Vancouver-born actress Carly Pope first came to the U.S. audience’s attention on the short-lived ‘90s series Popular. She has since been working consistently in film and television, including on the legal TV drama Suits (which also starred a pre-royal Megan Markle) and the D.C. Comics’ series Arrow.
This Friday, Pope stars in the indie horror thriller Demonic, where she plays a young woman who battles a demon at the root of a decades-old rift between her and her incarcerated mother. The film was shot under the radar in Vancouver last year at the height of the pandemic and comes from South African-Canadian filmmaker Neill Blomkamp, best known for his 2009 Academy Award-nominated sci-fi action film District 9.
Demonic reteams Pope and the filmmaker, who first worked together on Blomkamp’s follow-up film to District 9, 2013’s Elysium. When Blomkamp created Oats Studios in 2017 to create experimental short-form content, Pope was one of the filmmaker’s go-to actresses for several of the projects. She appeared in Oats shorts such as Rakka, Cooking With Bill, Adam: The Prophet and Bad President. When Blomkamp was ready to create Oats’ first full-length feature, Demonic, he approached Pope to play the lead.
That actress beamed into Casting Networks via Zoom video to talk about Demonic, her long-standing professional relationship with Blomkamp, and the early beginnings that started her roller coasting acting career.
You didn’t have to audition for Demonic, a little indie film in which you have a large role. How does that compare to the process of getting Elysium, which by comparison, was a big studio film in which you had a small role?
The audition process for Elysium was crazy. I was working on another film at the time in Vancouver when that audition came up. I bought myself a suit with some sharp shoulders because the role was that of a high-powered agent in Jodie Foster’s world on the ship, and it was a bit futuristic. In the film, three of us played these agents, so the sides were an amalgamation of everybody’s lines put together as one audition. It was probably about eight pages of very high-level jargon. I was very nervous about going in for that audition. It was with the casting director, Candice Elzinga. She was so patient and so lovely with me and allowed me the time to get the words down. The fact that it culminated into booking that role — I give her the utmost credit for that.
When you finally got on the set of Elysium, did you and Neill instantly connect in a way that would ultimately lead to this filmmaker/actor working relationship?
No. I was only on set for about a week, so it was pretty short-lived. That production was massive. There was an enormous amount of people involved on that set. I didn’t get that much time with Neill, other than the typical pleasantries. Later, with Oats Studios, even though it was short-form content, there was a lot more time spent with one another. One of the films we did, Rakka, was shot in Johannesburg. Being out there allowed for more time, more exposure to one another, and more time to get to know one another.
You’ve covered many genres on television as an actress, including the superhero (Arrow), the legal (Suits), the medical (The Good Doctor), and the political thrillers (24), among others. You’ve done everything from romantic dramas (The Lost Husband) to sex comedies (Young People Fucking) on film. Demonic is your first horror film. As the lead, you hardly get a break, appearing in just about every scene. What was the experience like?
When you are on all the time, you have to conserve your energy when you can and expel your energy when needed. You’ve got to figure out all the ins and outs of those two speeds. For me, the most helpful trick was preparing ahead for each coming week. On weekends, I’d learn my lines for the whole week. That way, when I got home at the end of each night, it wasn’t such a hill to climb the next day. When you’re in a film in this capacity or with this type of schedule, it’s a marathon. You need to pace yourself.
You’ve been lucky enough to work consistently in the industry for over 20 years. What do you consider your big break? Is it the late ’90s teen show Popular, from a then-unknown series creator Ryan Murphy?
My big break was the (1998) movie Disturbing Behavior, in a scene that was cut from the theatrical version of the movie. This project was the catalyst for everything. David Nutter, who directed Disturbing Behavior, is 100 percent why I have any career today because he cast me in that film. I auditioned for several different roles in that film, and he ultimately cast me as the character Abbey, who was in a flashback sequence as the sister-in-law of James Marsden’s character. I think it’s on a director’s cut somewhere.
How was that a catalyst?
David Nutter had such a great experience shooting Disturbing Behavior in Vancouver that when he was directing the pilot for Roswell, he came up to Vancouver because he believed in the actors up there. As a result, I ended up testing for Roswell and he brought me down to L.A. for that.
What happened in L.A.?
It was like a domino effect. I met my agent, who’s still my agent to this day. Testing for Roswell put me on the radar for Popular, which I was cast in. So to me, David Nutter is such a catalyst. I am indebted to him forever and always. He’s the most kindhearted man that I have had the pleasure of working with, especially at such a young age. We’ve kept in touch over the years. He’s written petition letters for me for my visas and green cards and things like that. He’s a love. I truly am so grateful for him.