BC Netflix film Lou finds fierce women in rescue mode on rugged coast

Director Anna Foerster put movie stars Allison Janney and Jurnee Smollett to the test on the wild, wet west coast of Vancouver Island

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The raw, natural side of Vancouver Island’s west coast emerges in the new Netflix film Lou, punctuating every part of the story about two disparate but wild women who are forced to join forces to save a kidnapped child.

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Director Anna Foerster knew from her first reading of the screenplay for Lou that the power of nature would play a major role in this action/drama film starring Academy Award winner Allison Janney (I, Tonya) and Emmy nominee (Lovecraft Country) Jurnee played Smollett.

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In this case, this weather is thanks to the Ucluelet area, which stands for Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands in Washington state. There were no studio shots with actors in front of blue screens while someone off-camera splashed water on them.

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“It was a big deal for me. I didn’t want this to feel wrong. I didn’t want this to feel polished,” Foerster said recently via Zoom from Los Angeles. “I’m quite an outdoor person myself, so I know very well what it feels like to be truly at the mercy of nature’s relentless and indifferent nature. That was very important to me as part of this story, to make it as grounded and real as possible.”

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The film is about Lou (Janney), a difficult, withdrawn woman who believes she has put her dangerous past behind her and only to see her unencumbered, small-town existence blown up when a frantic, desperate mother ( Smollett) enlists her to help rescue her young daughter from a kidnapper.

Allison Janney is here in the BC filmed film Lou, now on Netflix.
Allison Janney is here in the BC filmed film Lou, now on Netflix. Photo by Liane Hentscher /Netflix, 2022

The women set out together into the rugged forest as a violent storm rages, hitting them at every turn, testing their powers as they fight to save the child and keep big, bad secrets from theirs to unravel the past.

“I thought this was an incredible opportunity to tell the reflection of the storm that’s raging outside that they have to be brave and get through it, and the storm that’s raging inside,” Foerster said. “That really convinced me.”

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Also compelling for Foerster was the casting of Janney, now in her early sixties, as a badass who takes no prisoners.

“No, especially not at my age,” Janney said via Zoom when asked if she’d seen other scripts with characters like Lou. “I couldn’t believe when this script came to mind; It’s what I always wanted to do, this genre. I figured I probably aged for it. But I’m glad I was able to prove I didn’t do it and I want to do more.”

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The film required a lot of physicality as it is packed with some epic fight scenes. Luckily, while it was hard work, Janney discovered her athletic background in things like figure skating and dance, which provided helpful muscle memory.

“That’s what I liked the most, it was like learning a different dance,” Janney said of the fight choreography. “Daniel Bernhardt is our fight choreographer. I worked with him three hours a day. I couldn’t have imagined that. I train maybe an hour a week in my real life.

“I loved the challenge. I felt so prepared when I entered the set to film these fight scenes. I thought, ‘Let’s do it, let’s do it again.’ It was so much fun because I knew exactly where to go. We had worked it out so precisely, every single step.”

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Janney’s character, Lou, is one of those few word people. A raised eyebrow, a tilted chin and a steely stare are her preferred mode of grumpy communication.

“It was kind of fun to be someone who didn’t say much, just grunted. I loved it. We spent most of our time cutting out Lou’s dialogue. With Lou, less is more. Just let her look at someone and kill them with her gaze,” Janney said, agreeing that Lou was a very long way from her beloved, talkative character, CJ Cregg, from the wonderfully talkative West Wing. “As actors, we love to shake things up in different roles.”

Smollett, who was in the same Zoom interview with Janney, nodded along with her co-star, adding that this shoot was unique for many reasons, most notably because bear sightings (one) outnumbered glam squad sightings (zero).

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“It’s so nice to play characters where you don’t have to worry about the makeup. It’s just, ‘Hey, let’s put some mud on,'” Smollett said, as Janney offered an enthusiastic “amen.”

After the soaked sprout was wrapped, Smollett said the first thing she remembered was a long, hot shower.

Janney agreed that it was important to warm up and wash up.

“Even months later, dirt and mud was still coming out of my ears. It’s gotten through to a lot of places,” said Janney, nodding knowingly to a laughing Smollett.

While Janney washed off the mud and grime of the rugged West Coast world, she said she couldn’t shake the impression the area left on her after filming last summer.

“I just fell in love with Vancouver and Vancouver Island,” said Janney. “I just think it’s the most magical place on the planet. It was absolutely great. I will go back there and sit on these beaches and look at rocks all day.”

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