In 2005, Shauna Macdonald took on the role of Sarah in Neil Marshall‘s The Descent. Her character was one of six strong women on a caving expedition. However, their adventures soon turn to terror when they become trapped in an unmapped cave system. Very soon, flesh-eating subterranean humanoids are on their tail.
Our ‘Tales from the Crypt’ feature revisits her 2005 interview with Close-Up Film.
Shauna Macdonald Interview
Shauna Macdonald, who plays Sarah, says: “I wanted to do this film because I had seen Dog Soldiers and I really liked it. Also I had never done something with so much action in it, something so physically demanding.
“To prepare for the film we all did a course of climbing. I also did some private tuition for climbing; even though it doesn’t specifically state in the script that ‘Sarah is a climber’ I wanted to look like I could climb. We also did white water rafting training, and went caving. I didn’t really prepare mentally, I just prepared what I thought the journey of the character was going to be. It’s quite dramatic, the change she goes through – it’s not really full circle, it’s more a spiral.
“The best part of this film so far has been going to Scotland for the white water rafting scenes. The worst part has been getting so filthy that you need two showers at the end of the day.”
Making The Descent tapped into some of Shauna’s own fears. “I can get my head around most things but the dark does scare me because I have quite a vivid imagination. I’m also a bit claustrophobic so it was a challenge when we really went caving. I had to concentrate on breathing. During the scene when my character gets trapped in the fissure, although you don’t really feel like you’re trapped because filming stops and starts all the time, and it’s mostly polystyrene, it was actually really sore crawling through it all morning, really fast. The pain of that actually helped me act the hyperventilating more than anything else!”
On working with Marshall , Shauna says: “It’s good working with Neil because he’s very free to change things. He actually encourages coming to set with an open mind about things, even in terms of the dialogue. Sometimes I’ve found that frustrating in other situations, getting new lines on the day or someone suggesting you try it completely differently to how it’s written, but in this experience it has been really enlightening and lots of fun.”
Describing the crawlers, she says: “They look brilliant and the prosthetics are absolutely amazing. If a Clingon and Spock had a child, but it was totally hairless, and a bit shorter and quite sinewy, and was cousins with Gollum, that’s basically what a crawler looks like.
“My character is the first to see a crawler, and when I saw it I was fascinated more than scared. Neil kept us apart from them, but because we knew they were Geordie lads dressed up with KY jelly all over them, we knew it wasn’t going to be that scary! But the suspense was fantastic and close up they are actually terrifying. They have these contact lenses and a certain way of moving that is quite horrendous, and each time we meet them we notice something else horrible about them.”
On who will like The Descent , Shauna says: “I think this film has got a broad audience. You’ve got the girls, so boys will like the film, but it is not just chicks with picks, so to speak. It’s got a proper story line, proper journeys for the characters, as well as great action sequences and great effects, so I think everybody, young and old, will like it, but nobody with a faint heart though!”