Exclusive: Shauna Macdonald Makes Her Second Descent


Actress Shauna Macdonald braves dust, dirt, blood, Crawler shit and desolate caves  as she returns to the franchise that made her a horror household name in The Descent : Part 2. And yes, you read that right, Crawler shit. Shauna talks to us about going underground (again) and which scenes from the sequel were cut, incuding her initial escape from the cave. The Descent: Part 2 is available on DVD April 27th. Hit the jump for our full exclusive interview with Shauna.

What was your first reaction when they asked you to come back?

I remember being at the Britain Film Awards [and] someone who I had never met before involved with The Descent, a money person (laughs) I think, said, 'What do you think of a sequel?' and I said, 'Don't be ridiculous, everybody's dead, you couldn't possible make a sequel!'. And then I remember I thought, 'Hmmm, maybe we could?' But then everything went quiet for a long time and resurfaced when my agent called me and said 'Shauna, they want to know if you would do one, they need you attached and it would be Sarah's story'. And I said, 'Yeah!' (Laughs) I get to be Sarah again. I'm [thinking I'm] really curious to see how they're gonna do it. So I signed. And then it went quiet for about a year and then things started moving again. Maybe a year before we got on set things started to surface, scripts were coming was kind of a very slow process. I shot the first one when I was 23 and shot the second one when I was 28. A lot had changed (laughs). I thought maybe when I was 27 it was all going to be forgotten. But I was proved wrong.

It seems like a cruel joke to give your character amnesia and then throw her back in the cave.

I know...(laughs) and I'm such a stickler for the facts so if someone has amnesia, does that not mean she remembers nothing? If she's on antipsychotics how would that affect my performance? (laughs) And I was doing all this medical research. And they were like Shauna, we just need to get you back in the fucking cave! Will you just go back in the cave? (laughs)

Sarah is a strong but troubled character who's constantly thrown into danger. How do you mentally prepare for a character like that?

Well, there was a lot of research but there's also all this talk and then what you end up shooting the day of, a lot of what you talked about you don't actually need. But there was also talk that she's waking up as if she had just had that car crash. So that was a possibility, that whole year had been erased from her mind. And then the decision was made that no, that year was not erased from her brain, but she still thinks her daughter is alive but she can't remember what happened in the last five days, but she does know that something has happened to her friends, but she can't quite remember what. I had to just play the scene and just try to think of all the ground facts of the reality as if it were a documentary. How does this scene move forward? What does Sarah want? What is she thinking? Which is really a tricky question (laughs) because she really doesn't know who's guiding her. She wants to go into the cave to find her friends because she thinks they are alive, or she needs to know. It was tricky for me, you have to suspend your disbelief and just do it.

How do you think Sarah found that exit and made it out of the cave at the end of The Descent?

Well, this is funny because we actually shot how she gets out of the cave but it didn't make the film (Part2). How she got out of the cave the end of The Descent there is a pan out and you see Sarah on the cave wall with her daughter, what she thinks is her daughter but it ends up being Sarah staring at a firebrand, and we pan out. And that's how The Decent ends as we all know. [With] The Descent: Part  2 it was scripted [that] you pan in and cheat the angle and it's Sarah, and an actress playing the daughter, shot over her shoulder and the daughter stands up, beckons Sara to take her hand. Sara takes her hand and they jump into the abyss, and the abyss turns out to be this underground river and she is battered and bruised and thrown about and [Sarah] is drowning and gets washed out through the lake and crawls up on the embankment and calls out for her daughter, she's looking for Jessie. So that's how The Descent: Part 2 is supposed to start (laughs).

All the stuff in the hospital was really cut into because there was a lot of stuff about 'Jessie got me out', the water and the river, and they say 'No your daughter is dead'. They made it clear to me that up until the point that you wake up, you absolutely still think your daughter is alive. Because you're still at that point of madness. However, this is 24 hours later Shauna so you're going to have to try and make us believe you when you tell us you don't remember the last 5 days, but you do remember your daughter but you don't remember how you got out. But you do know they are lost in the cave, but you don't know if they are dead. But you want to help them. (laughs)

Did you find the second film to me more, less or equally as physically demanding as the first?

More demanding because story wise I got to do more fighting. For the first film it seemed like I did a lot but I killed three crawlers and suddenly she's a savage; she had flipped. But in the second film, I'm fighting throughout and although it didn't make the final cut at the beginning with all the water stunts. And then doing all the physical stuff in the cave.
Because in The Descent, I made a very conscious choice I didn't want Sara to look like a fighter at all, I didn't want her to move like a fighter. I chose, I mean obviously they dressed me, but I had this discussion, I wanted her to look nerdy. I didn't want her to look like she could kick anyone's ass at all. I made sure my arms weren't muscular, but by the end, since it was shot chronologically, I made sure I'd done my press-ups  because I knew by the end I had to strip down to my vest and be covered in blood. I wanted to look like a killer at the end. For the second film I had to start as fit as I was in the first.

How much of what we see onscreen is you and how much is a stuntwoman?

I wanted to do as many of the stunts as they would let me. I did most of my stuff and then when it got really dangerous, they call in the bigwigs that make you look amazing. It was the same girl that played me in the first film. I was quite happy because she does look amazing and we're quite similar in build, so you can't tell. And that's the trick, you don't have to try and kill yourself on set, you just have to make sure it looks like it's one person doing it. All the fights, is me. The big drops, like when we're dropping into the shit pit, that's not the actors, because it's quite a shallow thing we're jumping into. Cause if we break our ankles we're out for a while. So they don't really care about you, they just care that you can show up to work the next day. (laughs)

The make up looks messy, lots of dirt and blood, but I imagine there's a process you have to go through. I'm sure it doesn't happen by accident and they want it to look consistent.

Yeah, definitely. Every morning you go in fresh faced and they have varying degrees of what they put on you: the dust, dirt, shit, blood the mush. And you've got it all through your hair, and they take lots of photos. When we did the first film they were still using Polaroid, but when we did the second film, it was all digital. It was interesting doing both films in the sense that it's the same cave, same 24 hours, same character, similar costume, but just the filming of it was quite different. They get quicker at doing it, it gets easier and since we shot chronologically to make it easier for the art dept because they needed to reuse the sets and cut them up and form them into different parts of the cave, we got more and more covered in shit. And so you're covered in shit and then you get in a fight and you're covered in blood, but then you find some water and you smear your left cheek with your hand. It's really quite technical, but they did an amazing job.

How many crawlers were usually on set?

In the last scene they had a line of crawlers and they use FX to double the crawlers, so there seems more than there are, I think at most there were maybe 9?

Did you interact with them during your downtime?

We tried to interact with them because they're dancers and stunt guys. They're fun, and they're naked so it's funny (laughs). So we wanted to hang out with them as much as possible. However, they are not really encouraged to sit down because the paint comes off and they're freezing as well, so they're all huddled together in this makeshift tent type thing. The purpose of the tent is so they can keep some modesty, somewhat, and then they fire these big metal griddles so they're not freezing to death. So it was a bit weird, there was some segregation in the ranks. The climbers kept with the climbers and the crawlers kept with the crawlers (laughs). We were sipping our Starbucks (laughs) and they were freezing their asses off.

Who had it worse on set then: Sara or The Crawlers?

Oh, The Crawlers I think. They weren't wearing any shoes, you know, just little things like that. Also, I was a returning artist, so I got a level of respect and these guys are dancers, a lot of them don't even have agents (laughs) and they're working their balls off in bare feet, naked and they have to wait longer for lunch (laughs). And they'd have to come in like 4 in the morning for make up.