Gavin Schmitt Interviews Christine Nyland
As part of the 2020 Nightstream film festival, I had the pleasure of having a brief chat with writer-producer-actor Christine Nyland (affiliate link) about her newest film, AN UNQUIET GRAVE (affiliate link).
My review is in another post, but the super-short summary is: a bare bones movie with a lot of meat, AN UNQUIET GRAVE (affiliate link) is a tour-de-force with only two actors — not even any extras — as they play with the boundary of life and death.
Gavin Schmitt: Pretty much the entire crew is a group you’ve worked with many times before. Have you developed a kind of shorthand for making productions smoother?
Christine Nyland: We’ve definitely developed a bit of a short hand over the years. I don’t think you can make a film like AN UNQUIET GRAVE (affiliate link) without one. Terence and I have been working together for about five years now, and he’s known some of the team even longer. But there are always new people on every project, which is great because that’s how things keep growing.
GS: Viewers might be most familiar with the series GRAVES… how would you say this film is similar (or different) from that series?
CN: The big difference is that GRAVES is a comedy, but both projects are really rooted in grounded emotions and relationships. What Terence [Krey] and I love so much about working in horror is that it allows you to heighten everything. If you’re depressed, you’re literally fighting your demons. If you’re struggling to accept the loss of your wife, you’re hell-bent on bringing her back from the dead. And especially when you’re talking about grief and loss—emotions that are so big—that heightened, metaphorical space often better serves how those emotions actually feel.
GS: I admire how AN UNQUIET GRAVE takes a very minimalist approach. An incredibly small cast, fairly small crew. What made you decide to take the “less is more” route?
CN: There’s just something fundamentally intimate about this story. It’s about two people who have shared a loss. This nightmare is only for them. When you lose someone other people can empathize, but the loss itself is deeply personal. So it felt right to keep everything small and specific, to live in the little details and let the grief take focus.
GS: Beyond acting, you co-wrote and co-produced, whereas Jacob Ware did not. How open to input from him were you, or did you have a very set idea on who the characters were?
CN: We were always very interested in Jacob’s thoughts. Film is a collaborative medium and Jacob is such a dream to work with; I can’t imagine having an actor like him on set and not wanting everything he’s got. And as an actor, when you’re with a project from the beginning like this, there’s nothing better than having someone else come in with their own ideas and experiences to disrupt any assumptions you have about how a scene should go. Jacob brought so much life to the film.
GS: Returning the dead to life is an age-old theme, but is presented in a completely fresh way here (well done!). Was there any story or film that was a touchstone, or was this really from scratch the way it appears on screen?
CN: There were actually two touchstones for this piece. One of which was the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, where this young man goes into the underworld to rescue his lover from Death. It’s usually presented in a romantic light, but we were really interested in what else that guy would be willing to do. How far would he go, what lines would he cross? And then the other is this old folk song called The Unquiet Grave, which is where the title of the film comes from.
GS: Without giving too much away, is there ever a scenario where bringing back the dead is a GOOD idea?
CN: I don’t think so. Death is transformative. The life that comes after death can never be the same as the life that came before
GS: While people should obviously check out UNQUIET GRAVE first, it looks like your next film (DISTRESS SIGNALS) puts even more pressure on you as an actor. What sort of scripts, emotions or plots do you find to be a welcome challenge?
CN: It’s always more about the story for me. AN UNQUIET GRAVE (affiliate link) scared the hell out of me as an actor, but we really wanted to tell the story. That was always the North Star. And when you’re focused on that those fears matter less. If it’s a good story the challenges are welcome.