Caitlin Carmichael’s role is hauntingly real in ‘Midnight in the Switchgrass’

Photo credit: Tiziano Lugli
Provided by Lionsgate.

Caitlin Carmichael got down and dirty, literally, for her role in Midnight in the Switchgrass. Caitlin plays Tracey, a young woman who is fighting for her life after meeting a man named Peter.

Midnight in the Switchgrass stars Megan Fox (Transformers franchise), Bruce Willis (Glass), Emile Hirsch (Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood), Lukas Haas (Inception), Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly) (The Dirt), Caitlin Carmichael (Life Itself) and Sistine Stallone (47 Meters Down: Uncaged). The film is the directorial debut of Randall Emmett (Producer of The Irishman) and the screenwriting debut of writer Alan Horsnail.

Synopsis: While in Florida on another case, FBI agents Helter (Willis) and Lombardo (Fox) cross paths with state cop Crawford (Hirsch), who’s investigating a string of female murders that appear to be related. Lombardo and Crawford team up for an undercover sting, but it goes horribly wrong, plunging Lombardo into grave danger and pitting Crawford against a serial killer in a twisted game of cat and mouse.

How does it feel that the movie is complete, and people are actually going to get to see it?

Caitlin: It is so incredibly rewarding, probably the most rewarding feeling of any completed project that I’ve ever had. Our film was shut down twice actually due to COVID-19. We were filming in March 2020, and we had filmed our first five days in Puerto Rico and all of a sudden, my friends in LA started calling me and asking if we needed toilet paper to stock up on. I was like, ‘why is everyone acting like there’s an apocalypse?’ People were going crazy and we had no sense of the outside world as we were all sequestered and filming in Puerto Rico and then all of a sudden a cruise ship docked in Puerto Rico and COVID spread throughout the island. So we, immediately for the safety of our cast and crew, decided to halt production and fly back to LA. We said our goodbyes, which were more like, ‘see you in two weeks,’ I guess, but we weren’t able to pick back up filming until July 6. We were able to start filming, and then the Puerto Rican government actually ran out of COVID tests and were only able to test symptomatic individuals. So our cast and crew were unable to get tested and we couldn’t complete production, so we had to shut it down again. When we finally went back to production for the third time in September, we were able to complete the movie. It was probably one of the most strenuous filming processes ever. Things were so uncharted and nobody knew what the future held for our project. So the fact that we were able to first off complete filming, and now the movie is finalized, edited, color corrected, sound mixed and it’s ready for people to see is immensely rewarding. I can’t really find an adjective, to put it into words to express it… I’ve used the term blessing in disguise, a little bit for our production, specifically in the sense that our cast and crew were able to grow so much as an ensemble and develop an extreme amount of chemistry with each other just by having so much time to spend with each other in rehearsals and extra table reads and fittings. We were all so ready to film when that time finally came. So I think that it ended up working for us and it definitely helped myself and some of my co stars develop off screen chemistry that really translated on screen.

Photo credit: Tiziano Lugli
How did you prepare yourself to be Tracey, especially in those heavy scenes?

Caitlin: Working with Lukas, having the time with the multiple shutdowns just to get to know each other and chat and develop a friendship really allowed us to tap into the scenes in their most intense dark, vile moments and really dive into those scenes as our characters. I think it would have been harder to do with someone who’s a complete stranger.

I get that, because you’d have to be comfortable like going there with that person.

Caitlin: I know a lot of actors like the unfamiliar and I guess that’s more of a method approach of not knowing your other co stars and only getting to know them in the way that your character would but for me, in the sense of this movie, getting to know Lukas really helped. I think both of us developed that chemistry and then we could really try things and go for it in the moment.

It’s my understanding that this entire film is based off of the truck stop killer. Is that correct or am I completely off with that?

Caitlin: I know that the film is based on true events, but I don’t think that we’ve ever actually confirmed that it’s based on a true story. But it definitely is based on the true events of the FBI’s highway serial killings initiatives that came out in 2009. It started in 2004 with a local sheriff partnering with the FBI, and Lukas’s character has been inspired by real serial killers. And having these long haul truck drivers who were abducting girls and leaving their bodies on the side of the road is something that has been happening all over major highways in the United States, so there definitely is that sense of truth. With our characters on screen, I think that’s really haunting to know going into the movie. Anytime I see something based on true events, that gives me chills already, even when I don’t know what the story is.

What did you do to decompress after filming?

Caitlin: This is probably the most generic answer but sleep. Most of our scenes were overnight shoots so, we were filming overnight and they were all taking place in the darkness so I would just immediately go back to my hotel and go to sleep and usually wake up feeling very fresh and ready to start the next day. But in the moments of filming the scenes, I really had to find a place of genuine fear and weakness, and the feeling of giving up and the struggle and perseverance and that back and forth push and pull. I was really trying to experience that myself and I was doing all of my own stunts as my character like crawling through a real sewage pipe with my hands tied together. My hands were really tied together with real zip ties and having that authenticity of the stunts and the props that we were using really helped me get into that space. Being so confined in the environment of the set and my character’s box that imprisoned me allowed me to leave all of those emotions on set, very easily.

Photo credit: Tiziano Lugli
You mentioned crawling through the pipe, I’m incredibly claustrophobic so I was not ok watching that, were you okay doing it?

Caitlin: I was okay. It was actually a question that Randall (Emmett) asked me in my very first audition, if I was claustrophobic. I wasn’t really sure what that would imply because I had read the script and I don’t think I actually understood how small a sewage pipe is. And for some reason, when we were filming it felt like the sewage pipe was on an uphill incline and I remember filming the scene and thinking to myself, ‘oh my gosh, if I was actually kidnapped, I don’t think I would be able to escape this,’ which made me a Caitlin start panicking. So, Tracey’s panic and struggle was really just mirrored with my own because I started thinking that if I was really in this situation, would I be able to escape? And that definitely freaked me out a little bit but in a good way. All for the sake of the story.

In this case, do you think that doing your own stunts really helped you with your characterization?

Caitlin: Absolutely. It allowed me to really put myself through what Tracey was experiencing. The emotions that came along with the physicality of that, the emotions of perseverance and the struggle, they came very naturally when doing all of that myself. I was really mirroring Tracey’s struggle with my own.

You got to work with some amazing people.  What was it like working with these other actors and actresses?

Caitlin: I mean Randall put together an incredible ensemble. I really couldn’t have imagined a better ensemble to bring this story to life. Everyone stepped into their roles perfectly and there was really something to be said about our actors’ loyalty to this project, especially with our multiple shutdowns during the pandemic. When working with such seasoned actors they all had many opportunities for different projects, but everyone stayed so loyal to our film and these characters and everyone saw this through to the end. I think that was really inspiring to me for sure.

What are you most excited for people to see in this film?

Caitlin: The element of this film being based on a true story. Aside from people getting to see these characters’ journeys and the action and thrill and the suspense of our movie and some of the amazing camera shots that we have, I’m really excited that our film is bringing this true story to life, and giving a voice to the numerous girls who have gone missing. And through the real work of the FBI with the highway serial killings initiative, we’re really giving a voice to these girls, just like how Megan’s character is giving my character a voice in this movie.

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
Midnight in The Switchgrass is now available in theaters, on demand and digital TODAY and will be on Blu-ray and DVD on July 27.