In the '80s, Kelly McGillis was making a name for herself appearing in blockbusters like Witness, Top Gun, and The Accused, but for most of the past decade McGillis stayed off the silver screen. "I wanted to do it on my own terms," McGillis explains. "I wanted to wait for my kids to grow up."
Since 2010, when she appeared in Jim Mickle's post-apocalyptic vampire flick Stake Land, McGillis has returned to cinema and embarked on her second phase as an actress. Her latest project, We Are What We Are (in theaters Sept. 27),is a psychological thriller about a cannibalistic clan.
Her second project with Mickle--she played a nun known as Sister in Stake Land, the indie horror hit that reinvigorated the well-worn vampire myth--McGillis isn't afraid of the dark themes of both films. "I kind of liked the apocalyptic tone," McGillis says. "It came out around the whole 2012 Myan Calendar thing." The film put a 28 Days Later slant on the traditional vampire format, as vampirism spread like a pandemic rather than by a single seductive count or a sparkly, brooding teenager. Stake Land won the Midnight Madness Cadillac People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010, and made Mickle the indie-horror director to watch.
The chemistry between McGillis and Mickle was so on-target that, when he offered her a role in We Are Who We Are, she took it without even reading the script. The film, a reimagining of Jorge Michel Grau's 2010 Mexican film of the same name, centers on the Parkers, a tight-knit family who engage in periodic cannibalistic rituals. After the matriarch of the clan dies suddenly, patriarch Frank (the incredible Bill Sage) sends his daughters Iris and Rose (portrayed by Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner) to find their next meal. McGillis plays Marge, the Parker's neighbor who tries to help the family through their loss. Her scenes with Sage are incredibly dynamic, engrossing, and some of the most memorable. Watching her comfort the man who may be planning her demise engenders a stunning slowburn of suspense. When asked how she was able to make this happen, McGillis humbly chalked it up to being paired with a great costar.
While indie horror films about blood-suckers and man-eaters may seem like quite the departure from her former roles in big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, McGillis says it's all part of the plan. "I wanted to come back older and as a character actress and not try and be perpetually 30," she explains of her return to cinema. "It's like starting over again." McGillis says she likes doing indie films, "because they're willing to take more chances," which works for her because now she is too.