out of it, take me out of it. I’ll go with gratitude and grace. I’m never going to say oh my god you got to keep me. It’s called The Walking Dead. Yes we’re all going to die. So no I don’t feel that Lori must die. If that’s the best thing for it to happen then great. That’ll do.
Be sure to check out our set visit interviews from Into the Storm with the following cast and crew:
- INTO THE STORM: 35 Things to Know about Steven Quale’s Natural Disaster Film Starring Richard Armitage and Sarah Wayne Callies
- Director Steven Quale Talks INTO THE STORM, the Film’s Timeframe, Shooting from Multiple Perspectives, Interlinking Stories & His Special Effects Background
- Richard Armitage Talks INTO THE STORM, How the Story Incorporates Found Footage, Character Interaction, Wire/Waterwork & Practical Effects