An Interview With Una Jo Blade
By Mende Smith
Last week, I interviewed Una Jo Blade, actor/producer of the sleeper horror-film Terrible Angels (2013). Blade talked emphatically about all the ways that working with writer/director Anthony Pierce has changed her as a professional and a person. Their last film project transformed her from the familiar role as producer to the murkier, unregimented role of the distempered heroine acting in her own redemption story where her character is put to the harrowing task of digging her own grave. This is not a story for the faint of heart.
“The writer of the story is Anthony Pierce. Anthony shared the script with me and right away I knew I wanted to produce it no matter what,” Blade says. “He wrote this script for someone who is near and dear to him, and we had worked together before on other projects, I read the script and when I finished the very first thing I did was ask him—to audition for the lead role of Linda—a lot of people told him that I did not have what it takes, her destructiveness and her addiction and the deep dark side that she comes from, but he believed in me.”
In Blade’s horror-film, addiction is literally and figuratively a row of occupied graves. No matter how determined the audience is to look away, there is a sense of fragility that pushes us through it. Like in many films to broach this subject—and to navigate the maze of drug abuse itself—it is made clear that only when that person decides he/she has had enough will it end—it sounds selfish, but drug addiction is arguably the worst of all selfish behaviors.
“People will come up to us at screenings and just start crying,” Blade says. “And then I will start crying, and then everybody is. I had to make this film because this story had to be done this way. We have had a lot of movies taken away from us and this was so hard to produce, to act, everything. So many lives have been touched by this project.”
Terrible Angels takes Blade’s Linda even closer to that fragile silence that goes along with rehabilitation, from the most-often implied layers of caustic abuse to the cyclical nature of an unraveling soul, she is faced with her own destruction and the consequences of her indecision to take control of her own life.
“Many people do not understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. It is often mistakenly assumed that drug abusers lack morals or willpower and that they could stop using drugs by choice, but it is so much more than that,” Blade says. “I have not had this experience in my own life to draw from, but Anthony based this story very much in his own experiences with someone close to him. The reality is, drug addiction is a disease. Quitting takes more than just not doing it anymore or just because they have a strong will.”
According to the National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA): Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to those around him or her. Although the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, the brain changes that occur over time challenge an addicted person’s self control and hamper his or her ability to resist intense impulses to take drugs.
“This is a special kind of story in that it is a cautionary tale—and yes, it is absolutely horrifying to watch—where the story takes us, to the murky side of the decisions we make, that is where we find Linda,” Blade says. “She embodies the tragic lifestyle that anyone can fall into with circumstances or even mental illness that gets out of control.”
Blade’s performance sends us unabashedly into Linda’s life as addict, abuser, thief, destroyer and convict. Frame by frame, we watch her undoing. A sordid tale of redemption follows, the kind of redemption, Blade says calls for ‘more than tough love’. Fortunately, treatments are availed to help people like Linda counter addiction’s powerful disruptive effects.
“What we all need is empathy. People are extremely ignorant to think they are different from drug addicts, because they are not. The people on both sides of the car window are the same. The people you drive by who are homeless, or the prostitute and addict, nobody wakes up one day and says ‘I am going to ruin my life’ it can happen to anyone, really, and this film reminds us of that.”
Research shows that combining addiction treatment medications with behavioral therapy is the best way to ensure success for most patients. Terrible Angels takes this to a whole new level. The approach this film takes to rehabilitation and treatment is truly inline with industry standards—presented in a popular film genre.
With or without the task of bringing a true story to life, the players on both sides of the camera finely-tune in to common drug abuse patterns and thus, reminds us up to the last gut-wrenching scene how any co-occurring medical, psychiatric, and social problems can lead to eventual recovery and a life without drug abuse.
“It almost killed me doing the last film. It was so hard to do everything and to have so much invested in it too. Our next film is based on a true story, and is also horror-genre and we are filming a lot of it outdoors in Oregon. But this character I am playing is nothing like Linda, which is just fine with me, actually.”
The next project that Blade and Pierce are working on is called The Gnashing. Blade calls this film another cautionary tale of horror, though this one, she says, she will act in but she will not produce herself.