While in attendance at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with the two human co-stars in Grant Sputore’s stunning slice of sci-fi cinema, I Am Mother (you can read this writer’s review of the film HERE): newcomer Clara Rugaard and the multiple award-winning Hilary Swank (who still remains one of my very favorite parts of the Buffy movie). During our brief chat, the duo discussed their initial thoughts on the concepts behind I Am Mother, adjusting to working alongside a robotic character, and more.

Can you both start off by talking about what initially attracted you to this script?

Clara Rugaard: This story felt like a conversation we all need to be having. Technology is becoming more and more prevalent in our society day by day. And I think that was one of Grant's ideas behind it, wanting it to become a subject matter that we are aware of, and speak of. And the script is brilliant. When I read it, I instantly just wanted to be a part of this and audition for it.

Hilary Swank: And she's great. You put yourself on tape, and they were looking at a bunch of Australians because it was filmed in Australia, but you got cast immediately upon them seeing that tape.

Clara Rugaard: They weren't actually looking for anyone outside of Australia, but I snuck in.

Hilary Swank: I really do think she is really brilliant in the movie, and this is a big breakthrough performance for her. Everyone is definitely going to be seeing a lot more of you after this. For me, though—first of all, I'm not a sci-fi fan. So, to find this a page-turner was unusual. But I thought it was thought-provoking, I thought it brought up a lot of interesting conversation about, what would happen? It's not like it's improbable to think of global warming wiping out our species. Or our current political climate. There's a lot of things that we all think about going wrong, so what would happen? What do you do? And that, to me, and the idea of artificial intelligence coming in and saying, “Okay, we're going to re-create the human race. We're going to make it right this time, and better.” But what does that mean, really? What is better? It's so subjective, right?

And I do feel like we're in a time right now where there's a loss of ethics and values and morals. And there is such a deep polarization that we can't agree to disagree. It all becomes fights and it just feels like we've stepped backwards. And so, it just made me think about all of that. And it made me think about survival, and how far is too far? Anyway, I thought that was really interesting. It was definitely a page-turner for me, and it was emotional and entertaining too.

When you were starting out, did you find that acting opposite a non-human character posed certain challenges? Even though there is a person inside the suit, you are looking at a metallic being and reacting against it. Did you find that initially evoked a different kind of performance from you?

Clara Rugaard: Yeah, it definitely took some getting used to, and I think we all grew smarter throughout the process. Through the technical aspects of shooting, we found out there were angles that didn't actually work for Mother, or at different times, it didn't look like the robot was looking directly at me. Luke [Hawker], who also designed the suit, he had one thousand things to think about, whilst delivering a performance, and carrying a 42-kilo suit, and with limited visibility and movement and everything. I take my hat off to that guy because he put everything into his performance.

Hilary Swank: He probably lost 42 kilos wearing it, too [laughs].

A great deal of this film focuses on this idea of human connection and the importance of it. Can you talk about preparing yourself mentally to immerse yourself in this world?

Hilary Swank: I really empathize with the characters that I play, and I just try and put myself in their shoes. And so, I was actually filming a Danny Boyle project at the same time I was making I Am Mother. I was hopping from Italy to Australia to London to New Zealand. And so, that prepared me for the exhaustion of my character in this. But it's the idea of having a great concept, and having it be well-written, and having them be open to changes, lines, dialogue, here and there. To always continue to elevate the concept. It was a great collaboration across the board, from Michael [Lloyd Green] our writer, through the actors, and clearly with Grant, too.

And something I think that inspired me for this film, more than anything else, is people who persevere through adversity. And the idea that this woman clearly had experienced such devastation, and how that affected her, and how that changes your desire to survive, and then how you overcome that because you need to survive. I didn't pull away from anything on this one. In fact, I almost pushed into it more so than anything.

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Want to read other interviews, reviews, and news from Sundance? Check here to read all of Daily Dead's live coverage of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival!

[Photo credit: Above photos courtesy of Sundance Institute.]

Heather Wixson
About the Author - Heather Wixson

After falling in love with the horror genre at a very early age, Heather Wixson has spent the last decade carving out a name for herself in the genre world as a both a journalist and as a proponent of independent horror cinema. Wixson is currently the Managing Editor for DailyDead.com, and was previously a featured writer at DreadCentral.com and TerrorTube.com where her online career began; she’s also been a contributor at FEARnet as well as a panelist for several of their online programs.

Wixson recently finished her first book, Monster Squad: Celebrating the Artists Behind Cinema's Most Memorable Creatures, and is currently working on her second upcoming book project on special effects artists as well.