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Interview: Actress Eloise Mumford talks ‘Drones’ and ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

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Actress Eloise Mumford recently spoke to the Chico Movie Examiner about her role in the military thriller, “Drones,” which releases to limited theaters and VOD on June 27. Mumford is best known for her roles in the Fox series, “Lone Star,” and the ABC series, “The River.” She will next be seen playing Kate Kavanagh in the highly anticipated adaptation of E.L. James’ novel, “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

In “Drones,” Mumford plays Sue Lawson, a newly-hired military lieutenant who has been assigned to take out a terrorist with a drone. But on her first day of work, Lawson is hesitant about taking out the terrorist for many reasons. Her partner, Jack Bowles (Matt O’Leary), is an airman who is more focused on video games than he is the real mission.

Told in real-time, the two must come to the decision that will change their lives. As the drone’s fuel begins to get lower and lower, Jack and Sue have to determine whether or not they push the button that determines the outcome of their mission.

Mumford talks about being in back-to-back films revolving around something controversial; how the filming process is more intense for a film told in real-time; and how she got prepared for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which is her biggest film role to date. Check out the full interview below.

David Wangberg: This weekend, you have “Drones” coming out, and that revolves around the controversial topic of the use of drones in the military. And in February, you’ve got “Fifty Shades of Grey” coming out, and that’s based on a controversial book. Is there something that is, I guess, overwhelming about being in back-to-back films about something controversial?

Eloise Mumford: No, you know, I’m incredibly proud to be a part of both of them. I think the point of art is to be controversial in a lot of ways. It’s to cause conversations, and it’s to get people excited about and talking about the things that the films are about.

For “Drones,” I think that it’s a subject that’s in the news a lot, but talking to people in your daily life, nobody really brings up drone warfare. And the reality is it’s where war is headed in the future. I’m really proud to be a part of a film that raises the human side of that matter, not just the political side of it.

And then, as far as “Fifty Shades” goes, once again, it’s so exciting to be a part of something that people are incredibly excited about. I don’t know; I always try to do projects that are controversial in some way, and that’s the most exciting part of art.

DW: I know for war films, like “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Thin Red Line,” the actors have to go through rigorous military training to get prepared for the combat scenes. Since the majority of this film is spent inside, was there any kind of special training you had to do to prepare for the role?

EM: Yeah, two-fold. My character is a boxer in the film, and it’s mostly just the backstory, but it also… when you’re a boxer, you carry your body very differently, and, so, I went through some really, really intense boxing training for months leading up to the film with a top-notch female boxer.

It really changes the way that you move. I’ll never forget that within the first 10 minutes of my first day of training, I threw up; it was that hard. It was incredibly grueling. But I was really grateful to have done it because of the confidence you carry yourself with, when you have that sort of training; it really changes who a character is.

And we also did a lot of prep about what it’s like to be a drone pilot in general – speaking to former or current drone pilots about what their lives are like. They aren’t off in a “war zone,” but they are in a war zone in that you’re executing kills; you’re finding targets; you’re doing all the same things, but you’re coming home at night to your family. So, on the psychological level, both Matt O’Leary, the other actor, and I did a lot of preparation as far as that goes.

DW: This is told in real-time, and watching something in real-time makes it a bit more intense than watching something done in a standard narrative style. And it’s been done before with “United 93,” “24,” and a couple of other films and TV shows. With this being presented in real-time, does that make the filming process a little more intense than something that is told in a standard narrative?

EM: That’s a good question. Yeah, it really did. I mean, the way that we dealt with that is that most films are cut up by scenes, and you shoot one scene at a time, and you do it however many times you have to do it to get it right. And then the scene, at most, may be two and a half pages of dialogue. It’s usually a lot less than that at a time.

And, a lot of times, you are jumping around in the storyline as far as the timeline of it. But the way we chose to do it – and the director, Rick Rosenthal, is really [brave] in doing it this way, and it’s really awesome – [is] we shot it in 30 pages at a time, in 30-page chunks.

