Hannah Emily Anderson spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about portraying domestic abuse survivor Joy in important film ‘Dark Nature’.
This interview contains mild spoilers for Dark Nature. The film was screened at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT (NIR REGEV): According to domestic abuse (Intimate Partner Violence) statistics published by the CDC, 1 in 5 women experience severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. 43 million women overall. It’s estimated no more than 15% of women come forward about their experience, and it could be as low as 2.5%.
What does it mean to give a voice on-screen in Dark Nature to the many women who stay silent about their physical abuse?
HANNAH EMILY ANDERSON: That’s a great question. I don’t take that lightly at all. It’s actually one of the main characteristics of the film that drew me to it in the first place, the exploration of that kind of trauma.
Before doing the research for this character, I honestly really had no idea how high the stats were regarding domestic abuse and it shocked me. I’m one of the lucky ones that has not experienced physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner.
You always hope that all the work and heart you put into a project will have some kind of payoff. That it’ll serve a larger purpose and have a deeper meaning than just being another job.
So if this gets people talking about the horrors of domestic abuse and if someone can recognize themselves and it makes them feel seen in some way less alone… Maybe even give them the courage to think about reaching out for help or talking to someone, then that is more than I could ever hope for.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Joy is told paraphrased, ‘Forget the trauma olympics, you wouldn’t make it past regionals.’
Do you feel women who experience domestic abuse often keep the stories to themselves in fear of being minimized like Joy?
HANNAH EMILY ANDERSON: Yeah, fear is how abusers take control of their victims. They live in fear and then there’s another layer of fear on top of that, of not being understood and not being believed. I think it’s extremely complicated when it comes to unpacking what these women have experienced.
From what I watched and read, there were many similarities being described by survivors. There’s confusion, shock, there’s numbness, pain, loneliness, embarrassment, and a lot of denial. I’ve read that many times because how can you possibly process what’s happening to you?
There was a quote that stood out to me from one of the documentaries I watched, “I never once thought of myself as a battered wife. I didn’t know I was being abused. I was a very strong woman in love with a deeply troubled man. And I was the only person on earth who could help him face his demons.”
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: The scene where Joy relives being choked by Derek (Daniel Arnold) in the forest shows the trauma of the original abuse never truly goes away.
What was it like to shoot this powerful scene in Dark Nature?
HANNAH EMILY ANDERSON: Oh, I was really, really nervous for the scene. I don’t think I’ve ever really done something like that and we didn’t shoot it until about week four or five out of six. So it was kind of hanging over my head.
That violent opening scene with Derek that first scene, even though I was very aware that we were on set and it wasn’t real… It’s so vulnerable to put yourself in that position to be choked by essentially a stranger in front of a group of people. I was scared and trying to hide it.
I can only imagine what it would be like to have that happen to me in real life. It would just be absolutely terrifying. I forget now which scene we shot first, but for the forest scene, I really had no idea how I was gonna do it.
It’s just one of those things where you can’t think too much about it. You just have to try to go for it when they say action. And it was very technical trying to choreograph it with the camera and I’m out in the middle of nowhere reacting to nothing.
It was really challenging but I knew for Joy, it was PTSD flashbacks manifesting itself, physically. The closest thing that I’ve experienced is intense anxiety attacks, where I feel like I can’t breathe and I’m panicking and my throat is closing.
So I know at least what that feels like in my body. I kind of had to bring myself into that mode and to make it feel as real as possible for myself.
I had to block my own airway. I was actually kind of choking myself. And when you’re excited, it’s easy to lose perspective. It wasn’t until I saw that scene all cut together with the opening violence that I really saw the full power of it.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Did you speak to domestic violence survivors to prepare for the role in Dark Nature?
HANNAH EMILY ANDERSON: I had about only a week of prep, it was really quick. I watched as many interviews and documentaries about domestic abuse cases and read as much as I could in the time that I had.
I know survivors in my own life. So I didn’t interview them for the role, but I tried to put myself in their shoes when I was playing Joy.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: When Joy reveals she’s seen her abuser Derek recently to best friend Carmen, it seems Carmen is disgusted. Reminding her that Derek killed Joy’s dog.
Do you believe this common reaction, potentially being shunned from a friend or family, keeps women like Joy isolated? As they fear being shamed for going back and abandoned for it.
HANNAH EMILY ANDERSON: Absolutely. I think that’s very common. I was watching this documentary called ‘The War at Home‘. It’s a CBC documentary on domestic abuse.
They talked about the most common question asked of victims, which is why doesn’t she leave him when really the question should be, why does he hit her? Why does he abuse?
They pointed out that we don’t hold the man accountable for their violence. We put all of the responsibility on this one woman to hold her abusive partner in check and to keep herself safe. And until that stigma changes, that there’s something wrong with you or that it’s your fault because you didn’t leave. Then I think victims will continue to feel isolated.
We also have to remember that abusers are excellent manipulators. There’s very calculated cycle and there’s different wording around it.
But basically it’s, step one, charm, seduce the victim. Step two, you isolate her. Step three, there’s the threat of violence.
