Grudge star motivated by shoot location Manitoba-raised actor says she was excited to work in home province

When a studio film shoots in a location like Manitoba, it is not unusual to see the names of local talents popping up in the credits.

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This article was published 03/01/2020 (1003 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When a studio film shoots in a location like Manitoba, it is not unusual to see the names of local talents popping up in the credits.

Manitoba-raised Tara Westwood stars in The Grudge as Fiona Landers. (Noel Sutherland photo)
In the case of The Grudge, opening in theatres Friday, those names may include the likes of Dave Brown, Nancy Sorel and Stephanie Sy in front of the camera, or costume designer Patricia J. Henderson and stunt co-ordinator Rick Skene behind it.

But then there’s the case of Tara Westwood, who plays Fiona Landers, effectively the film’s Typhoid Mary, who brings the titular curse from Japan to a small American town. Westwood was raised in rural Manitoba along with her brother, former Blue Bombers kicker Troy.

But Westwood is a New York actor. The divorced mom lives there with her two “wonderful sons,” Jackson and Willy. If you watch TV shows such as Law & Order SVU or Blue Bloods or The Good Wife, you’ve probably seen Westwood’s work.

But Westwood asserts it was more or less a coincidence that she ended up shooting the movie in southern Manitoba in the summer of 2018.

“I saw that The Grudge was filming in Manitoba and was so excited to audition for it,” she says. “The thought of being home, being able to see my family and work at the same time, was something I’d hoped for,” she says.

“It was purely coincidental, yet not… I knew it was filming there, so I pushed for the audition and worked my butt off on it,” she says. “Though working with our director Nick (Pesce) was also a big part of my motivation.”

Randall King: You started out modelling in New York in the ‘90s. How did you move into acting?

Tara Westwood: I modelled in Paris, then New York, but when I decided I wanted to get into acting, it was a long process because I was very serious about it. I did a two-year program with my teacher, Maggie Flanigan, at the William Esper Studio and then she opened her own studio, so I went there for a few more years of master class. I was also a single mom and my kids came first. Now, I can focus on my career and I’m a little late to the game, so The Grudge was a great opportunity.

Randall King: What was your reaction to the local film industry?

Tara Westwood: I am so thrilled for Manitoba that the film industry there is thriving. People used to only really talk about Vancouver and Toronto and now in conversations — when they don’t even know I’m from there — Manitoba is discussed all the time as a great location. A friend of mine produced the Sean Penn movie (Flag Day) that was filmed there right after ours, and I know that a bunch of our crew went on to do that one.

Manitoba is such a unique location, esthetically, and having people who are at the top of their game there, like producer Rhonda Baker, our props master Jason Gibbs and our stunt co-ordinator Rick Skene — who is literally one of a very few people I’d trust my life with — make me hope that I make it back there to collaborate with everyone again.

Randall King: After shooting her part of The Grudge, Betty Gilpin told a funny story on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert about staying in a haunted hotel — the Fort Garry — while she was shooting here. Any similar experiences?


Demián Bichir and Westwood in The Grudge.


Tara Westwood: I stayed both with family and at the Fort Garry Hotel. Zero question as to whether that place is haunted or not! I hadn’t read about that online or heard about it before, but I remember saying that how you feel there, must be how the hotel in The Shining would feel. That said, I wasn’t scared. I just wasn’t entirely sure that I was alone in my room at night when I should’ve been.

I joked that I hoped that the ghost there — which I’d been told was a woman — wouldn’t want to battle it out with me, since I was playing a tortured soul who was also “stuck.” It’s a big hotel, there’s enough room for the two of us at the Fort Garry.

Randall King: What can you say about the character?

Tara Westwood: In the movie, I play a woman who is working in Japan at the same time the 2004 film takes place. I’ve been calling it a “simulquel” because of that; our story happens simultaneously (with the 2004 film). Then I get infected with the curse, bring it back to America and it spreads to unsuspecting people who enter the house after that.

Randall King: How was the experience of making a horror movie?

Tara Westwood: It was a total blast filming The Grudge and being a part of this franchise. Horror is a fun genre because fans are very passionate about it. I feel this movie has such an amazing script, with such an incredible cast, that it steps outside of the typical boundaries of horror, because of its dramatically layered foundation. (Producer) Sam Raimi always wanted to make an R-rated Grudge, so he could push those horror limits, and with Nick at the helm, he’s done just that.

Randall King: The genre has some great performances… Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist, for example. As an actor, do you have any touchstone movies/performances you went to?

Tara Westwood: Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist is the quintessential role to watch because it’s not just jump-out horror, it’s a psychological story that haunts you. She just plays it honestly, moment by moment, and that’s what I want to bring to every character I do, including this one. As an actor, I focused on the grief and loss my character feels throughout the film and the anger that arises from that. I also watched movies like Misery, because there’s something just off about Kathy Bates’ character and I had to have a feeling of that in mine before she gets completely taken over by the curse.


Lin Shaye and Westwood


Randall King: The Grudge has so many terrific dramatic actors: Andrea Riseborough, Betty Gilpin, William Sadler, John Cho, Lin Shaye. Horror movies sometimes don’t get respect, but I expect you have to bring you’re A-game with company like that.

Tara Westwood: Working with our cast was such a dream. There are a few different storylines happening at the same time, and the beauty of my character is that I got to work with pretty much everyone. A friend of mine asked me if it was nerve-racking working with such established actors and I didn’t feel that at all. It was a complete joy because I love what I do so much and we were all just able to hit the ball back and forth in a beautifully collaborative way. I felt that working with these amazingly talented actors only raised my performance. Between all of the the indie films and off-Broadway theatre that I’ve been lucky to do, I knew I was ready.

Randall King: The Bombers finally won the Grey Cup in 2019. Given your family connection, do you follow the team? Or is that even possible from the U.S.?

Tara Westwood: I am a total sports freak and would have to be in a part of the world where I couldn’t get internet to not keep up with what’s happening to the Bombers and the Jets! I am thrilled that Winnipeg finally won the Grey Cup, though obviously, I wish that my brother Troy… who played for them for so long… had been on that team when it happened. While we were filming there, our director Nick couldn’t believe how hockey was like a religion to our crew. He didn’t try to fight it; instead, he put up a huge TV where people could watch the games in between things. I may have my American teams I cheer for now since I’ve lived in New York longer than I lived in Winnipeg, but I will always be a Bombers and Jets fan at heart!

Twitter: @FreepKing

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Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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