Maria Austin is playing the title role in Mercy, a movie by actress, Wendy Morgan. I had a chat with Maria about her involvement in this very important film.
Thank you for talking to Break A Leg, Maria, how did you come to be involved in Mercy – The Movie?
I did a rehearsed reading of Romeo and Juliet with Wendy Morgan, we hit it off, stayed in touch and she told me about the idea for the movie, which was originally written as a one-woman show. I thought it was an interesting subject matter, we just kept talking about it and she wondered if maybe we could do it as a two woman show. Once she had written it she very much had Mark Wingett in mind for the role of the Slaughter man, it also seemed to lend itself to being on film. So, instead Wendy said come and play Mercy in the film.
How have you found the experience of filming?
Intense, fairly harrowing, it’s been the hardest thing I’ve done since I finished drama school two years ago. It’s been interesting, particularly the fight choreography, I get beaten up a lot in the film. It’s all been taken from CCTV footage from when Animal Aid put cameras in the abattoir. The fight director and the actors all watched the footage so that the movements and the sequence of movements were the same as what had actually happened. I found that tricky to begin with because I’m playing the role of a pig but as a human and pigs respond differently. For example, if someone punched you in the face, as a human you would say “right then, let’s have a fight” or say “right, I’m out”, but pigs are so innocent that they get hit in the face but two minutes later they’ll come back. What was hard for me was finding a reason in my mind as to why I would keep coming back.
Wendy was always adamant that Mercy wouldn’t be played as a pig, so that people will assume to begin with that she’s human and then start to question it. If I was going around acting as a pig, that could look a bit odd, so I try to hint at it. I’m not vegan, but I’ve looked at the footage from a character point of view and it has had an impact on the way I think. Wendy compared it to this sort of thing happening to a cat or a dog, she said there would be a national outcry, but because we see pigs as food as we group them together, we’re almost de-sensitised. We don’t sympathise as we would with a cat or a dog.
Is there a moment that you find particularly poignant?
There’s a scene where the mother has her babies with her and in the slaughterhouse the mother is really caged in so they can’t roll over, if one of the piglets falls out of the cage, they don’t put it back they just leave it to starve. The piglet is crying within the mother’s ear-shot and she can’t turn over to feed it, When we shot that scene I was crying like a baby.
What did you know about what went on in slaughterhouses before you worked on the film?
I didn’t particularly have an opinion before I became involved in the film. I had no idea about what went on until I started researching, but it’s just awful and this is standard practice! I had always thought that as long as the animal have had a good life before they went to the abattoir, that was alright. It hadn’t occurred to me that there is this grey area where the animals are abused before they die. Free range animals may be raised that way, but they go to slaughterhouses where they are treated the same as any other animal that goes there. I don’t think people are aware of this limbo state between life and death.
What do you hope that people will take away with them from this film?
An understanding and awareness that there is this situation in the abattoir that exists, between the life and death of these animals. This isn’t a preaching film, we’re not trying to say that everyone should become vegan or vegetarian, just be aware that this is what goes on. There is this grey area that isn’t widely known about.
Thank you so much for a fantastic interview, Maria. I can’t wait to see this film!
Photo Credits: Gaz De Vere