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What Not to Expect When You’re Expecting in Hollywood

In Alice Lowe’s directorial debut, the longtime writer and actress tells the story of a mother murdering strangers at the directive of her unborn child.
In Prevenge, Alice Lowe stars as a woman offing.

In Prevenge, Alice Lowe stars as a woman offing.

“She usually doesn’t shout like this, but the music is making her go, ‘Ahh!’”

Alice Lowe is stooping to pick up a plush toy her daughter’s just thrown on the ground for the umpteenth time. She never fails to carry on our conversation, chatting with me as she simultaneously engages with her 10-month-old baby, Della Moon. The British director, writer, and actress (Hot Fuzz, Locke, The World’s End) is sitting poolside at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel; Della, usually so calm in interviews, is singing along in small shouts to the loud music emanating from the outdoor bar.

But Lowe is a proat multitasking, and keeping Della calm while simultaneously promoting a low-budget movie to the pressis par for the course. Only once does she lose her train of thought—when a waitress stops by to take a drink order.

Ever since her directorial debut, Prevenge, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September, balancing motherhood and filmmaking has become something of a hallmark for Lowe. The film, which she wrote, directed, and starred in during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, depicts a pregnant woman who kills strangers at the command of her unborn child. Lowe’s decision to cast the pregnant character as the hunter, rather than the hunted, has earned the film some acclaim out of the gate.

The film emerged from her own particular early fears about the danger in childbirth and another person wresting control of her life going forward. “I was scared I wasn’t going to work again, I was scared that my identity would completely change, that I wouldn’t see anyone,” she says.

It’s a sentiment many can relate to—about 15 to 20 percent of women experience depression or anxiety during childbirth. (Lowe is quick to point out that, fortunately for her, Della turned out to be “a very chill baby.”)

In creating Prevenge, Lowe wanted to prove that pregnant women and mothers should be able to tell whatever stories they want to, in whatever way they see fit (that includes slicing off men’s you-know-whats). In an interview in Los Angeles during AFI Fest, she talked to meabout asserting authority as a female director, what to do (and not to do) when you’re expecting in Hollywood, and the baffling rarity of mainstream movies about pregnancy told from the female perspective.

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This struck me as a film that could only be made by a woman.

That’s something that I sometimes say as a joke: This is the one job I knew they couldn’t take away from me.

How did this movie start for you?

I worked on a five-day movie as an actor called Black Mountain Poets with Jamie Adams, and it turned out really well—it went to Sundance and to South by Southwest. When he called me up and asked, “Do you want to do another one?” I was like, “Yeah, I really would, but I’m pregnant now so I can’t really work.”

But then I thought, what if I take this opportunity and make it into what works for me? So I came up with this idea about a pregnant character, I’d play her, and it would be about a pregnant character taking revenge. I pitched it to them and they were like, “We love it, great.” All the way through I was kind of thinking it wasn’t going to make it. But before I knew it, I was doing it. It all happened within two months: I was six months [pregnant] when I came up with the idea, and by the time I was making it I was seven months. I wrote it in a week, and then I gave the notes back, and did rewrites in the second week, and then by that stage we went into pre-production, we had to be ready.

Why did you ultimately decide on telling this movie as a horror story?

Horror’s kind of my thing; I really like genre movies. And it entertained me, the idea that pregnancy’s about birth, and to [subvert that] and make it about death, the complete opposite. And since I had this pregnant character, I though she had to be someone unremitting and really unsentimental, the perfect antithesis to the pregnant character stereotype.

I wanted it to be a revenge movie to move away from what I’d done. I’d done Sightseers, which is about serial killers, a different psychopathic pathology. I wanted to my character to have a reason behind why she’s doing what she’s doing. I wanted there to be a logic behind it.

There’s a bit of a classical mythological influence as well. I was influenced by Medea and the Oresteia, things I’d studied in college.

Though it’s fantastical, your script features what seems to be some telling details about the experience of being a pregnant woman, including details about job discrimination and the way women’s health can take a backseat to the baby’s in medical check-ups. To what extent were you trying to shed light on what it’s like to be a pregnant woman?

I had such a short time to write the movie, so really everything that I put in there was research I was doing because I was pregnant. I was already feeling like a black sheep in the sense that I was going to prenatal yoga and wondering: “My god, is everyone getting lobotomized? Everyone’s talking about [pregnancy] in such a calm way.” It struck me as kind of sanitization, or an infantilization or fetishization, of how the childbirth industry makes it all fluffy and Pinterest-worthy and backlit and beautiful and white when really it’s just like blood and shit and vomit everywhere.

It’s always hard to write and direct a first feature, but you were doing it while pregnant. Were there any particular challenges or benefits to that?

I think there were a lot of benefits, actually. I had really good health and really good energy. I’d been wanting to make a film for ages, so I had loads of burning desire to do it: I was jumping out of bed every morning like, “Hey, I have a film, I can’t believe it, I’m going to have a baby and make a film.” I didn’t think that would happen.

