Alice Lowe is very nice. It’s a little surreal. If you’re an American and you’ve seen the English actress and filmmaker in a movie, you’ve probably watched her murdering someone. In 2012’s dark comedy “Sightseers,” which she also co-wrote, Lowe played a mousy woman whose boyfriend (Steve Oram) schools her in the joys of gruesomely offing random strangers. She’s at it again in “Prevenge,” which she directed, wrote and stars in, this time as a very pregnant woman who believes her unborn baby is telling her to kill.
Thing is, Lowe was really with child at the time. When we chat, her little daughter is sleeping in her stroller, tucked away in the corner. Lowe says she’s been chill, weathering the film’s international promotion tour like a champ. She was even there in the editing suite while Lowe was stitching the film together.
“She’s heard the film about a billion times. She grew up with the film ringing in her ears,” Lowe says with one of her typical warm laughs. “Making an edit with a newborn baby is not that hard, really. You’re sitting around a lot. It was more the editor who had to endure the waft of nappies. But he was fine with it.”
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The friendly, self-effacing Lowe — who manages to talk about her film while doting on her child when she awakens halfway through our chat — is a stark contrast to Ruth, her “Prevenge” anti-hero. She’s an unhappy wallflower whose third trimester — coupled with grief over her baby daddy’s recent death — has driven her mad. Lowe hatched the idea six months into her pregnancy.
“I had all the normal fears: ‘What’s going to happen to my body? Will I die? Am I going to change overnight like a Stepford Wife? Am I going to become a different person?’” Lowe recalls. But she was also drawing on her less expected anxieties.
“It had a lot to do with my fears of being an actress, of being self-employed,” she says. “There isn’t much of a safety net if you’re going to have a kid. A lot of my friends who are fellow actresses told me, ‘Don’t tell people you’re pregnant, because you won’t work for ages.’ When it’s over, you can’t say, ‘I’m back! I want to work!’ People perceive you as having disappeared.” In fact, her announcement that she was pregnant was when news of “Prevenge”’s production hit Screen Daily. “It was like, ‘Hi! Sorry! I meant to tell you I was pregnant!’”
“Prevenge” is the first feature film Lowe has directed herself, and she’s amazed it happened at all. “I had thought my dreams of directing were over, because I was having a baby,” she remembers. “I was like, ‘Who do I know that directs films and has a tiny baby?’ I know plenty of men, but no women. I thought it was game over in terms of getting to do whatever I wanted. Making a film and having a baby at the same time was like having your cake and eating it, too — with a cherry on top.”
Lowe would have had to fight to get “Prevenge” made even if she hadn’t been pregnant. As someone who’s been involved in TV and films and stage work since the early 2000s, she’s seen how often easy it is not just for men but for the young.
“I was developing a different project with a film company, and I could see these 20-something guys taking the leap into making features,” she says. “I’m there going, ‘I’ve worked on set for 15-plus-years as an actress. I know how it all works. I’ve produced short films. I’ve written so many feature film scripts that I have them in a drawer somewhere. I’ve written scripts that have won awards. I’m a no-brainer, surely. You’re looking for exactly me. If anyone knows how to do it who’s not done it before, it’s me.’”
And now she has. “For me to do this while I’m pregnant, it’s almost like saying, ‘You see? I can do this standing on my head,'” she says.
Still, she doesn’t want to guilt-trip anyone. “It wasn’t my aim to make pregnant women feel bad that they’re not making a feature film in their third trimester,” Lowe jokes. “The point I was trying to make is you can do whatever you like.”
Another thing she wanted to do was make a movie with a protagonist who isn’t exactly sympathetic. Ruth may be mad, but she’s also a murderer, and she takes glee in taking a sharp blade to people she’s never met, or hacking off a poor guy’s member.
“One of my inspirations was ‘Taxi Driver,’” Lowe says. “I’ve long thought about why there are no female ‘Taxi Drivers.’ Why don’t we have loner, maverick outsiders who are female? People are capable of watching ‘Taxi Driver’ and not thinking, ‘What a terrible representation of men.’ They understand he’s just one man. And you don’t have to like him. Why would Travis Bickle need to be likable? Yet that’s a question that gets applied to female characters often. I hear that a lot as a writer and as an actress: ‘Why isn’t she likable enough?’ Who cares? That’s a social judgment. That shouldn’t come into a creative work of fiction.”
Lowe hopes that the film industry will take the right lessons from certain recent hits, like “Get Out.” “Certain people are under-represented in cinema,” she explains. “People have an appetite to see stories told in different ways. We’re quite jaded as an audience now. I think we want to see something that feels fresh and new. That seems truthful as well. We want to see things in films that aren’t being said, that are the elephants in the room.”
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BONUS: Lowe’s previous lives
Lowe went to King’s College, Cambridge, where she met fellow future British comedy luminaries like David Mitchell and Robert Webb, as well as Richard Ayoade and Matt Holness, who cast her in what would become their short-lived 2004 TV show “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace,” a send-up of bad, cheap horror television, complete with purposefully bad acting and terrible effects.
“It died a quick death on British television. No one watched it,” Lowe recalls. Since then it’s blossomed into a primo cult item, both at home and in the States. “Someone somewhere must have handed around some bootleg copy in New York and L.A., because I meet American comedians all the time who tell me, ‘It’s my favorite show!’ I’m like, ‘How did you see it?’”
Too bad it’s likely impossible to find any footage online of “Moonjourney,” a Kate Bush-themed sci-fi show she staged in 2005, which she describes as a “prog rock musical, but funny.” She played a character who was Bush crossed with Toyah Willcox; she emerged out of a giant tambourine. Lowe jokes that it was “ahead of its time,” but in one way it definitely was.
“Since then everybody’s come out as a Kate Bush fan,” Lowe says. “Well, I was there from the beginning, love. I was out and proud.”
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge