Joely Richardson has appeared in a diverse array of projects over the years, from FX’s Nip/Tuck to Showtime’s The Tudors to the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But to fans of science fiction-horror, she will always be known for appearing in Event Horizon, the terrifying 1997 movie about a spaceship which has, perhaps literally, been to hell and back. Now, 23 years on, the British actress is returning to the genre with the just-released H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, Color Out of Space, the first film from director Richard Stanley since he was fired from the 1996 version of The Island of Dr. Moreau. In the film, Richardson plays Theresa Gardner, a financial consultant whose family starts to horribly change, both mentally and physically, after a meteor lands in their garden.
“Well, she’s a funny one, Richardson said when EW visited the film’s set in Portugal last year. “She might be the most enigmatic of the characters. You’re not quite sure what she’s like. In some ways, my character could be just ‘the Mum’ and yet she does have her work going on on the side. It’s what happens to her later that makes it really interesting. That has weirdly been the fun of it, mixing the two styles, from playing it completely normal as if it was a kitchen sink drama to then heightened sci-fi horror. The story has both.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Nicolas Cage plays your husband, Nathan, in the film. What has it been like working with him?
JOELY RICHARDSON: I had no idea what to expect, working with Nic. A couple of friends that had worked with him, they said, “He really likes to improvise.” And then, before we started, Richard had said, “There are a couple of places Nic wants to improvise.” I can’t say [we had] matching styles, because probably we wouldn’t have matching styles outside of this, but it completely worked. So, Nic, he’s just been very professional. Occasionally, he just goes AWOL in the takes. The first time, me and Julian (Hilliard), [who plays] the youngest child, we were just watching, astonished: What’s he going to do next? But I like the fact that he improvises. I like to improvise too. And Richard’s let us do that.
This is the first time Richard Stanley has directed a feature in almost thirty years. What has it been like working with him?
[Laughs] Before the project, I had no idea what to expect. [Laughs] I mean, Richard’s story is so incredible. I watched the documentary (2014’s Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau) before I came out. I was like, really, do I know what I’m doing? And it’s been the complete opposite. Richard’s very engaging, very intelligent. He has a side that’s very childlike about him, in his attitude. But very straightforward and very open. He had a very very specific vision, so a couple of times I’ve wanted to go in another direction, and he’d be like, “No, I want it this way,” and I find that reassuring. I like that. It’s the director’s project. They get to say exactly what they want. I like him very much. No one’s been difficult. That’s the funny thing about this project. It is ironic, isn’t it? The job that you think is the easiest job turns into [a problem] and the one that looks like it has all these potential pitfalls, it’s a total walk in the park!
A girlfriend of mine, I was texting her whilst we were here, she’s an actress, and she’s like, “What are you doing in Portugal?” I said, “Oh, this sort of science fiction-horror.” She was like, “Oh my god, aren’t horrors the best ones!” I was like, “Well now I know!” I mean, I did a horror film years ago, Event Horizon. Okay, now that wasn’t such a fun project, though a lot of the people were lovely. Lots of things went wrong on that. But this has been the opposite. And horror is very liberating. I mean, if you go along with Jung’s theory about the shadow, which I happen to believe in, I think to explore that is very interesting.
It was actually really touching, because I think most of us had seen the documentary, and Richard came across so well in it I thought. There was just this feeling of everyone really wanting to support him. It was like, Let’s make this story good. Let’s right [the wrong which happened to him]. What was really touching was on the first day, I was watching Richard behind the monitor, and he did this thing where he was like, “And [long pause] action!” as though it was a sort of fairy spell on each take. It’s as though he finds that moment between “Action!” and “Cut!” very magical and he wants to honor it, like it’s a sacred space. It’s very touching.
It was like he was conjuring a spell?
As if he was conjuring a spell with his hands, exactly. But also not a spell that he knew that well. So, it was quite sort of reverential like, “May all the forces work well with this,” rather than “Abracadabra.” I think his confidence has just grown week by week, day by day. He knew what he wanted but I think he still almost didn’t believe it was going to happen. Or that some cataclysmic — I don’t know — typhoon would take place and we’d lose the set. It was a feeling of hesitancy in the beginning.
You signed into the project and then you watched the documentary?
No. [Laughs] I was very very sick the day that I read the script. They offered it to me very very last minute, so I had to read it that day, but I was running a fever and I had food poisoning really badly. I finished reading the script and it was so strange that I didn’t know if some of it was my fever. [Laughs] I spoke to my agent, so I was like, “I’m not sure about this.” But for some reason they were very pro it, which is unlike them. Normally people really sit on the fence. I was like, “I didn’t imagine it, right, at one point this great pink creature, appears?” [Laughs] I think they hadn’t read it as closely as I’d read it and they were like, “Oh, I don’t remember.” Anyway, then I thought, “Okay, I need to reread it when I’m not sick. Twenty-four hours later, I wasn’t in that same feverish place. I reread it and I watched the documentary, because I needed to see whose vision it was before I could buy into it. I haven’t read many scripts like that and I honestly couldn’t tell. If I’m completely honest, it was the documentary that swung it for me and slightly a feeling of wanting to do something different.
Richard’s the funniest about it because he has good phraseology, he says the film is going to have a very interesting afterlife. Event Horizon, the summer that that came out, it wasn’t the hit that they thought it would be. But over the years, it’s just garnered this big reputation. In fact, on this, people had these special edition box sets of me to sign. So, Event Horizon became quite a big deal in retrospect. I feel the same about Color of Space. I think all of us who’ve been on it, (1) we’ve had a great experience, but (2) it’s a truly interesting piece of work.
What was it about the documentary that made you want to work with Richard?
Well, I must be a little bit crazy myself. I’ll tell you what it was is, whatever he is, he’s genuinely so. There was no bulls—, there was no spinning a yarn, there was no pretension. So, something got through to me. There was definitely a bit element of trauma, I think, about that story, about what happened, and it’s really lovely to be part of [his] second or third act, whatever you want to call it, where there is some level of healing about a trauma that happened a long time ago. So, that’s also made this project very cool. But all that aside, at the end of the day it’s about the work, and the work’s really interesting. You’ll see. I feel very confident what’s actually shot is of a truly interesting standard.
Color Out of Space is now playing in theaters and the film’s soundtrack is available to pre-order.
Watch the film’s trailer above.