Two things stand out immediately about British actress, filmmaker and rising star Alice Lowe that make her an unusual subject in the rarified but often pretentious world of celebrity interviewing.
The first is the venue — a pleasant but utterly run-of-the-mill early 20th century bungalow she has rented to receive journalists in suburban Los Angeles — and the second is that she is breastfeeding.
“We could have gone to a restaurant but I didn’t want to be somewhere where I’m like ‘stay in your pram and don’t fall into the waiter,’” she says, cradling infant daughter Della, who was bawling but has suddenly adopted the blissed out expression of a yogi.
Lowe’s lack of airs could be explained by the fact that she’s hardly A-list yet outside of the British TV comedy circuit. But you get the feeling that she’d be as down-to-earth with an Oscar on the bathroom shelf.
Her profile has been on the rise, in any case, with a starring role and writing credit on Ben Wheatley’s exquisite serial killer comedy Sightseers (2012) and parts in Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz and The World’s End as well as Paul King’s Paddington.
Lowe, 39, is doing the Hollywood publicity merry-go-round to promote Prevenge, a horror comedy she wrote and directed, not to mention appearing in every scene, during an intense 11-day shoot while she was heavily pregnant.
Another deliciously deadpan bloodbath, Prevenge follows delusional Ruth as she embarks on a bloody antenatal assassination mission she believes is being commanded by her unborn fetus to avenge the death of its father.
In the club
If the premise sounds outlandish, Lowe’s directorial debut — which is released March 24 in limited theatres and the horror streaming service Shudder — has been lavished with critical acclaim.
She was approached to make it while six months pregnant, and realised her initial hesitation was no more than an unconscious attempt to conform to how society expects pregnant women to behave.
She ended up making a movie that on one level is a natural heir to the revenge genre exemplified by Park Chan-wook’s 2003 noir smash-hit Old Boy, but one that explores the way society patronises pregnant women while at the same time limiting their life choices.
“One of the main things I wanted to say is that women are individuals and pregnant women are individuals. Everyone is different. That’s one of the things you feel you’re losing when you become pregnant,” she says.
“It’s like you’re joining a group, some kind of club and there’s this one-size-fits-all attitude that you’re a mum… and you’re going to feel this way or that way.”
Lowe also wanted to challenge the tendency of TV and cinema to reduce pregnant women to nothing more than their baby bump — and the inclination to worry about whether female characters in general are sympathetic.
“No one watches Taxi Driver and thinks this is a terrible representation of men, or taxi drivers. You do the same with women and everyone goes ‘oh, she was so horrible, such a terrible representation of women,’” she says.
Far from being worn out, Lowe felt “superhuman” during the shoot, which includes a Halloween night out on the streets of the notorious Welsh party capital Cardiff, where real drunken revellers took the place of paid extras.
“I had guys coming up to me and shouting in my face ‘I’m not scared of you!’ and I had to say, ‘I am actually pregnant, you know. This is a real pregnancy bump,” she recalls.
“I saw some crazy things that night. We walked past a group of about 30 people standing around a fight between three men, one of whom was in a wheelchair. It was insane.”
Lowe grew up in England’s West Midlands and graduated in classics from Cambridge University.
Her TV career took off with Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, a short-lived but clever send-up of low-budget 1980s soap opera featuring actors talking over scenes from a horror series they’d made years earlier that got cancelled.
Life following art as it often does, Darkplace itself was cancelled after six episodes, although it got a second life on America’s Sci-Fi Channel — now SyFy — and has gone on to become a cult classic thanks to YouTube.
Lowe has since appeared in many of Britain’s most successful comedy series — from Black Books to The IT Crowd and The Might Boosh — but says her film career has allowed her to realise she’s “just not that into sit-coms.”
“I think in a way I got subverted into comedy,” she says. “I do love comedy but I much more see the world as being a mixture of comedy, tragedy and everything else.”