Sharing both sides of a contentious situation can help a community truly understand the motivations and emotions of everyone who was involved in the conflict. That’s certainly the case for actresses Nadine Garner and Samantha Tolj’s characters of policewoman Samantha Romans and ambitious journalist Jamie Connard in the new Australian thriller, ‘Line of Fire.’ The two characters, who disagree over what it means to struggle and how to contend with pain, must find a way to not only reveal their unique perspectives with each other, but also with society, in order to heal.
The movie is now available on VOD and Digital, courtesy of VMI Releasing. The drama was written by Christopher Gist and directed by Scott Major. In addition to Garner and Tolj, the film also stars Damien Walshe-Howling.
‘Line of Fire’ follows Samantha as she fails to intervene in the shooting that led to her son’s death. As a result, she draws the condemnation of her colleagues and community as well as the attention of Jamie. Keen to reignite the career she put on hold to have children, Jamie ignores Samantha’s pleas to be left alone and pursues her relentlessly. With nothing to lose, the policewoman retaliates by forcing the journalist into a night of terror that threatens everything the latter holds dear.
Garner generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Line of Fire’ during an exclusive interview over Zoom. Among other things, the actress discussed that she was in part driven to play Samantha because the script offers insightful commentary on the effects that social media has on people. She also noted that she hopes viewers realize while watching the drama that police officers find it challenging to complete their duties at times because of the personal grief they’re forced to contend with on the job.
Film Factual (FF): You play policewoman Samantha Romans in the new thriller, ‘Line of Fire.’ What was it about the character, as well as the overall script, that convinced you to take on the role?
Nadine Garner (NG): The film is a dark psychological thriller, and it’s not the kind of screenplay that you see every day. So there was an attraction to the challenges of the role, to start with. I also thought the writing was really solid, and it’s a really interesting moral tale about social media and people being trolled.
This character that I play, Romans, is obviously a very damaged person already. She was in the Army and is also a policewoman, and she comes to those roles with a lot of psychological damage. So when this journalist starts hunting her down, Romans is really triggered into this deep, dark place. The film takes us on this pretty dark journey into her psyche.
This is a morality tale about how we don’t always know about the people on the other side of the screen, and how the comments we make online can lead us down some pretty dark roads.
FF: Speaking about social media, the movie explores how those online platforms has become increasingly detrimental to the way police officers approach their work. Why was it important to you and the drama’s director, Scott Major, to showcase that tension between police officers and the public in an era of civilians policing officers?
NG: Yes, I think it’s really interesting how first responders are now being held more responsible for their actions than ever before. I know that police officers have a big profile in your country (the U.S.) for all kinds of issues – racial unrest, obviously, the gun violence that you have in your country – and are under great scrutiny in your country.
There are all over the world, obviously, as we train these people to do this job. But as you see in this film, in the end, they’re just human beings. When their lives are threatened, all their training doesn’t necessarily mentally and emotionally prepare them on how they should react in that moment. In this film, we see this woman come face-to-face with humanity and as a result, can’t respond in the way that society thinks that she should.
So I think that the film is a real reminder that these first responders, whether they’re police officers, paramedics or firefighters, they’re still human beings. They come to those positions with their own trauma and emotional landscape. They’re not robots, and until we do replace them with robots, there’s going to be error, misjudgments and outright crimes against humanity, which we see in America all of the time in the police violence.
FF: In the film, Samantha fails to intervene in a school shooting in which her son dies. As a result, she draws the attention of ambitious journalist, Jamie Connard, who’s played by Samantha Tolj. With nothing to lose, Samantha retaliates by forcing Jamie into a night of terror that threatens everything Jamie holds dear. What was your experience preparing for your role? What kind of research did you do into the ramifications of police officers’ decisions in life-or-death situations?
NG: I have played a policewoman before, so there’s always the gun training and basically looking like you know what you’re doing with a weapon. So that’s important, in terms of making people believe that you’re actually a police officer. That was the first thing, and the second thing was that I had to do a lot of fight training because there are some fight sequences.
We also shot the film really fast, in 15 days, so we basically had to have the whole film choreographed from the beginning. So there wasn’t anything left to chance – everything had to be pre-storyboarded.
So the preparation for me was mainly being physically fit enough so that I could do fight sequences over and over again, and making it look like I was really punching people in the face. I worked with fantastic martial arts coordinator and fight coordinator. So that was the big thing for me – making sure that Romans was physically embodied in a way that looked believable.
