Mina Suvari tells us how she hit a guy and then left him in her garage to die
On October 26th, 2001, Texas native Chante Jawan Mallard hit a homeless man so hard, he became wedged in the windshield of her car. Afraid of the circumstances this might procure, Mallard parked the car in her garage and left the man there to die. She later had a friend dispose of the body, and was only caught because she bragged about the incident at a party. This bizarre story has become true Texas folklore over the past few years, and now Stuart Gordon is bringing it to the big screen with his upcoming suspense film Stuck.
Many of the facts and all of the names have been changed, yet Stuck sticks pretty close to the core elements that made this case so sensational. Mena Suvari stars as Brandi, a cornrowed retirement-home caregiver who washes asses for a living and has a cheating boyfriend to contend with at home. She suddenly finds herself on top of the world when she is offered a promotion at work, which means she will no longer have to clean up feces for rent and food money. After a hard night of celebrating this new turn in her life, Brandi hits a homeless man and he becomes wedged in the windshield of her car. Afraid to go to the authorities, the girl's life comes crashing down around her. And what we are left with is possibly the best film of Stuart Gordon's career.
I recently met up with Mena Suvari to discuss her role as Brandi in the film Stuck. As we were conducting the interview at a local PR firm, we were placed into a comfy office who's door was being guarded by a life-size stand-up of Prince William. The following conversation took place:
Mena Suvari: Is this your office?
Yes. This is where I sit all day. Do you like my stand-up of Prince William?
Mena Suvari: Oh, my God! Am I supposed to kneel?
Sure, if you want to. I make everybody kneel at his feet when they come into my office. When no one is around, I talk to him. Now, the first thing I want to ask you about is your hair...
Mena Suvari: The hair? In the film? Or my fake hair right now?
Are you wearing fake hair?
Mena Suvari: Yeah. I shaved my head for a film last year, and now I am about to start another project. So I put this dead cat on my head.
Really? That looks pretty good for a wig.
Mena Suvari: No, no, no! I'm talking about this extension! (She turns to show me the ponytail that is tacked to the back of her scalp) I'm pretty sensitive about it.
Ah, good. I was going to say, the front of your hair looks pretty real.
Mena Suvari: Yes, that is definitely real.
I thought you meant that it was fake. Like you got it off a dead person or something. I'm sorry if I offended you.
Mena Suvari: No, I'm totally joking. I'm not really that sensitive about it. Now, the hair in this film? The cornrows? That was about establishing Brandi as this girl from a particular society and neighborhood. The real story took place in Fort Worth, Texas. We felt that maybe our story was taking place in Rhode Island. Maybe Providence. So the hair was about establishing her in this particular world.
The director, Stuart Gordon, said that he didn't find the hairstyle very attractive. (Mena laughs) How did you feel about it?
Mena Suvari: I think it works for the story and the character. I don't necessarily want to be myself in the films I play. And I wouldn't want anything to take away from her and the real objective. I don't want to take the focus off the substance of the material. So, I think her whole look played to that. It wasn't that big of a deal to me. It seems like a lot of people that see the movie are concerned about it. They notice it. I feel like it's just a character suggestion. It adds to this persona we are trying to present.
I just thought it was interesting that Stuart didn't care one bit for the hairstyle. Yet he made you put this thing on your head.
Mena Suvari: Really? Hmm.
Was it his idea?
Mena Suvari: It was a collaboration. It was really all of our idea. I guess Stuart didn't find it attractive. Which is good. I don't think Brandi would have cared if you thought it was attractive or not. My intent was to make Brandi look realistic. She needed to be involved in this particular world. She's not a model. She's not an actress or a beauty queen. That was her life. So if she is living in this particular world, and she has this particular boyfriend, and these are her surroundings, then yeah, she would absolutely incorporate a hairstyle like this. Despite the fact that certain people in society wouldn't find it that attractive.
Stuart said that some of the producers of the movie took a look at it, and they found the scene where you are washing this guy's ass to be, what they thought was, a little too gratuitous.
Mena Suvari: I'm sure. Why not? It is gratuitous.
I don't think it is. And my argument is that this one scene keeps Brandi from becoming completely demonized. It gives us enough sympathy to keep from looking at her as a true monster.
