I’ll be frank: I’m only familiar with a handful of anime in my lifetime thusfar with just a few streches into the work of Headgear’s own Oshii Mamoru. I’ve been covering him for a few years now of all three I’ve been writing this blog and I’m fully aware I have a lot to catch up on, including the live-action renditions of The Next Generation: Patlabor.
Alas, having seen a few Ghost In The Shell films and the 2001 movie Avalon aren’t enough. Suffice it to say though, he’s a proven filmmaker and highly versatile at his craft. Moreover, it’s not everyday I get to interview a star of one of his films, and so to have the distinct pleasure of being able to communicate with actress Melanie St. Pierre and to share her perspective on her new role in Oshii’s newest CGI-hybrid sci-fi epic, Garm Wars: The Last Druid, is a rather humbling to make note of.
The film took fifteen years to happen and ultimately led to a challenging, and otherwise fun experience for St. Pierre. I sent her a list of questions with the help of a publicity company and I’m more than happy to share her answers with you all.
Melanie St. Pierre: Film Combat Syndicate! My year has been a bit of a whirlwind, lots going on!
MSP: I am a bilingual actress, born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. My mom likes to call me “l’ange cornu”, which in French means “angel with devil horns”, as I’ve always been a bit mischievous. I started dance at a really young age, doing ballet and competitive acro (a mix of acrobatics and dance), and that led me to circus arts. For most of my teens I performed as a contortionist and static trapeze artist, and when I was 13, I was cast as an acrobat in HBO’s Rescuers Stories of Courage with Daryl Hannah and I fell in love with Film then and there! When I was 17 I moved to Montreal, and there I trained with the late Jacqueline McClintock, a Meisner coach from NYC’s Neighborhood Playhouse.
MSP: Tough to name only a few, but off the top of my head, some favorite films would be V for Vendetta, True Romance, the British version of Death At A Funeral, Inception, Ghost in the Shell (I love the digitally remastered 2.0 version!), and I grew up on mass doses of Tank Girl.
As for TV, I’ve always been a sucker for Battlestar Galactica, Firefly and The X Files… lately I’ve been really into Extant, Sense8, Penny Dreadful (with the INSANELY talented Eva Green) and I can’t wait to check out AMC’s Into The Badlands.
FCSyndicate: How did you nab the lead role in Oshii’s Garm Wars: The Last Druid?
MSP: Haha, you know, I’m still trying to figure that out myself! Mamoru Oshii’s team were considering some well-known names, and also decided to put out a country-wide search for his heroine. I had seen a lot of Oshii-san’s films and knew immediately how I wanted to play Khara. Oshii’s protagonists have a very specific kind of warrior-like serenity, and a deep introspective nature. I shot a self-tape audition in the basement of my home and sent it off.
Three weeks later I got a call from the producers and met with them to discuss coming to Montreal to read for the whole team, who were flying in from LA and Tokyo. I had never wanted a role so much in my entire life. Waiting for the final call after my screen test was probably the most nerve-wracking two days of my life!
MSP: About a month before the start of production, along with my husband (who also coincidentally snagged a role in the film as an Interrogator), I packed up for Montreal. Once there, I met with Brett Chan and Brian Ho of Hitz International, the badass stunt team hired for Garm Wars. Brett had created fight choreography that was really tailored to my acrobatic abilities, as well as the imposing height of Kevin Durand, who would be playing Briga soldier Skellig.
Every morning we had fight training, which I absolutely adored. It was so intense, nothing like what I was used to. We trained a lot in Taekwondo and Krav Maga, which was great to get my body used to aggression as opposed to grace. Kevin and I learned the fight choreography in little chapters, and rehearsed it at 50% pacing and then sped it up bit by bit.
Having a circus background, and even a father who is also a trapeze artist, I HAD to do my own wire work: shooting a massive backflip holding a 7 lb. gun for the big Khara-Skellig fight was such a fun stunt, I had been looking forward to it for so long! I had the bruises to show for it, but man was it ever worth it.
FCSyndicate: Tell us about working with Kevin Durand and Lance Henriksen.
MSP: Right from the first day, I knew how lucky I was to be working with them. Kevin is such an unbelievably talented actor, he really transforms from one role to the next. I think he is such an inspiration. Every scene with him was such a pleasure to shoot, and I really particularly loved shooting my original audition scene with him, a philosophical conversation atop our tank. And with such a stunt-heavy role, I was so happy to be working with Kevin, who has done many action and fight sequences in the past and was really patient and disciplined.
