Joan Allen

Joan Allen film still

An Academy Award-nominated actress like Joan Allen seems an unlikely star for Paul WS Anderson’s new adrenaline-fuelled action movie about gun-toting prisoners and car races, but she jumped at the chance of the role as prison warden in Death Race. The movie is a modern version of the cult classic, Death Race 2000, and it’s in cinemas now.

(Editor’s note: Read this interview because both it and Joan Allen are great, but don’t actually go and see the film – it’s a misogynistic piece of trash that treats its – real – audience exactly the same as Allen’s character treats her – fictitious – one; as a bunch of slavering idiots willing to waive all moral considerations for tits, ass, death and heavy metal. We’d post a full review, but honestly, what’s the point?)

LWLies: How did you get involved with an action movie like Death Race?

Allen: I was sent the script a year ago and when I read it, I thought it was fantastic. It’s such a different departure for me, which made me very happy and excited. I thought the story was really good – and I thought this character was very delicious and fun.

LWLies: What do you like about her?

Allen: Well, she isn’t very likeable – but it’s fun to be the bad guy. I think most actors agree because you have permission to do reprehensible things. It’s very fun. We’d do takes and the crew would burst into laughter at the end because she was so nasty. It was very fun to go to work every day.

LWLies: Do you have any problem with appearing in a popcorn blockbuster movie like this?

Allen: No, I think it’s great. Actors tend to love variety, but you don’t often get it because people find something you do really well and then they want you to repeat it again and again. It’s great when you get offered something different like this.

LWLies: You play a powerful female prison warden in the movie. Did you do any research for the role?

Allen: There is a female warden who director Paul Anderson based the character on – and he described her to me. I read about her on the internet, too. He said she would always wear jewels and diamonds to work in a tough jail because she’s fearless. She knew the prisoners wouldn’t touch her. The inmates were very deferential, which is the concept behind this character.

LWLies: Are you a fan of car racing?

Allen: No, I’m not a racer – but I think I have got a speeding ticket or two in my life. My daughter always says, ‘Mum, you’re always going over the speed limit.’ It’s only by seven or eight miles per hour, but it happens. I live in New York, so I don’t drive all that much. When I get to drive out of the city, I actually really love it. But I don’t drive like the guys do in the movie.

LWLies: What was Paul WS Anderson like as a director?

Allen: He was amazing. He had been wanting to make this movie for such a long time that he was really excited about it all. He was like a little kid. He was so eager.

LWLies: What about Jason Statham?

Allen: We had so much fun together on set. He’s a wonderful guy and I think he comes off so powerfully on film. We come from different worlds when you look at the films I’ve done in the past compared to the films he’s done – but I love that. I think a really interesting chemistry can develop when you come from these different places.

LWLies: He’s very tough on screen. What’s he like when the cameras stop rolling?

Allen: He’s very soft-spoken and very disciplined. He had to work incredibly hard because on top of shooting almost every day, he had a very rigorous physical regime. He had a trainer he had to work with every day and he was on a very special diet, which I respected a lot. He’s got a nice sense of humour and he’s low key, as well as very easy to work with.

LWLies: Work has started on a fourth Bourne movie… Are you going to sign up for it?

Allen: I haven’t heard anything solid about Bourne, although I’ve heard they’re writing a fourth one right now. I hope I’m in it because I’d love to be part of it, but it’s not the Pam Landy show, it’s the Jason Bourne show. I guess it all depends on what they come up with. I’ve got my fingers crossed, though.

LWLies: You’re returning to Broadway soon, aren’t you?

Allen: I’m heading back to the stage after 19 years, but I had no intention of going back to Broadway. An old director friend of mine called me out of the blue and said I’ve got this gorgeous play that you have to read. Within 15 minutes, he was standing in my living room handing me the script and it was such a beautiful piece of writing that I knew I had to do it. The play is called Impressionism and it’s a limited, 16-week run, so it’s not like I had to sign on for a year.

LWLies: What’s it about?

Allen: It takes place in an art gallery and it looks at the relationship between Jeremy Irons and myself. I run the art gallery and I hired him a few years ago when he was a photographer. It’s kind of a love story but it’s also about art and how art reflects on your own life. It’s beautiful and funny.

LWLies: Death Race is set in an internet-savvy world of the future… do you go online?

Allen: I love Google. Google is my best friend, although I’m not very computer savvy. My daughter is 14 and she has four screens going at the same time. She’s got Facebook on one, playing music on another, writing a paper on another and IM’ing someone on the other. My mind spins. But I love Google because of the access to information. It’s so easy and there’s a lot of instant gratification. I went to Spain earlier this year and I planned the whole trip online. I did everything. Hotels, trains… the whole lot.

LWLies: What does your daughter think when she sees you acting tough on the big screen?

Allen: In real life, my daughter has a tougher skin than I do. I went to an early screening with a friend of mine and my daughter came along with eight friends. She’s very social and her friends just had a ball. They couldn’t believe how different I was in real life to my character.

LWLies: Does she think you’re cool?

Allen: I’m not sure. I think maybe she does – but she doesn’t like to admit it. She probably thinks her mum is kinda dorky.

LWLies: Does she want to follow in your footsteps?

Allen: She does want to do some acting. She’s really good and she’s a great comedienne. She’s done some great plays at school and she’s done an acting class for teenagers, which she enjoyed. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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