"It was a washing machine of absolute madness." Lily Sullivan on Monolith, Evil Dead Rise and podcasts

“It was a washing machine of absolute madness.” Lily Sullivan on Monolith, Evil Dead Rise and podcasts

Lily Sullivan tells us about becoming part of the fantasy, sci-fi and horror world with Evil Dead Rise and her new sci-fi thriller Monolith.

Directed by Matt Velsey, Monolith follows a disgraced journalist (played by Evil Dead Rise’s Lily Sullivan) who tries to salvage her career by turning to investigative podcasting. While trying to get to the bottom of a strange artefact shaped like a black brick that may be linked to an alien conspiracy, she begins to uncover the truth and lies at the heart of her own story.

Sullivan’s character isn’t given a name and is the only character on-screen for the entire movie, so we had to sit down with her to speak about the movie’s filming process and whether she’s a podcast fan herself…

How did you first get involved with Monolith?

I just finished Evil Dead Rise and then Matt [Vesely, director], Bettina [Hamilton, producer] and Lucy [Campbell, writer] jumped on a call, and it was a very fun dance from the beginning!

The experience itself was going to be intense and quite, um, potentially traumatic. Lucy Campbell is just so brilliant. The script was so tight and so beautifully written. And Matt, who’s such a great director, and just so specific and lives in the edit. Once I read the script I was terrified, and then I met them and I was like, this is a challenge of a lifetime! Will I do it again? Probably not but let’s go!

How do you go about choosing a role?

I feel like after I read a script, it’s the director and cinematographer and how much they live in the edit, I really love it because then that becomes a really fun relationship between a director and DOP and actor.

But for me, after I finish a certain project, I’m always about changing it up. I was doing lots of costume dramas and period films – which were really fun – and then felt like fantasy and then took a step into horror. It just becomes really exciting to palate cleanse after a job.

Even now, entering the sci-fi, thriller and horror world, which I’m such a junkie for, and being able to learn behind the scenes, I’m just so deeply obsessed with the intense collaboration of departments and pulling off gags and just being grown ups but also absolutely children on set. Just trying to entertain people and spook people and keep them engrossed and tell them a story that unsettles them, I’m just so about it. No boring boyfriend-girlfriend chat. Just give me arguments and give me a chainsaw or a black brick and I’ll do some odd things!

After Evil Dead Rise and now Monolith, Lily Sullivan is firmly part of the sci-fi, fantasy and horror space… and she’s loving it!

How would you describe your character? She’s never given a name…

I gave her a name for myself because I just needed this for myself! Because the film just has that audio base and you start small within her and you start within the voice and very close up, it was just creating this isolation and this observational, like fly on the wall sense and just not allowing you to be with her fully and to empathise. It was just making you sit and observe someone’s choices.

I think just sitting and watching someone in this sort of selfish state and descent to madness… it was just fun to not try to warm up the audience. We’re not trying to win them over in that way, which is terrifying as an actor, because your whole thing is ‘am I likeable?’ or ‘do you want to watch me for this long?’ or ‘do you care if I die?’.

How do you play a character that is, arguably, pretty unlikable?

Whenever I’m finishing a movie, I’m like, you know what, I didn’t like them that much! I didn’t care if they died. It’s just so ruthless but for the character (who I named Charlie) who’s a self-loathing human that is just desperate to find a sense of self and sense… I don’t know if it comes from her immense privilege, this weird intense desire to pretend to seek truth and do something noteworthy with her life and exist online in this clickbait culture.

The way that I approached it is I just grabbed on to that ick feeling. That sick feeling that we all have or that I have, in regards to having a social media presence, or existing online and interacting online and talking to people through the phone or computer. It’s just that feeling of not being real, and having this wall and there’s this absolute detachment from who you are.

So, for me, I felt like she was the embodiment of that yuck. That a lot of us feel in a sense of being in an online world and a click world.

I almost felt sorry for her in the sense that there was this deep desire to just be something and do something noteworthy. So it was just to harness that in a really tunnel vision way.

Lily Sullivan harnessed on that ick factor when playing the character in Monolith, who’s never given a name…

Are there any podcasts that you listen to?

I often get stuck in music for so long and then you realise you haven’t learned anything for a while!

I obviously like Serial. I also love Marc Maron, who does great interviews with artists. And I like The Invisible Hand with Georgina Savage. And Smartless – any day I love that!

I always like true crime for an unsettling car drive – just staring on the highway and listening. The voices of all those true crime ones are always quite bizarre. You freak out halfway through the journey, and you’re like ‘what am I doing?!’ haha!

What was it like being the only character/actor on-screen for the whole movie?

It was so wild to strip back and not have another actor around. When the camera just stays on you, you can get quite easily anxious. But having Matt and Bettina and Lucy was so awesome and such fun because we had 14-15 days to shoot it.

I had to approach it like theatre in a sense and learn the script back to back because it was covering insane amounts of pages each day. And some shots we covered the whole scene with just one take of one angle.

It was a washing machine of absolute madness. You had no time to analyse and think about what you’re doing. You can’t be alone on camera like that for too long, it’s got to be a 15 day shoot. If it’s any longer, I feel like you actually start becoming a bit mad.

It feels like it’s on steroids really! Even now talking, I’m just looking at a white wall right now as I’m trying to have these thoughts conducting these interviews, and you would just get completely lost, staring at nothing. As an actor, you always pretend the camera’s not there, so by the end, I don’t think my eyes were focusing on anything. I couldn’t put things into focus after a while. I was just like ‘oh God, my vision, was I cross-eyed in that take?!’

Lily Sullivan is the only actor on screen for the whole movie, which got to be pretty tough.

There are some pretty intense moments in Monolith – and you’re completely by yourself in all these scenes – how did you go about psyching yourself up for those?

That was really awesome doing Evil Dead Rise – which was fully physical – and then going to Monolith, which was still fear-based, still anxiety-based and still had that fight-or-flight energy. What Evil Dead Rise taught me was there’s only so much you can do by reaction, trying to create the given circumstances in your head for the character. In the end I found [it best to do] push-ups or move my body around really fast or create energy through breath, as opposed to trying to imagine that I’m in this situation.

Weirdly, acting in the sci-fi and horror world, can become like dancing in a way. You can’t just stay in the mental fight or flight otherwise, you end up actually having a bit of a panic attack. Using exercise and movement as opposed to hyperventilating or fixating on something that terrifies you. It’s like carbonating energy, it’s really quite bizarre. It’s quite a new little journey I’m on after being in corset period dramas!

I got really quite buff by the end though, because I was always doing push-ups and Matt’s like ‘oh, she’s gotta do ten push-ups before this take’. I’m like, ‘Matt, I’m trying to feel something man!’

What do you want audiences to be thinking about by the end of Monolith?

I would say the power of being addicted to a quick clickbait world and an online presence and the power of wanting to have an opinion for other people and the power of words really. The power of editing and technology and that separation to human contact.

It’s just how weird shit can get.

Monolith is on UK and Ireland digital platforms from 26 February.

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