Nicole Stamp – The Carmilla Movie
By: Lisa Steinberg
Q) In the film we pick up with the Carmillaverse five years later. What breakdown or information were you given about what Mel has been up to during that time?
A) All I got was the script, which states that Mel’s a TV director/producer- which coincidentally is one of my jobs too- and she’s still close with her friends from Silas. Beyond that, I didn’t need backstory, and neither will the viewer.
The movie works really well as a standalone because the relationships are crystal clear. Mel and Kirsch (Matt O’Connor), for instance, have a very visible dynamic. You don’t need to know that he once dressed up as a deer and she tried to shoot him with an arrow. Everything you need to know is right onscreen: Mel’s a finely-tuned vigilante with every sense at high alert and Kirsch is…eating something he found on the floor.
Q) You have gotten to work with some of the most incredible writers on “Carmilla” who created these characters with such rich complexity, dimensions, and layers. When you read the film script what really stood out for what action and adventure would be in store for Mel? What are some of the prevalent themes throughout the film?
A) It’s a gift to work with these writers. They’re so good AND they care so much about the world. Early on, we were even invited to share any feedback we had about the script and characters. I had a couple questions and Jordan [Hall] and Alejandro [Alcoba] were great about clarifying things and really open to feedback. Not that they changed everything we flagged – rather that they were able to help us make sense of individual moments with an eye on the whole story arc. Spencer [Maybee] is amazing at that too. I’d be like, “But why would Mel do this?” And he’d have a full explanation that made complete sense – he really gets into each character’s head.
In terms of my own arc, we’ll see a more tender, vulnerable, even romantic side of Mel, which I’m really excited about. And Grace [Lynn Kung] was such a lovely person to play off of in that way.
Thematically, I love that we’ll see a more domestic, comfortable evolution of Laura (Elise Bauman) and Carmilla’s (Natasha Negovanlis) relationship. Those two have been through so much, what with all the mind-control fishmonsters and furious demigods…It’s nice that they get a little time to just cuddle on the sofa.
Q) The Carmilla Movie seems to be this beautiful blur between present and the past which gives this unique full circle feel for the series. “Carmilla” the web series was always riddled in small nods, call backs, and pop culture references. How does the movie stay true to these hallmarks?
A) There are lots of little jokes and pop culture references that I think the fans will really like! “Carmilla” fans are SO engaged, vocal, very active online and so brave and open in sharing their stories with us. So, the entire creative team feels really connected to the fandom. I think the movie reflects this in tons of little ways. We love the “Carmilla” fans! I cannot believe what a fun, openhearted, brave and talented fandom we have. We definitely put in little nods and back-jokes for you. And you’ll love the new characters, too!
Q) Cinematography and lighting has always helped shape the tone of the web series giving the audience this fly on the wall perspective. With the movie you get multiple camera angles and a feel of being immersed in everything. Can you talk about how this new perspective and angles help evolves and enhances the audience’s viewing experience?
A) Well, there are some fun side relationships that become much clearer when the camera moves closer. I had some nice moments with Annie [Briggs], for instance, exploring the odd-couple friendship between Perry and Mel, which was really fun. Kaitlyn [Alexander] and I discovered a little undercurrent dynamic between LaFontaine and Mel. Getting those closeups just makes everything kind of pop out.
And having closeups gives a great window into each character’s heart. I remember in Season 2 when we shot the episode where Danny (Sharon Belle) dies – the acting was just gorgeous. Sharon was so heartrending. Matt’s take on Kirsch losing Danny just broke me. Elise was fully weeping and she’s so connected and emotional, it was remarkable. I mean, you can see it in the episode, but I got to be right there, two feet away from them, and it was exquisite work. I wished there had been close-ups so everyone could have seen right into their souls, like I could. And now you can!
Plus, it’ll be fun to see some of the really subtle details up close. Like, Natasha does so many amazing little things – tiny looks and thoughts and moments – when Carm is hearing and reacting, but keeping her cards close. And I think it’ll be fun for fans to get to know Carmilla even better.
Q) The costumes for the film are so incredible and elegantly designed. Can you talk about how they help to transform and play a part of the magic and mystery of the movie?
A) The period clothing in particular looks great. On set we had these little changeroom tents and every single time a person stepped out of the tent in their Victorian outfit, it would just be like OOOHHHHHHHHHHH. Everyone looked so good! For my own wardrobe, I specifically asked for Mel to wear a suit in the ballroom scene. I love so-called menswear in real life and thought that would be a fun look to experiment with here.
The overall effect of the period clothing was… hot. Hot like attractive, but also literally! Our ballroom set was roasting. Imagine a closed room with ten huge lights, twenty humans and a hundred candles. And period clothing is NOT breathable. Between shots, everyone had their skirts hiked up. But it was worth it. It looks so gothic and atmospheric and cool.
Q) What are your favorite memories from the set?