FF: Speaking of creating the physicality for your portrayal of Samantha, how did you balance that physicality with Samantha’s emotions throughout the shoot?
NG: I think she’s a woman pushed to the brink of going postal. She’s held these secrets and the grief of the loss of her daughter and husband while also maintaining her professional stance. She’s been able to carry on until she loses her son; then she has nothing left to lose.
So then we see the trauma in this person who has transcended her humanity, in a way. Everything’s been taken from her. She was also the victim of abuse from her childhood, which we find out about during a long monologue in the film.
So we realize that we’re seeing this person who’s a first responder, and is a really responsible person in society. But underneath it all, she’s really quite unhinged.
If someone’s pushed to that point, you have a really unrational person, and you ask, what do you do with that? There’s really no coming back from that.
FF: Speaking of Samantha’s childhood trauma and the fact that she lost husband and daughter, how did her personal background and grief influence her actions during the school shooting?
NG: I think she’s a person who’s been able to keep the trauma at bay and been able to repress it. In that moment when her son is threatened, all her trauma comes to the surface, and she’s no longer able to function.
Maybe we’ve all seen that in people around us, or in situations where people are under pressure. Then the body just gives out, and you’re no longer in control of your limbs; you’re just this quivering mess.
I think that was a shock to Romans. She knew that was coming, but I don’t think any of us knows when that kind of response is going to happen. We think we’re in control, and then the body steps in and says, “You know what? You’re no longer in control.”
So I think it’s a really interesting message about how frail human beings are. We’re incredibly resilient, and we can undergo, and overcome, incredible trauma. But sometimes people reach a breaking point
FF: The thriller also stars Samantha Tolj as ambitious journalist, Jamie Connard. What was your collaboration with her like as you built the tension between your characters?
NG: I think that (Jamie) was a hard role, so I was concerned about (Samantha) in that role. It was a really demanding, terrible place to be in, and she spends about 85 percent of the film in a grief-stricken, fight or flight panic. So I talked about my concern for her mental health a lot to her and the director.
Luckily, we shot the film really quickly. But she wasn’t in a great way during the time we were shooting; she was exhausted and shaking, as she was feeling the effects of pushing herself to be in that place.
But I feel like playing Romans, even though I was completely off my rocker, I was in control of that place. I played her as a calculated person who was still rational, even though she was insane. But I didn’t have to be in that heightened sense of fear and terror that Sam had to maintain throughout the entire film.
But I had complete compassion for her as an actress and cared for her very deeply. I was checking in with her the whole time, making sure that she was okay. But it was an incredibly demanding role for her, no doubt about it.
FF: Speaking of ‘Line of Fire’s director, Scott Major, who made his feature film directorial debut on the project. What was your experience like collaborating with him on developing Samantha’s arc throughout the story?
NG: Scott had to convince me to take the role because I was like, “This is too scary; I don’t know if I want to be this person.” But I made him promise me that he was going to look after us on set.
I knew Scott as a director and actor before we shot this movie, so I knew he could work quickly and was very organized. I wanted to feel as though I would be held on that set, and that he knew what he was doing. The last thing I wanted was to be in this space in my head, and then have a director change their mind.
So I made him promise that his vision was strong, we were all aiming for the same thing and when we hit the set, we knew what we were going for. I didn’t want to be changing things on the day, since we didn’t have time.
So it was an emotional contract that he and I had, and that he had with Sam, too. He knew we could do our roles and that if he held the space for us and had our trust that we’d deliver it. The bones of the film was really about trust – we, as actors, knew that he had a vision and knew how he wanted to capture it, and we just went out there and did it.
FF: With the thriller being shot on location in Australia, what was your experience like of filming the project in the real places?
NG: Luckily, all the sets were in one location, and we didn’t have to travel very far to go to our locations. It was a bit of a journey for me to go out there every day, but once we were there, all of our locations were very close together.
So in a way, we build a world and just stepped into it. I personally think that the world doesn’t necessarily look specifically like Australia; the film looks like it could have been shot in Norway or America. To me, it looks like an every place and be set anywhere, and I love the universality of the aesthetic of the film.
Hopefully that helps the story speak to many cultures, outside of the Australian culture. We’re good at making films that look Australian, so it’s nice to make a film that fits in everywhere, and can be seen as an every place.
Actress Nadine Garner (left) stars in director Scott Major’s thriller, ‘Line of Fire.’
Fun Film Fact: ‘Line of Fire’ was nominated for Best Indie Feature at the 2022 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards.