Interview: Pollyanna McIntosh on Sci-Fi Horror Double Blind and The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live

Pollyanna McIntosh has been very busy in the world of horror for a long time, but this month she has a double whammy of horror out in the world with the sci-fi horror movie Double Blind and returning as Jadis in The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live.

Double Blind is the debut feature film from Irish director Ian Hunt Duffy and sees an experimental drug trial go awry. The affected test subjects then face a terrifying side effect: if they fall asleep they die. Trapped in an isolated facility, panic ensues as they try to escape and somehow stay awake.

Coming Soon’s Senior Editor for Horror, Neil Bolt spoke with McIntosh before Double Blind’s digital release this week about the high-concept horror and her role in it as a scientist for the shady drug company. McIntosh also discusses what she’d do with four days of no sleep, her relationship with the horror genre, and reuniting with Andrew Lincoln on The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live

Double Blind was really good. There’s a strong sense of John Carpenter’s Apocalypse trilogy to it, and I can’t help but look at the central hook of ‘’stay awake or die’’ in that environment and think of A Nightmare on Elm Street, but clinical rather than supernatural. Yet, it was compelling beyond those comparisons. What about the project caught your eye when you were introduced to it?

You know, it all starts with the writing, and I was sent this by one of the producers. Patrick at Epic Pictures, who I’d worked with on a couple of films he’d distributed before, I like him, and I like his tastes. I read it and thought it was tight, no fat, and moving along at a great pace, but wasn’t self-conscious in its capacity. It was still all about character, and I think it had a brilliant mix of everything. A high concept, but totally grounded. And sometimes, when you have a diverse cast of misfits, who are outcasts, it can be a bit on the nose, but these guys were so different from each other. They were truly characters that I could recognize.
So then I started looking at who was involved, and Millie Brady being a Last Kingdom lass and me being a Vikings Valhalla lass was a fun ‘’get the Vikings together’’ kind of thing. She was fantastic in this. The others all had great credits too. Abby (Fitz), I’d seen in a horror film called The Cellar; I was at the premiere of that, and loved her in that; I was sure she was American because her performance was so good. She’s amazing because she’s completely different from that role in Double Blind.

With Ian (Hunt Duffy, Director), I contacted an actor friend who’d done a short with him and asked ‘’Hey what’s this bloke like? Can I watch the short you were in?’’ and it all came back positive. So I watched the short he’d done, Gridlock, and I thought, ‘’This guy’s interesting, you know? This is gonna be fun!’’ And sure enough, it was. Doctor Burke is such a wonderfully complex character and it was a role that gave space for me to shoot another movie around the same time (Apocalypse Clown) as well as voiceover for an HBO project called Scavengers Reign.

So doing the comedy of Apocalypse Clown, and voice work on Scavenger’s Reign, I’m going into Double Blind and I think it worked out really well all around. 

Was it refreshing or indeed challenging to go from mean, cold sci-fi horror to comedy horror?

The jobs lining up like that are just something that happens sometimes, and I think it works for me. I have ADHD and find it really suits me to be busy and challenged, I function better that way. So I find it easy to step in and out of different characters, As long as I’m having a good time and I’m with good people, there’s nothing wrong with a busy schedule to me.

And on that note, you get to effectively play two different versions of the same character…

Yeah, yeah! When I look at my career, and I know that might sound grandiose, but I have played double characters in so many things!

It’s an interesting habit to get into, I suppose. If you can do it, then do it!

Right, and she (Dr.Burke) is a complicated woman, and she definitely has two sides. I love the dreamscape element of the film and how well it works in the genre. I think it’s rare to see a crossover between the two that world so sleekly and isn’t self-conscious, and every element of the film is in sync. We could spend the whole interview talking about the score, for instance. That music is amazing.

Yes, it’s part of why it has those aforementioned Carpenter vibes to it. Rolling back to Dr. Burke, you’re one of the few people working for Blackwood we see in the film. Did you alienate yourself from the actors playing test subjects?

No, you know it’s funny, when I was doing The Woma, I thought I would be alienated from the other actors because I was being held captive and that I wouldn’t want to know them. Then we were all put in this house together, the three of us in the middle of the woods, and it’s some of the best friendships I’ve ever had in my life with those two guys. In Double Blind, I didn’t have any mean feelings, I wanted to meet all these young actors and know what they were all about. They were a great bunch, very social. You know, as social as you could be during a COVID shoot. We were lucky to have outdoor space at the hotel, and we were often in the hotel bar outside, chatting by the River in Limerick; it was so beautiful there.

You’re involved in a rather gruesome scene in Double Blind. Did you have much input in how it played out?

Ian really knew what he wanted and how it was going to work. I was very impressed with how clear he and his crew were on shots. I wasn’t there like, ‘’Oh I know what to do!’’ which does normally happen a lot with gore stuff for me because I’ve done a lot of it and love being able to go, ‘’Ohh, I’ve got an idea!’’ if something’s not working, but everything worked great here. Fantastic all around, and Madonna Bambino in the makeup department? Watching the final film told me what I already knew about her and her work. Such impressive work from that whole team. They really knew what they were doing and it was so lovely to see. So I got to just do as I was directed.

 I do think I enjoy those kinds of scenes a little too much. It all felt intense and exciting, and I was there making all kinds of terrible noises. It was fun.

It’s something I’ve noticed interviewing horror-centric people is there’s almost a numbness to filming gore scenes where it’s more about trying to think what looks best rather than how disturbing you find it.
I wouldn’t personally call it numbness, I think it’s definitely more about the excitement of filmmaking, and knowing something’s working is a joy, so you can go through some torment in the work if you know you’re getting what’s intended. So, for me, anyway, that doesn’t feel torturous.

