Following straight-to-video collaborations with director Timothy Whitfield, Sarah Nicklin soon became the muse of independent filmmaker Richard Griffin on a succession of low budget exploitation pictures that hearkened back to the days of 1970s horror cinema. Their partnership began in 2007 with Splatter Disco, a slasher flick that featured performances from genre veterans Ken Foree and Lynn Lowry, and soon led to other productions like Beyond the Dunwich Horror, once again featuring Lowry in a lead role, before Nicklin lander her first major role in Griffin’s 2009 cult favourite Nun of That.
After being gunned down in an alleyway, Sister Kelly Wrath wages war on organised crime as a gun-toting nun assassin, a role that Nicklin clearly relished. The marketing of the movie, which included the tagline ‘They gave her Hell, now there’s Hell to pay!’ was one of the selling points to audiences who longed for the days of 1970s nunsploitation cinema to return.
Sarah Nicklin shares her memories of the making of Nun of That.
When did your association with Richard Griffin and Scorpio Film Releasing begin and was Nun of That your first starring role?
I first worked with Richard and the SFR team on Splatter Disco, which was about three years ago. A fellow actor and friend, William DeCoff knew Richard well and knew that he was looking for a female lead for the film and so suggested that I audition for the part. I did and Richard offered me the role on the spot. After filming was completed, they asked me back and since then I’ve done three other films with them: Beyond the Dunwich Horror, Nun of That and Atomic Brain Invasion, which we just finished shooting. Nun of That is not my first starring role as I have had lead roles in Richard’s other films in addition to many with other companies, however it is the first one where I am so heavily featured (with my name above the title and with just me on the DVD cover and so on) and I’m very thankful to Richard for giving me that opportunity.
The movie explicitly referenced the so-called ‘nunsploitation’ movies of the 1970s, which often featured nuns committing violent acts or seeking revenge for some wrongdoing. Were you familiar with any of these types of films and what kind of preparation did you do before portraying Sister Wrath?
I was not aware of nunsploitation films before starting this project, it’s a whole new and fascinating world to me and makes me wonder what other interesting things I’ve been missing! In preparing for the part of Sister Wrath, I’d say the biggest challenge was to be threatening and tough without yelling. I naturally have pretty sweet voice, and Richard wanted me to be forceful, but not yell, so I needed to find a way to overcome that. I watched some fem-fatale films in order to get in the mindset of the strong female character and found Kill Bill to be an especially good place to draw inspiration from.
What were your initial thoughts when reading the script and did you have any kind of hesitation about taking on the role? How did you become involved as Associate Producer and what control did that give you?
Since I was involved in the original short film which was done as part of the 48hr Film Festival, I already knew what the film was going to be about before reading the script. As a team during the challenge, we were all contributing ideas to be part of the short, so I was there for the birth of the project really even before it become a feature film.
There were several drafts of the script along the way (some which I contributed scenes to even though they didn’t make the final cut) and each draft kept getting funnier and funnier as we went along, so I guess my first reaction to it was to the comedy and to how funny I thought it was and with that, there was no hesitation taking the role. As far as my involvement as an associate producer, I honestly didn’t even know I was going to be receiving that credit until after the film was completed. Everyone chipped in what we could here in there be it in locations or props or time spent crewing but I guess Richard felt that I deserved that credit.
Many filmmakers seem to be taking inspiration from the exploitation movies of the 1970s and this is evident from the promotional material for Nun of That. What kind of films in particular were an inspiration to the look and feel of the movie and were there any actresses that you based your performance on?
As far as films that were an inspiration for the look and feel of the film, that’s a question that I honestly can’t answer and would be better suited for Richard and Ted Marr since they are the geniuses that created the world of Nun of That. Richard did show us some films from the ’70s that he was using as a reference, but I don’t remember their names at this point. As far as my performance, I looked to women who kicked ass and looked good going it. Uma Thurman from Kill Bill was definitely the top one, but also Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider, Keira Knightly in Domino, and a bit of Princess Leia. I was looking for strong women who were very independent.
