“Ever since the Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding thing in the 1990s, I’ve always loved ice skating,” confesses Alice Eve. It’s a pleasant enough Los Angeles morning, but small talk about the recent Winter Olympics is entirely appropriate given the downright chilly vibe that Eve’s latest film gives off.
A tightly wound, character-rooted crime drama in the vein of A Simple Plan, director Tze Chun’s Cold Comes the Night is one of those crisp, engaging independent films that rather bewilderingly and frustratingly slip through the theatrical cracks every now and again. Eve stars as Chloe, a single mother who lives in a rundown, upstate-New York, pit-stop motel inherited from her father, where she halfheartedly takes part in a kickback scheme contrived with crooked cop Billy (Logan Marshall-Green) to let local hookers utilize her establishment with customers. With social services breathing down her neck, though, Chloe is already looking for a change when an argument at her property one night escalates to murder. The next day, Topo (Bryan Cranston), a nearly blind criminal bagman, takes Chloe and her daughter hostage, forcibly enlisting her assistance in retrieving a valuable package from the impounded vehicle of his murdered associate.
Chess-move head games ensue, and at the heart of it all is Eve’s mesmerizingly rundown performance, a thing of damaged grace. Paste had a chance to chat with her recently, about the movie, what song shaped the character of Chloe, her career and more.
Paste: It would be easier for Chloe to be a lot more agitated and animated. Yet there was a weariness to your performance—she seemed to really carry the stings and disappointments of life with her.
Alice Eve: That was a very considered decision and process. I felt that her circumstances would enforce that behavioral restraint on her, because as a single mother if she has any hope of raising a sane child, she can’t display her internal angst, otherwise the child will be massively affected negatively by it. And also I felt that it’s far more interesting to get to know a person. When you have the luxury of 90 minutes to tell the story of a character, you can trust that it will be revealed. And that’s rewarding to watch. I know that in life when someone reveals themselves slowly to me, it’s far more interesting than if I can see everything about them at first glance.
Paste: What sort of conversations about Chloe did you have with Tze Chun before filming?
Eve: Tze gave me a song by Bob Dylan called “Baby Stop Your Crying,” which is what he wrote Chloe to. And I think that we definitely both agreed on the fact that Chloe’s paramount concern was the fact that she was a mother. So with that information, that Tze and I came to together, from that I could deduce down how she would prioritize her life and what her behavioral reactions would be. If that was her genuine heartfelt priority, it was only logical that she demonstrate restraint in her emotional visibility.
Paste: That’s interesting that Tze gave you a song. Do you tend to use music as an inspiration or cue a lot on films?
Eve: Music gives me great pleasure in my life, but I do think that it’s my life that it gives me pleasure in. I think it’s dangerous to hinge a character on a song as an actor, because your main currency is spontaneity. So if you’re attached to some emotional nugget like a song you can’t really stray from that. Sometimes they’ll be a song that ends up representing a character, like if it’s played on the radio a lot while you’re doing that job or whatever, but I’m not one to typically restrain myself like that or use music to get into character.
Paste: There’s an interesting dichotomy to the scenes between Chloe and Topo—he has the power even though he’s sense-limited, and yet as the movie wears on he has to cede some of it back to Chloe, in bits and pieces. Was there any discussion you had with Bryan Cranston prior to filming about the very specific nature of Topo’s diminishing sight capacity?
Eve: Yeah, absolutely, we both have to be on the same page about that. And he had done his research about the particular disease that his character had, and what he could see was blobs—he could see movement. So we were both cognitive of the fact that he could recognize a person crossing a room well enough to shoot them, but he couldn’t necessarily recognize a face.
Paste: Have you played a blind or deaf character yourself?
Eve: I haven’t, actually. When I was growing up, very young, my dad won an Olivier for playing this character in Children of a Lesser God, who falls in love with a deaf woman. So he learned sign language, and when I was younger he used to talk to us in sign language sometimes, but I’ve never played someone who had that [disability].
Paste: There are a number of tremendously fraught scenes in Cold Comes the Night. Is there a shorthand that gets you to the place where you’re able to cry, something that is reliable and consistent, or does it vary based on the movie?
Eve: Just that old chestnut: pain. There’s no shortcut, unfortunately. You just have to be in pain.
Paste: I was a bit heartbroken that this film didn’t receive a bigger theatrical push. As an actress, working for hire, I’m sure you have gradations of experience, and you’re juggling big studio productions that you know are going to receive a theatrical release with independent productions that will go the festival route and you don’t know quite what will become of them. So how much psychological investment do you allow yourself in marketplace reception?
Eve: The pleasure is in the performance, really, and anything that comes after that is a gift—the fact that anybody sees it at all is great. Obviously, it’s incredibly thrilling to be part of a movie the size of Star Trek that has such success, and Some Velvet Morning, another recent movie I did, was pretty well reviewed across the board, and that’s lovely. But it’s definitely a crowded marketplace, so you do it for the love of doing it, really. Entering into some psychological warfare with yourself about a level of success that could be achieved—well, that sort of speculation is dangerous in any realm of existence. It’s experience (that has allowed me to realize) you need to take care of yourself in a way that doesn’t leave you subject to those things, you know?
Paste: There’s a palpable sense of socioeconomically depressed gloom that hangs over the movie. It has a very strongly defined sense of place. You shot on location in upstate New York, right?
Eve: We did, we lived in a motel and shot in a motel. Tze videoed all the motels they went around and sent them to me and asked me my opinion, so there was a little bit of collaboration even on the location scouting. And then when I went there, I went and cleaned motels with women and asked how they ran it, asked what it was like, and learned about the complications of a female running a motel that is [in many ways] like halfway housing, for addicts and recovering addicts. It was a complete immersion in the environment.
Paste: You have Chris Evans’ directorial debut, 1:30 Train, on tap next, I believe, which sounds a bit of a piece with Before Sunrise. Is that accurate at all?
Eve: Yeah, that’s the pitch—it’s basically the story of a girl who is stranded in Manhattan after having her purse stolen and missing her train home, and this guy who is busking, a trumpet player, comes up and offers to help her. And through a series of, well, inconveniences really, they end up spending this night together walking around the streets. And you eventually start to realize that this woman has a bigger problem than you thought.
Paste: A woman in trouble, then?
Eve: I guess. She’s not a fallen woman, but she’s a woman in a situation that is more than you thought it was.
NOTE: Cold Comes the Night is now available on digital and Blu-ray and DVD, the latter two inclusive of deleted scenes.
Brent Simon is a regular contributor to Screen Daily, Paste, Playboy, Magill’s Cinema Annual and ShockYa, among many other outlets. A former three-term president and current member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Simon has contributed to a wide variety of publications, including New York Magazine’sVulture, IGN, Rotten Tomatoes, H Magazine, FilmStew and Reelz. He has worked with AFI Fest, served on multiple film festival juries, and also served in an advisory capacity on various film programming endeavors. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog.