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Jolene Purdy, Midori Francis and Yoko Okumura Discuss UNSEEN

Hey, friends. Barbarella here. Blumhouse production’s fast-paced thriller Unseen features Jolene Purdy (“Orange is the New Black”), Midori Francis (“Grey’s Anatomy”), and Missi Pyle (Gone Girl) . Directed by Yoko Okumura (“The Bold Type”), the story witnesses the evolution of an unlikely friendship when a wrong number connects two women in a life-and-death situation. Unseen is currently on Digital and On Demand and will be on MGM+ in May 2023. I had an opportunity to speak with Jolene, Midori, and Yoko about their experience with the shoot. Check it out!

Midori Francis as Emily in the Horror/Thriller film, UNSEEN, a Paramount Home Entertainment and MGM+ release. Photo courtesy of Skip Bolan and Blumhouse Television.Barbara: I have a question for Jolene real quick. This is the question that’s on everybody’s mind. Did the song have any effect, or did you still take Dolly Parton‘s man? 

Jolene: Oh, I took her man. Are you kidding me? Of course, I did.

Barbara: But it’s Dolly! This question is for everybody. If you could do a freaky Friday swap with anybody else on set, who would you want it to be and why? 

Midori: Not Yoko, too much responsibility.

Jolene: Not Yoko.

Yoko: You know, I think I’d want to freaky Friday swap with Missi Pyle and see what that lifestyle is like. You know, be like two feet taller than where I see the world from down here, and see it through her eyes. 

Jolene: I would not freaky Friday with Midori because she is too bad ass and super hero. I could not. I’m too lazy. I don’t even want to imagine what that life is. I think I would also say Missi Pyle just for the shenanigans and Skittles.

Missi Pyle as Carol in the Horror/Thriller film, UNSEEN, a Paramount Home Entertainment and MGM+ release. Photo courtesy of Skip Bolan and Blumhouse Television. Midori: Well, I am not going to say Missi Pyle, so how about that? I’m gonna say if freaky Friday includes you get all their skill sets for the day, I’m going to do Angel, my stunt double, because she is freaking amazing. They were very kind; they let me do a lot of stunts that I was actually capable of doing, and Angel was really great about that and helped me learn how to fall, but there’s a few things that I obviously just don’t have the skill set for, like when Emily gets pushed off the ledge, I was on the harness, but obviously didn’t do the real fall. Do you remember what the feet was Yoko? It was crazy.

Yoko: I think it was somewhere between twenty to thirty feet in the air, yeah.

Midori: She went out and yeah. I just think that’s so cool how she knows how to move her body, so I’d freaky Friday with her.

Barbara: Yoko, with the split screens, were they planned in advance or was that a decision made in editing? Would you discuss what informed those decisions? 

Yoko: Oh yeah, the split screens were planned from the very beginning. Even from when I was pitching to direct the movie, I was like, "We’re gonna have really cool, interesting split screens. It’s going to connect the two people’s worlds together, even though they’re never in the same place." I want the viewer to feel like they’re right next to each other, so even from the script point, I was making sure that the writers were adding in very specific split screen so that the crew knew that we were going to have to get all that coverage and stuff. I just wanted to make sure that we had all the cinematic tools where we could connect Emily and Sam together on screen for the audience to see their bonding, to see their connection so that was a really important element for me. It continued to evolve and change, and we really pushed the boundaries of the split screen into post production. My editor was super helpful in especially the ones where there’s like multiple people. It’s not just a middle split screen anymore; it’s just like fragments of split screen. That was definitely something [with which] I had fun with the editor Michael Block to develop later in post-production.

(L-R) Midori Francis as Emily and Jolene Purdy as Sam in the Horror/Thriller film, UNSEEN, a Paramount Home Entertainment and MGM+ release. Photo courtesy of Blumhouse Television. Barbara: Let’s talk location. Where did you shoot, what were the conditions like, and what was it like shooting in those conditions?

Yoko: Go for it, ladies. 

Jolene: We shot in New Orleans during Mardi Gras; that was the condition. We shot in the woods in Covington. We shot...I think, it was like a gas station that Katrina actually wiped out that they hadn’t put back into use that Yoko turned into this Gator Dreamland for Sam. Yeah, what were the conditions? It was hot. It was cold. It was wet. It was all the things you could imagine, right? 

Yoko: It was a buffet of weather.

Midori: Lots of bugs.

Jolene: Lots of bugs.

Yoko: Yeah, Midori was up in those bugs on the swampy marshy forest of Covington. She was in the dirt, and she was just climbing and scaling these dirt walls and she became one with the nature and the environment, I think.

Midori: Yeah, I didn’t mind the bugs at all in the woods. It’s more cockroaches. They love it there.

Midori Francis as Emily in the Horror/Thriller film, UNSEEN, a Paramount Home Entertainment and MGM+ release. Photo courtesy of Skip Bolan and Blumhouse Television. Barbara: I’m not a huge fan of cockroaches myself. 

