Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an Iranian vampire horror/romance which amalgamates so many different genres that it simply violates all existing laws of categorisation. Interestingly, the basic premise dawned on her when she tried on a chador that an extra was wearing on the set of a short film and she said it made her feel like a bat.
Given the film’s mind-blowingly unique personality, straight out of its Sundance premiere Amirpour found herself thrust under the spotlight with A-listers jumping at the chance to work with her. Already she’s hard at work on feature number two, The Bad Batch, which she describes as “a post-apocalyptic desert cannibal love story” starring Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey and Diego Luna.
With A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night releasing this Friday, 22 May in cinemas across the UK, SCREAM’s Howard Gorman caught up with the film’s leading “girl,” Sheila Vand, to find out just why Amirpour (a long-time friend) saw her as the perfect vampire and how she went about preparing her role as a centuries-old bloodluster skating around Bad City in a young girl’s body…
SCREAM: Ana Lily had you in mind as “The Girl” even before she put pen to paper. What do you think she saw in you for this role?
Sheila Vand: I like to think that I terrify her [laughs] but I think it’s more along the lines of “Sheila’s sad and lonely all the time so she’ll make a great alien vampire.” She said to me that she thinks I have a certain quality where I seem both young and old at the same time so I think that was a big thing for her. I do get that about myself too. I have a youthful spirit and although I feel kind of dumb calling myself a wise old soul, I think I am exactly that.
As nothing had been written, did she come to you for much input in terms of your character, particularly as you were “the chosen one”?
It’s all her really and I’m the kind of actress who will go as deep into a process as the director is willing to let me. Ana is very detail-oriented so I asked her a lot of questions about this girl but I’m not sure how much of that ended up in forming the character. We did have a lot of conversations but Ana is definitely the mother of this child. I think particularly the world and the love story were things that were clearly in her vision from the beginning.
Also there were things in the script that I wanted to know. I wanted to know what the girl’s name was because I just didn’t want that to be a question for me. It’s also so amazing how Ana works. In pre-production her house was just flooded with the film. There were storyboards everywhere and props and costume pieces. I went to her house one day and there was this 187 year-long timeline of the girl’s story all laid out. She also developed a lot of the back-story into graphic novels too so some of that is coming up.
You mentioned how detail-oriented Ana is. She created an amazingly elaborate background story. Was she so meticulous in terms of getting the cast to know the ins and outs of this girl’s extensive history?
Yes, she had us watch a lot of films. I watched Interview with a Vampire and I watched tonnes of YouTube videos of cats and snakes to develop her physicality. Animals in general, and particularly cats, are hyper-alert without being physically tense and it’s a very difficult balance to achieve so that was something I always wanted to bring to the girl. I wanted her to have a 360º vision where she could see things happening through her senses even if they were happening a few blocks away.
Talking of cats, I think the feline thespian in the film, Masuka, served as a kind of anchor to help you with your role.
It was very useful for me because I’d been watching so many videos of cats so it was great to have one on set that I could check in with whenever I felt lost. It’s always fun, to a certain degree, working with animals and babies because you can’t predict their behaviour and it creates a certain kind of electricity on the set.
And what about working with Arash Marandi? Did you work a lot behind the scenes with him to go over the girl’s background and to conjure up all this chemistry you share in the film?
I loved working with Arash. He is an actor from Germany and his background is from working in the theatre, like me, so we had a very similar process. We are both the kind of actors who love to talk about what’s going on in the scenes and like to have all our questions answered so it was great working with him.
In terms of the chemistry, we had a couple of rehearsals beforehand but a lot I think was just born out of the intensity of this particular set. We were all in this middle of nowhere town together and it was a very intense process and I think that really brought us all together.
Something that I adored was the soundtrack. Much of the score gives it that Spaghetti Western feel but there are some more modern tracks mixed in there, particularly the White Lies song, which I love. Did you speak to Ana much about the tone she was aiming for with her choice of music?
I think the music I listen to in the film was born out of part of the back-story. There is an era in the girl’s life in the ’70s and ’80s where she went on a killing spree and was on a blood high and was listening to tonnes of music and going to concerts and that was when she peaked on being a vampire and it kind of went downhill after that. I think all the music and the posters you see in my character’s room are from that era when she was out in the world, intermingling with people more.
And was the inclusion of the skateboard also related to that ’70s/’80s back-story or was it more to do with Ana having been a skater for years?
I’m not completely sure. I think that probably comes more from Ana herself as she’s always been into the skating culture. Back to the Future is also one of her favourite films so I guess it could also be a kind of homage to that too. It certainly felt like that to me anyway.
Given the particularly singular aesthetic and style of the film it must have been an eye-opening experience when you got to see the final cut.
It was so exciting because it is a film that is taking a lot of risks so you never knew how it was going to all come together until we got to see the final product but it is great and it was a big relief to see the finished film in the end.
Just to finish off, you have an interesting project coming up called Fun House which also stars Margot Robbie, Tina Fey, Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton.
Yeah, I just finished shooting that one. It was just so much fun and so challenging to switch gears into comedy. I’m also a huge fan of Tina Fey so I feel like I learned a lot just watching her work. I’m so excited for that film.
Thank you so much for speaking with us Sheila.
Not a problem and thank YOU so much for supporting the film.
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT is released in UK cinemas on May 22nd and we’ll leave you with the trailer to give you a taste of this, the first ever Iranian Vampire Western.
Words: Howard Gorman (@howardgorman)