French actress Lily Catalifo won the title role in the new live-action adaptation of the British graphic novel series Rose Black – a re-working of The Bourne Identity for the horror genre with an ingenious new twist to vampire mythology at its dark heart. Paris-born, London-based Lily, who featured in the TV drama Guerrilla alongside Idris Elba, fulfils the titular character’s key assets – scaling almost six-feet-tall with a shapely athletic figure, long flowing dark hair and piercing blue, grey eyes – a bloodsucking Amazon with a licence to kill. Here, we talk to the actress about getting her teeth into this new screen horror character.
Rose Black is part of a wave of strong female characters from the fantasy genre on the screen recently?
Our amazing producer Victoria (Watson) and I talked about this during the shoot – how wonderful and exciting it is to see this long overdue strong female comic-book characters sweeping across our screens of late. In many ways, writers Ed (Murphy) and Tom (Campbell) created the first Rose Black comic-book before its time and Rose is exactly the kind of screen female the world is hungry for today. Her qualities are timeless, in part owing to her immortality and the life experience to adapt to any time period. It is fantastic to see a certain shift in balance in a world that has for the most part been dominated by testosterone fuelled leads. We love and need the men, but we need and love these women too. It’s all about striking a balance and fair representation isn’t it?
How do you think Rose Black compares in other counterparts?
Rose differs in that she isn’t a typical ‘heroine’ in the classic sense. She is violent, unpredictable and butchers many a man along the way. To those who do not know her, Rose comes across as a blood thirsty killer and source of evil rather than a force of good. Yet she has a pious nature, a deep moral compass and a sense of justice. Rose is something of an anti-hero who seeks to atone and strives to do the right thing all the while taking lives and wrecking carnage along the way. It was this contradiction that first drew me to her and made her real and relatable. Much of what makes Rose so captivating, I think, lies not in her strength or supernatural abilities, but in her mortal capacity to love and feel empathy – allowing for that kind of vulnerability is in its own way a super-power. Most of us are prone to some kind of self-sabotage and it’s nice to see that represented here. You have the heroes, the villains and the anti-heroes like Rose that sit in between.
Did you have a firm idea of how you wanted to bring her from the comic-book pages on to the screen when you got the part?
I suppose the most important aspect was doing the original comic books justice and bringing her to life with as much authenticity as possible. There is, of course, a slight added pressure when adapting any character from literature that happens to have a following and you have to consider that many dedicated Rose Black fans will have specific ideas about what they expect to see on screen – you don’t want to disappoint anyone, least of all people who adore her. All you can really do is aim to truthfully capture and express their essence. Ed, Jeremy (Freeston, the director) and I all agreed that Rose’s humanity was and should remain the heart of the piece – we didn’t want to shy away from her inner conflicts and struggles and fall into the stereotype of the powerful, hypersexualised female with little depth. We wanted to bring her imperfections and weaknesses to light. The complex bond she forms with her agency partner Naylor, played by the brilliant Jon Coleman, serves to highlight the cracks in her armour and makes for an interesting dynamic. Another great quality Rose possesses is her cracking sense of humour. She maintains her wit and dignity in the face of misogyny and doesn’t resort to exploiting her looks and gender to get what she wants.
Where there any other cinematic or literary characters you channelled in your interpretation?
Jeremy and I discussed the original comic books at length, and he gave me a couple of references of to peruse. For Ed, Marvel’s Black Widow and Atomic Blonde’s Lorraine Broughton came to mind as loose inspiration for the world we find ourselves in. We figured with the live-action series adaptation would feel more like True Blood meets Homeland. None of this was prescriptive, but merely came in handy as a first talking point to make sure we were all on the same page.
Did you have your own ideas of how she would be played?
I find it useful to use real people as a foundation for creating characters and I honed-in on one woman in particular – an incredible British Polish intelligence agent who went by the name of Christine Granville. Her life and trajectory are fascinating and contextually works for Rose in terms of the time and place during which the pilot is set. Ultimately though, there was no one person to channel because Rose is unique in that she is unlike any other cinematic or literary character before her. I have endless respect and admiration for Rose – her heart is in the right place and her sense of duty and courage which knows no bounds. The most important thing was to prepare as much as possible starting with the comic books themselves, reading and studying them in depth. I had a pragmatic approach to draw out her timeline by working my way from the Dark Ages through to medieval folklore from the depths of Romania to tales of Victorian horror, the origins of vampirism and landing at the centre of the inner workings of British Intelligence – jotting down anything useful that resonated in my little black book along the way. Rose is world savvy and has been around for a few more centuries than I so this kept me happily occupied for weeks – a real treat for a history nerd like me.
