Mary Alexandra Stiefvater interview

Creature Feature Interviews

Mary Alexandra Stiefvater (Supergator, Bear)

Theo_And_Juliet_17Many actors and actresses get their first big feature film roles in Creature Features and today’s interviewee is no exception. Also a writer, producer, model and poet, Mary Alexandra Stiefvater got her first important feature role in Syfy’s 2007 killer crocodile movie Supergator as Dr Alexandra Stevens.

“When the clone of a man-eating crocodilian dinosaur escapes from its research facility, the local town’s only hope rests in a team of scientists, tourists and a Texan alligator hunter. Will this band of unlikely heroes be able to stop the sinister Supergator?!”

Stiefvater later returned to the sub-genre starring as the leading female role Liz in the 2010 killer bear movie Bear, produced by internet sensation Freddie Wong.

“When their van breaks down in the forest, two couples finds themselves mercilessly hunted by a grizzly bear after they shoot its mate in self-defence. But when the pressure is on, secrets are revealed that could tear their relationships apart. Will they be able to put aside their differences and work together or will they all fall victim to the vengeful and bloodthirsty Bear?!”

Ms Stiefvater was kind enough to answer a few questions about her experiences on the two different productions and about what she has got lined up in the future…

Why did you take up acting and how did you get into it?

I did a play in grade school and had fun but then forgot about it until high school. A friend had tickets to Sacramento’s music circus (they were doing a production of Evita) and he invited me to go. I was so moved by the performance. Our high school was holding auditions for a play and so I signed up. I was floored when I got a role and I just never stopped acting.

You have a fantastically varied IMDB profile, what inspired you to try so many different roles both in front of and behind the camera?

A lot of my behind the scenes roles came as a way to facilitate more opportunities to act and tell stories. I really appreciate both sides of the camera. Some people believe that roles are destined for an actor… that the actor doesn’t find the role; rather the role finds the actor. I don’t know. I just kept trying to say yes more than I said no and these were the opportunities that came my way.

How and why did you get involved with Supergator? What drew you to the role of Alexandra?

French Supergator poster

French Supergator poster

I auditioned for it not knowing anything about the role or the genre. I just came in and met with the producers. They had me read for them then they wanted me to do my best scream. I looked at them like they were crazy. I told them I have a really loud high-pitched scream so I made them cover their ears before I would do it. They looked shell-shocked for a moment, thanked me and I left. I walked out to my car and thought I just totally blew that audition, but they called my agent and right away I was on a plane for Kauai. I later found out it was my scream that tipped the odds in my favour. Lol!

Alexandra is arguably the smartest character in the film, is it fun playing the character that has the answers to everyone’s questions? Did you do any research into Volcanoes in preparation?

I researched everything; volcanoes, the geography of Hawaii and everything scientific in the film because it makes me feel more prepared when I go on set to have things I can ad-lib if I need to. It’s really fun to play a scientist. I might have chosen to be one if I hadn’t been an actor.

Supergator was produced by B-movie godfather Roger Corman; did you get to work with him at all?

He and his family are very involved in every film. They are a Hollywood dynasty and legendary, particularly in this genre.

Stiefvater as Dr Alexandra Stevens

Stiefvater as Dr Alexandra Stevens

What is the process of shooting scenes where you have to interact with the titular Supergator? How did you get around the difficulty of working with props and CGI?

We had a couple of different “Supergators.” We had stunt men who dragged us to make it look like the Supergator was pulling us. We had a puppet that was just the head of the Supergator with foam teeth. Some of it we had to imagine and then shift our eye line to make it look like we were seeing what was not there.

How did you find the water scenes? Did you get to do your own stunts with being flung off the boat? How did they shoot the death of Kelly McGillis’ character?

We did our own stunts on this film. I remember flinging myself off the boat and pretending to drown. It was such good fun. Filming deaths scene can be tricky but they can also be so fun! Kelly McGillis was wonderful to work with. What a talented and lovely person! She couldn’t have been a more generous actor to share a scene with. We got into the water and she was game to try everything to make the scene authentic and terrifying. I can’t say enough nice things about her!

What was it like filming your own death scene? How extensive was the prosthetic Supergator mouth and how did it function?

Thai promo

Thai promo

A crew member wore it. The top of the head went on one arm. The bottom of the head went on the other. And another crew member dragged me across the ground in this giant rainforest on Kauai. The crew and I had to hike down the side of a mountain to the set and then we rehearsed how to shoot it. They covered me in movie blood and we did the scene a few times. But afterwards I was covered in mud, caked-on leaves and red, sugar syrup. We had to climb back up the side of the mountain and I was such a mess that the producers asked a home-owner if we could borrow his garden hose to wash off the leaves and fake blood. The guy was so nice and thought it was funny we were filming a movie so close to him, but them his three year old son walked outside and froze at the sight of me. The sight of me sent the child running back into the house!

Supergator was one of the first of the ‘Hotel Resort’ creature features shot on holiday resorts due to the cheaper tax payments and the natural lighting. How did you find filming in Hawaii?

It was mostly shot in Hawaii, on the island of Kauai, and some of the post-production was filmed in Los Angeles. I loved Hawaii and I made lots of amazing friends there that I still keep in close contact with. I would recommend the 50th state to everyone! The spirit of aloha abounds in everything and everyone there!

