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Meet the Cheerful Face Behind Walking Dead’s “Jadis” Pollyanna McIntosh

I had the pleasure to interview Pollyanna McIntosh. Pollyana stars as the community leader ‘Jadis’ on AMC’s “The Walking Dead”. She recently wrapped production as a lead in James Franco’s new film Blood on Wheels, which will be released later this year. Pollyanna also had a role in season one of Sundance TV’s “Hap & Leonard” as ‘Angel’, the spandex-clad killer. Pollyanna is also known for her multi-award winning lead in the Sundance Film Festival hit The Woman. Previous credits include her roles in Sex and Death 101 (opposite Winona Ryder), Burke & Hare (opposite Isla Fisher), Land of the Lost (opposite Will Ferrell), Filth (opposite James McAVoy), Love Eternal, Tales of Halloween and the BAFTA nominated Exam, among others. In addition to acting, Pollyanna is also an avid writer, having written opinion pieces in the magazines Loaded, Flux, Honeysuckle and her long-standing column for Crave. Her short film, the comedy Perfect, which she wrote, directed and starred in will soon become a feature film. Next up she will direct and star in an untitled horror feature. Pollyanna also co-wrote the crime drama Reciprocal Beat,which is currently in development with Traverse Media. In her free time, Pollyanna enjoys drawing, cooking, dancing, camping, boxing and traveling, and currently resides in Los Angeles.

What is your “back story”?

I’m from Scotland, one of four daughters, and we grew up moving every few years between Scotland, Portugal, Colombia and Scotland again. I fell for acting and storytelling at a young age, and I started acting in theatre. However, I didn’t do it professionally until I moved away from home at 16 to London. I then started traveling as a model whilst doing tiny Indie movies where I could find them. After graduating from University, I began directing in theatre too, and I’ve been directing, writing and acting ever since, which has allowed me to continue this traveler lifestyle. In many ways, my parents’ choices to move around have helped me with the way an actor’s life is. I started working in the states over ten years ago, and before “The Walking Dead”, I was probably best known there for playing the titular role in a wild and wonderful film called The Woman and for playing the sociopathic Angel in “Hap and Leonard”. In the UK, I’m best known for my comedic roles. In Europe, I’m known for the horror films I’ve done. I’d definitely say my roles have been varied in character and crossing all genres and I hope to continue that way.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your acting career?

In LA, I was once asked by a casting director to read a role in a table-read for a film in development called The Cellar about a bunch of guests getting stuck in a castle’s cellar at a wedding in Scotland between a Scot and an American. The offer came at a good time as I was starting afresh having just left an impossible marriage a week before, and I was glad of the distraction. But as I read the script, it became more and more blindingly obvious that it was based on my wedding four years before when my and my now soon to be ex-husband’s friends got stuck in an ancient cellar. The names had been changed, and the situation was written far more dramatically than the brief brush with claustrophobia my friends had experienced, but I knew these people, including the woman I was to play! Yet the script had come from a casting director who didn’t know me beyond having auditioned me once before, and it was written by no one I knew. I went along to the table-read baffled, and when I met the writer, he was as surprised as I was. It turned out a friend from the real cellar experience who had recently moved to LA had told her writer friend the whole story and here it was, coincidentally in my hands just as my marriage was ending. That was a weird one, and I found it oddly funny, kind of thrillingly odd. I had fun with the role and ended up being offered the part, but the film never got made. Jared Harris was to play my boyfriend. I hope I get to finally work with him some time. I think he’s fab.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m absolutely loving shooting season eight of “The Walking Dead”, it’s just a great place to play and get into the nuance of the thing. I’m also thrilled to be in pre-production on a film I’ve written and am directing at the end of the year. It’s a lovely busy time right now.

What are the similarities and differences between you and your character ‘Jadis’ in “The Walking Dead”?

We’re about the same height… Jadis is a wonderful dichotomy because if you’re not of her own people, you can’t trust her yet. She’s incredibly loyal to her tribe of Scavengers. She’s also deathly calm and opaque with her emotions, but she is willing to expose, in fact relishes, her playfulness in the way she negotiates or when she flirts with her sexuality. I think perhaps it comes down to the fact that this role is written and therefore played without gender in mind, so she has elements to her that are traditionally “male” and others that are traditionally considered “female”. I can definitely relate to that. I think we’re similar in the sense that we’re both interested in reading people, in the discovery of personality, but Jadis does it for different reasons than I do. I generally want to connect with people- not use them to win a war against the undead.

