Angela Dixon made her feature debut in Nick Lean’s horror thriller Dead End alongside Wil Johnson and Jamie Foreman. She has also appeared on stage staring in ‘Green For Danger’, ‘Lost In Thought’ and ‘Under the Eagle’.
In her latest film, the action thriller Never Let Go, she plays Lisa Brennan, a former FBI agent desperately searching for her abducted daughter. Directed by Howard J. Ford (The Dead and The Dead 2), Never Let Go is a high-octane action thriller in the style of Taken.
The film will receive its European Premiere at Film4 FrightFest this coming bank holiday weekend. Although not strictly a horror film, Never Let Go, is a stylish thriller which will certainly strike a chord with action fans. To celebrate the upcoming sold out screening we had the opportunity to sit down with Angela to talk about her involvement in the film.
SCREAM: Hi Angela. Thanks for taking time to speak to SCREAM about your role in Howard J. Ford’s thriller Never Let Go. How did you get involved with the project?
Angela Dixon: I knew about the project at the beginning of 2014. Howard had mentioned that he was writing something with a female lead and that he would like to work on it with me to develop the character as I do a lot of improvisation. There was always the understanding that, although the casting was perfect for me, the likelihood was I wouldn’t play the part as they would need a ‘name’ to sell the film. As it happened, the first Hollywood name who read the script said yes but their representatives had serious doubts about whether the film could be made on the budget and were worried for the artist’s safety. I was only confirmed in the role three weeks before the shoot so there was a lot of anticipation and anxiety waiting in the wings. It turned out that Howard had already booked me a flight six months before!
What were your first thoughts after reading the script?
I absolutely loved the script, my heart was pounding and I was deeply moved. My experience of reading for the first time was quite complex because on the one hand I was reacting and experiencing the story and on the other hand I was filled with the possibility of playing Lisa and the likelihood of not. I felt elated and sick to my core at the same time.
What was it like to play such a physically demanding role like Lisa?
I love being physically active and I have always been fit. I think one of the reasons Howard was thinking of me for the role was that he needed an actress who not only had the acting skills but also the physical power and dexterity. I loved playing a role that was physically demanding and it made me feel alive. As soon as I knew about the project, I increased my physical training. Then, 5 weeks before we started filming, even though I wasn’t actually confirmed in the role yet, I started to train intensely – between 2-3 hours a day. My training was role-specific so naturally I boxed, did combat, weight training and a lot of running! I was so lucky that at the 5 week mark my boxing teacher Steve Cole let me train with him daily as well as doing PT with him; I also had great combat teachers and an amazing physio, Liz Robson, so between them they helped me to be ready. I felt so supported by them.
What was the most difficult scene to shoot?
I don’t think there was any particular scene that was difficult to shoot from the perspective of the character. The difficulty I experienced was one of fatigue and pressure. The shoot was intense. It was guerrilla filming so lots of uncertainty and ever changing goalposts. Sometimes we would have very little time in a location and had to get it right first time. Sometimes we shot into the early hours of the morning having started at sunrise the previous day. There were a couple of days when I was exhausted and having to summon up the energy, the right thought processes and emotions at the right time to honour Lisa was a huge challenge. I was really touched when Joseph Milson, the lead in Howard’s last movie ‘The Dead II’ (he is amazing in it so if you haven’t seen it get down to Asda, I believe it’s still the shops!) grabbed me after the first screening and said that he understood how difficult it would have been for me to do what I did with Lisa under the circumstance of the shoot. He had been through a similar process and was probably the only person who truly understood. I really appreciated him sharing that with me.
What was your favourite scene to shoot?
That’s hard to choose. I relished playing Lisa, it was such a fantastic opportunity to really use my craft as an actor. I particularly enjoyed the scenes where there were lots of moving parts and the bystanders were part of the action. Those scenes had a more theatrical quality to them. The onlookers became part of the story as well as a live audience and you never know how they are going to behave. It gave it another dimension to the scenes and you feel the shared experience of a live audience. It also means that your focus had to be even more refined. In one scene I was waiting in character in the street and a man came up to me and started telling me he had worked for a film company and really wanted to engage with me in conversation. I was about to run into a high emotion scene and was already in character. I had to helicopter above myself as Lisa, speak as Angela to him trying to explain that I would love to talk but that I am about to do something really important and had to focus, whilst still being poised as Lisa in the pursuit of my child. It was a little surreal.
Did you receive any training prior to shooting?
As well as the physical fitness I was also wanted Lisa to look credible as an FBI operative. I drew upon my experience of working with and meeting MOD and people from the Special Forces. Dan Rickard was my on set authority with the gun handling, Glen Salvage and Alexandra Octavia, both of whom are martial arts experts, choreographed and talked me through the fight moves so I was in very good hands. I was really pleased that one of the cast members who works in security and knows a lot of ‘Lisas’ in the real world said I nailed it. You never quite know whether you’ve got it right.
What was it like to work with Howard J. Ford?
I loved working with Howard. He is a rare combination of exceptional talent and a thoroughly decent human being. He is great at having a clear vision whilst at the same time allowing others to bring their creativity to the table. He built a very close-knit team. At times we were so connected that there was no need for words. In those moments we were just completely in the flow and you really feel that when it happens. It’s something very special. Watching Howard create this film was like witnessing alchemy. People would be staggered by how ‘Never Let Go’ was pulled out of the hat.
Howard J. Ford is famous for shooting his films in exotic locations. It must have been a rough shoot, what was your experience like?
I’m not sure I would use the word ‘rough’ but it was certainly tough! I have backpacked a lot in exotic locations by myself. I am used to ‘roughing’ it and putting myself in extreme situations so I was well prepared. It was very hot so doing anything, let alone running [which I do a lot of] in 35-40 degree heat is exhausting. In the location a lot of the buildings are made of adobe – mud and brick – and so scrambling about on and jumping off rooftops was precarious and sometimes a little frightening. Also running barefoot in dirty, cobbled streets was difficult to do with speed and conviction. You don’t know what’s underfoot and you don’t have the stability you get from shoes. Luckily I only got glass in my foot once.
Why should our readers check out Never Let Go?
I think NLG is very special. It has all the suspense and the thrill of the chase of its’ better founded counterparts. What makes NLG stand out is that it also lets us see and experience the myriad of emotions that a mother might go through if her child is taken. It takes us on a roller coaster ride of the unthinkable. What would you do if someone took your child and no-one believed you? She is strong and resilient but she is also vulnerable. I think that vulnerability helps the audience to go on the journey with her despite of some of the drastic actions she takes. It is a low budget movie and there are things that we didn’t manage to shoot because of that but we all put our heart and soul into it and audiences feel that.
I am thrilled to be working with Jon Ford, Howard’s Brother, on his next feature film ‘Tooth ‘N Nail’ which shoots in September. I also have a lead role in indie feature ‘Homeless Ashes’ with Marc Zammit which I’m really looking forward to. I’m curious to see what opportunities NLG may open up for me in the future. I would love to work on more great roles in feature films and wouldn’t it be great to get a lead role in a gritty American TV series? I’m excited about what the future may hold and I’m ready for it.
Brilliant. Thank you for your time today Angela. I wish you and Howard all the best for the upcoming sold out screening of Never Let Go at Film4 FrightFest.
Words: Jon Dickinson (@marvelguy)