Small film aims to make big waves
Forbidden Playground a thriller starring two local actors
Saturday, Jul 26, 2014 06:00 am
St. Albert actor Samantha Grant is prepping for one of the biggest evenings of her life.
On Saturday night she strolls down the red carpet at NAIT’s Shaw Theatre for the invitation-only film premiere of Forbidden Playground.
It’s sure to be a serendipitous, dream-like evening, in part because she’s the leading lady and in part because two major Hollywood studios – Paramount and Universal – are showing interest in this two-hour psychological thriller.
“I look forward to seeing people’s reactions. There are some interesting twists you don’t see coming. I’d love to be a fly on the wall to see people’s reactions. And I hope Kevin’s dreams come true. He works so hard and he’s such a kind man,” said Grant during an interview at Servus Credit Union Place, where she works as a fitness instructor.
The Kevin she refers to is Kevin Matlo, founder of the film’s Sherwood Park-based production company Stargaze Entertainment. A multi-tasker with a dynamic energy and calm demeanour, Matlo also wrote the screenplay and directed it.
On the surface, Forbidden Playground is similar to Fatal Attraction, the 1987 film starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close that became a bona fide cultural phenomenon and stirred up a quagmire of debate about infidelity.
However, Matlo goes beyond infidelity to the broader ramifications affecting the entire family. In Forbidden Playground, Barry (Martin Andrew) and Rachel McAlister (Samantha Grant) lead a life that most neighbours envy. They have a lovely home, a successful restaurant and two great children.
The fly in the ointment is Barry’s long absences from home. Business demands a great deal of his time and he is often away during family activities. This puts a strain on his marriage and the relationship with his children.
Don (Will Brisbin), their son, has learning difficulties and his teacher Gordon Hillerman (Jessie Lipscombe) asks to meet the parents. At the last minute, Barry is unable to attend. Rachel, however, goes.
Together they work out a plan to help Don, but in the process their feelings for each other ignite and they have a brief affair. Gordon lost his wife and children to a drunk driver and his affection is transferred to Rachel and her children. When she tries to break it off, he becomes obsessed and stalks the family.
“The main story is about family unity. It’s tough when you get caught up between family and business, but I didn’t want people to see just the affair. I wanted to say, if you don’t spend time with family, it falls apart. The affair came by because Gordon showered Rachel with attention while her husband was rarely there,” said Matlo.
As a filmmaker, he acknowledges spending time away from family, but is equally delighted that his children were on set as both cast and crew.
“There’s nothing worse in my opinion than seeing a relationship fall apart and it’s the kids who are really hurting and suffering. We always have to find time for kids. They don’t care how much money you have. They just want your love.”
Grant, who honed her screen chops in the Vancouver industry, worked on a number of high-profile projects such as Blackstone, Heartland, The Wild Wind and The Outer Limits.
In one of those bizarre art-meets-life coincidences, her husband is also a chef in the hospitality industry and she understands the juggling that is needed to keep a family on track.
“I really felt connected to Rachel, the fact she was trying so hard to have the perfect family and own a business. She was trying to keep up appearances and I sympathized with how lonely she felt at times. I really felt like I knew Rachel. I felt like I was Rachel,” Grant said, adding that her own life is more balanced.
As an actor, she’s often seen great meaty roles written for men.
“There are few roles that portray women as strong and yet flawed characters. She’s a defiant mama and will not let anyone mess with her family and I loved her.”
While Grant found numerous similarities to Rachel, the soft-spoken, easygoing Jesse Lipscombe is the antithesis of Gordon Hillerman.
A former St. Albert track star, Lipscombe has more than 30 credits to his name, including Children of The Dust, Hell on Wheels and Truckstop Bloodsuckers. He’s developed a knack for character study and doesn’t see Gordon as a bad guy.
“In his eyes, he’s not doing anything wrong. How many of us have said we would do anything for the person we love? He will do anything for the woman he loves. And he says to her, ‘look what I will do for you.’ He finds something he wants and will let nothing stand in the way.”
To get ready for the character, Lipscomb spent hours meditating on Gordon before actually going on set.
“We rehearsed 12 hours a day for one month and it took an emotional toll on my health. And sometimes, I had these crazy dreams. But it showed me a window into the psychosis and mental state of people like Gordon. It gave me more compassion and level of truth. It’s not my moral code. I would not do what he did, but I could understand it.”
Much of Gordon’s physical appearance actually grew out of Lipscombe’s meditations on the character.
“He would speak differently. His mouth curled differently. At first he was somewhat shy and friendly to everyone. But when he hit the switch, all human qualities disappeared. He looked bigger, taller, more intimidating. He looked down on everyone. I wouldn’t want to run into him on the street.”
Ultimately it was the director’s job to channel all the film’s energy into a combustible conclusion.
The project was in the making for many years and Matlo succeeded in pulling it together on a shoestring budget – about $145,000.
“We have a movie that looks like a million dollar movie and we did it with the support of a lot of people,” Matlo said.
Through some savvy campaigning, he received the support of numerous contributors, including the City of Edmonton, Edmonton Peace Officers, Strathcona Parks and Recreation, and Gibbons Fire Department as well as numerous private businesses.
Everyone is hoping this film manages to find screen success. As Grant says, “I’ve seen little films get distribution and how they can have an impact. I’d like to see it have more success. I just hope they don’t sit on it. I want it to be out in theatres.”