As Isabel in The Institute, Allie Gallerani experiences unconventional treatments at the hands of Dr. Cairn (James Franco). With Momentum Pictures releasing The Institute in theaters and on VOD this Friday, March 3rd, we caught up with Gallerani for our latest Q&A feature to discuss working with Franco, the influence of Penny Dreadful, and much more.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us, Allie. What attracted you to playing the role of Isabel Porter in The Institute?
Allie Gallerani: I was drawn to Isabel’s strength, intelligence, and curiosity. These traits were not valued in Victorian society, so she feels like a bit of an outsider. I love playing characters who are a little bit stubborn and challenge accepted norms. As an actor, I’m always intrigued by a character’s transformation and Isabel’s is monumental.
Did any other films or performances inspire you when you were preparing for the role of Isabel?
Allie Gallerani: I didn’t watch anything specifically for this role, but I kept thinking about Eva Green in Penny Dreadful. The way she can convey so much while being completely still is not only impressive but appropriate for women in that era. Her performance in the scene where she becomes possessed is astonishing.
You’ve worked with James Franco before on projects like In Dubious Battle and 11.22.63, and you share some intense moments with the actor/co-director in this film. What was it like collaborating with him for your scenes in The Institute?
Allie Gallerani: James is a very generous actor. His director brain is always working, so he’s constantly pushing everyone to deliver their best performance. He’s very subtle about it while he’s acting, though. He’ll add a line or change one thing about the way he’s doing a scene to get a different reaction from the other actor.
The Institute takes place in the 19th century, and the costumes and settings really reflect that era in American history. Did working on this film feel like stepping back in time a bit?
Allie Gallerani: Absolutely! The hair and costumes played a huge part in helping me understand my character’s physicality. You can’t relax even a little bit in a corset—you can’t even lie down, really—so I had to learn to be very economical with my movements. And the building where we shot everything was both gorgeous and slightly unsettling; it was very dark and maze-like, which really helped me get into the Gothic mindset.
What was the most challenging or rewarding scene to shoot?
Allie Gallerani: There’s a scene in which Isabel starts to wake up from her stupor and starts to realize what’s been done to her—and what she’s done. It wasn’t originally included in the script. The first time I met [co-director] Pamela [Romanowsky] was four days before we started filming and I asked her why we never see Isabel absorb the extent of her trauma. Pamela listened to me, very kindly told me that it was too late to make any changes to the script, and then sent me the scene four hours later!
The Institute has such a great cast, including Lori Singer, Josh Duhamel, and Tim Blake Nelson. What did you enjoy the most about working with the other actors on this project?
Allie Gallerani: I learned so much just by watching these veteran actors, and to be able to work with them was an honor. We would try to keep things light in between takes—there’s so much waiting around that you can’t constantly stay in Gothic horror mode. James taught me a swing dance routine he learned on the set of 11.22.63 and Tim and I would watch the primary debates on his iPad (back in those rosy days when we thought it would be Jeb running against Hillary).
Looking back at your time on set, is there a favorite or funny moment in particular that stands out?
Allie Gallerani: There are so many! We shot the bulk of the movie in an old building right outside of downtown LA, and a lot of weird things kept happening on set. Towards the end of a long night shooting a complicated scene, we heard a loud car crash around 5:00am. Pamela and the producers went to investigate and saw a completely naked man and a fully clothed woman emerge from the car. They just turned around and went back to set!
With The Institute coming out on March 3rd from Momentum Pictures, what projects do you have on deck that you can tease?
I recently wrapped a small part in a movie called Professor Marston and his Wonder Women, starring Luke Evans and Rebecca Hall, about the creator of Wonder Woman.