INTERVIEW: Leah McKendrick Talks About The Must-Watch Short on the story of Poison Ivy from a Feminist and Psychological Angle

Hi Leah, and thank you for taking the time today to talk with Vents Magazine about Pamela & Ivy! Before we dive in, how have you and yours been during these momentous and trying times?

It’s been a rollercoaster! Today is the due date of my niece so while my family is very nervous and heartbroken about everything that is going on, we are hopeful and excited about a new McKendrick – a new generation –  on the way! We hope she grows up in a safer, more equal society. 

Congratulations on your new short film, Pamela & Ivy! This feels particularly timely as we as a nation are finally sitting down and having a strong dialogue about inequalities both in race and in gender. Was the timing of Pamela & Ivy just a happy coincidence, or are you just that canny? 

Well, thank you. Most of my work explores gender inequality on some level. I write about what I’m grappling with. I’m always happy if my work feels relevant but unfortunately, inequality is always relevant. 

For the uninitiated Vents reader who might be keen on checking Pamela & Ivy out, how would you describe it for them?

Pamela & Ivy is an attempt at grounding an origin story for an iconic supervillain. It’s about the pressures we put on our young girls to be pretty, silent, obedient – and what can result.

As someone who has a very close family member who has dealt with mental health issues her entire life, can you talk a little about the subtext in Pamela & Ivy that treads on this very delicate ground?

I think the more we see characters dealing with mental health issues, the more we normalize it and remove the stigma. Art creates empathy – that’s its magic. My Mom is a psychotherapist and she has always stressed that we should ALL be in therapy because we are ALL dealing with trauma. It’s brave to acknowledge those voices in your head. We all have them. I wish we could remove some of the shame. 

This seems like a no-brainer of a question, but did you come to this project as a fan of the comic book medium?

My older brother loved comic books growing up and I wanted to be just like him. I was frustrated that it felt like there were no girls in the stories he would tell me from his comics. It was a world I felt left out of. It has expanded SO much in the past 20 years, which is amazing, but I think Pamela & Ivy was written for my younger self. 

I’m old enough to recall a time when it was a rare thing indeed when a film or television project had comic books as it’s source material; now, of course, it’s really everywhere. What is it about the comic book genre that is so appealing to audiences the world over?

Superheroes are the modern American mythology, you know? They are these all-powerful, Godlike creatures at times when the world can feel overwhelming and scary – like right now. They are a reminder that good always triumphs over evil. They comfort us in uncomfortable times.

The character of Poison Ivy was introduced back in 1966 in Batman #181. How did you first become aware of this fascinating character and all of her many iterations? 

I believe my brother was the one who told me about her.  I remember searching the shelves at the local comic book store for a Poison Ivy comic. I was confused about the fact that I couldn’t find a standalone Poison Ivy comic. This was back in the 90s. I was like, ‘Then what am I supposed to read?!’

What is it specifically about Poison Ivy that intrigues you?

I love her connection to Mother Nature. She reminds me of Eve in the Garden of Eden. The first woman, but depicted as morally corrupt, seductive and deceitful. According to the Bible – to be a woman is to be dangerous. People think I’m offended by the concept, but I’m not. It’s true, women ARE dangerous – to the patriarchy. 

You worked with a brilliant cast for Pamela & Ivy: Aria Lyric Leabu and the redoubtable Eric Roberts. What was the experience like in directing such a powerhouse ensemble?

Eric has more acting experience than probably anyone on earth. You have an Oscar nominee across from an 11-year-old, but Aria is a PRO and holds her own. They both knew exactly what they were doing, I don’t deserve any credit!

How has the coronavirus altered the rollout of Pamela & Ivy

Mariah Owen, my producer, and I realized pretty quickly that film festivals just weren’t going to happen in the way we knew. We were supposed to attend SXSW this year as alums to intro films and when that was cancelled we were like, Wow ok- this is really serious. Also, we stopped pushing and promoting for a bit out of respect for the Black Lives Matter movement. I think you realize that there are things that are more important than your superhero film.

Watching your solid craftsmanship in Pamela & Ivy – and being a huge comic book fan myself (since the tender age of four) – I’m curious if you would follow up this tour de force project up with something else comic book related? I think you would be a terrific choice to helm Terry Moore’s classic comic, Strangers in Paradise

That’s such a huge compliment!!! THANK you. I hope to continue my journey through the genre, but as you can imagine – it’s tough to do in the indie space. We will have to wait and see! Strangers in Paradise could be VERY cool. 

Do you keep up with new comics and if so, which ones?

I’m embarrassed to say I don’t. I’m more of a movie nerd. I love to watch reinterpretations of beloved characters. The Dark Knight trilogy was a big inspiration –  I’m a huge Nolan fan. I also loved Joker even though I didn’t watch it until recently because I didn’t want it to influence the making of Ivy. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate what is your own idea or something you saw! It all starts to blend together when your brain is firing fast. 

You’ve worn a lot of different hats in the industry: Respected actor, writer, a producer, a director. Is there one job title that you gravitate towards more than another, or is it all apples and oranges?

I don’t know about respected, but thank you! I think the thing that comes most naturally, where I feel the most in my element, is writing. Probably because it’s just me, alone with my laptop and my thoughts. It’s what I fill my days doing. I miss acting constantly. I’m a social creature and I love to be on set and working with creative people, but the business of acting can be exhausting. I don’t think I’ll ever give it up, but I’m happy to have other stuff I can do in between roles. 

You’ve scored the dream job for any self-respecting fan of the film Grease – You have been tapped to write the prequel for the film Grease which is going by the title of Summer Lovin.’ What can you tell us about this dream project? 

I can’t say much, unfortunately! But it’s in safe hands because the team and I are all DIE HARD Grease nerds!

Who has influenced your own acting? What about directing, any influences you would like to cite?

I’m very big on Park Chan-wook right now. His work constantly surprises me which to me is the epitome of artistry, you know? We all watch so many movies. We love them. But how often are we truly SURPRISED? I’m a horror buff. I watch it all and I love it all – even the crap. But it’s rare when a horror movie takes a 180 and I didn’t see it coming. That’s when I get jealous and excited!

Final (Silly) Question: you’re stranded on a deserted island. What one film do you have with you to while away the time while awaiting rescue?

Hmmm…. I’m gonna go with…Back to the Future. It’s nostalgic and reminds me of home and my family. 

About Ryan Vandergriff

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