Allison Janney embodies resilience in the new Netflix movie Lou, directed by Anna Foerster (Underworld: Blood Wars, Outlander, Jessica Jones), a family drama mixed with an action thriller, wrapped in Canada's rainy and muddy terrain.
The title character Lou (Janney) is living a relatively solitary life, on a remote island, but what you quickly realize (without spoiling any major plot points in the movie) is that Lou is very much battling some demons from her past.
Lou’s life takes a turn when her tenant Hannah (Jurnee Smollett) runs to ask for help to save her kidnapped daughter Vee (Ridley Asha Bateman). That sets these two women off on a rough, brutal journey through the woods to rescue this young child. But as Hannah discovers, Lou isn’t just her landlord, they have a shocking connection that is linked to her daughter’s kidnapping.
“The first thing that stood out to me was that…you can’t put that story in a box, it has so many elements, so many facets and there's action, it's a thriller, there’s suspense, there's drama, there are some pretty dark subjects, there's levity,” director Anna Foerster told Yahoo Canada. “Certainly I haven't seen the role of Lou [before], but I have also not seen two women like this, work hand-in-hand on a story like this.”
“What was really interesting for me was having the opportunity to tell a story about resilience and strength of women, but also showing that you cannot underestimate the strength of a mother that loves her child unconditionally. If you're grey and have wrinkles, it doesn't mean you're a pushover.”
Allison Janney fights 'dirty' as a woman in an 'aging body'
Lou and Hannah are not only battling the weather and rough terrain, Lou in particular has some massive fight sequences. Foerster stressed that one of her priorities was to ensure that there was a purpose and meaning to every fight sequences in the film.
“We had long talks about it, how every single fight needs to be part of the story and pull the story forward, but also needs to be very true to the character,” she said. “I have to say, personally, it happens to me if I watch a movie that is very fight heavy, I'm zoning out when the fight is happening, and then I'm zoning in again when the story continues.”
“The fighting that Allison [Janney] did, and she did basically almost everything for her own fighting, it's realistic that a 60-some year old woman in an aging body can actually do… She's not a superhuman person, she's not gene manipulated, she's not an alien, she's a woman in her 60s and some things on her body ache… So we had to spend a lot of time to figure out how to create the fights that are logical for her to actually do, and part of it has to do with how superior she is because of her intelligence, because of her training,... she had to fight dirty.”
While the cast did go through some rehearsals before shooting, the bulk of the preparation was on the stunts, for safety reasons, but as Foerster stressed, it also really helped to bond the cast and establish that trust between them.
“A lot of this movie is not shot on stage, this is out there in the real world, and in the real mud,” Foerster explained. “The dynamic between the actors developed really quickly, in a very good way, and I was very impressed."
One example the director highlights is a sequence near the end of the film where Janney is fighting Logan Marshall-Green’s character on a beach.
“The fight ends…in the water, which was a choice I really hoped to keep, because…it wasn't easy to do that, it was potentially dangerous. We were very much at the mercy of tides and how high the waves [were],...so that was definitely not an easy thing to navigate,” Foerster said.
“When Logan is pushing Allison under the water,...I was holding my breath in terms of how much trust they had in each other.”
'It feels claustrophobic'
While Janney, in particular, is a captivating force in Lou, the British Columbia landscape plays an important, impactful role in this story as a visual representation of the inner turmoil of these characters.
“I would consider myself an outdoorsy person and I'm very much aware of how it feels when you're out somewhere in a storm, somewhere in the wilderness, and how relentless, how dangerous and how indifferent nature is,” Foerster said.
“In the beginning,...we had open spaces and sun,...but then when the storm comes it was very important for me that the forest itself, when they go in, it feels claustrophobic. The way we did that is during the night, we essentially worked it so what they see is mostly in the beams of their flashlights... You have this vastness around you and yet you're living in that tunnel vision, what is just ahead of you.”
As tensions rise, the rain, mud, darkness, close-up shots, help you feel how trapped Lou and Hannah are, but as we reach the end of the film, visual changes in the scenery mirror the arc of the story.
“What was really important to me is to create that parallel between that inner storm those women have to go through and that exterior storm they have to travel through,” Foerster said.
“Those two women have to go in the forest and it becomes messy,...and it exposes things, it exposes things about those women they didn't even know [about] themselves… When they come out on the other end and the storm stops, and the clouds clear, they have changed through this ordeal and there's a sense of clarity and resolve.”