There are elements that can feel torturous, though, like if I’m playing a bad guy who knows how awful they’re being? That can be really distressing. I did that in a short film, The Herd. In that, my character knew how awful she was being. And it was only a short shoot being a wee short film, but in those two and a half days, I was suffering more than on any other film I’ve done. All because of this feeling inside me caused by this character being absolutely awful as a person.

Generally, when I’m playing a villain, I can see how they believe they’re doing the right thing, you know? That saves my head a loy. But with the gore stuff, it’s definitely more fun than people might imagine, but it can be distressing, especially watching other people go through stuff.

Say, God forbid, you found yourself in such a situation in real life…

Oh God! As one of the subjects?


Oh, okay, that’s a relief!

How would you try to keep awake?

I think I would go in the direction of Frank Blake’s character. I think I would be exercising and moving all the time. Keeping busy. I’d probably be getting everyone to keep dancing. I’d probably be really annoying! I think Ray (Diarmuid Noyes) would want me dead if he was around the real me.
Now, if there was a safe version of this drug trial and you could be awake for a long time, what would you do with the extra time?

First of all, I will say there’s no bloody way you’d have me in a drug trial, don’t even try it!

Oh, of course! For the record, we’re definitely not signing you up for any secret drug trials. We’re an entertainment company only, I promise!

Ahh, that’s what they all say!

What would I do with that extra time, though? You know, sometimes I pull all-nighters, and I enjoy it. There’s something about the nighttime that is entirely your own, and no one can interrupt it, which I can appreciate. If I had four days awake, I’d either catch up on an entire catalog of one filmmaker or actor. Like I’d go through the entire Jack Nicholson catalog or Anjelica Huston. Or I’d watch all the Pedro Aldomavaar movies. 

I’d alternate between that and walking the streets, making use of the nighttime just to wander around and explore places, watching the sun come up and go down.

What about you?

Well, I used to work nights years ago, and I agree there’s something about the night. It’s intimidating, but also like your own little personal plane of existence. I’d probably read more. I like to read books for large chunks of time, or I can’t easily get into it so that would probably be the big thing. Go find somewhere to read, and get a couple of pints in.

Ohh lovely! Maybe a couple of pints next to you at the bar?

Yeah, perfect.

Great! That’s our holidays sorted!

So this is an Irish production, and I feel Ireland is producing some of the best horror in Europe right now. What do you think is the secret sauce there?

I mean, I moved to Ireland because I’m so in love with it, and so in love with the craft here. I don’t mean the witchcraft, but that’s cool too. I’ve got a few theories, but mainly I think it’s in the artistic history of the place. There’s a lot to tap into. When you’ve got that history and it’s part of your identity, there’s so many books, poetry, and the like. Maybe it’s the freedom there? Knowing that history is your birthright? Freedom, in the expression of it, is less commercialized. I don’t think people go into an Irish movie expecting it to be like anything else, so there’s a freedom in that. Far more risks are taken, and they have an audience for it. The general population is excited by cinema and storytelling. There’s a place for it here.

I think that a country that’s been colonized and then got it back, a country that hasn’t colonized anyone else. Maybe there’s pride in that? Comfort in that? Strength and bravery. You can tell better stories with those elements.
You’ve been involved with a fair amount of horror over the years. What is the appeal of the genre to you?

I think when you’ve got life and death, that’s good drama already. But also horror historically, and continues to be, the case, is so often the celebration of the outsider. Also, I think when you’re dealing with human vulnerabilities on the level horror has to, there’s a real truth in that. I can’t take horror that is tortuous personally, you know, extended periods of pain for someone onscreen? I understand them, but I don’t do well with those.

That’s understandable! I think everyone who enjoys horror has got an area of horror they’re not necessarily as comfortable with.

Yeah. The horror I like and am often involved in is the kind that strips back the bullshit of thinking we’re alive outside of nature. When you see our insides come out, we’re the same as any other animal. I think especially now, when we’re pushed from seemingly every side to consider ourselves perfect robots who constantly work and don’t have any human foibles, icks about us, orcs about us, all that shit, it’s more important than ever to recognize that. There’s something cathartic about it when it’s done well.

Absolutely. It has such an expressive space to do all sorts and dress up traditional stories like a rollercoaster. There’s entertainment in guts and scares, but having something underneath that’s human and relatable is always the scariest part.

Yeah! You can say I said that!
Sure! I’ll have to change that now! To wrap us up here, you’ve returned to the world of  The Walking Dead. How has that been? It’s your third outing now, right?

Yeah! I’ve been told I’m the only actor who’s done three, and I feel so lucky I’ve gotten to do so much. I really really love those guys. I feel really close with everybody; it does feel like a family. I get to work with some of the finest people, and to get to work with Andy (Lincoln) has been such a joy. Both he and Danai are so much themselves and have not changed in the time I’ve known them/ I don’t imagine Andy’s changed all that much from the beginning. The reason I got into this funny old business is wanting to connect. Feeling that connection with characters through the screen  I’d grown up with. Feeling seen through filmmakers and actors. But also, I get to connect so freely with the other actor in the moment. It doesn’t happen with every actor that you get the full benefit of it, but with Andy, it’s like the scene can go anywhere, and it’s so fun It’s been a long time coming!

Andy just messaged me a few days ago and sang the Long and Winding Road down the phone while playing the piano. It was so sweet. He said so many nice things because he’s seen the series, and I haven’t seen it yet. It’s been such a pleasure, though and I can’t wait for people to see it when it comes out on the 25th of February.

Double Blind is out on digital platforms on February 13, 2024.

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