Caitlin Carmichael is always looking for new challenges. The crime drama Midnight in the Switchgrass was just the thing that provided her with one coming off her coming-of-age modernized fantasy in Dwight in Shining Armor. The young actress plays Tracey Lee, a kidnapped youth battling for her life, while an FBI agent and a Florida state office investigate a string of unsolved murder cases that's related to her predicament. I spoke to the star about the intensity of her role, working with first-time director Randall Emmett, and breaking perceptions of child actors.
"There was something about [Midnight in the Switchgrass] that really captivated me, and my audition I put on tape for the role of Tracey was very intense," Carmichael said. "They really didn't shy away from the brutality of my character's storyline. I was just really drawn to playing a character who got to dive into the most intense and horrific moments of the storyline that I was playing. Once I started the project and talking to our director, Randall, he had such a passion for showcasing the sense of female unity on-screen that allowed Megan's [Fox] character to not only save herself but rise as a position of power to save the other women in the film. I think that that's something really interesting, and I hope that translates on-screen for audiences."
Based on a true story set in Pensacola, Florida, Fox's character of Rebecca Lombardi goes undercover in hopes of tracking a serial killer who targets young women. "I think immediately seeing the headline is based on true events," Carmichael said. "That's something that always draws me to a movie, even as a viewer. Seeing that on the first page of [Alan Horsnail's] script immediately hooked me. There's something about bringing the realness of the story to life and knowing that my character and myself as an actress can be a symbol for the numerous missing girls' stories that you've never heard. I think that's a really powerful aspect of our film. Randall is just a complete ball of energy. He was so passionate about this project, and I'm not sure you know, we filmed in very uncharted times. We were actually shut down during the pandemic in March 2020, and we were navigating an environment in the entertainment industry that no one could predict what the future held. No one knew how to deal with these circumstances. Randall was a fearless leader for our entire cast and crew. I really don't think that we could have had someone better to lead our ensemble in these times."
The issues tackled in Midnight in the Switchgrass are ones that continue to remain socially relevant. "I did a lot of background research on the actual highway serial killings initiative started by the FBI, which is what our story is based on these events from 2004 to 2009," Carmichael said. "Tracking the series of murders of women living what they call 'high-risk lifestyles,' often involve substance abuse and prostitution and how they were being abducted and murdered by long haul truck drivers. Researching the real events of that story really helped shape my perspective going into the role. After we were shut down multiple times, we had lots of time to rehearse and do table reads in quarantine. I think that actually could have been a blessing in disguise to help us really grow as an ensemble. I was able to spend a lot of time in rehearsals is my costar, Lukas Haas, to nail down the physicality of our really intense scenes together and develop the chemistry off-screen so that we can be comfortable diving into the sense of fear that we had to deal with each other on-screen."
One thing Carmichael bonded with Haas during filming was his similar background growing up in an industry as a child actor. The nature of the crime thriller allowed her to take on a project that's rare for someone her age. "I definitely think that it was really exciting for me to take on a project where my character was completely different than the last character I had been playing," she said, referencing her last family TV series Dwight in Shining Armor. "I was really drawn to this project. Taking a role like Tracey Lee was definitely a change from any role that I'd ever done before, and especially in comparison to my last role. I've played characters who have been kidnapped before, but working as a child actor, there's this desire that's often expressed by writers, producers, and directors to preserve the innocence of the child actor who's going to be working in the scenes and the character that's going to be expressed to viewers on screen as a child. The role of Tracy is definitely presented in the more mature adult way. The aspect of Randall not wanting to shy away from the real risks of the situation was something that definitely connected me to the role. I was really excited to step into that and go into the deepest, darkest level of a character in a circumstance like this."
Lionsgate's Midnight in the Switchgrass also stars Bruce Willis, Emile Hirsch, Colson Baker (Machine Gun Kelly, and Sistine Stallone. The film comes to theaters, on-demand, and digital on July 23 and on DVD and Blu-ray on July 27.