Nadia Litz, Jefferson Moneo Talk Female Outlaws in Big Muddy
Set in the undiscovered badlands of Saskatchewan comes a tale entirely timeless yet utterly new, a story that completely subverts what is essentially a common theme.
“The actual area Big Muddy has myths and legends about outlaws,” says writer and director Jefferson Moneo of his new movie. “When I make films, I like to create my own world. I don’t think it’s overtly stylized, but I think it’s a particularly vision of the world in Saskatchewan, and particularly in that area, it has a little bit of a timeless feel to it.”
His first full length feature is Big Muddy, a suspenseful western thriller inspired by a short film he did, and one that premiered back at TIFF in the fall of 2014. At the time, he sat down to talk about the film alongside Canadian actress Nadia Litz, who leads the story as the devious Martha Barlow.
“It was quite interesting for me to discover it,” said Litz of the prairie expanse. “It was my first interaction; I marveled at it in a way. I also think it’s a ripe place for filmmaking, I’m almost shocked there hasn’t been a Canadian film done in that landscape.”
In this timeless, rugged western escape, Martha’s son Andy commits a crime that forces her own unseemly history to come full force back to the present. That means running from police and powerful businessman, reconnecting with estranged family, and of course dabbling in some gunfire and bloodshed.
Martha is at the center of all of this – but in the short story from which this film is expanded, it was the son at the heart. Litz and Moneo embraced the chance to flesh out the leading women.
“Attempting to infuse a female into a very stereotypical male character is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, and I actually wish there were more opportunities for less generically female roles,” explained Litz, who said she would ask questions of male actors and use Moneo’s short films to learn more about him as a director as well as the world he would create. “I think I watched the short films before I read the script; I watch for performance a lot, try to give a little bit of a nod to what the actress [who played Martha] was doing. It’s a very unusual situation for an actor; you don’t often get to draw upon another actresses’ work. I found it extremely insightful to have that as a starting off point.”
While there is a frame of reference for Litz, she was also moving into rather unprecedented areas it would seem, and Moneo was there to support and encourage.
“It takes guts for takes for a female actor to take on a role where you’re not an inherently likeable person,” said the Saskatoon native. “There is a whole history of filmmaking with male antiheroes who made bad decisions, who is a bad person who needs redemption in some way, but I don’t think there are a lot of female characters in film that fit that mold.”
So this nostalgic film with a new twist as it were unfolds in this eerie, at times violent world, with a determined Litz challenging the audience’s emotions and attitudes.
“This idea, that sense of searching for redemption in rough ways is a cool trait when it’s in a man,” said Litz. When it’s a woman though, “it becomes a little more complicated for audiences. We have to open that up, and we have to allow women to play those types of roles.”