Exclusive Interview: The Descent’s Spelunking Goddess Shauna Macdonald Talks About the Scary New Sequel

Exclusive Interview: The Descent’s Spelunking Goddess Shauna Macdonald Talks About the Scary New Sequel

Apr 28, 2010

Scottish actress Shauna Macdonald was one of the team of female spelunkers in 2005’s The Descent—one of the scariest movies of the past 20 years. We caught up with the horror heroine as she returns to kick some Crawlers in The Descent: Part 2, which is available on DVD as of this week.

What made you want to play The Descent’s Sarah again?
Shauna Macdonald: Getting to play Sarah again was a big bonus. I was curious myself about where they could take the story and how far they could go with the character. There was unfinished business we could attend to and address. I had such a ball shooting the first one, so I couldn’t find a reason to not do the sequel.

Prior to filming the first Descent, had you ever gone spelunking before?
Macdonald: Yes, we went spelunking with [The Descent director] Neil Marshall and the girls and it was pretty scary. It was cold, damp and just really eerie. The air is obviously a different quality that you’ve never been in before as you’re hundreds and hundreds of feet underground. It does feel otherworldly and it’s very spooky.

I remember going down this tunnel and the guide saying, “There’s a surprise for you at the end.” Natalie [Mendoza, who plays Juno in both movies] went first and then the other girls, and I was in the back. Juno would do this because she was gung-ho about doing it in the movie. We got into quite a crawlspace and it turned out that Natalie hit a dead end. She had to concentrate on breathing because she knew she’d panic and her body wouldn’t function. I couldn’t believe they did this to a group of actors!

So cave-diving isn’t something you would do for pleasure?
Macdonald: I wouldn’t because I’m slightly claustrophobic, so I’m not sure how I ended up doing these two films. I think there was a screening of The Descent in Texas in a cave or something—some horrific environment to have a heart attack while watching the movie. That’s too much—they’re braver than I am!

How is Sarah different in The Descent: Part 2?
Macdonald: It’s about her redemption. At the end of the first one, she has very much left her mind. By the end of the second one, she has a complete grasp of her mental state and makes a choice. It’s her ascent into sanity and atonement with Juno.

Were you surprised that Juno was still alive?
Macdonald: I was surprised to find out that Natalie was in the film. When [director] Jon Harris explained it to me, he said, “Shauna, would you get a grip? We’re shooting a horror film. Anything can happen.” So, of course, you can do anything you want.

It’s great to have the standoff between Sarah and Juno. We had an hour and a half to choreograph the fight and she actually punched me in the face for real during that fight. Jon said, “We’re all going home. The actress is down.” We couldn’t afford to step down from production, so we soldiered on and they just put more mud and blood on my shiner. We were shooting in sequence then, so I was covered in a whole manner of crap at that point. I suffer for my craft [laughs]. Natalie felt awful.

It seems that your storylines are wrapped up, but Sarah’s fate is ambiguous. What do you think happens to your character after the end credits?
Macdonald: In my head, I thought, she’s a goner. However, the first movie's script said that Sarah put a pick in Juno’s leg and left her for dead, so I thought she was a goner, too. I really don’t know. I think someone can come up with a fantastic storyline to get The Descent: Part 3 with a Sarah that survives. I’d be back.

The first Descent was popular overseas and has a loyal following here. Were you disappointed that the sequel was not given a theatrical release in the United States like it was abroad?
Macdonald: Yeah, of course. I feel sorry for the fans that they didn’t get to see it on the big screen in America because we have a fantastic fan base there. At least we have the DVD.

What’s next for you?
Macdonald: I have two little girls and the youngest is six months old, so I’m not throwing myself back into any old job. It’s got to be a good story to take me away from my young children right now. But The Descent 3, if it were a good one, I would do that. The great thing about horror is that you get to do all the emotional intense stuff and all of the action, and people just accept that a woman is doing it. The kick-ass roles in other genres are given to the guys. I’m just interested in getting good roles.

How old will your daughters have to be before they see either Descent?
Macdonald: They will never see them! I still have nightmares about Crawlers and being trapped in caves.

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