by Shane Lange:
“I’ve always been a really independent, strong willed person,” says actor Clare Grant, and it shows – after she appeared in the award-winning Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line and the Samuel L. Jackson blues-rehab film Black Snake Moan, Grant’s love for geek culture took her from Hollywood’s star-lined sidewalks to its nerdy back lots filled with zombies, aliens, and unicorns.
Grant is one of a new breed of geek in Hollywood, turning fandom into a genre all its own while challenging conventional roles for women onscreen. Along with Michele Boyd, Milynn Sarley and Rileah Vanderbilt, their geek culture production crew Team Unicorn has created a series of short videos designed to entertain a burgeoning subculture of genre fans. From the smoking debut “G33K & G4M3R Girls” to the recent spoof of online dating ads (“superHarmony”), Team Unicorn remixes genre references like a comic nerd turned video DJ, and gives fandom a self-referential wink and a nudge with beach party-invading aliens from the 50s, the occasional Seth Green (aka Mr. Clare Grant) cameo, and zombies for Christmas.
Grant says her love of the dark side of geekdom may be attributable to an early zombie encounter: “Night of the Living Dead did something to me when I was a kid, it turned something on in me that I will never be able to turn off.”
Her first horror casting in the title role of Mick Garris’ Masters of Horror episode “Valerie on the Stairs” saw Grant play the classic damsel in distress, literally naked and helpless – though not gratuitously so. “I had turned down plenty of roles because I didn’t agree with why the character was nude. But this one didn’t bother me at all…it’s a Clive Barker story, he wrote it actually to be that she was never supposed to wear clothes, the demon was holding her captive and she was his sex slave.” She notes that although her character was intended to be passive and “crying all the time”, the producers ensured that nudity always served the story. “No woman runs out into the woods prepared to fight demons not wearing a bra; that just doesn’t happen. That, to me, is gratuitous and unnecessary, but if a character is having sex on film, I mean, most people take their clothes off when they have sex, so that doesn’t bother me.”
Following Valerie on the Stairs, Grant landed a leading role in the After Dark production The Graves. Of the personality for her tough-girl character Megan Graves she says, “That was pretty much me just being me – beating people up, running around.” She thinks of it as a more realistic depiction of modern women: action-oriented and assertive. “Whenever I see a woman be super weak, I always roll my eyes at that. But mainly more out of, I don’t have sympathy for weak people in general, so that makes me mad when I see my own kind being weak.” She acknowledges that there are situations where women are sometimes at a disadvantage. “Maybe a modern damsel in distress would be a girl who can’t figure out how to turn her computer on, or maybe work her printer… there are lots of roles in life that a woman just can’t physically fulfill, and needs a guy to help her out with, like opening pickle jars.”
Irreverent humour has always been at the heart of her geekier work. With several appearances on Adult Swim’s Emmy award-winning series Robot Chicken and her short film Saber (co-produced and co-starring with teammate Vanderbilt), which won two LucasFilm Star Wars Fan Film awards for its hilarious depiction of a Jedi girl fight, Grants says, “I would love to see women being the super villain more often, I think it’s such a fun role to play.” (Opposite real-life partner Green, the duo recently played a pair of evil super-DJs on My Damn Channel’s Save the Supers.) Evidently she’s a bit of a prankster as well. “Every time that I get to do a horror thing I really look forward to taking a shower and having my shower completely covered in fake blood, and I really wish I could set up some sort of like spy camera for when the housekeepers in the hotels have to come in and have to clean up all of the fake blood, to see the looks on their faces.”
Arguably the lynchpin of geekdom is comics culture, something with which Grant is very familiar. As an alternative and accessory to mainstream entertainment, comics provide a unifying platform by which fantasy, horror and science fiction creators can reach a massive cross section of fans (and each other – apparently Grant first met spouse Green at a comic shop.) She recollects a familiar experience for fans of horror and comics: “Seven or eight years ago I went into my comic shop – I loved my comic shop, and I just trusted those guys – I said I don’t know what to read anymore and they walked me around the store and pulled a bunch of comics for me and said here you should read this. I was like, Oh The Walking Dead, sure, I love zombies…It was extra appealing to me because it was in black and white and I appreciated that; it seemed like such a different take on the zombie genre than anything I had experienced before, and they’re just such good comics!” She says the Christmas-themed Team Unicorn video A Very Zombie Holiday grew out of a similar mashup of genres: teammate Vanderbilt’s love of Halloween came up during her bout of holiday decorating with Sarley. Circumstances, timing, and passion have to coincide to spur a project, says Grant: “We just like to wait for the ideas to come to us, if it feels right. Anything we make, we would like to see ourselves as fans, so we go for that.”
As both a genre fan and an actor, Grant is very aware of the issues regarding body image standards in Hollywood, which she says are as hard on the actors as they are for the fans. “The entire media plasters unattainable expectations for the average human being everywhere and it’s hard. It’s a lot of pressure.” She notes that directors aren’t personally responsible, but economic necessity reinforces the expectations. “The directors are not saying, we have to have a woman with this body type, but the directors are saying, oh, we’ve got to have a woman who brings numbers to the box office, we need to make some money on this movie. Unfortunately that’s what’s proven to work in the past so people keep doing the same things over and over again.” She stresses that audiences shouldn’t overlook how unrealistic the standards are: “they don’t realize how much work the actor puts in physically every day of their lives to look a certain way. [Actors] have incredibly strict diets, work out routines, and sleeping schedules, and a lot of people in their normal lives who aren’t actors don’t do that.” She says that rigorous discipline is required. “It’s miserable, and I look forward to all of the times I don’t have to be on camera where I can sit around eating Doritos.” Grant points out that one should always make one’s own choices regarding body alteration rather than bow to any external pressure. “People can do whatever they want, and I’ll support anyone I know in my life who has any type of alterations but me personally I’m not into that. I would never enlarge my boobs and if anyone told me I needed to enlarge my boobs to be on camera I would probably punch them in the face and walk out of the room.”
Overall, she says, roles for women are increasingly dynamic and empowering as more women are involved with production and content creation. Good storytelling is key, however she admits a preference for strong characters. “Gender roles don’t really bother me on film, I like to see strong men, I like to see strong women; seeing women play the victim doesn’t irk me as a woman but I do love to see women being strong.”
Grant’s upcoming projects include a starring role opposite Eddy Salazar in The Insomniac, a thriller in the vein of The Machinist, due out in April. Perfectly timed for the beginning of summer blockbuster teaser season, Team Unicorn’s new video, “For the Win” is scheduled to premiere March 4th on IGN (see trailer below).
This interview is part of DarkMedia’s official Women in Horror Recognition Month coverage! Stay tuned for more interviews, articles, and special features, right here on DarkMedia.com.
[Featured Photo Credit: Dana Patrick]