By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—When she was only a toddler, Sarah Wayne Callies recalls battening down the hatches in her home for Hurricane Eva in her native Hawaii. She and her grandmother—her parents were out of town—filled the bathtub with water (in case the storm damaged the water pipes), taped up the windows, put on their boots, put the mattresses on the floor and waited.
“I just stood with my face pressed against the window watching the clouds that were moving so unbelievably fast,” recalls the actress. “That was the first time I was aware of being awed by nature, and recognizing that we live on the back of this gentle giant that allows us to survive out of either good will or indifference. But when Mother Nature decides to muster her power, there’s nothing we have that comes close.”
Having made it through that and another hurricane became a handy reference point for Callies, now an accomplished actress best known for her three seasons as Lori on “The Walking Dead,” who now plays a woman struggling to survive catastrophic tornadoes in “Into the Storm.”
She stars alongside Matt Walsh (“Ted”), Arlen Escarpeta (“Final Destination: 5”) and Max Deacon (“Hatfields & McCoys”) as a group of storm chasers who get more than they bargained for when they wind up in a middle of a swarm of deadly tornadoes. They are joined by a high school vice principal (Richard Armitage), who along with his younger son, is searching for his missing other son, after the first deadly tornado strikes. Steven Quayle, who directed “Final Destination 5,” directs the disaster drama from a script written by John Swetnam.
Callies was just finishing up her work on “The Walking Dead,” when she began production on “Into the Storm,” which makes previous weather-based movies look like gentle thundershowers. Playing Allison, a meteorologist who is a single mom, she is determined to survive so she can make it home to her five-year-old son.
Q: Was this the first major thing you did after “The Walking Dead?”
Callies: Yeah, in fact I did it right after “The Walking Dead.” They’ve been posting this movie for close to a year and a half. So I actually shot this during season three of “The Walking Dead,” between my character’s death and the reappearances.
Q: You were pretty busy at that point.
Callies: Yeah, and have been ever since, thank goodness.
Q: During the tornado sequences, when things are flying through the air, did you get hit with debris?
Callies: Yeah. You realize something coming at you at 100 mph, no matter what it is, it’s going to sting. It’s going to leave a mark. (Sarcastically) Actors suffer so much when we make movies. It’s amazing and fun.
Q: Have you been through a tornado?
Callies: What’s really funny is during Comic-Con, I went through dozens of interviews and at every single one of them I said I hadn’t been through a tornado. And my husband called me the next day and he said he’d been watching some of the interviews and was wondering why I didn’t mention Tuscaloosa, where we ran into a tornado in 2011. I had completely blocked it out. Even when we were shooting the movie, I didn’t think about it. It was so scary that my brain just put it in a box and shoved it to the back of the attic. And it wasn’t until my husband reminded me that I remember being stuck in that thing.
Q: So you don’t remember much about it?
Callies: No, now it’s like a super HD memory. I still remember the way the steering wheel felt. What struck me about it when it happened in real life and the thing that I thought was so cool that Steve got it in the movie, is that it can go from a beautiful day to a jet-black sky and wall of rain faster than you think is possible
Q: Both Allison and Lori, your character that you played on “The Walking Dead,” are survivor-types. Do they reflect your own personality?
Callies: I’m definitely drawn to stories that explore the boundaries of who we are when all the normal stuff goes away because it’s such an interesting question. None of us know whom we’re going to be when the sirens go off. In terms of the difference between Lori and Allison, Lori is a woman whose work is as a wife and mother is in the home. She’s a very intuitive woman and everything is gut and heart. Allison is a single working mom, which means I think means as so many of us do, although thankfully I have an amazing partner, but as so many working mother’s feel, there’s this constant pull between trying to achieve excellence professionally and feeling always you should be spending more time at home with your children. Allison is a woman who very much is torn, but also in her head quite a bit. She’s an intellectual so her approach to things is to think them through rather than to react from her gut.
Q: You have two young children. Is there ever a stretch when you’re away from them for a long time?
Callies: I try to bring them with me to the extent that I can, but it’s a tough one. This used to be a business where if you lived in New York or L.A., you could count on working in New York or L.A. But it’s changing a lot, and it’s part of why I’ve got two scripts in development right now as a writer. Part of that’s because I can write from home. I’m trying to craft a career as a storyteller without having to be on location. My family came to Detroit for a minute. But they looked around and didn’t stay long. (She laughs.)
Q: Did you have a favorite disaster movie before “Into the Storm?”
Callies: I love “Twister.” It’s awesome, not because of the tornado, but because that’s an amazing cast of people and that movie was so fun. That’s what works about “Twister.” With any movie like this, the effects are going to be outdated really fast. So, if you don’t have a story about people that sustains the movie, then there’s no movie anymore. Steve got that. We all got that. It’s all about the relationships. The thing I liked about “Into the Storm” is, from the perspective of my character and Richard (Armitage’s) character, it’s a story about people who begin the day as strangers and 12 hours later they are almost family. It’s about the way crisis forges intimacy in a way that almost nothing else does. Again, it’s whom you are when the sirens go off.
Q: Your character Allison is proactive and knows when to take charge. Can you connect with her in that way?
Callies: I think we all hope that we are. I think it’s very difficult to tell until we’re actually in the middle of it. The closest I can probably come—I was just in India shooting a movie and we had an actor slip and fall and he broke his arm and leg. I was one of the first people to make it over to him. It was on a day off. None of us were on set. I made my way over to him and he was in a lot of pain. I had an interesting moment of clarity where I realized that everyone standing around was scared and they needed to participate in some way in making him feel better. I just started giving people jobs. I sent someone for towels and I sent someone else for ice. I sent someone else to get the medic. I sent another person to get another member of the crew that spoke the language of injured actor. It was a moment of recognizing that everyone has an impulse to help, but a lot of people don’t know how to do that. It was just about making everyone feel they were part of the process of helping this guy get better.
Q: You did a little bit of wirework in this. Was it fun?
Callies: Oh yeah. The harness isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world. I don’t understand, anatomically, how men wear them. But I’m not a guy, so I got away with that. I studied aerial arts for three years in grad school and did a lot of trapeze work and stuff, so I’ve always wanted to do that kind of wirework in acting. It takes the acting out of it. Your body takes over. You don’t have to think about it anything. You’re upside down in the rain and the wind. Hold on. That’s the only thing you can do.
Q: After fending off zombies and going through severe twisters, what real life crisis situation are you equipped to handle now?
Callies: You can kill a walker. You can’t stop a tornado. That’s why people keep making movies like this because there’s something fundamentally terrifying about that. You can’t protect your children. As somebody with kids, there’s nothing more fundamentally frightening than the idea of the sirens going off, not with your kids. I’ll take on piles of the undead any day over that! And I’ll make sure that (“Walking Dead” co-star) Norman Reedus is with me with a crossbow and lots of arrows. (She laughs.)