You look physically fit in the role. What was your regime for preparing to play Rose?
I have very little workout related discipline on the best of days. I am a lazy exerciser and adore food. I am definitely a French woman in that respect. We steer well clear of gyms and much prefer walks or cycles in the great outdoors. I’ve always been on the tall, slim and lanky side of things and comic book Rose is somewhat more voluptuous. So, I aimed to get some curves and muscle definition going on in the right places and do the original Rose artwork justice. This involved no crazy dieting or relentless sessions of working out, but two high intensity weight and strength training workouts a week over a couple of months with a top notch trainer called Tim Jones at my local park in North West London. He got us through the hard times thanks to his sense of humour and generous helping of breaks to huff and moan accordingly. He recommended eating certain amounts of protein/carb/veg ratios at specific times pre and post workout – the art of bulking up as it turns out is quite the scientific affair. I became hooked on kick-boxing around the time Rose Black was being cast and I kept that up alongside the occasional Yoga and Tai Chi class. I have little patience for either. So, it was good for developing my near non-existent sports discipline and I definitely felt physically and mentally better for it.
The fight sequences are fantastic – really fast-moving and dynamic. Was that a difficult process for you during production?
Our fight co-ordinator Kiran (Pande) did an amazing job. Ed, Victoria, Jeremy and our talented stunts guys all made sure we knew exactly what we were doing and that we had heaps of rehearsal time to drill in and perfect our moves. Anna (Sawyer, who plays one of the ‘Killer Nuns’) and I had plenty of shits and giggles along the way especially during our first rehearsal at The Umbrella Rooms studio in London’s Soho. But having watched Jeremy’s Medieval Dead series, along with some of his other previous work featuring epic battles, and many a conversation with Ed about exactly what he had in mind for these scenes, I knew I was in safe hands. And I kept up all the body combat and kick-boxing I could muster on my side. Although the environment couldn’t have been more supportive and relaxed, we did the fight sequences as continuous takes, so you don’t want to be the one to mess it up. Especially when obstacles arise, for instance with the second fight sequence, due to unforeseen time constraints of shooting that day we only had one take to get it right. Having said this, in many ways the added pressure can often give you that extra edge you need to make it look as gritty and real as possible.
Are you a fan of horror movies or literature and, if so, what are your own favourites?
I am a huge horror fan and was raised on the stuff. Where to begin? The Blair Witch Project and The Exorcist are two of the greatest in my books. And the Hannibal Lecter franchise … has anyone ever been as creepy and endearing as Anthony Hopkins? And Jack Nicholson in The Shining of course – a similarly captivating yet repugnant kind of madness. I developed a slightly morbid fascination with horror and gore at an early age in spite of my mum’s best attempts to shelter me. I remember being about eight and setting an alarm clock to sneak up to the attic in the dead of night to watch a pilfered copy of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu – the Japanese original franchise of The Ring – safe to say I didn’t sleep for weeks after that. I recently watched a fantastic Korean feature called The Wailing by Na Hong-Jin, which I highly recommend if you are partial to a bit of horror yourself. In terms of horror literature most of my favourites are Victorian classics, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Shelley’s Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Grey.
We get the impression from the pilot episode; we’re only seeing Rose instigate a low-level of violence. Do you know if we’re going to see her tear people apart like she does in the comic-books?
I think the danger with pilot episodes is attempting to cram in too much of the plot and action. The idea behind the lower level of violence in the pilot was to keep it simple and effective – delivering a taste of what’s to come and hopefully leaving the viewer wanting more. Although we refrained from the absolute savagery, she is oft prone to. I think it is safe to say, without giving too much away, that the violence will be ramped accordingly when necessary. The brains behind the operations know what they are doing and I’ve no doubt the die-hard fans will be satisfied by what’s to come next. And so, I’ll look forward to kicking some more ass, tearing off a limb or two, and ventilating a few jugulars in the near future.
A huge thank you to Lily for taking part in this interview.
And we wish her the very best of luck in the future.
The Rose Black series pilot episode – Exodus – is available to stream at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/roseblack
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