It will be nearly impossible to find a gutsier performance this year than Jules Willcox’s work in Alone. Co-starring Marc Menchaca and directed by John Hyams, the film is a refreshingly elevated and lean thriller. Willcox broke her foot during production, but hopefully that pain was eased by the end product!
Jessica (Jules Willcox) is a widow who is trying to open a new chapter in her life, but her story may end after a fateful encounter with a stranger (Marc Menchaca). “Alone” in the Pacific Northwest with a man attempting to hunt her down, Jessica is trying her best to stay alive.
Though it’s a bare-bones plot, director John Hyams brings a confident and non-exploitative hand to the proceedings. Alone relies on the nuanced work from Willcox and Menchaca, and setting this story in the eye catching wilderness adds another arresting layer to the feature.
During our conversation, Willcox recalled breaking her foot during the production and forming a close bond with Menchaca (she also had a previous collaboration with Hyams). She also cites Die Hard as one of her favorite films. Considering she’s a total badass in Alone, it’s the perfect choice.
First off, I’m a huge fan of thrillers, and Alone is just on another level. It’s a top shelf film.
Awesome. I love hearing that!
I’m sure you’ve been hearing that a lot. How great is it to see it being released at this time? Also how frustrating was it to wait for Alone to come out (the movie was completed three years ago)?
It was a little frustrating but I also can’t imagine it coming out at any other time. A lot of people are doing their thing alone and people are at home watching movies and wanting to reflect on the times that we are living in.
It is kind of the perfect time (to release Alone). I hope it allows people catharsis and an escape any troubles they are having from being alone.
What is the key to playing a person whose sole mission is to survive? It just seems like such a challenging role to tackle.
When I first read the script, I was like “This is going to be hard (laughs).” But then I thought, why am I receiving this (and) why is this coming to me? It was because of the director. The director is John Hyams who I’d worked with previously on Chicago P.D.
We had done an episode of television which was one of the most emotionally and physically challenging episodes of television that I have ever done. I knew that if he was involved – he’s so respectful of the actor’s process and he just loves filmmaking.
(Hyams) loves actors. He loves storytelling and he handles action in such a beautiful, almost choreographed way. He’s got a martial arts background . . . he’s just incredible. I knew I was going to be in great hands.
A lot of that is just reading the script, working on the script, and figuring out who this character is for me. And then once you get on set, you just let it go. That’s the biggest advice I would give. Allow the scenes to occur, allow the movie to happen.
John didn’t know hiring Marc and me how we would work together (or) how it would work. I can’t imagine anyone else doing it because it was just something magical when both of us showed up, having never worked together before. It just worked. It’s just sort of that magic that happens when different actors do their thing.
Marc Menchaca is such a believable and talented actor. When you have someone like that opposite you, is it very easy to let go and get into those scenes?
Oh absolutely. But you got to also realize that Marc is the sweetest, kindest, funniest person on the planet. When the camera is not rolling, he is making me laugh uncontrollably (laughs).
But then it’s flip of the switch and then we’re in it. He is very real and very grounded. I’m not saying he doesn’t have craft – he absolutely does. He is just so comfortable being himself on camera and it was inspiring for me. It’s like, okay, you don’t have to put on anything. It’s just being present and real and affecting your other actor.
I feel that is really what is cool about this film; it feels very real.
I’m a city slicker so I’m basically a blight to humanity. I’m really horrible in the outdoors. Are you an outdoors person, and even so was this production, out in the Pacific Northwest, physically and emotionally taxing for you?
It was and particularly for the crew. They’re carrying equipment and lights and rain towers and cameras and all kinds of stuff into very difficult positions.
I’m a very outdoorsy person. I love hiking. I love being outdoors. I love water. But being in white water rapids is totally different than going out on a swim in the ocean or something. It was definitely challenging. One of the biggest challenges was I actually broke my foot in a freak accident – it was an easy running stunt. I hit a root and it just broke my bones.
The question came up; do we stop or do we keep going? I just didn’t want to stop telling Jessica’s story because we had already given it so much. I wanted to see it through the end.
We were actually able to write in some strategic things that happened in the film that actually, I think, made it better. It also made it much more real and visceral for me. So that pain you’re seeing? Definitely real (laughs).
And without giving too much away, you had to learn that hand to hand stuff.
Oh yeah, I love doing combat. I love that kind of action and we don’t really get to do it particularly often. Particularly as women. We just don’t get to do it as much as our male counterparts.
I’ve always wanted to do action, I just never had the opportunity outside of theater. It was just such a blast. Again, difficult because of the foot but also you’re just kind of riding on adrenaline.
We shot in sequence so that last day was the end of the fight. It was just so fun. It was amazing.
Right off the top of your head, can you name one of your favorite movies and why does this particular movie still resonate with you?
(laughs) I know this is crazy, but the first movie that came up in my mind was Die Hard (laughs). I love Die Hard. I can watch it over and over and over again. I particularly love real people having to do extraordinary things.
It actually kind of ties into this film because she’s a very real woman with real life experience. She’s not training in martial arts or the fight of her life, but she has to find it within herself to do it. And I also just love Alan Rickman. When I was a kid, I wanted to be Alan Rickman when I grew up.
Before you go, what were your initial reactions of the film when you first saw it. And is it cool that now you can take a breath and realize that this is a quality movie?
Yeah, it makes me feel so satisfied that all that work we did, it really paid off. People are really enjoying it. I actually saw it for the first time at the Mammoth Film Festival where we won Best Feature and Actor and Actress. Marc came out to make sure to watch it with me. He had seen a cut prior to me and he wanted to be there when I saw it because he was so proud of the work that we did.
(laughs) He and the producer were just watching my reactions the whole time and the audience reaction was just – towards the end of the film, in the theater, I hope someday people will be able to see it in the theater but the energy in the room was palpable and people were shouting and cheering. This is the best thing I could have asked for. Just for an audience to have that type of reaction.
Thank you for your time Jules and I hope this movie kicks ass.
Thank you so much.
Alone hits theaters and On Demand September 18. The Find Your Film podcast crew review the film below!