In "Morgan," the first feature film from Luke Scott (son of Ridley), Anya Taylor-Joy ("The Witch") plays a genetically altered human who's been "raised" by scientists at a remote lab. After a disturbing incident, corporate troubleshooter Lee (Kate Mara) arrives to assess the situation: Can the Morgan project be saved ... or is she too dangerous?
The day after a screening and Q&A at the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, Moviefone sat down with the actresses who talked about the grueling training for the film's big fight sequences. Mara also explained why she led a monastic life during filming in Ireland while Taylor-Joy hung out with the crew after-hours, and what happened to the hoodie she wears for most of the film.
Moviefone: Anya, I loved you in "The Witch." But every time you go into the woods, bad things happen...
Anya Taylor-Joy: Don't go into the woods with me, it's a big mistake. [Laughs]
You both did a lot of boxing training for the movie, I understand.
Kate Mara: Well, I did.
Taylor-Joy: It was more like mixed martial arts. I come from a dance background, so the real thing for me is to turn myself from being a dancer into being a fighter. I definitely noticed the difference when that happened. We both trained a lot. We trained for two weeks before filming, we trained every single day. It was kind of like a boot camp. We had an unbelievable stunt team
Mara: Yeah, we love them. We became like a little family.
Taylor-Joy: We did. It was a little squad. We'd all go in and do our warm-ups together. We were really training the way that they train, so, hopefully, we did this justice.
Kate, you also did some ballet to prepare for the film as well?
Mara: Yeah, before we got to Ireland, I was boxing here in L.A. and I also had a Pilates/ballet instructor just to get used to both sides of the spectrum. It was really helpful and I loved doing it, so now I continue doing both of those things, just in general as a workout, because it's such a good workout.
And neither of you had done a fight scene like this before? Did either of you get hurt?
Taylor-Joy: No, we didn't hurt each other. We were very heavily bruised, but I was so proud of my bruises.
Mara: I also bruise if someone just pinches me, so...
Taylor-Joy: We were pretty battered. [Laughs]
Who do you think audiences will root for: Morgan or Lee?
Taylor-Joy: I think it kind of goes through stages. If I was watching the movie and I was totally cold to it, I think my allegiances would shift, moment to moment. And I think that's something that's very cool about the movie.
Both Lee and Morgan are gender-neutral names...
Mara: To me, it was an obvious choice, and even the way Luke and I created my look as well. It was very specifically androgynous and there's obviously a reason for all of that. It wasn't just a coincidence that I was dressed a certain way and my hair was a certain way.
Taylor-Joy: I almost feel that rather than it being a completely neutral thing, I felt, watching [Kate], that it was a hyper-feminine and hyper-masculine and that's what equated it to being gender neutral.
Mara: Yeah, you're right. The two extremes.
Kate, you mentioned that you kept yourself isolated while on location. Is that the way you like to work or was that specifically for this character?
Mara: The cast [which includes Rose Leslie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Toby Jones, and Michelle Yeoh] was so fantastic, and everyone was so friendly and got along really well, which is just so nice to have. There were a lot of dinners after work and things like that. I went to a couple, but most of the time I sort of stayed in this weird mentality or mind frame of trying to stay focused and determined on the task at hand.
And you're playing the outsider, who's potentially breaking up this family.
Mara: Exactly. By the end, I was definitely letting myself do that a bit more. But because I was [on set] all day, every day. I wanted to be fresh. So I would force myself to attempt to go to sleep at a normal hour or workout instead to keep you in the right mind set.
Meanwhile, Anya, you were going out every night in Belfast?
Taylor-Joy: Yes, I was very isolated on set. I needed human contact by the end of that. It was wonderful to get to play Morgan because, when I was younger, I used to actually say to my parents, "I feel like I'm separated by a sheet of glass from other people. I can't connect." It wasn't until I started making movies that I really found my tribe. It's been wonderful. So being in that cage was slightly uncomfortable at all times, which I think lends a lot to Morgan. I'd also gotten so close to that crew and so I hung out with them a lot. And I love Irish people...
And you're 20...
Taylor-Joy: I also don't sleep. I'm a terrible insomniac.
Mara: I have the opposite problem. I can fall asleep anywhere.
Taylor-Joy: She can fall asleep anywhere! I am so jealous. I can't sleep at all. But it was so much fun and it was fun to get to know Belfast as well.
What was your toughest day on set, Anya? Was it the scene where Paul Giamatti conducts a rather brutal psychological evaluation of Morgan?
Taylor-Joy: No, I think there wasn't a toughest day due to scenes. There was a toughest day on set due to personal stuff, but everything was always really fascinating. So even though the Paul Giamatti scene was hard, I was learning so much and completely aware that I was getting to do an 11-page scene in one take with Paul Giamatti, just take after take for two days.
How long was each take?
Taylor-Joy: Each time was different, which was the fun part about it. You get to, especially from my point of view, I got to modulate the moment the the shift happens. It's a very tangible power shift all of a sudden.
What did you learn from doing that scene over and over?
Taylor-Joy: A whole bunch of really technical acting things that I did not know about. So you can surprise the other actor, and it usually creates something amazing. And if you fluff a line, you don't have to cut and go all the way back to the beginning. You can just take a break and do it again. I never really knew whether the right thing to do was to do a scene in one way every time or whether you were supposed to change it up. Just watching him was amazing. It was like being in acting school. But I feel that way about everyone that I've worked with, really, because I haven't been to acting school and I haven't been doing this for very long. I'm just learning from these wonderful people.
Kate, are you interested in doing more action films after this?
Mara: It became very clear doing this level of physical stuff ... it made me want to do more action. That's a nice thing to realize. I've been working for a long time and I never realized how much I enjoyed doing that. And I feel like the next one, whatever the next one may be, I'll have just a little bit more experience. It's always nice to have something like this under your belt.
The ending leaves things open for a sequel. Would you be up for that?
Mara: Oh, I would love it.
Anya, you said you kept the hoodie that Morgan wears throughout the film and that you even wear it out sometimes. Do you think you'll get some strange looks after the film opens and people spot you wearing it out on the street?
Taylor-Joy: I don't really wear it out on the street. I've always kept things of my characters. Morgan, Thomasin in "The Witch," and my character in "Split," they all wear one outfit the whole time. So I've kept things to keep them close and to remind me what's happened. But, funnily enough, my friends love the Morgan hoodie. They'll come over to my place and we'll be hanging out and if they get cold, they always reach for the Morgan hoodie. So I don't wear it that much, but they do. The one that I kept, there's a very specific reason why I kept that one. It's because it's got the hole in the pocket from where my rig is for this specific move that I had to do.
So there was more than one hoodie.
Taylor-Joy: Yeah. There's, uh, blood, so, continuity...
"Morgan" opens in theaters nationwide Friday, September 2nd.