Jordan Ladd is no stranger to horror, with her reputation largely made by roles in Cabin Fever and Grindhouse. But in director Paul Solet's Grace, Ladd pulls off the rare feat of actually maturing as an actor while working within the genre. Grace sees her tackle the lead role of Madeline Matheson, a young mother who, after years of unsuccessfully trying to conceive a child, becomes pregnant. But tragedy soon strikes, and, in a strange turn of events, she finds she must keep her newborn baby alive by supplying it with something stronger than milk. I caught up with Ladd earlier this week in LA, and she told me about the challenges of playing a woman pushed to the absolute edge of human behavior.
This is a really challenging role in part because you're playing with the audience's perception of your sanity for much of the film. Can you talk about that? About the choices you make as an actress in telling this story?
Well, my allegiance was simply to the character of Madeline, and to things I haven't really accessed inside of myself that were similar to things Madeline was experiencing, so I had to marry two concepts together. It was uncomfortable, but I really felt as long as I stayed true to the character – and when [she] became me and we became one – then I was going to be able to do this. But it took about a month beforehand, when I signed up to do the project, of really talking to my therapist. I work with a coach, and we take the character from where it is in the story, all the way back to birth, and I imagined memories of what brought me to this point. So we worked backwards. I had a month, and Paul was scouting and doing pre-production and all the stuff he needed to do. So we didn't get to rehearse, but he would send me new pages, and he involved me in his writing process, which was a unique experience. I have never had that before, and so that was part of preparing as well. I was kind of sleeping it, eating it, obsessing about this role for a month, and then I got up there. I signed up for a 24-day shoot, and we get up there, and it's 18 days, and then we find out that it's 17 days. So that month that I had was key, because once we got on set, there was no time to make choices, there was no time to think. Which ended up being a good thing because it was just be, just be and do, and move on to the next step. So I just had to marry the character to myself, and got rid of the things that weren't going to be useful, and things that kind of inspired me in that month period.
I would go on the internet, and cut out images. Sharon Tate was a big influence for me, and who I imagine she would have been as a new mother. I know that's dark, but she seemed like a vessel for nurturing and tragically didn't get to do that. Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion was totally [an influence] – in terms of a woman breaking down – and was a reference point for me, of what that kind of thing was going to be. And Paul was really helpful in terms of supplying me with finer images. I wrote down music that really spoke to me and [prompted] me to explore those feelings. So it was a lot of that character that was down on that page and myself, a lot of me, and there were a lot of external influences that just kind of seemed to flow. I'd keep a stamp pad and pencil or pen by my bed at night, and get up and take notes. Some of them were crap, and some of them were great, but I was kind of dreaming this movie and thinking and obsessing all the time. No character has consumed me in this way, in this preparation, and I didn't need to do it, but I felt like if I wasn't this girl, I would do a shabby, bullshit job on this character, and the script doesn't deserve that. It's a powerful piece of material and I've got to really do it, really take it there.
You've been in other thrillers, albeit none quite like this one. Do you like to be scared? Are you a fan of the genre?
When I was growing up I would watch some of the Freddy Krueger movies and stuff, but I could understand it was kind of in a ridiculous world. However, when I was like ten, I went to a summer party at this girl's house and she played When a Stranger Calls, and that was it! I never wanted to see another horror [movie] until I started to work on Eli Roth's Cabin Fever. Because I worked on that I became a genre student, having Eli as a teacher. He started telling me about things that he liked. For me, The Shining is a shining example of a great movie. It happens to be one of the best movies ever made. But I never wanted to go after the genre stuff. I didn't want to get scared. Subsequently, I've worked with these people who are really informed – Eli will recommend a Dario Argento movie or something. So by virtue of that I've become a fan.
There are so many intense scenes in this movie, can you point out the most challenging one for you… or was the entire shoot a challenge?
The entire shoot… other than visiting the birth clinic, when my character and my husband, Michael, visit the birthing center. Of course there were some complicated scenes with Dr. Patricia Lang. That was the one day we were giggling and I didn't have to think about being dark, and know that I have to go there at some point in the day. I joke around but under the surface it was percolating, so much angst, working under those conditions. Freezing cold, no schedule, no rehearsals – it was conducive to this character for me. It got tense for me sometimes. I would come home shaking sometimes from a tough day. The birth scenes were really significant for me because there were no limits, no boundaries and we did it all day – various camera [set-ups], various things. There was no fifty percent; it just had to be balls out, real shit. After that, I felt very satisfied as an actress, but was drained, physically and emotionally. That's what it deserved. It was a really tough scene. So much of it is just me in that house – even with the prosthetic baby – not having other co-stars lended itself to that feeling of isolation and paranoia that the character was going through. It wasn't by design, certainly, but it contributed in a way. I feel if this was some four-day shoot, a big studio shoot, and had time to go to my trailer and eat and fuck off and read e-mails, I wouldn't have been able to stay in that place, that raw state. But I only had to be there so long and I would come home and have to take some time to get rid of it. It followed me home. I've never had a character haunt me like that before.
Can you say what's next for you, what you've been eyeing?
I have been eyeing a new place to live, maybe. [Laughs.] That's my project. Right now I'm having living issues, Los Angeles housing issues. So that's my focus right now – "How is this all going to work out?" I'm just a struggling, working actress. I don't know what's next for me. I did a television movie that my family will love, on Hallmark, called Wishing Well, that is coming out in September at some point. That's a completely different fare. So I'm just waiting for something to find me. Like this, just something that'll happen at the right time. I don't know. I'm always looking for work, honey.
Eli's got several irons in the fire as usual, have you guys talked about working together again?
No, but we don't have to talk about it. Because if he just says, "I need you," I'll just go. Whatever it is, it would be my pleasure. If it were just one line or a lead, I'd just say, "I'd love to. It's my pleasure. Thank you." The most fun I've ever had on set was with Eli when we were shooting that Thanksgiving trailer, because there were no rules. We were just making it up as we went along. He was on camera and it was all kinds of ridiculous. It really was just not work. It was because we'd done things like that together. I hope he does… I hope I'm part of his arsenal of people he can use for things. But I'm also a fan, so even if he doesn't use me, that's cool too.
In real life, what's your greatest fear?
I can't even talk about my greatest fear! My greatest fear is inevitable, which is my dog moving on. He's fourteen – he'll be fourteen in September. He's my baby, he's my husband, he's my everything. So imagining my life without him is terrifying. It haunts me. I imagine people feel that way about their children, their pets, I don't know. But that is my greatest fear. Otherwise? This movie…I have to say, giving birth to a stillborn, it would be up there in realistic fears to have. Going down in a plane crash and knowing that you're going to die in five minutes – that scares me. Plane crashes. I can't see Final Destination. I've seen it, but I can't see the part where the plane does what it does because it just makes me crazy. Or Lost – when you figure out what happened to the plane.
So no stewardess roles for you?
Well, yeah, if we're grounded, or I'm heavily drugged. Give me some tranquilizers, like a dog – I'll get on any plane. I'll jump out of the plane!