When Emily Swallow (The Mandalorian, Supernatural) read the script for Haunting of the Mary Celeste, she knew it was an opportunity she couldn't pass up. I spoke to her about a variety of topics concerning the film, from how the film drew her in from a genre perspective, the flexibility of indie production, and the contrast of environments from mainstream projects. "There are two different things that intrigued me about the project," Swallow said. "First was this story was based on an unsolved mystery. I always had a soft spot for that. Honestly, the director Shana Betz is such a compelling draw for me. The script is pretty minimal, and I knew a lot of it would depend on how some of these supernatural elements were depicted. What kind of images we'll have to see for that. There was also an emotional component that drew me in. I like that kind of paranormal stuff that's going on is that woman that's simply obsessed with finding answers to this puzzle at the expense of so many other things in her life. The way Shana spoke about that was compelling to me. I felt like with her at the helm; we can make something interesting."
When it came to Swallow's inspiration for Rachel's character, the actress evoked some of science fiction's most iconic performances. "I feel like there's a lot of women in film who we see in film that is determined to prove something," she said. "I think of a film like Contact with Jodie Foster. I think of Alien with Sigourney Weaver. It's definitely not a likely parallel, but it gave me something to think about. What would drive someone to pursue something at the expense of something else and to be so confident about it?" Swallow became a leader through Rachel, who's defined by her ambitions. "I'm trying to draw the people in around her to believe as well," she continued. "That was helpful and then, reading up on the actual story of the Mary Celeste with the different theories. Why some of them can be plausible and why some are not. It was also important to get a handle of the rift as it was explained in the film and how that would actually work. Personally, I'm fascinated by anything with a bridge to the time-space continuum and quantum physics. Things that can totally disrupt what we perceive as reality. Even if it's not factual in the film, I tried to come up with something equivalent."
The actress also appreciates how the film blends across several supernatural, thriller, horror, and sci-fi genres. When it comes to working on Haunting of the Mary Celeste compared to her more mainstream work on TV, the star notes it does have its advantages working on an indie film. "We spent about a month up in northern California in the San Francisco Bay Area," she said. "With the amount of time we had. I wouldn't say we had an excess amount of time to work on it—the fact we were all their on-location together. We were just focused on this was a luxury because, with most of the TV that I've done, you have a really tight schedule. You don't really get a chance to rehearse. You have to come in with all your ideas fully formed. You might get a chance to talk about them before you shoot, but you might not."
Swallow talked about how much more she can do to enhance the scene on her own with her co-stars without the time constraints. "I loved how collaborative the film was," she continued. "Shana felt that it was important as us actors to rehearse the scenes and rewrite some of the scenes and find ways to make it better. We do some improvisation to make some of the backstories feel real to us and just the experience." She also contrasts the authentic experience of filming on a boat in the film compared to when TV typically shoots on a soundstage. "When I do The Mandalorian, Supernatural, or anything else I ever did, some part of it has been on a soundstage and not on location," Swallow explains. "Getting to be on location is also a luxury. We didn't do any of this [film] on a soundstage. It was shot completely on this decrepit little boat. It felt like it could truly sink at any moment. That meant any shot you wanted to get; you had to figure out where to put all the actors, crew, camerawoman. It was tough. [Cinematographer] Raquel Nunez is a superhero. She would cram herself into spaces I didn't think was possible. She was so dedicated to the shots that she wanted and what Shana wanted. Because it's an indie film and didn't have a huge budget, there were a lot of problems we had to come up with creative solutions for. That could be a nightmare, or it could be an adventure. If you have the right kind of people, it can be an adventure, and this was an adventure."
Haunting of the Mary Celeste also stars Richard Roundtree, Ava Acres, Pierre Adele, Dominic DeVore, and Alice Hunter. The film from Vertical Entertainment comes to theatres, on-demand, and digital on October 23. Supernatural airs Thursdays on The CW. The Mandalorian season two premieres on October 30.