For the first three or four days, we did the first 30 pages, and we just did them all the way through until the camera would run out of room on the tape. And then, we would do the next 30 pages after that and the next 30 pages after that.

So, we got to experience the arc of what these characters are going through in real-time, like you said, which is a very different experience than just trying to get each line right by the way that we’re trying to navigate the emotional rollercoaster that these characters are going through.

DW: Your character, Susan, gets hired to do this job, and it’s her first day in the field. She gets nervous and tries to completely back out of the mission. When you got hired to work on the TV series, “Crash,” back in 2008, were you prepped and ready to go the first day, or were you kind of hesitant about taking on your first big acting gig?

EM: [laughs] That’s a great question! I mean, I was incredibly excited, and I really honestly didn’t… acting is always one of those things where you look back on it and you go, “Oh, my gosh. How did I do that?”

Looking back on it, I was at NYU for acting. I have had a lot of training as an actor, but it’s very different than being on set. It’s probably the same way my character in “Drones” felt; you just go into it, and you do a lot of learning on your feet.

I was actually incredibly nervous and overwhelmed, but more than that. But it’s not like our lives were at stake. [laughs] It’s a little bit different than fighting in a war, but I was really excited.

DW: I saw an interview you did with The Olympian, your hometown newspaper, and you said that your parents didn’t have a television when you were growing up, and you bought them one when “Lone Star” came out. Did they ever get around to watching you in “Crash,” “Law & Order,” and “Mercy?”

EM: Yeah, they would go over to a friend’s house to watch them. [laughs]

My dad’s a scientist, and my mom’s a teacher, so I didn’t grow up in a family that was into the entertainment world at all. It’s amazing. Just as I’ve learned a lot as I’ve gone through in my career, they’ve also learned a lot. Now, I can talk to them about all sorts of stuff. It cracks me up, when they read Deadline or whatever, and they understand what’s going on in all of it – something they never would have done six years ago.

DW: You’ve got “Warriors” coming up next, a TV show about military doctors and nurse at a Walter Reed-like institute. Is there anything you’ve learned from playing a member of the military in “Drones” that you can take and apply to playing a military nurse in “Warriors?”

EM: Yeah. I mean, we already shot that project a few months ago. It was, once again, one of those situations where you walk into the room and you’re like, “Wow!”

It’s a very humbling experience to be in a operating room, pretending to be a doctor, and realizing that thank goodness you’re not an actual doctor in that situation, because of the amount of information that you would need to know. The same thing can be said about sitting in a drone pilot’s chair. It’s incredibly humbling to realize that, people who do these for their job in real life, how much pressure is on them and how much they perform under pressure incredibly well.

What was most interesting about being in “Warriors” was, once again, addressing the issues of veterans and the fact that we need to, as a nation, address… obviously, it’s in the news a lot right now that veterans need a lot more care than they’re getting, regardless of how you feel politically. On a human level, veterans need a lot more care than they’re getting right now.

DW: This is my last question for you, and it’s about “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Looking back at your work on “Crash” and going through everything you did up until “Drones,” with “Fifty Shades” being your biggest film role to date, what’s the one thing you pulled from working on all of your projects leading up to it that you applied to it?

EM: That’s a good question. I think what I pulled the most is that all you can do, no matter how much pressure is on you and no matter how big the stage is, is just to act within the moment. And that’s what good acting is, and it always will be the attention to detail in the moment and living fully and presently in the moment as you’re on screen.

I think the best thing you can hope for, as you continue on, is to learn so much from every job. And it’s not necessarily specific things you can apply. Sometimes it is, but mostly, it’s the confidence that you will always feel out of your league, because that means you’re pushing yourself as an actor. To do projects that you’re incredibly honored to be a part of, it’s always like that where you’re learning and exploring and challenging yourself as an actor.

I think that’s what I brought to it the most – the excitement of doing something new. There are so many fans looking forward to that movie, and I’m incredibly grateful to be a part of it. It’s a huge, cultural phenomenon, and I just can’t wait for it to come out, because I actually want to be able to talk about it. [laughs]

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