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Not Your Average Horror Heroine

9 Mar, 2012 By: Ashley Ratcliff

The Fields

Actress Cloris Leachman channels screenwriter’s grandma in thriller

Actual horrific events that transpired in the Pennsylvania countryside during the fall of 1973 are the basis of thriller The Fields, which screenwriter Bruce Smith lived.

Steven (Joshua Ormand), the character based on Smith, is a curious kid who spends hours playing in the expansive outdoors. The youngster moves in with his grandparents as his parents work out their marital issues. The mysterious cornfields nearby become a source of intrigue and fear when the family’s home comes under attack by unknown beings lurking in the fields. There to ease Steven’s terror are his “pappy,” Hiney (Bev Appleton), and “nanny,” Gladys (Cloris Leachman).

Leachman’s portrayal of Gladys, a vociferous yet endearing matriarch, bears uncanny resemblance to Smith’s grandmother.

“I had always wanted Cloris Leachman [to play my grandma],” Smith said. “Coincidentally, she was my grandmother’s favorite on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show.’ My grandmother loved Phyllis. It’s really cool that all these years later her idol is playing her.”

Leachman made the role her own but was pleased to know that she was on target with the real inspiration behind the character.

“I was very interested in the character as I was doing it,” Leachman said. “It was wonderful to explore that character. [Smith] said he couldn’t believe how much I captured her. It was a big surprise to me, but that’s how well it was written.”

Breaking Glass Pictures releases the pulse-pounding thriller April 24 (order date April 3) on Blu-ray ($29.99) and DVD ($24.99). The Fields also stars Tara Reid as Bonnie, Steven’s mother, and Faust Checho as Barry, the boy’s father. Bonus material includes a making-of documentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, Leachman’s outtakes and more.

In The Fields, the young Steven hears the news of Charles Manson’s arrest and, while about town with his grandpa, encounters some of the crazed Manson Family girls, from the same group of women the convict coaxed into killing actress Sharon Tate. These deranged, hippie women are the source of much trepidation for the boy.

Leachman recalled her experience during that dark period in the country’s history, which is woven into the plotline.

“At the time, everybody was very shocked and horrified. … When those things happen, you can’t quite take it in,” she explained. “You don’t quite believe it, even though it did happen. You look for normal.”

Gladys warns Steven to stay out of the cornfields close to the property, fearing that he’d get lost and would be found dead months later, decomposed. While her brash delivery may seem off-putting, she makes that statement out of love.

When the power lines are cut and the windows are smashed, Hiney and Gladys kick into defense mode. It’s these characters’ different layers that make them interesting to watch, Smith said.

“What I like is that [the film’s] got a genuinely strong female hero,” he said. “Also, what’s cool about it is she’s elderly. Where do you see movies like that any more? Usually in scary films, the girls are all stupid. They’re always naked and dumb — or both. The die rather easily, and that’s it.

“But here, you’ve got an intelligent lady,” Smith continued. “She’s flawed (Gladys uses the ‘N’ word in front of Steven, but when the boy uses it, she immediately corrects him). … These people aren’t perfect. They aren’t gleaming Hollywood stereotypes. They aren’t sitcom parents. They aren’t squeaky clean. But the one thing you can’t deny is that woman loves her grandson.”

As harrowing as the attack scene appears, Leachman said she remained unfazed while taping. However, had that happened in real life, it probably would have been a different story.

“I’m afraid of the boogie men,” Leachman said with a laugh. “They’re in my apartment and different places, and they’re going to get me for sure.”

Although the events presented in The Fields are horrific in nature, Smith said his intention was to make a “high-quality dramatic thriller.”

“I worked so hard to keep it out of the domains of horror,” he explained. “There were directors who came along who said they wanted the grandparents [and] the kid dead at the end, and I’m like, ‘No. I don’t want to do that.’ … I wrote this as a Valentine and a tribute to my grandparents. If I wanted Michael Meyers in a cornfield, I could have done it.”

Despite surviving the terrifying ordeal, Smith says the events did not have a detrimental impact. His grandmother told him, “Be more afraid of the living than the dead.”

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