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Interview: Actress Sianoa Smit-McPhee talks ‘All Cheerleaders Die’

Sianoa Smit-McPhee
Sianoa Smit-McPhee
Courtesy of RLJ Entertainment

Actress Sianoa Smit-McPhee recently talked to the Chico Movie Examiner about her role in the upcoming horror comedy, “All Cheerleaders Die.” The film releases to VOD on May 8 and then expands to limited theaters on June 13.

McPhee is the sister of actor Kodi Smit-Mcphee (“The Road,” “Let Me In”) and the daughter of actor Andy McPhee (“Saving Mr. Banks,” TV’s “Sons of Anarchy”). She is best known in America for her role as Darby Drecker in HBO’s “Hung,” and she also found success in Australia with the television series, “Neighbours.”

In “All Cheerleaders Die,” Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) joins the cheerleading squad with a plan to seek revenge against the high school football star, Terry (Tom Williamson). A car accident leaves Maddy and the other cheerleaders dead, but they are soon brought back to life by Leena (McPhee). Now, they have a new look and a new thirst for life.

McPhee talks about her role as Leena; how she originally auditioned to play a different character in the film; and how she has trouble watching scary movies. Check out the full interview below.

David Wangberg: Your character is the gothic outcast of the bunch, and all of the popular people give her a hard time. In high school, which were you? Were you one of the popular people, or were you an outcast?

Sianoa Smit-McPhee: Well, that’s super hard, because I’ve been acting my whole life. So, when I was in high school, it was kind of like a thing where it was really hard to… I have friends from primary school, before I was well known. I have one friend in Australia, who is like my really, real good friend. But when I was in high school, it was kind of hard, because half of the people would suck up to me because I was on TV, and the other half would pretend to be my best friend, and the other half were really super mean. None of it was really real; it was because of their ideas of – I don’t know – just because I was on TV. High school was kind of not typical for me. [laughs]

DW: Yeah, it’s that thing where they think you’re popular because you have roles on TV and in films and all that now.

SSM: Yeah, and at the time, when I was well known in Australia, I was on a TV series called “Neighbours” for three years, and I played a bookworm and a nerd, and so people thought that I was like a bookworm and a nerd kind of person. They thought I was like my character, so they treat you like your character. It was kind of a mess. [laughs]

DW: There’s a scene in the film where Maddy is trying out for the cheerleading squad, and she’s doing back flips and then she falls. And then Tracy picks her up and tells her: “Welcome to the squad.” For you, what were you in the middle of doing when you got the phone call saying you’ve been given the role of Leena? What was your “welcome to the squad” moment?

SSM: Well, basically, when I auditioned, originally, they wanted me to audition for Maddy. And I read the script, and I was like, “I’m not going to get the job of Maddy.” [laughs] So, I read the script, and I was attracted to Leena, because she’s like a witch, and that’s fun, and she’s into crystals. She’s more into doing magical crystals, but I’m totally into crystals – I’m wearing a crystal necklace right now, and my house is full of them.

So, I worked on the audition with my dad, Andy McPhee, who’s an actor and an acting coach for my brother and me, and then I went straight to the audition, and I was really happy with it. And I think that day, or a few days after, I got the job for it, and then I had to go have a meeting with Lucky [McKee] and Chris [Sivertson]. And we went over the script, and we were super excited about it, and I had made like a 300-picture vision board thing online that were all my inspirations for Leena – like costumes and stuff in her bedroom and all that kind of stuff. We were all on the same page about that; we were all on the same page with collaboration and everything. It was really super smooth and easy and just exciting to embody a new character for what was a really fun movie.

DW: So, if you had gotten the role of Maddy, who in the cast would you like to see play Leena?

SSM: I don’t know. I feel like I would just be like, “No, I’m being Leena.” [laughs] She’s like me; there’s no one else. [laughs]

DW: [laughs] It’s like, “I don’t want that role; give it to someone else.”

SSM: [laughs] Yeah. It’s like, “I have to be Leena.”

DW: This was based on a film Lucky and Chris did almost 15 years ago. Did they show it to you before you did this movie?

SSM: No, they didn’t show it to us. We asked to see it, and they were like, “Maybe one day, you guys can see it.” I think even some of the characters are adjusted in the film, but it’s really cool that they’re continuing on that inspiration that they had back then and making it with what resources they have now. So, it gets to be bigger and more fun.

It’s really cool; it’s really close to them. We could see the love they had for the film, and we really wanted to contribute to that and stick to making this a really good, beautiful film for them, if anything.

DW: When I was looking at both of the movie pages last night, I saw that Hanna is the only character in both films. So, if Leena had been played by someone prior to this, would that make your role more of a challenge for you to play, with the knowledge that she had been played before?

SSM: Not really, because I hadn’t seen it, and even if I could see it, I don’t think I would see it, because I would rather just put my own inspiration or whatever into the film and then maybe I’d go back and see it after.

I feel like, unless someone’s super important, and I have to copy the character, then obviously, I would go study it. But if it wasn’t important, and I didn’t really have to see it, I would rather just have me go in with no other preconceived thoughts or ideas on the character.

