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Interview: Casey O’Keefe & Whitney Nielsen (Mercy Christmas)

A traditional Christmas family gathering can mean many things to different families. Take the Robillards for example, they won’t be asking what’s for dinner this holiday season, but WHO. This pretty much sets the tone for the horror comedy Mercy Christmas that was released by Gravitas Ventures November 28. The film, directed by Ryan Nelson, stars Casey O’Keefe (2 Broke Girls), Whitney Nielsen (My Crazy Ex), Cole Gleason (Book Club), D.J. Hale (Capps Crossing) and newcomer Steven Hubbell. After seeing the film, we decided to speak with O’Keefe and Nielsen about their experiences working on the project and their epic showdown (Once you see the film you will know what I’m talking about).

-BOTH: How did you become involved with Mercy Christmas?

Casey: I did it the old-fashioned way…through a self-submission on Breakdowns. I remember seeing it and thinking, “Wow, does that sound like fun.” It’s funny, I may have even submitted myself for Katherine, or at least thought to, saying to myself “Hey, I know how to bartend…that sounds like me…”

I was thrilled when the audition came through. I remember reading for Beth and Karen Ryan, and they totally made me feel at ease and comfortable having fun with the character. I left very hopeful and after a callback with our director, Ryan, I got the word that I’d booked the role of Cindy. It was so exciting and with our shooting schedule being just before Christmas, it was the perfect way to end the year.

Whitney: Funny enough I actually submitted for the role of Cindy, but Beth our producer being amazing at her job, called me in for Katherine instead. Which I am so thankful for, because I think Casey and I fit our roles perfectly. Beth and Ryan didn’t take it easy on us during the audition process either. I had a pretty lengthy, intense monologue I know I needed to nail. The writing was so delicious, so that helped tremendously!

Casey: What was your favorite part of playing Cindy?

Cindy was a blast to play. I love the scenes in the beginning of the movie with Michael (Steven Hubbell).

-Whitney: If you could play any other character in the film, male or female, who would it be and why?

I’d definitely want to play Andy Robillard for sure. His character is such a malicious A-hole, with charm for days. It’s always so fun playing the bad guy.

Whitney, Are you a horror fan? If so, what are some of your favorites? Do you have a favorite scream queen?

I LOVE horror films! Even though I still have to watch most of them through my fingers. Some of my favorites are ones like The Ring, Let the Right One In (Swedish version), The Exorcist, The Babadook. The list goes on forever. Growing up I always loved Neve Campbell, and especially Jamie Lee Curtis. I’m pretty sure she’s on everyone’s scream queen list.

Casey: You pretty much play two opposite characters in this film. Which personality was your favorite to play?

It’s hard to choose, but it’s always fun to play the villain. I love the scenes in the beginning of the movie with Michael (Steven Hubbell). There is such vulnerability between the two of them, and even a little sadness…you root so hard for something to happen between the two and for Michael’s dream Christmas to come true. To switch to someone so ruthless was fun.

Whitney: You had to be pretty bloody for most of the film. Did that start to tax on you by the end of the shoot? How long did that makeup take each day?

I was so lucky to have such an amazing special effects makeup artist Renae Goodhew, because she made sure I was as comfortable as I could be. Also we shot a lot of my physical scenes in order so that we could just keep adding on blood, and not have to take it back off. But once I was as bloody as it was going to get, getting those exact blood drips every morning took about an hour and a half.

BOTH: Not giving too much away but you all have a pretty epic fight at the end of the film. Did either of you get hurt doing that scene? What was the biggest challenge for you in that scene?

Casey: No permanent scars, but I remember going home that night with the nastiest knot in my back! I was pretty sore for a few days but that’s my fault for being out of shape! Whitney Nielsen can fight and she doesn’t hold back…haha. Obviously keeping each other safe was a priority, but I think we both wanted the fight to look as real as possible, and neither wanted to hold back. It was a balance between looking out for each other, and also kicking each other’s butts. If I recall, that scene took about 3 or 4 hours to shoot, so keeping up the energy and the adrenaline of that kind of fight was a challenge as well. Honestly, one of the most fun, “dialed in”, days of shooting I’ve ever had. I want a rematch, Whit!

Whitney: That fight scene was so much fun, and equally as challenging. But Ryan, our director, set aside a good amount of time to work through it with our stunt coordinator Taylor Estevez. I think the biggest challenge for me was actually trying to NOT hurt myself. I bruise like a peach, and I also go 200% every time, which resulted in some pretty gnarly bumps and bruises. One of my bigger bruises actually made into the scene.

Whitney, the end sequence is pretty intense yet very humorous at the same time. Acting wise, was it hard to find the balance between the two?

It was a little tricky at times, but Ryan always steered us back in the right direction. For me those comedic moments that happen, they come out of a very intense place. I had to approach and keep each part of that epic last sequence as serious as possible, because that’s where the comedy comes from. You can’t try and “be funny”, it takes the audience out of the believability of the situation. We wanted the audience to be laughing and cringing at the same time.

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