There are countless transplants who hit the United States to embark on a film and television career. Kate Moran went the other route, as the actress currently lives and works in Paris. Her latest feature is the ambitious and breathtakingly shot Savage State. She talked to us about this auteur driven epic, working Paris, and why Robert Frank’s Me and My Brother is one of her all-time favorite features.
Written and directed by David Perrault, Savage State centers on a French family living in Missouri who traverse to New York upon the beginning of the Civil War. They are heading back to France with the help of a mercenary named Victor (Kevin Janssens).
Kate Moran (Knife + Heart) is Bettie, a mysterious woman whose attraction to Victor leads her and a group of cohorts on a path of revenge. Alice Isaaz is Esther, a member of the French family who falls in love with Victor probably against her better judgment.
As a fan of Westerns that are infused with beautiful vistas and compositions (Sergio Leone’s work as well as Marlon Brando’s underrated One Eyed Jacks comes to mind), I appreaciated Savage State’s visual and thematic scope. Moran’s presence is felt throughout the narrative, and she is one of the many aspects that enables Savage State to rise above the fray.
During the chat, I asked Moran about Savage State’s ending. If you want to hear her take on the climax, check our our CinemAddicts Patreon page where I post exclusive spoilers on that platform! For more info, go here.
What did you find special about Savage State?
For me what was special about it was the perspective of David Perrault the director. He took this life of this French family as the Civil War was taking off. There was a very specific perspective that we don’t see in a classic Western. And obviously the fact that all of the heroes of it are women – that’s also something we haven’t seen in a ton of films.
Your character is the antagonist of this film, but she isn’t completely evil.
For me, she’s not a character that you can define as good or bad because she lives on instinct. She’s more like an animal. Part of this is this need to keep what she considers hers and even above and beyond revenge. There is something about the passion she has that I don’t think she even understands that it’s love that she feels for this man. Or if it’s just some instinct she feels to just get him that drives her to what she does. That’s what I love about her.
Can you talk about your acting background and taking the road less traveled?
I guess I chose the road that chose me. My background is mostly in theater and I started out in New York. I went to NYU Tisch School of the Arts. I was drawn to more . . . not necessarily the classic approach to making theater. I liked the idea that you sort of know every aspect of it. Everybody is in it all together.
And then I met a French theater director while I was at school and started working with his company and he’s a contemporary theater director and writer in Paris. I’m based in Paris right now.
Through his company that I worked with, I was going back and forth from New York to Paris and work begets to work. The artists that I met through the theater I was doing led me down a path towards a certain kind of cinema that I guess also what would be independent or auteur cinema. But that’s also what I’m attracted to, so I guess it kind of worked out.
What is it about indie cinema that you prefer over commercial moviemaking?
I hate this commercial versus independent, like one is good or one is bad. We want everybody to see our film. We’d love to have Savage State be a big commercial success that everybody sees. It’s not like cool to have people see your stuff.
It’s more of the aspect is when someone has something to say and they’re not branding and 25 people in a room saying “Well you can’t have that ending because that’s not marketable.” That kind of thing is what leads me to auteur/independent cinema because life is sad. It’s not nice to not always have a f**king happy ending.
Were you surprised at the visual scope behind Savage State?
Yes. I admit that I definitely was. It is an independent film. It was a big vision with not all the money needed to make it look as amazing as it is. The director and the cinematographer and everyone who worked on it really managed to give it that sweeping majesty that the genre of Westerns gives because it has to have that open world and that savage unknown kind of thing about it.
There were definitely some landscapes that were not too kind to the shoot either (laughs). We had rainstorms in the desert and everything!
On the Find Your Film podcast, we spotlight the work of experimental filmmaker Maya Deren (Meshes of the Afternoon):
Right off the top of your head, can you name one of your all-time favorite films?
One of my go-tos is Me and My Brother by Robert Frank. The reason it resonates is when I saw it I thought “What am I watching?” It’s this (project) that Robert Frank, who’s better known as a photographer, made with Peter Orlovsky who was with Allen Ginsberg for a very long time.
(Peter’s brother) Julius had mental problems. He starts off and he’s actually in it. It’s this docu-fiction kind of thing and halfway through he decides he doesn’t want to be in it anymore and he’s replaced by Christopher Walken. There are scenes that are a movie within a movie and there’s stuff that are real life at parties.
It was one of the first films that I saw that did not have a direct narrative and I just thought “What is going on with this” that I really liked. Oh this could be cinema too and not just a story from beginning to end. That’s one for the ages for me.
There is that myth/fantasy about living and working in Paris. For you, is the reality much more pleasurable than the dream of it?
I think that for anybody that wants to be a writer, actor, or filmmaker, everybody tells you “Well good luck with that, what are you going to do with your real job?” You go where the work is. I love Paris and I love the people I work with. I’m happiest on the stage or if I could be in any country, any place, because it’s the work that makes me happiest. The fact that I’m working, yeah, the reality is better than the dream.
I remember interviewing Mary Louise Parker years ago and she talked about loving being on stage because that’s a memory and feeling that is shared between you and the audience.
Of course. I also prefer stage to cinema. There is the rehearsal process that I enjoy but the immediacy of it happening when you’re on stage that you share with an audience. For me, there’s also this thing of is it’s crazy addiction. I have terrible stage fright and so before I go on, I (think) “Please let me get hit by a bus, please let something happen, I can’t do this. I’m going to change careers. I can’t handle this anymore.”
But then I step on stage and especially on the best nights, all of a sudden it’s over. And you didn’t even see your time go by. And then I think I can’t wait to do it all over again. It’s cycles like that – there’s nothing better.
Thank you for your time and I love your film!
Thank you so much!
***Savage State hits On Digital and On Demand January 29 via Samuel Goldwyn Films.