What do you think of the finished film?

The main cast of Supergator

The main cast of Supergator

I love it because I remember the back story of filming it and it will always remind me of a wonderful time with wonderful people doing something we all love; making movies.

Supergator was originally conceived as a sequel to Dinocroc; have you seen Dinocroc or the joint sequel Dinocroc vs Supergator?

I haven’t seen it but I did see the Supergator in Thai It was so fun to hear oneself dubbed in another language. I have to give the dubbing artists props. That’s a hard job and they execute it excellently!

How and why did you get involved with Bear? What drew you to Liz’s character?

It was another one I auditioned for and they brought me back and read me a few times then offered me the part. I liked Liz because she is not what she appears to be. That is fun to explore in a character.

What was the production like?

Bear film poster

Bear poster

I loved our crew. They were amazing; as were Roel, Ethan, Freddie, and other the producers, who made all the night shoots fun. The big star was Blue the bear. He was magnificent!

How did you shoot the car flipping scenes?

We flipped the car then used some camera tricks to create the effect and we had a fully operation “faux” bear for some of the close contact work.

Did you ever get to meet Blue the Bear?

No, they wouldn’t let us for safety reasons but we all wanted to meet the star of the show!

The story progression of Bear is segmented by various bear attacks and after each one the characters get increasingly more desperate and injured. How do you keep track of what state your character is in whilst shooting in non-chronological order?

Every actor does it a little differently but I keep track in my script and mark it up daily with where we are at and how emotionally we got there. The director and the costume department do a lot of that work too so if you get lost, they are there to help you sort though and figure out where the character came from and where the character needs to go.

There are many story elements in Bear, what would you say is the focus of the movie?

Stiefvater as Liz

Stiefvater as Liz

Forgiveness. The bear creates havoc and destruction until forgiveness and an apology is proffered.

A lot of the enjoyment in Bear comes from some of the more bizarre moments such as Liz throwing cocaine into the bear’s face causing it to face-plant off the car. Is there a sense of self-awareness whilst filming or is it easier to look back and laugh?

We had fun filming it and filmed some of the scenes multiple ways so the choices could be made later in the editing room. Actors have no idea what the final product will be until we see it with everyone else. I hope this is as fun to watch, as it was enjoyable to film.

Why do you think the bear allows Liz to live?

I think it’s because she apologizes to mother earth’s representative, the bear, in this case. The movie is more about the natural order of things being out of whack and what it takes to right them. Liz gets to live because she figures out in time what it takes to right the situation.

What do you think happens to Liz following her escape?

I think she finds help and brings it back. What happens after, I will leave for everyone to make his or her own inferences about.

The entire [human] cast of Bear

The entire [human] cast of Bear

Have you seen the finished film?

Much like, Supergator, I love it because it reminds me of the fun we had filming it and the wonderful people I met making it.

The two films could not be further apart – the time of day, location, scale, cast size and tone are all examples of how they differ. Did you prefer one production to the other or find yourself better suited to one more than the other?

Both have their appeal and both were fun to shoot. At the end of the day if you get to work on a film set, any set, it’s a great day.

Which role did you enjoy the most: Alexandra or Liz?

I love all the characters I have gotten to play. It’s like asking a mother to pick her favourite child. I can’t do it.

You currently have a 50% survival rate in creature features; do you have any advice for surviving attacks from Bears or Supergators?

The cast of Supergator in front of the waterfall used for the water stunts

The cast of Supergator in front of the waterfall used for the water stunts

Play dead and don’t get into the water. Lol!

Are there any creatures from other creature features that you would like to go up against?

Who wouldn’t want to battle a shark with a chainsaw?!

If Supergator or Bear pop up on the Syfy Channel, do you make an effort to watch them?

My friends tune in from time to time and love to tell me they watched me die…again. They think it’s hilarious, except my mom who can’t watch that part.

Would you ever return to creature features either as an actress, producer or screenwriter?

Sure – it’s an awesome genre with incredibly passionate fans! It would be an honour to make another.

Can you explain a bit about what you have coming up in the future? Especially Squaw: The movie?

Stiefvater photographed by Kristina Lloyd

Stiefvater photographed by Kristina Lloyd

I have been working on a short film based on a poem i wrote called “the room” which will be coming out shortly. It stars Steve Connell (the renowned actor and slam poet). I play his love interest and the wonderful film and theatre actor, Nicholas Leland plays his father. It is directed and edited by a good friend of mine Kristina Lloyd who I’ve known since university.

“Squaw” is my other project about how Squaw Valley won the 1960 winter Olympic bid and how the games almost didn’t happen. I’m an avid skier and I grew up skiing at squaw, so I wanted to make a film to honour a place and community I love. I’m also taking part in a staged reading of a new play called “The Mermaid Wars” by a fantastic playwright named Adam Hahn. That will be later this month at the Noho Actor’s Studio, in Los Angeles for Sky Pilot Theatre Company’s inaugural director’s lab.

Thank you for your time, Ms Stiefvater

For more information on Mary Alexandra Stiefvater, you can:
visit her official website
visit her IMDB profile
follow her on Twitter
visit the official website for Sqaw: The Movie

For more information on Supergator and Bear, you can check out their profiles in the Creature Catalogue by clicking on their names.

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