DW: I was watching another interview in which you said you are not a fan of horror films, but you have seen the first “Saw” movie. So, even though you can’t bring yourself to watch horror movies, if you had a part in a “Halloween” or a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or any of those kinds of films, would you watch it because you played in it, or would you just avoid it altogether?

SSM: Well, I watched the “Halloween” that Rob Zombie directed. I liked that, but I haven’t watched the other ones. Because I think I started watching [the original], and then I got scared, and so I don’t know how… I think with the Rob Zombie one, I slowly worked my way into it with a pillow over my face and watched it over and over and I would slowly put the pillow down at moments. I don’t know how I watched it.

If it was a film like the Rob Zombie “Halloween,” I could do that, because it’s not really so much scary faces and stuff. I just don’t like possessed things like “The Exorcist,” which is just the worst thing ever – and then scary faces like Freddy [Kruger] and stuff. I guess I would just really have to look at it and see if I could film it. I’m sure I could film it.

If I have to be possessed or if I’m being charged at night or something, there’s no way I could do that. But watching it, I don’t know. With my brother’s film, “Let Me In,” there were some scary parts in that with Chloe [Grace-Moretz]. I didn’t even know actually, because my agent would tell me when to close my eyes, since he had seen it so many times. [laughs]

Even in “All Cheerleaders Die,” I think there’s two parts where I closed my eyes when she breaks her neck, and when the zombie comes out – even though it was in front of me.

DW: Is your brother a horror film fan, or did he just do “Let Me In” and that was it?

SSM: I’m sure he’s watched a lot more scary movies than I have, with his friends and stuff. But I think he likes comedy a lot, and he wants to dive into doing some comedy. But he always gets super serious roles, where everyone is dying, and he has to cry a bunch, and it’s emotional, which is awesome – he loves that.

He just wants maybe one time or two times to do a comedy role or something. He’s a little more open to horror movies than I am. He would probably watch something scary with my husband or something while I’m away. [laughs]

DW: [laughs] Has he tried to pressure you to watch one of them, or has he tried to tell you that you’re watching a comedy, when it turns out to be a horror film?

SSM: No way. He warns me. When “This is the End” came out, I wanted to see it so badly, because, obviously, there are amazing people in it, and it looked hilarious. And then, I was like, “Oh, man. Why did they have to make it kind of scary? I don’t want to see those scary parts.” My husband’s like, “It’s a joke movie; it’s not even scary.” And I was like, “No, it’s scary; I saw the ad.” And then my brother emails me, and he’s like, “It’s kind of scary; don’t watch it.” So, we haven’t watched it yet, all because of that.

DW: Oh, there are some really funny parts in that movie, too. [laughs]

SSM: I know. I want someone to cut out all of the scary bits, and then give it to me. [laughs]

DW: Now, Lucky and Chris had both done horror films before this. Did you try to watch those to see how they direct and their technique styles and all that?

SSM: No, I didn’t. One because it’s horror, and I don’t want to see it. [laughs] And two because, usually when I go into any film, I don’t watch a bunch of stuff that the director had done, unless I’ve already seen it. If I haven’t seen it, I don’t really go and see how they work or whatever. I’m just so happy and open with everything that I would never be like, “Oh, I don’t like how they shoot this.” I’m always just happy with everything, so I know that I’m going to have a great time, and everything will end out perfectly, and it’s fun.

DW: So, do you think that’s more of an advantage for you, if you had not seen anything they had done, as opposed to if you had seen something they had done?

SSM: I don’t know. I don’t think it would make a difference. I just trust whoever casts me for a job. They trusted me with their character, so I trusted them with how they want to shoot it; how they want to color it; or whatever they want to do.

DW: In the fim, Leena becomes the leader of the cheerleaders, when they all become zombies. Out of all the girls in the cast, which one would do you think is the leader of the bunch?

SSM: With us in real life, or with us in the movie?

DW: In real life. Sorry.

SSM: I don’t know. We’re all really relaxed and mellow, and most of us are into eating raw and organic food and doing yoga. I don’t think our egos would let anyone be a leader; we’re all super chill, and we really love each other. We all make ourselves on the same level; we’re chill people.

DW: This is my final question for you. If you could take zombie cheerleaders and place them in something you had done before, like “Hung” or “Neighbours,” in which of your previous projects would you like to see them randomly appear?

SSM: [laughs] I would say, because it would probably fit the film more than “Neighbours” or “Hung,” I would say the film I just finished filming, “Fallen,” which is the fallen angels movie. It’s supernatural, so it would fit in there more realistically than if they just popped up in “Hung” or something.

DW: I saw you did a football movie called “Touchback.” What if they popped up there and start cheering for the team or something?

SSM: Yeah, because that movie’s already supernatural; he goes back in time. It could work there.

This concludes the interview, but the Chico Movie Examiner would like to thank Sianoa Smit-McPhee for taking the time to talk about “All Cheerleaders Die.”

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