EXCLUSIVE: Kelly Noonan Mines Heroic Role in ‘Beneath’

Front Row Features

Joey Kern and Kelly Noonan in ‘Beneath.’ ©IFC Films. CR: Sye Williams Photography.

Joey Kern and Kelly Noonan in ‘Beneath.’ ©IFC Films. CR: Sye Williams Photography.

HOLLYWOOD—Kelly Noonan is an up and coming actress who is athletic, beautiful, smart (she graduated from magna cum laude from UCLA) and full of energy. She’s also full of surprises. Reached by phone on a recent weekday afternoon, she reveals she is on her way to opening day at the Del Mar race track, just south of Los Angeles.

Noonan isn’t a regular at the track. In fact, she says this is her first time, even though she grew up in nearby Long Beach.

When I suggest she may have beginner’s luck that day, she enthusiastically responds, “That’s what I’m hoping for.”

Noonan has been making her own luck in show business for the past eight years. The daughter of an airplane pilot, she grew up the younger of two children. After doing some modeling as a child, she focused her attention on academics and sports.

Tall, blond, with mischievous brown eyes, she paid her dues early in her career appearing in short films and doing guest starring roles on TV shows including “Lost,” “CSI: NY” and “The New Girl.”

Noonan made her feature film debut in 2011’s “Big Chill”-ish “10 Years,” in which she co-starred with Channing Tatum, Chris Pratt and Rosario Dawson, as former classmates who discover they haven’t changed much since high school.

The actress is now the star of a new psychological thriller/horror film called “Beneath.” She plays a coal miner’s daughter (they joke about it in the movie), who returns home from the big city where she is an environmental lawyer to visit her father (Jeff Fahey). He is about to retire after decades working the dangerous job. At a celebration on the eve of his last day of work, she insists on joining dad in the mine.

The next day starts out uneventful as Samantha joins the men underground, but not before one of them points out it’s bad luck for a woman to be in the mine. Things go OK for a while 600 feet below the earth’s surface until a collapse sends survivors scrambling to a safety pod. As she and the others wait to be rescued, they start hearing noises outside the pod and, of course, have to investigate, in the dark, claustrophobic passages of the underground mine.

Samantha, the only non-miner, soon finds herself taking a leadership role in trying to find a way out for her father and the others, while trying to evade some dark, evil force that is attacking them.

Q: What was the appeal for you? You’re all grimy, sweaty and scared throughout. Was that it?

Noonan: Yeah! I grew up a tomboy. I had an older brother and I had a crush on all of his friends so I was always trying to hang out with the big boys so I related to Samantha right away. She’s tough and educated and smart and she has something to prove to all the men in her life. So I really liked the character right away, and I liked how the script—it’s based on true events—makes you think. It’s not your typical horror movie. Is it psychological? Is it paranormal? But I loved that aspect to it. Those are the types of movies I like to see. I’m not a big horror fan but I will go see a psychological thriller that makes you go “What? What’s happening?”

Q: Did you look up the story on which this account is based?

Noonan: It was taken from a couple different events, so we just talked about, the director (Ben Ketai) and I, with the group. We researched different collapses and stuff. The producers put together some videos for us to watch about the history of mine collapses, so we got a little backstory.

Q: Were you familiar with Ben’s previous work on the “30 Days of Night” sequels and “Chosen?”

Noonan: I wasn’t. I’m not a huge horror fan or zombie fan. But I’d heard of his last project was related to that. At the same time, when I spoke with the producers and the casting director, I had auditioned with before a million times, just loved Ben, and so I was excited. After I met him, I was excited to work with him. He was amazing, talented, passionate and super-brilliant. I hope he gets a lot of success from this directly.

Q: You join a small but illustrious list of female movie heroines, like Sigourney Weaver in “Alien,” trying to lead a group of guys out of a dangerous situation. Was it appealing to play this type of heroine onscreen?

Noonan: Thank you! Any comparison to Sigourney Weaver and “Alien” is the best compliment I could receive in my life. Usually, in a horror movie, the girl is on the phone oblivious to what’s going on behind her. And you (as an audience member) wants to say, “No, turn around! You stupid girl, turn around!” And they never do, and they’re the first to get whacked. So, of course, I love the fact that she’s strong and she kind of finds her strength and heroism as the story unfolds. That was awesome.

Q: What was more challenging for you: the emotional journey she goes through the physical feats you had to do?

Noonan: The emotional and the fear and the breathing, that was definitely more challenging than the physical stuff. I’m an athlete. We had a stuntwoman there but a lot of the time, I like doing my own stunts and I have a little history in fight choreography and stuff, so that stuff is fun and easy for me. It’s painful later, but in the heat of the moment, and the adrenaline is racing, you don’t feel the bruises happening, but to try and stay real and grounded but terrified, that’s a challenge and it takes a lot out of you mentally and physically, so that was definitely more challenging.

Q: One of the most intense scenes is when you’re squeezing through a narrow passage and you get caught up on something. How was it shooting that scene? Did you feel claustrophobic shooting it?

Noonan: Yeah. It was interesting, when we first did it, we did a chemistry read in room, Joey (Kern, who plays one of the trapped miners) and I, when we were auditioning. That was the scene that they choose for us to recreate. We both kind of manufactured that feeling of claustrophobia for the producers and the director and they were like, “OK, that’s believable.” And then when we were actually doing it, it was easier to manufacture the feelings when you have the walls caving in on you. But after about five takes, I said, “I gotta get out of here. I’m literally panicking and getting claustrophobic.” It definitely felt real with the dirt coming down off the roof and being in a closed space and the camera right there and there’s no way out. So I was like, “I gotta take a break! I gotta get it.” So I was actually claustrophobic after about 20 minutes.

Q: Were there any mishaps on the set? Any cuts or bruises running around and jumping over things?

Noonan: Oh yeah, we definitely got bruises. There was one scene where we were opening the rescue chamber and it had gotten damaged and we discovered that Brent Brisco (playing a miner) was gone, and Joey is supposed to drop the oxygen tank that we’ve been carrying back, so we’re all exhausted and loosing oxygen and he’s like I’m going to drop the oxygen tank, so move out of the way so it doesn’t land on your toe.” And the director reminded me and then in the scene, you’re not thinking about the oxygen tank. You’re thinking about what you’re doing in the moment as an actor, and he totally dropped this, like, 60-pound oxygen tank on my toe. And there were things like that. It was an intense scene with people pushing and fighting, so there were definitely cuts and bruises, but it was all well worth it.

Q: You’re athletic, but would you go inside a cave or shaft?

Noonan: (She laughs.) I definitely would not go into a mine, especially after making this film. That does not appeal to me. I don’t know. I like adventure. I don’t like tight spaces though. I’d just as soon climb a mountain than climb down into a mountain. I’d rather go to the top, stay outside.

Q: If you could map out your career at this point, what would you do?

Noonan: It’s funny. My agent and I were talking after we wrapped and I was like, “I definitely need a break for two weeks, and I just want to do comedies after this!” because it was so emotionally taxing. It was really traumatic trying to stay grounded and terrified for four fast weeks, but I think comedies would be great. I love comedies but comedies are difficult but a lot of fun. If I could choose my next project, it would be a comedy. I just produced my first film, which happened to be a comedy, but I only have a small role in it. I wanted to focus on producing it, so we’ll see how that does.

Q: What’s it called?

Noonan: It’s called “Cookin.’” It’s a spoof on the “Taken” franchise and other Liam Neeson movies. I think it’s very funny and commercial, and it’s in the vein of the old school spoof films like “Airplane!” and “Naked Gun,” that kind of humor. We’ll have something to show in a few months, probably.