Mena Suvari: Wow? Really? But to have to see that? You have two very different businesses. With Stuart, and working on a film of this size in the independent world, you are able to have the liberties to do that. That is why it's interesting to me. Because I feel like that scene is realistic. But from a producer's point of view, it is seen from a different perspective. Because you don't want to scare an audience away. We've created a way for people to look at the world through cinema, and that is not very realistic. I feel like most films wont go to that extent, because they are afraid most people won't be able to handle it. It becomes a dividing line. Whether it is a sex scene, or a murder scene. What is interesting about filmmaking is the art and the creative aspect of it. You can show life in a particular way. So, I am all for those gratuitous things. But I can also understand it coming from a different line of work. People will be worried about showing those types of things. They are looking at what is going to draw people in. It becomes a business decision, really.
As far as narrative goes, though, this is the one thing that pushes empathy for your character. The audience is given a distinct visual as to why this girl might be worried about losing her promotion. If she gets caught having hit this guy with her car, she might be Stuck washing asses for the rest of her life.
Mena Suvari: I think the scene is important. It is definitely involved with keeping her from looking like an absolute monster. That is a big part of it. I mentioned this to Stuart. That we accomplished that part of her. We could have established her working in that occupation anyway we wanted to. But the more you personalize it, especially with this case, the switch, or the transition, is going to have more of an effect on you. I think it was important to show her work atmosphere as much as possible. We needed to see how she related to Mr. Binkly, and all of that stuff. Once we do that, her switch holds so much more weight.
One of my favorite scenes in the entire movie is when you whip that girl out of the apartment, after you find out that your boyfriend has been cheating on you. What sort of moves did you have to learn to get her out of there so quickly? How did you choreograph that scene?
Mena Suvari: The girl that I whipped out of the room? She was really wonderful. She actually worked as Halle Berry's stunt double for a number of years. She is the one that choreographed it. And she was amazing. She went in there and was fearless. She was full throttle. Along with Stuart, we came up with these movements to perform in the kitchen. We figured out where I should hit her, and it was awesome. I realized that I am very sensitive to that kind of stuff. Even though I had this desire to challenge myself in that way. I found it exciting. But I also found that I was very sensitive to her. And it showed, so she had to encourage me to really grab her hair and go for it.
That's a pretty intense scene.
Mena Suvari: Yeah, I know. (Laughs)
Now, you are probably going to think this is a really dumb question.
Mena Suvari: No.
But your character's name in this is spelt with an "I". I'm wondering, do you approach playing a Brandi with an "I" differently than you would approach playing a Brandy with a "Y"? I don't think I trust someone that spells Brandi with an "I".
Mena Suvari: (Laughs) Really? Why is that?
Because its an odd spelling. It doesn't look symmetrically correct.
Mena Suvari: I'm not sure if it affected the way I played the character. Maybe. Maybe because it isn't normal, you'd have to question her.
Maybe its because it looks so different on paper.
Mena Suvari: Yeah, you see that it is an "I" because she is writing her name down on a work folder. She is doing that because she is really excited about her promotion.
Yeah, I forgot about that until you just said that.
Mena Suvari: She writes it down because she is so excited about this upcoming promotion. That's why they go out to party that night.
It sort of reminds me of some kid in high school, the way she is writing that name out on her folder.
Mena Suvari: Yeah.
Do you think she's maybe not as mature as other women her age?
Mena Suvari: Well, she's only in her early twenties.
Yeah, but you don't think her maturity level played a part in her reluctance to call the medics to come get this guy out of her windshield?
Mena Suvari: I think she is ignorant about the system, really. She was afraid that she was going to be put away for the rest of her life. She didn't really know what was going to happen. Based on that fear, she reacted the way she did. I feel that Brandi had a thirty second window to make the right decision. She just happened to make the wrong one. Then it seemed to pile on, and pile on, and the situation just got worse from there. At the end, she ultimately has to react, and she ends up losing all consciousness of the situation.
Did you know about the true story before you read the script?
Mena Suvari: No, I read the script first. And I was blown away. My jaw hit the floor so many times. Just over and over again while I was reading it. I just couldn't believe that something like this would happen. That a person would actually go through these things. And then it got worse and worse for everyone involved. I was reading a book at the time called Stiff: The Secret Life of the Human Cadaver. In the book, this incident is mentioned. So, the story had even more of an impact on me after I read that.
When you read the original script, was your character still alive at the end? Stuart said that he has changed that many times.
Mena Suvari: Oh, God. I don't remember.
Were you surprised to find out that the actual woman that did this iss still alive?
Mena Suvari: No, I figured that she was still alive. She got fifty years to life in Fort Worth. The real man that she killed was named Gregory Biggs. He was thirty-seven years old, and he had a son. It was important for me, while we were making this movie, that we didn't lose sight of that. I didn't want to disrespect anybody. But he was a real man. And he did pass away.
Stuck Opens May 30th, 2008.