What changes can we expect from your character and the show itself in the next season?

You can expect the unexpected from Jadis. She will do whatever is required to be on the winning side, but her methods are not always traditional. From this season of the show, you can expect an adrenaline-fueled ride and a half!

“The Walking Dead” has such a great cast! What’s the chemistry like on set?

It’s a joy working with and getting to know this wonderful cast. We hang out off set a lot, so there’s understanding there, and on set, we all agree that Andy sets the bar. He’s the top man for focus, play, discovery, manners, dedication and collaboration whilst working really hard, so we have a pretty great model. For a show that moves at this speed and has such a large core cast, there’s always a sense of relish about the work. It’s because of the crew too. It’s the whole show, really; that thing about family they say about “The Walking Dead” is absolutely true.

Which people in the industry inspire you the most? Why?

I’ve been inspired for a long time by Nicole Holofcener. I admire her greatly as an auteur, examining the human condition in a funny, growing, spirited, honestly dark and human way. Her films are always so involving, and she’s directed some of my favorite TV of recent years. In a very different style, Bob Fosse inspires me because he made great films that were so diverse and human and because every dance number he ever did sticks in my mind. He was weird and cool and gave a shit. Bobcat Goldthwait inspires me as a filmmaker because he does it his way and makes me howl at our absurdity and feel connected to humanity all at the same time. John Waters inspires the hell out of me for similar reasons and because he was the first filmmaker I saw passionately rebelling in his work. Meryl Streep inspires me because she embodies her characters like a chameleon without ever being showy in her performances, I really see the heart and fire in each and every one of them. My agent Rachel Sheedy inspires me because she is always growing, both as a person and in her endeavors. Women at the forefront of great television like Tina Fey, Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, Jill Soloway, Jenji Kohan and Rachel Bloom are very inspiring to me and I think are great role models for this and the next generation.

How have you/do you plan to use your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’ve been working for a while with a Scottish suicide prevention charity called The Joshua Nolan Foundation that brings the conversation about mental health into schools and provides free counseling for those who need it. I’m so proud of this small charity that we hope to grow and encourage similar programs in other countries through. They can be found at www.joshuanolanfoundation.org. I’m pretty comfortable using the platform that is being offered to me to spread good will, encourage kindness, discussion and activism, but I can see myself creating my own charity further down the line. For now, I’m grateful of the opportunity to support other charities and causes.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Share examples!

I’m a woman without regrets, so I don’t mind having learnt from experience, asking lots of questions and making some mistakes. I kind of wish someone had told me to knock before entering a wardrobe trailer though, as the first LA movie I worked on with a big star saw me meeting our lead by opening the door onto the street to her half naked looking appalled.

If I could tell anyone starting out 5 useful things I’d say:

1) Keep working on getting to know yourself as honestly as you possibly can. This will be your key to your best work and your best life.

2) Don’t pretend to know stuff that you don’t

3) Ask questions

4) Don’t be afraid to say no

5) Work hard and be kind to people

That may seem vague but there are few “rules” the way I look at things.

Who in the world would you want to have breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I’d like to have lunch with Truffaut, Hitchcock and Helen Scott as they discussed cinema back in 1962. I would just eat my lunch and listen to them talk. I wouldn’t care if they even knew I was there, just to watch, I’d be fascinated.

What’s next for you?

As an actor, I’ll next be seen in a biker movie called Blood Ride in which I play the bike gang leader, Trigga. James Franco produced it, and it was directed by Melanie Aitkenhead. As a writer/director, I have a few TV scripts I’m preparing for pitch, but right now, I’m working towards directing my feature debut at the end of November. I’m going to have a ball shooting it, and I hope to open discussion with its themes which were once prophetic and now sadly all too current. I say sadly, but if there’s anything positive coming out of this revolting political climate, it’s that some stones in our society have been turned over exposing problems long ignored and I’ve heard many people say it’s making them want to reach out, to improve themselves, to get involved. There’s hope in that.

I didn’t get the name Pollyanna for nothing, it seems.

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