Lance is of course an absolute legend in Sci-Fi, but also truly is the coolest person you’ll meet. When we had our first read through of the script, we had a discussion about the philosophies and themes in the film. Lance blew me away with his take on the world of Annwn and the condition of the Garm, and his deep appreciation of the material is so apparent on the screen. Wydd, his character name, means Wisdom, and I think it’s a perfect fit for Lance. We still talk to this day and I’ll always look up to him.
Photo by Lane Dorsey
FCSyndicate: The film has some great shots apart from its use of CG background imagery. Tell us about some of the locations used here.
MSP: The first location we traveled to were the shores of Oka just outside of Montreal. There we shot the incredible Khara-Skellig fight sequence, which was far from an easy day… not only was it near freezing, shooting fight choreography in loose sand is a challenge, though a fun one.
The end of production took place in B.C., where we shot the Sacred Grove scenes in Golden Ears Park, that you may recognize from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The forest there is so beautiful, it’s almost tropical in it’s lushness. From there, we traveled a few hours North near Kamloops to shoot our beautiful wasteland scenes. The difference in landscape with just a few hours drive was stunning. We filmed our very last shot in a gorgeous field near dusk, with Khara walking toward the setting sun.
MSP: To say the least! The shoot was far from an easy one right from the get-go, with an International crew that spoke three different languages. While the cast was English, the Production team was Japanese, and a lot of the crew were Francophone. It was also a very new experience for many of us to shoot in the style that Oshii-san employed. We shot in a sort of storyboard format, for some of the days shooting one line at a time!
The shoot was quite physically challenging for me, at times. When we shot in the forests of BC, in order to get the effect needed to portray the mysterious grove of Dual Grund, a lot of smoke machines had to be used… and I wound up getting pneumonia from it. The final week filming in Kamloops, marching around the desert and barely able to breathe was most definitely trying, but I wouldn’t DREAM of not finishing the shoot. I don’t think this was an easy shoot for anyone on the team, and I think it left every one of us feeling so accomplished when we wrapped. We really came through it as a pack, and many of us are still very close because of it.
MSP: A Japanese channel called WOWOW aired a documentary in the spring of 2015 that showed all of the hardships and triumphs over the years to get this project off the ground. It was a really emotional watch for me, and my admiration for Oshii-san grew even more. This has been a passion project for him for so long, and I found his tenacity very moving.
One of my fondest memories of the shoot was that first table read, just being able to hear all about the Universe that Oshii-san created. Absolutely everything had meaning, down to our character names, as I mentioned. Khara (or Shell-Child as he also called her sometimes) means “A little boat that floats down the river”, an empty vessel. We all discussed certain themes of the film at length, like humanity’s endless warring and the meaning of identity. To work for someone who’s mind creates so fully was the experience of a lifetime. I feel so honored that I was chosen by Oshii-san to help bring his film to life, it will always be a very special film for me.
MSP: It’s been very fun to read different takes and theories on the film! I really do think that a trademark of the Mamoru Oshii film experience is that different people will get different things from each of his movies, especially with his use of cultural/religious references and very profound philosophies, mixed with stunning action sequences and visuals. I’m really looking forward to hearing more reactions once the film gets released in different territories.
MSP: We’ve discussed what would happen in the world of Annwn, were we to shoot a sequel, and I’m sure he knows just how excited I would be to work with him again. I would also love to voice a character in one of Oshii-san’s animated films in the future; I do certainly hope to collaborate with him again. And with all the Taekwondo training I’ve done since shooting Garm (I’ve been training hard at Black Belt World in Toronto) I can only imagine the spectacular fight sequences we could create!
MSP: I just recently appeared in the pilot episode of Heroes Reborn on NBC, which was a real treat, as I was a big fan of the original series. I have a few projects that are currently in development, including one that I am also boarding as a producer! As much as I’ll never have an experience quite like it, I’m really looking forward to having another film to love as much as I loved shooting Garm Wars.
MSP: Yes! Please check out Garm Wars: The Last Druid, available now on VOD across the US, and out on DVD on November 3rd. I promise it will be like nothing you’ve seen before!
I want to send a special thanks to M Public Relations for helping make this interview possible. Moreover, I especially thank St. Pierre for contributing her time and memories to this interview for us to share. I actually had a few more questions I wanted to ask long after I sent in my inquiry, though hopefully one day our next conversation will be much more organic.
In the meantime, I humbly recommend watching Garm Wars: The Last Druid in theaters, VOD or on DVD/Blu-Ray from ARC Entertainment on the date noted above. It’s a visual feat full of adventure and one I had the opportunity to screen for a review which you may read by clicking here.