The benefits are that people are slightly scared of you if you’re pregnant, that they can’t upset you. I think that happens to directors anyway, being protected from bad news; but I think it happened even more to me because I was a pregnant woman. For me that was great, because then I could just focus on the creative aspects.

And I think being a mum, in a way, gives you a natural authority that people are less resentful of. I kind of felt like everyone was respecting me [on this film].

As an actress, have you come across a lot of “pregnant woman” roles, and is that something you’re playing with in the film?

Weirdly, once I’d announced that the film was happening and it got covered in ScreenDaily, I got offered loads of pregnant roles. I was a bit like, “I don’t only want to play pregnant roles.” That’s cool, it’s fine, and it’s all work. But to me, as an actress, you are scared of not getting work when you have a baby because, visually, it takes you out of a certain pool of casting, it takes you out in terms of time, and also people’s perceptions. I’ve had actors say to me, “Don’t tell anyone you have a baby, because you won’t work again.”

Also, as a “young director,” you’re supposed to make your first feature when you’re under 40. It’s all bullocks, and I don’t believe in it, but at the time I just felt, if I don’t make this film now, and I have kids, that’s another 10 years, possibly, before I get to make my first film. Whereas doing it this way I feel like I can say to people, “Look, don’t worry about the kids thing, it didn’t affect me when I made this film.”

I’ve proved now that you cannot say to me that my performance will be undermined by the fact that I’ve got kids. I knew it was kind of a ridiculous thing to undertake, but if I pulled it off, I knew it would be bigger than just me and my film. I want it to help other directors be able to make what they want, and value mothers, and women who want to tell a story who are mothers. Because otherwise you’re cutting out a whole perspective.

And have you seen that come to fruition? Have other directing opportunities come your way since?

What happens when you have a female director emerging is that you get sent a load of projects with female leads. They’re not necessarily anything to do with your filmmaking, and not necessarily tonally, or even content-wise, what you do. Sometimes the projects are quite amazing, and there are some really amazing people attached. But I’m not ready to do that—I want to find my voice and I want to be an auteur because I don’t think there’s enough female auteurs. It’s a word that isn’t applied to women, really. So it’s going to be about resisting the choices that are wrong for me. Those choices can backfire, anyway, because you can get offered a project that you’re really tempted by and then it’s a flop, and if it had a big budget, you never work in this town again. And I think that’s doubly [true] if you’re a woman.

I think that cinema is a really important tool for us empathizing more with women. If everyone could watch a story where it’s a woman killing someone but still have some empathy for her or understanding about what she’s doing, to me that film has succeeded. And if that film is also really enjoyable and fun to watch, all for the better, really. I don’t limit my audience, I don’t say, this is a film for women. I just want it to be a good film to enjoy.

Many of the more mainstream films about pregnancy have been directed by men—Knocked Up, Juno, Baby Mama, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Rosemary’s Baby. Did you take inspiration from any of those films in terms of what to do and even what not to do?

I’m a massive fan of Rosemary’s Baby, it’s one of my favorite films. But I did feel like it’s from kind of a male perspective—some people would disagree with me. But to me, especially when you read the novel, it’s very satirical, it’s almost mocking this couple because they’re these yuppies in the ’60s, they’re an upwardly mobile, irritating couple that have lots of dinner parties and cocktail parties. There’s kind of scorn for the character in the book, I feel—which is great, I love that book. But I felt that lots of stuff happens to Rosemary rather than her being an agent of her own destiny. And I just was like, well, what if this person is very active rather than being passive, they’re not the victim in the traditional sense, which is why revenge is one way to do that.

In terms of Knocked Up, I think there are loads of comedy films where the joke is the pregnant woman is screaming for ice cream or pickles and her husband’s like, “Oh god, now she’s in a bad mood,” and he’s running around, and that’s the whole comedy, is her screaming and going: “You bastard! This is all your fault!” I don’t think that represents real life at all to me. It’s like the women aren’t owning the comedy. I think it’s about time someone made a film from the interior of being a pregnant woman, rather than the exterior. Because it’s not funny when you give birth; it’s fucking painful and you might die.

How did your feelings about the film change after your daughter was born?

I do wonder, would I have written the same film [today]? Because I feel like I took all my fears about pregnancy and my identity transforming and put them in the film, but, by making the film, I stopped any of those things from happening. I was scared I wasn’t going to work again, I was scared that my identity would completely change, that I wouldn’t see anyone, that I’d be really isolated and bored. And then I made a film and none of those things happened.

Afterwards, people were like, “You must have had a terrible pregnancy, because the film’s really dark.” No, I actually had an amazing pregnancy! I had a lovely time. The irony is she’s like the cutest, funniest baby. She doesn’t get cross about anything, she tolerates me doing an interview for an hour and she entertains herself. People are like, “This is the revenge baby?”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.