INTERVIEW Charisma Carpenter On Psychosis

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The Buffy and Angel star talks about her toplining role in a British psychological horror. She also reveals the truth about those Wonder Woman rumours…

Charisma Carpenter has nabbed herself a lead role in Brit horror film Psychosis , directed by Reg ( Joy Division ) Traviss. Since her days as Cordelia, the high school bitch who became the straight-talking heroine who had to keep a certain broody vampire in line, in Buffy and Angel , she had a bewildering variety of roles in TV shows such as Veronica Mars , Charmed and Legend Of The Seeker and appeared alongside Jason Statham and Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables among other films. SFX met her in London this week for a chat about her Psychosis role as a newly-wed American crime writer called Susan who relocates from California to the rural English countryside in search of peace in an idyllic, remote sanctuary. Soon after settling in Susan is unnerved by disturbances in her picturesque manor house and unsettling encounters with her creepy neighbours. Before long her dream of tranquillity unfolds into a nightmare as reality and delusion transcend into one and Susan is pushed to the point of madness. Psychosis , which also features ex-model Paul Sculfor and former Darkness lead singer Justin Hawkins, is out on DVD from Monday 19 July.

SFX : So how did you become involved in a low budget British horror?

CC: “You know it' s funny. My agent also represents Paul Sculfor, who was cast in the film. I don't know if the producers asked for me or if my agent jumped on it and said, ‘I think Charisma would be good for this.’ Anyway, whatever the case may be, I was soon on the phone to Reg [Traviss, director], I read the script, and loved it.”

SFX : What appealed to you?

“It was the range of things that I would have to play in the movie. And as an actor you always want to use your chops. It was the first time that I’ve worked on a film – or on television for the most part because it’s so fast – where I got to learn what I practised in acting school. I hadn't actually ever been able to do that before. I was actually able to prepare and get emotionally ready, and do all that. Susan had this mental breakdown in the past, which you never see in the film, but that really colours everything about the character. Because of her history, her credibility has been lost a little bit, in terms of, ‘Is she sane? Is she not sane?’ And it's frustrating for her, because she’s really bright. A great writer. So there was really so much to do in the film, and I just thought I'd love to get into that.”

“The scene that scared me the most was when I got drugged in the film. Because I've never done those sorts of things – psychedelics or mushrooms or anything. So I was like, ‘Reg, what has it got to be like? I don't know.’

SFX : You could have asked Justin Hawkins…

“I met him. But I didn’t get to know him. We didn’t really work together in any scenes. The drug scene was with Ricci [Harnett]. He was very helpful. Why Justin?”

SFX : He has a bit of a, um, reputation over here. All in his past, I’m sure

[Laughs] “Well it's rock and roll baby.”

SFX : Tell us more about the drug scene

“I was being sedated and hallucinating. And I've never done anything like that before. She's at dinner with this person she doesn't trust, doesn't like. I'm trying to give him the benefit of the doubt because my husband says he's okay, but in my heart, I’m not comfortable with it. And he drugs me. And it makes me warm and fuzzy, and relaxed and sexy… And we end up getting it on!

“So how does she go from one extreme, to the other? And I was talking to Reg about it last night and he said, 'That is probably my favourite thing that I have ever filmed so far.' And that means a lot, because Joy Division was quite epic I hear.”

SFX : What was Reg Traviss like as a director, compared to say, Sylvester Stallone on The Expendable? Was it a very different experience?

“The way Reg directs is very different. He’s very proper. He changes shoes more often that I do! He's a bit fastidious. Very dapper. Very pristine. Everything is just so. And when he directs, he is extremely gentle, very happy to explain, take his time with you.

“And that was very different to The Expendables . Not that Sly didn't take his time with me. We spent a lot of time in his trailer the day before talking about it, and kind of getting to know each other as well. But with Reg, everything is very formal, and tender and generous, while when I was on set on The Expendables it was all, 'Go! Go! Go!' Completely different, kind of like last minute.

“The way Reg would prepare things was very different – he storyboarded the whole movie, so he knew how the movie was going to be shot. He was editing the movie as we were going along. He gave me the storyboard. He worked very hard at communicating what's in his head. He just knows what he wants and he knows when he has it. I had to trust him a lot of the time. ‘I didn't like that. Can we do it again?' 'No, we got it.' That happened a couple of times. ’That wasn't right. I didn't like that. It was too bitchy,’ or, 'It had too much edge on it.' And he goes, 'You know what, I think it works.' And I had to go, ‘I digress!'

“With Sly you were racing against time – against the sun coming up, or the sun going down. I would have probably have been pulling my hair out as a cinematographer, because on a dime things would change. He would have an idea or a vision and it was just spontaneous. ‘You know what, we're going to do this scene on the move!’

“I had a very specific idea of how this one scene in The Expendables was going to go, based on my audition with Jason [Statham] . So for eight weeks to three months, I had the scene one way in my mind. Then we go to rehearsal and it’s, ‘You know what, we’re going to walk and talk on this one. He’s gonna run, and you’re gonna chase him, and then we’re going to do this… Don't be scared!’ So everything was like, boom, boom, boom.

“So it’s methodical versus being able to change on the spot. Who’s to say one way's better than the other?”

SFX : Your character in Psychosis is a horror writer. Did you read a lot of horror to get in the mood?

“I'm not method! That doesn’t mean you don't have your own way of preparing. I think, though, in terms of getting inside her head, I didn't need to read the kind of novels she wrote. I think Buffy and Angel and being around Joss was enough research into that area to last me a life.”

SFX : Talking of Joss, what was the truth behind those internet rumours connecting you to the role of Wonder Woman when he was set to direct it?

“I asked him. And I was really campaigning hard for the part. And Joel Silver was producing Veronica Mars at the time – which I was guesting on – and he was going to produce Wonder Woman . So I saw Joss at the mall, and I was like, ‘I really want to do Wonder Woman!’ Then he said he concept, and his concept was more of a Wonder Girl, which makes sense because you want a franchise. So my hopes were dashed. But it's not in his hands any more anyway!”