Then the actual violence and step four, kill her. What I didn’t realize was that on average, from what I read, a woman will leave seven times before she leaves for good.
The most dangerous time for a victim is the first 18 months after they leave their abuser. I didn’t know that. I think it was around 70% of murders have been after the victim has ended the relationship. So I really had no idea.
“On average, a woman will leave seven times before she leaves for good.”
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, domestic violence survivors are 2 times more likely to develop symptoms of depression.
Joy feels belittled at one point, commenting “this is a support group?!” Do you feel Joy and other survivors’ depression worsens from a lack of more than surface-level understanding from third parties?
HANNAH EMILY ANDERSON: I think all anyone wants in life is to be seen and accepted & loved. For someone like Joy, who’s living in such a dark place that she feels no one else could possibly understand… I think that’s an incredibly sad, lonely, and scary place to live.
When you’re already feeling isolated and then you don’t feel understood, I think it’s really easy to feel rejected & unloved. Like there’s no one there to help you.
I think that would make someone feel hopeless. I imagine that depression is very common among victims of domestic abuse and it’s such an enormous weight to bear.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: I’d like to conclude the interview on a lighter note. I noticed in the film credits for Dark Nature your name is newly credited as ‘Hannah Anderson’ instead of ‘Hannah Emily Anderson’. I believe it was the case in X-Men: Dark Phoenix as well.
I’m curious about the motivation for the change. Are you dropping the ‘Emily’ moving forward?
HANNAH EMILY ANDERSON: (laughs) It wasn’t a conscious change on my part. I think I just forgot to ask for the ‘Emily’. I had originally changed it to Hannah Emily Anderson on IMDB because there were too many Hannah Andersons and my credits kept being given to the wrong person.
It was such a hassle trying to change it every time. And there’s also a Hannah Anderson who was kidnapped
She’s okay now, but she has a brother named Ethan and I also have a brother named Ethan! And she’s one of the first things that pops up if you Google my name. So I wanted to differentiate myself from that.
But yeah, I wasn’t paying attention, I get kind of loosey goosey with crediting sometimes.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: That is an unbelievable coincidence that you both have a brother named Ethan! Wow.
HANNAH EMILY ANDERSON: I know, it’s weird.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Thank you Hannah!
HANNAH EMILY ANDERSON: Thank you so much!
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Dark Nature Trailer and Film Synopsis
SYNOPSIS: “The story of a therapy group that is forced to confront the monsters of their past when an isolated weekend retreat tests their emotional resilience and ability to survive.”
Dark Nature is directed by Berkley Brady, who also wrote the film’s screenplay and co-wrote the original story with Tim Cairo.
Dark Nature – Lead Cast Members:
Hannah Emily Anderson as Joy (Credited as Hannah Anderson)
Daniel Arnold as Derek
Madison Walsh as Carmen
Roseanne Supernault as Shiana
Helen Belay as Tara
Kyra Harper as Dr. Dunnley
Luke Moore as the Creature
More Hannah Emily Anderson on The Natural Aristocrat®
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About Actress Hannah Emily Anderson – BIO:
“Hannah Emily Anderson is an actress, writer, producer, and director. Hannah is most known for her starring role in the Award Winning Feature: What Keeps You Alive which captured critical acclaim at the SXSW Festival where it premiered.
Most recently Hannah can be seen in The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw (Gate 67 Films), in which she plays a troubled Irish wife who descends into madness. Additional credits include: supporting role in the feature film, X-Men: Dark Phoenix (FOX) and the series lead in USA Network’s, The Purge (Blumhouse Productions).
Anderson wrote and co-directed her first short film Come Back, in memory of Kent Nolan, co-directed her second short film entitled Five Things starring August Winter, wrote, produced, and starred in her third short, I’d Rather Be in Bed, and produced her latest short project called Maybe You Should Be Careful, which made its’ world premiere at Toronto After Dark Film Festival in 2021.
Anderson’s past television and film credits include playing Sarah Jane, the sparky love interest of the meth dealer-turned-ATF confidential informant Charles Falco, on Gangland Undercover (Cineflix/A&E), and playing Chloe Channing, a Senior Aide in the Attorney General’s office, on Shoot the Messenger (CBC).
Anderson’s leading roles include Jigsaw (Lionsgate), What Keeps You Alive (Digital Interface), and Love of My Life (Paragraph Pictures Inc.) Anderson has had recurring roles on Lost Girl (Showcase/SyFy), and Reign (CW), supporting roles on Girls Night Out (Incendo), Lizzie Borden (Sony/Lifetime) and a number of guest star roles on shows such as Hudson and Rex (City TV), When Hope Calls (Hallmark), Private Eyes (Global/EOne), Killjoys (Temple St. Prod.), Remedy (Global) and Played (Muse Entertainment).
Anderson has also starred in a number of Indie short films including Currency, Frozen Marbles, Jesse, and Alice.
Hannah is a proud graduate of George Brown College’s Theatre conservatory program. She hails from the prairies, but is proud to call Toronto her home.”
More 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival News
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Dark Nature debuted at the Fantasia Film Festival on July 18, 2022. The film’s running time is 85 minutes and is of the horror, thriller genre.