How long did principal photography take and how far were you willing to push yourself? What would you say you have achieved with this role that you had not managed with your previous films?
I believe that principal photography lasted for about three month. For me, I think some of the fight choreography was what really pushed me. I’d taken combat classes and did a lot of sports growing up, but never had done a choreographed fight before, not to mention that David Lavallee (Viper Goldstien) who I did most of the fighting against, is a very skilled legitimate martial artist, so that was a bit intimidating. In some cases, like the fight in the dojo with the ninjas, the choreography was created on the spot and so I was pretty proud of myself that I was able to pick up on it, put it all together, make it look pretty good, and not get hurt in the process!
What do you think the image of a young nun with a gun is so appealing to audiences, particularly young male viewers?
Haha! That is an excellent question! I think it has something to do with nuns being one of the ultimate symbols of purity and then taking that and flipping it on its head. Men in general are of course attracted to attractive females, but take that attractive female and tell a man he can’t have her and then he wants her even more. That’s basically what you’re doing by putting on a nun habit. It’s the ultimate in rule breaking when you sexualise a nun.
Many nunsploitation movies would fall foul of both critics and censorship boards around the world, with Killer Nun even finding its way onto the UK’s video nasty list. Has Nun of That encountered any issues due to its religious or violent content and how has it been received so far?
Thus far it has been fairly well received. After the first screening of the initial short film there were some who were offended by it, however they didn’t make a big-deal out of it, they just expressed their dislike and carried on their way. There have been far more positive remarks made about the film than negatives ones. Surprisingly, when the trailer for the feature film was released, a real nun saw it and commented on it on her blog, A Nun’s Life. Of course when I heard this, I thought that she would be condemning the film, but when I read her blog, she actually had many positive things to say about it, particularly to the way that the film shows nuns as strong independent women.
At no time in the film are nuns ever portrayed as being a negative force, they are constantly fighting for good and for justice even if you don’t agree with their means, so in that way, it’s not really a negative films for nuns. And the film doesn’t pick on any one religion either – they’re all in there in one way or another, so if you have a sense of humour about it, you should be able to see that it’s a fun film that isn’t meant to be an attack on any one religion.
How did Lloyd Kaufman become involved as The Pope and what association does the movie have with Troma, particularly as Debbie Rochon also appears?
There was already a prior relationship with Debbie and Richard since she has been in Splatter Disco and when trying to find someone to play the first Mother Superior, he thought of her and asked if she would be interested. She accepted and apparently enjoyed her time on set and liked the script so much that she told Lloyd about it and he then contact Richard asking to be part of the film.
Some feel that low budgets cause independent films to suffer, others feel that it allows filmmakers the freedom to be creative without the influence of the mainstream. What would you say are the plus and negative points to working on low budgets?
The negative is obviously that you have a limited amount of funds to get the job done, so you need to scale back on the ‘nice to haves’ and focus just on the ‘need to haves.’ Also, you aren’t able to market the film as much as you might like to be able to since marketing can often cost more than the film itself. The positive is that it forces you to be more creative, to think outside the box. For example, in the opening of the film where I’m in the shower with the other nun, Ted actually built that shower in their living room. It would have been far too costly to rent out a large shower like that, so instead, they just took some sheets of linoleum and built it themselves.
Working with a low budget also seems to make the shooting process go a lot faster from what I’ve seen. I’ve been on projects with higher-budgets where there are tons of people, and those sets just drag on forever. With a low budget film, you only have what you need there and the people that are there are there because they believe in the project and aren’t just looking for a paycheck and I think that makes everything run much more smoothly.
Do you think that Nun of That could lend itself to a sequel and would you be willing to don the habit once again?
Without saying too much, but there has been some mild chatter about possibly doing a sequel and if so what sort of plot lines it could follow and if it is to happen, then I would of course wear the habit once again.