A) We had a little actor lounge on the top floor of the mansion and there were some great conversations and goofy times between scenes. There was one day after lunch when Elise just…went berserk? She started jumping on people and in minutes everyone was dancing around hollering in British accents. It was really infectious and so funny.
I loved seeing Melanie [Windle] just rocking her role as producer – with a baby! It felt so politically appropriate and futuristic that you can be this badass producer who’s totally on top of the time and budget AND choreographing a giant dance number AND nursing a baby, all at the same time. Like, sign me up for THAT world, please!
It’s always fun to shoot big group scenes, like the dinner. I love the energy when everyone’s together.
Oh! And the slow-motion power walk through the woods was really special and fun to shoot. It was the very last scene we shot. The actors were all together and the camera was far away so it didn’t really feel like a movie set at all. It was a drizzly day, late afternoon, and it just felt like we were all alone in the woods as friends. We were all very aware that we were about to complete this wonderful experience together. When Spencer called “cut,” we all cried and hugged.
Q) Did you shoot the crossbow?
A) NO! That thing is a real weapon! It shoots metal bolts that are basically giant bullets – very dangerous. Our stunt coordinator Simon [Fon] decommissioned the weapon for use as a prop – the bowstring was replaced with a very soft fake string and the trigger was disconnected. The other bows you’ve seen Mel use were also prop bows – carefully designed not to fire at all. Safety first! My private name for the crossbow, by the way, was…”Michelle BowBama.” You’re welcome.
Q) Mel has always been such a fiercely loyal character. She is badass multilayered warrior. What have you really held onto or taken away from playing this powerful and poignant fierce female?
A) Mel is a very accurate portrait of half of my personality. She’s me when I was in high school. In real life, I’m much more open and affectionate than Mel; but when I was a teenager, I was exactly like her – fierce, unsmiling and a bit rigid. I really hid my soft side. I’m glad I loosened up! Playing Mel I guess reminds me to chill out!
Q) What was different about doing the podcast minis than the main series? Was there any particular way you approached it differently?
A) Recording the podcast felt SO different than shooting the series! It was just me and Steph [Ouaknine] in a tiny room at the old Smokebomb office – extremely intimate. Being directed by Steph was super fun. She’s so chill and she knows exactly what she wants and she’s also really collaborative. For the entire podcast, Mel had to be very quiet and intimate because the character was recording in secret. So, I recorded while seated and hunched. By contrast, on-camera, I always want Mel to feel very physical – she’s a jock! She’s comfortable in her body, takes up space confidently and moves with swagger. I picture her as a panther, with a hint of peacock. So, performance-wise they were very different and I think that helped the storytelling.
Q) Every new beginning for Carmilla has come from some other beginning’s end. It really does feel like closing time and a culmination for the series. When you finished filming, did this feel like a solidified ending for you or did it feel like another new beginning for you and your character?
A) I sure hope it’s not the end! I have my fingers crossed for more. Carmilla is addictive! I love the actors, the creative team, playing Mel and getting to know the fandom. I’m not ready for this to end! Carmilla forever!
Q) What do you really hope fans take away from watching The Carmilla Movie?
A) We love you so much and I hope you feel it!
As much as Carmilla has been a special experience for the fans, I want you to know it has been equally special for the actors and creative team. We all found parts of ourselves here. I think the fans feel seen and accepted by this series…And that’s also how I think the creative team feels about this fandom!
I mean, just as a personal example – I used to NEVER say anything political in public. I was very strong in my sense of justice internally and generally comfortable speaking up in person, but I was deliberately apolitical on the public stage. Then, I kind of just stuck a toe in, saying short little things about my own political views in Carmilla interviews. And each time the fandom would be like YES! Just so accepting and aligned. And at the same time, all these fans keep sharing incredible stories of bravery and acceptance in their personal lives. So, it’s like well of COURSE we all have to speak out to make this world safer and more just.
Being a part of Carmilla has made me much more comfortable speaking out. And, in fact, last week I wrote an essay in response to the incredibly infuriating and heartbreaking #MeToo trend of sexual assaults. I wrote it for my Facebook friends, but I kind of nervously set it to “public.” It was widely shared and I felt confident enough to keep it public even when I got trolly comments and hate mail…and then CNN asked if they could run it. Like, what?!?!? I’m doing two radio interviews about it tomorrow. I mean, this is surreal. I am a person who would NOT have been comfortable saying these things in public five years ago and here I am, writing zingy comebacks to trolls and going on a national radio show to speak about social justice.
And I honestly don’t know if I would’ve been brave enough to let this essay go public if I hadn’t just had the gift of three years of courage and acceptance from Carmilla fans. You have seen us, accepted us, validated us, shared your hearts with us, trusted us and in so doing, empowered us. I know for sure that you’ve made me a braver, stronger person, and I am truly grateful for that. So…thank you, Carmilla.