Actress Lora Burke Discusses ‘Poor Agnes’ and the Challenges of Playing A Serial Killer
Lora Burke is an actress whose latest film Poor Agnes is now in release. We recently had the chance to talk with her about the film and what it took to play the challenging part. Here’s what she had to say.
Hello and thank you for talking with us. Let’s start with you. Tell us … who is Lora Burke?
I am a small-town girl from the North-West of England who came to Canada 6 years ago to chase love and my dream of performing on screen! People ask if I watch a lot of horror films, and I’m embarrassed to say I can’t because they scare the crap out of me.
You’re latest film in release is Poor Agnes, a twisted little thriller about a female serial killer who’s moved on to kidnapping and torture. Tell us about what it took to ‘become’ Agnes.
I came at the role intellectually. First I did as much research as I could about serial killers: I read articles, case files, watched interviews. YouTube is a great resource for actors nowadays. I wanted to try and get an understanding of the minds of these people, what makes them tick, their social behaviours etc. As I was forming the character, I had a very helpful sit-down with our director (Navin Ramaswaran) and writer (James Gordon Ross). We discussed how Agnes came to be at the start of the film. With all that in mind, I started playing around with physicality and voice. It wasn’t until we arrived in Thunder Bay and got into Agnes’ house that things really just clicked into place. The set was definitely the final puzzle or should I say ‘Poezl’ piece … sorry, couldn’t resist that one!
Let’s get into the mind of this woman. She’s clearly a sociopath, and the film purposefully avoids any deep backstory and I don’t think we are ever meant to really feel sympathy for her, as compelling as she is. What was your goal with the character?
I like that we don’t get Agnes’ backstory. It was the goal of the producers to get the audience questioning her motivations. Did something happen to Agnes that she does these despicable things? Is she just this way? I found it really interesting to work with the character because she has so much control over the narrative from the beginning. It’s her point of view, she knows she has a hold on the audience, she’s already in control and playing the audience right from the get-go. Agnes only giving them what she wants to give. In terms of character goals, I wanted Agnes to be crudely likeable, but not in the way of the audience feeling sympathy for her. My aim with the physicality of the Agnes was to make her intriguing, where the audience finds themselves laughing at her dark humour – even though they know they shouldn’t. It’s all apart of Agnes’ charm, she makes you believe in her even when she’s doing horrible things. The challenge was creating room in the performance so that audience can still root for her at the end – even though you’ve seen how horrible she is. At the end of day the audience has to spend 90 mins with Agnes – there had to be something about her that keeps us on this journey.
With that in mind, how much freedom did you have in developing Agnes outside of James Gordon Ross’ script?
The whole process was very collaborative between myself, James and Navin. James gave me so much to work with in in the script, and the team was incredibly supportive of my input and they trusted my instincts. When I was in front of the camera Navin made it easy for me to explore the character. I was lucky to have a lot of freedom and input into the artistic development of Agnes.
I’ve read where actors who take on such harrowing characters, such as Charlize Theron in Monster and even Jim Carrey in Man On The Moon, become deeply affected by what it means to become the subject. How was this for you? How did you ‘escape’ Agnes when it was over? Or did you even have to?
Ha – I’m a very sensitive soul. Normally when I’m working with a character who’s been going through a lot, it does come home with me. I find it hard to shake that character for a while. Knowing this I was a little apprehensive about that with Agnes. I found myself coming back to our cast/crew house at the end of the day feeling nothing at all. I started questioning myself- “maybe I’m not doing enough, why is this not affecting me?” At some point during the shoot realized I was bringing Agnes home with me – that nothingness I felt was Agnes, she feels “nothing.” Agnes is void of all human empathy – a perfect sociopath. And while it was uncomfortable to realize where I went, I didn’t try to ‘escape’ it. I acknowledged it, and with the support of the rest of the cast was able to express that void creatively.
On the flip side of that, honestly, was there any fun in portraying Agnes? Many of us want to be ‘bad’ sometimes, as evidenced by the popularity of many certain video games and violent movies. Did you have any ‘fun’ with this?
Oh God yes! So much fun. Maybe a little too much – maybe I should be worried? From childhood society ingrains us to be polite, say please and thank you, treat others with respect, think about the feelings of others. While playing Agnes I got to take that society rule-book and throw it out the window! Agnes says and does whatever the heck she wants, whenever the heck she wants – which I found extremely liberating. If you put the killing and torturing aside for a – we could all take a page out of Agnes’ book in terms of being completely honest and true to ourselves and others. We’re always so worried about what other people think that we never truly are our selves, Agnes sure isn’t. I admire that.
You spend most of the film with Robert Notman, who plays Mike, the man you kidnap and torture. You have to build a certain kind of relationship off-screen, I’m sure, to build the trust it takes to do what you both do. Tell us about working with him.
Oh, Rob? He’s boring as hell. I’m absolutely kidding. Rob is so great, he is extremely witty and intelligent. He’s so damn fast with his one-liners it’s a little infuriating! He was definitely the comic-relief on set, which was needed working with such heavy material. We met up a couple of times prior to filming, but then when we got to Thunder Bay we pretty much got thrown in at the deep end, so I was extremely grateful that Rob is such an easy-going guy, I would love to work with him again.
How about a moment of insight into the making of such a movie. Could you share with us maybe a personal story about filming Poor Agnes?
Not sure that this is very insightful…maybe insightful into my mind…during the scene that Agnes throws petrol on Mike, poor Rob was freezing cold, filthy and had been sat on the dirty basement floor for a few hours, and as the good friend that I am, when throwing the ‘petrol’ on him I made sure to throw that first big splash right into his unsuspecting face with all the force I could muster, just to add to his comfort levels, I think he thought he I was just going to shake a little over his head – I told him it was an Agnes decision, it was part Agnes part Lora, maybe more Lora… he was a good sport.
So what’s next for you? Anything coming soon fans can keep their eyes on?
I’m going to be working with the producers of Poor Agnes on their next feature, filming Summer 2018, it’s a psychological-based thriller/horror with an epidemic element, it’s got a feel of The Shining about it, it’s going to be a big challenge for me, I’m very excited to be brought on for the project. And I have just been cast in a feature film called Lifechanger directed by Justin McConnell we go to camera in November, I play a woman who has lived a hard and tragic life, who unknowingly becomes the object of a shape-shifters affection. I’m looking forward to playing another strong female role, she’s completely different to Agnes, in that I’m really going to have to explore some raw emotion.
We devote a lot of content on our website to discussing great moments in movies and their influence on cinema. What is your favorite moment in Poor Agnes and are there any other movie moments from other films that have influenced you?
Hmmmm … one of my favorite moments in Poor Agnes is right after she tries to assault Mike with the baseball bat, the shot is an overhead shot of them rolling out of their scuffle, Agnes is so amused by Mike, and Robs’ face is just pure shock and horror as he groans in agony … maybe I shouldn’t, but I find it hilarious. Oh boy, any other movie moments, so many … you’re making me think here … okay, not sure that this one had an influence on cinema, but it sure had an influence on me- there is a scene in Zero Dark Thirty, when Jessica Chastain lays into her CIA boss played by Kyle Chandler. Chastain (as Maya) comes at him guns blazing and annihilates him; her performance is so passionate she looks like she’s about to explode. I remember watching that for the first time and thinking … “Wow! I wanna do that – that’s the kind of character I want to play, and with that much fire in my belly.”
Thanks so much for talking with us. We wish you the best of luck with Poor Agnes and expect a lot of doors will be opening for you soon.
That’s very kind. Thank you, and thanks for your support of the film.