The intense action-horror film Raze tells a story set in a modern day coliseum of sorts, where 50 women are condemned to kill each other, in order to protect their own loved ones. When Jamie (Rachel Nichols) wakes up after being abducted and finds herself in a concrete bunker, she realizes that she must fight fellow abductee Sabrina (Zoe Bell), in a bare-knuckle brawl to the death.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Rachel Nichols talked about how she got involved with this project, why Jamie was the character she ended up playing, how this was not her first time going head-to-head with experienced and accomplished stuntwoman/actress Zoe Bell, what it was like to do fight scenes in such a confined space, how much her role changed in the final film, gauging just how far they could push the violence, and how freeing it was to do the fight scenes in such a stripped down way. She also talked about her sci-fi TV series Continuum, currently shooting its third season, and what fans can expect. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
RACHEL NICHOLS: The director, Josh Waller, is a very, very dear friend of mine. I had met him years ago, when he was going to direct a movie that never ended up getting made. I met him at a general meeting, and we just became fast friends. It was one of those perfect meetings, and it turned into five hours. The movie never got made, but we had always wanted to work together. And then, this project came up. Originally, it was only going to be a web series. It was obviously a vehicle for Zoe Bell, who is dear friends with Josh, as well. So, Josh just called in a favor. He said, “Hey, would you be interested? I’m doing this thing, and you do a lot of action stuff. It’s just a web series.” And I went, “Sure, absolutely! I would love to work with you.” That’s how it started. I would do pretty much anything for Josh. I don’t think I’ve ever said no to him.
Was this always the character you would play? Was there ever talk about you doing any of the other, more sizable roles?
NICHOLS: I was leaving in the beginning of 2012 to shoot my TV show, Continuum. I basically had to do a role that they could shoot before I left, knowing that they wouldn’t be getting me back until June, if they needed me. So, Jamie was the one role that we could shoot. That was always a role in the script. Some of the other roles weren’t really created, at the time that we were shooting, because at that point, it was a web series. It turned into something bigger, later on. So, I actually shot everything before I left. We dismantled the whole set, after we shot my footage, ‘cause they weren’t ready to shoot the rest of the people yet. So, that was the only role I could have possibly played.
Before getting on set, were you nervous about going head-to-head with Zoe Bell?
NICHOLS: Well, Zoe hates when I tell this story, but I love to tell this story. Zoe Bell and I had gone head-to-head before, when I was on Alias. I was doing my first fight scene, ever, and we were on an oil rig, out in Santa Barbara. What a lot of people don’t know is that when the actor is fighting another actor, and one actor’s close-up, they’re usually fighting the double for the other actor, and vice versa. So, I was fighting Amy Acker’s double, who was Zoe Bell, at the time. It was getting late and things were going well, but I was wearing heels and I was on an oil rig. I ducked a punch, but I came up too early and Zoe clocked me in the face. It wasn’t her fault, at all. It was my fault. I was the one that messed up. But she had never hit anyone before, and she’s never hit anyone since. That was always the joke between us. We’d already gone for each other’s jugular, and I had lost. Zoe is not only extremely good at what she does, stunt wise, but she’s also super cool, she’s easy to be around, and she’s really fun. I was excited to work with her because I hadn’t seen her since Alias, and Josh had always spoken so highly of her. Of course, there are some crazy little accidents, here and there, but it’s all stuff that we’re used to, at this point.
NICHOLS: Once you know the space, it’s actually not so bad, or at least I didn’t find it so bad. You know the limits of what you can and can’t do. Obviously, we’re not going to be full-speed sprinting, or doing anything like that. But, Zoe has done this a lot. This is her career. And I have a lot of experience with fight scenes. Believe it or not, the dirt really helped because it made it soft and comfortable. I didn’t think I’d ever say that about dirt, but it also softened all the blows. You look at the setting you’re going to be in, and you just work from there. You know what you’ve got to work with, and you make the best of it.
Your character really sets up so much of the path this movie is going to take, but you have a very limited time to do that in. Was it difficult to convey so much of this character, in such a short amount of time?
NICHOLS: Yeah. I don’t know what they will have done with it, if anything, but there was actually a whole different thing that we shot, at the beginning, to set it up a little bit. I was working in an office, and I clearly was never going out on any dates. I was just working all the time, so my girlfriend set me up on Match.com. There was this funny little comedy bit, in the beginning. My best friend, that I work with, was actually very funny. We shot a full day of her and I in the office, and her talking about how I need to get out more and how I need to start dating. And then, she sets me up with Match.com, which is how I meet the guy who is actually the guy that abducts all the women. But, that part got taken out. It was hard to establish all of that, but most of what we did to establish it didn’t tonally work, so it got cut out.
NICHOLS: I trust Josh, and I trust Zoe. I knew that it was going to be brutal and aggressive. I’ve done my fair share of fight stuff. And I knew that there would be people who just thought it was misogynistic, over-the-top or anti-woman. You can’t please everybody, all the time. But knowing Josh personally, he’s not like that, at all. Josh is the biggest lover of women. He’s a big softy. He’s a sweetheart. I just wanted to go have fun, and that’s what we did. The final product is something we’re all really, really proud of. But, it’s not for everybody. My father will never watch this movie. That’s okay. It’s not for everybody, and that’s what we’ve always said. And then, there are some people that it was made for, and those are the people that really enjoy it.
This is the kind of movie where women will wonder if it’s too violent, and men will wonder if it’s violent enough.
NICHOLS: Yes, exactly! You can’t please everyone. I trust Josh to put out the best product and never buckle under any pressure from anyone. I didn’t worry that somehow it was going to be a total debacle, or not done well. I think it turned out fantastic. I really do. People know what they’re getting, going into it. If that’s not your kind of movie, don’t go see it. That’s okay.
Was it freeing to have such minimal wardrobe and hair/make-up, and not have to fight in heels? Does it make the fight scenes feel more freeing, in that way?
NICHOLS: Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. It strips it down, so it becomes bare bones. That’s what we wanted, anyway. Taking out hair, make-up and wardrobe, and just fighting in a wife-beater and sweatpants, it allowed us to focus on what we really wanted to focus on, which was the fighting. And it also puts everybody, visually, on an equal playing field. The women are all wearing the same thing. There’s no make-up and everybody is very stripped down. It’s very stylistic, that way. I think it really works for the tone of the film and the believability. If suddenly I wake up and I’ve got make-up on and I look really pretty, I would call bullshit on that, immediately.
Continuum has really become one of the best sci-fi shows on TV, right now. What can you say to tease where Season 3 is going, especially with how ripped apart all of the characters were, at the end of last season?
NICHOLS: We started shooting Season 3 already. We got three episodes finished before Christmas break. What I can tell you is that, at the end of Season 2, Alec (Erik Knudsen) clearly betrayed Kiera and went back in time. At the beginning of Season 3, you learn a lot more about The Freelancers. I can’t say how, but I can say that Kiera ends up going back in time to the point where Alec went back in time to save Emily (Magda Apanowicz). So, suddenly there are two Alecs and two Kieras and we can’t run into each other, obviously. Right off the bat, in Season 3, you’ve got craziness ensuing. There’s a death. There’s a description of The Freelancers. I’m happy to say that Terry Chen is back, in a big, big way. And overall, for this season, what I’m feeling is that where Kiera was always about getting home before, acknowledging her impact on the world, with everything she was doing in the present day, now I think there’s a part of her that’s going to be relegated to staying here and really setting up life and knowing she’s going to be here for awhile, and maybe even wanting to. That will be a back change for her, given the fact that her family is in the future.
Raze opens in theaters on January 10th.