Film

Interview: From Blood Red Sky, Dominic Purcell and Peri Baumeister Talk Vampires, Filming Action Scenes and Working with Young Actors

In the new Netflix film from director/co-writer Peter Thorwarth, Blood Red Sky, two things become eminently clear early on: there are hijackers onboard a redeye flight from Germany to America; and there’s a vampire, Nadja (Peri Baumeister), amongst the passengers. The only things keeping her from feasting on those around her are a mysterious drug she injects herself with periodically, the fact that this is a night flight, and the presence of her young son (Carl Anton Koch), who looks out for her on the journey. When the hijackers threaten all three of the elements that are keeping her hunger in check as they take over the plane in swift, military fashion and have it turn around back to Germany, Nadja is forced to take action and unleash the dark side of herself that she’s fought long and hard to hide.

Among the terrorists are such notable action stars as Dominic Purcell, Roland Møller, and relative unknown to non-German audiences, Alexander Scheer, who steals scenes with great abandon as Eightball. But it’s Purcell who essentially takes the lead on the hijacking mission. The English-born, Australian-raised Purcell has been on the action scene for a couple of decades, going back to Mission: Impossible II, Equilibrium, and perhaps most relevant to Blood Red Sky, he was in the notoriously difficult production Blade: Trinity, playing a version of Dracula. Chicagoans may know him as the co-lead on the series “Prison Break,” which shot around the city for a couple of years; and he’s played the superhero Heat Wave for several seasons on the CW series “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.”

Blood Red Sky

Image courtesy of Netflix

Baumeister is primarily only known to German audiences, but her performance in this film should up her visibility quite a bit as she plays a version of a vampire that is both feral and maternal, curbing her blood-thirsty instincts to protect her son from both the hijackers and herself. Taking place almost entirely on the upper and lower decks of a plane, the film is claustrophobic, cramped (making the fight sequences particularly in-your-face), and thrilling. I had the chance to chat with Baumeister and Purcell recently about Blood Red Sky, which is now streaming on Netflix. Enjoy—and be wary of spoilers right at the beginning of this interview.

Before we dive into the film specifically, I’m wondering: where do vampires sit on your list of favorite movie monsters?

Dominic Purcell: Vampires have never fit in my life. I’ve never thought about vampires, never dreamed about vampires. The only things that I can say is that I played Dracula in Blade: Trinity, and I get eaten by a vampire in this film.

Peri Baumeister: That’s me! Actually, they are not my favorite monsters, but as a child in Germany, there’s a story about a little, very sweet vampire, not blood-thirsty. It was pretty common in Germany to read this book, but that’s it. So it was a lovely, very warmhearted children’s story.

DP: A nice vampire?

[Everybody laughs]

Peri, your character does something that vampires don’t often do in movies, which is hold back a bit because she’s not only bloodthirsty, but also a mother who is very protective of this child. It’s rare to see a monster movie where the monster is also tasked with being a protector of a human child. Can you talk about tapping into those feelings and playing those two sides of your character?

PB: This is the beauty of the character, that she’s in this conflict all the time. It’s her fight, she’s fighting against her own nature all the time. She’s scared of herself and the situation she’s in when they get hijacked, and she’s pretty scary too. This inner conflict creates a huge energy, and I tried to show that this fight is always a part of her and always visible. You have to feel that and be very close to the character, so that she’s under your skin so that her situation is touching and you feel for her. It’s important that you see her until the very end as a loving mother, who wants to protect her child and would do everything for him.

It makes a big difference. The entire film takes place in this very confined space—the upper and lower levels of this plane—and you don’t have a great deal of room to maneuver. What are some of the unique challenges of shooting on a set like that?

DP: There wasn’t a whole lot of freedom of movement, which added to the drama of the story. That’s just what the situation was. The reality was that we were playing in a plane, and it served the purpose of that movement. That claustrophobic feeling was evident for me; I was surrounded by crew and actors, and that really helped the performance.

PB: For me, it was very challenging and was good for the part as well. I was the only woman on the set, and there was a lot of testosterone and muscle-powered guys, so that also added to that isolation. Plus, we were shooting in continuity, so that helped release some of my aggression at the right time, in a way. There was a lot of tension in the story, and I had to find my space and had to physically change my appearance—I cut my hair off and I felt the glances of people on the street. I also had my little girl who I brought with me, so I was getting watched by everyone. Sometimes I had to get picked up at 3am to get my makeup done and be ready by 8am, and then I had to go be with my little girl, so this balance that my character was handling, I could relate a bit. It helped me a lot, actually.

I wondered about shooting chronologically, because this almost feels like a story that has to be shot that way. The intensity is ramping up, your makeup is changing throughout the film. Did that add something to the performances you gave?

PB: For sure, I had nearly 50 shooting days; I was a total bruise by the end and felt every muscle in my body. I was happy I could build to that point slowly, because if we’d had to jump back and forth in time, my energy would have been gone. In the end, it’s not just an outburst for her; she’s always on the edge of not being able to go further.

DP: Adding to what Peri said, it made everything simpler. You could go from one emotional state to the next, realizing and having control over what state you will be playing in each scene. It really helped.

I love the energy of having this little kid running around causing trouble for the hijackers and his mother sometimes. Talk about having this young man on the set, and what did that add to making this very dark and serious film.

PB: It was fun. Of course, the entire production was about him when he was on set because he’s only allowed to shoot five hours per day, and he’s not allowed to see the very brutal scenes. A lot of times, I had to act with his Czech stunt double, which was a bit of a relief sometimes because when a child is around, I’m nervous about cutting loose or exploding in front of him.

DP: You don’t want the young child to see the brutality of what you’re doing. I remember having a scene with this young girl who I take to the cockpit, and it was a very dramatic scene between me and Alexander. I had a long chat with the girl before the scene and made her very comfortable, and said “This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to shout, but I want you to know that it’s all make-believe, and if you get scared, let me know.” I just wanted to set it up in a way that this young girl felt safe. It was important to me to do that.

Speaking of Alexander, I want to talk about working with him because his character is so insane and psychotic that there were points in the film where I had no idea what he was going to do. And it becomes exponentially worse as the film goes on. Talk about relating to that character and working with someone who’s allowed to be that unhinged.

DP: First of all, his performance is just amazing, along with Peri’s, of course. The dynamic between Alexander and myself, we got on famously and bounced off each other wonderfully, and he would make choices that would surprise me, and I would have to follow suit. There were times where I found his energy taking away from my character’s sense of control. The whole thing about my character was that he felt he was in control, and Alexander would make these choices that would piss me off [laughs]. So I responded in kind, and it brought out a great chemistry between us.

You are the perfect diplomat. Peri, tell me about your experience with Alexander as well.

PB: I’ve known Alexander for years now just working in the German cinema. We have the same agency, and we were very happy that we could finally work together. What I love about the way he acts is that he’s unbelievably unpredictable, and everything can happen all the time, and you are so awake because you don’t know what’s going to happen next, even when you are repeating a scene. This creates a lovable tension, acting-wise.

You brought up Blade: Trinity earlier, and you hear so many behind-the-scenes details about every movie, but I don’t think I’ve heard funnier ones than I have about that set. Can you compare your two vampire-movie experiences?

DP: Ah, this vampire movie was a lot more friendly.

How could you describe Peter’s approach to the action?

DP: He was very open and accommodating. You never felt alienated; you always felt safe with him, and you could always ask him a question. Peter’s not full of ego. I would offer him suggestions, and he would say “Yes, yes, you’re right.” And that makes a great director and great artists. That’s what collaboration is. Leave the ego at home and let’s work together to make a great film. That’s what Peter allowed on set for us.

PB: I totally agree. What I really love about Peter is his enthusiasm, he’s like a child in a shop full of sweets when he’s shooting. He has so much energy. Very often, we don’t like when a director shows you how to play a scene, but Peter is sometimes an actor himself and he gets so enthusiastic that he shows us how to play something, and he’s running and flying over the chair, and everybody was laughing, but he was so in the moment that you always didn’t realize how crazy it was that your director was flying over a chair. This kind of energy helped a lot, especially making a movie during a pandemic. To have someone like this with such a warm heart on set every day was very helpful.

Well, best of luck with the film. It was so great talking to both of you. Thanks so much.

PB: Loved talking to you. Thank you.

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