Midori: I would love to meet people who love them. That would be an interesting documentary.

Barbara: I see movies where that happens, but I don’t know if that would ever happen in real life, but who knows? 

Yoko: Oh, there is a whole segment of TikTok and Instagram where people keep cockroaches for pets, and they make them cute little rooms, like pink and red, and it’s really cute.

Midori: Is it cute? You can paint all the pink and red you want, but those legs, ewwww.

Barbara: What was your favorite day on set and why?

Yoko: My favorite day on set was the last day, not because it was over, but because it was such a celebratory, joyous day, where we got to shoot some of the ending scenes. It was actually the one day where Midori and Jolene were both in costume onset, because we were getting some of this kind of fantasy sequence with Midori. It was just a celebratory day, and we shot a badass moment with Jolene at the end, so, for me, that was awesome, and I’m starting this tradition where on the last day of production, I wear something completely impractical and glamorous. I wore like a neon-green, mesh, sequin dress, and Midori made this amazing sign that said "Thank you" to the crew and drew like an alligator on it and got a bunch of desserts, and she had like little sparkler fireworks. It was just going all out, so for me, it was an amazing culmination of all the hard work that we got to do together. 

(Center) Director Yoko Okumura behind-the-scenes on the set of the Horror/Thriller film, UNSEEN, a Paramount Home Entertainment and MGM+ release. Photo courtesy of Skip Bolan and Blumhouse Television.

Midori: I’m going to pick a day from each set. My favorite day on the Emily world was when I got to basically scale the sand-bank, and Jolene was over there. We had a lot of mocha coffee that day, and it was just a really fun point for the character in the movie and the relationship because you and me got to get in that little bicker, Jolene, about why didn’t you tell me? It was a really strong point in the movie, I felt. We were all comfortable by then, and it was physically really fun. And then on Jolene’s side, I think my favorite day might’ve been when Missi and you guys were going at it, and she was doing all the insults, and you were improvising back. It was really a fun ping-pong game to witness, and I was right there, kind of just hiding in the cashier thing.

Jolene: You and me in that little cage , only no one ever saw you tucked in. I feel like it was like two movies, so I don’t know that I could pick one day, so I kinda feel like Midori. It’s funny, I would pick the sand-bank day, too. Watching you scale that, and watching you work. We also had fun. I led you into trees, and we improvised funny stuff.

Midori: That was a fun day. 

Jolene: It was fun. In the gas station, I like working with all the characters that came through there. It was a blast, but Missi, for sure, with the Skittles and the insults coming in hot.

Barbara: How much coffee do you guys drink on set? 

Midori: It’s a problem, it’s like actually a problem.

Jolene: I think we balanced well. We had our coffee in the morning to get us through, and then around lunch, we’d have one. 

Midori: You know what helped on that job was that crafty was far away because it had to be, so to get a mocha was a whole thing. I mean, you would be slowing everything down. Here, on my current job, it’s so easy to get coffee. I have accidentally drank four and five in a day, and then I’m lying in bed at night. “Why can’t I sleep?” then I’m like “Oh,” but yeah, you’re right; we were pretty balanced with everything on that show. We were so busy. It was like one coffee. Food was good.

Yoko: I don’t drink coffee, but the last two days of night shoots, the camera department has their own espresso machine in their truck, and those last two days, I just really needed the fuck it energy, so I chugged a bunch of espresso. Because I never drink it, it was quite the drug.

Jolene: Uh, Midori did you know about this espresso machine? 

Midori: I had no idea. I would’ve loved to. 

Jolene: I feel left out.

Midori: Me, too. 

Yoko: We'll blame Freddy the DP that he kept this secret from you guys.

Jolene: Yoko, you had your first coffee on this?  

Yoko: No, I’ve drank coffee in life. I just don’t drink it as a necessity, so it’s potent. 

Barbara: I didn’t realize you could direct without drinking coffee. That’s a new concept for me.

Yoko: You know, sleep is better than coffee. I just try to get home and go to sleep, and that’s the one thing I try to be very disciplined about. 

Midori: She was. She also made her hotel room so cozy. I was in utter shock. She had a rug brought in. She gave us all these nice fuzzy slippers. Yeah, Yoko was very calm during this process, and that’s probably because you weren’t chugging coffee, and you were sleeping, and you were able to be a really good leader.

Yoko: Thank you. Thank you.

Barbara: As a director, you plan and plan, but generally there’s always something unforeseen that happens that requires that you have to adjust. What unforeseen circumstances occurred, and how did that force you to adapt?

Jolene Purdy as Sam in the Horror/Thriller film, UNSEEN, a Paramount Home Entertainment and MGM+ release. Photo courtesy of Alyssa Moran and Blumhouse Television.Yoko: Oh my goodness, there were a lot of unforeseen circumstances with Covid and the weather. We lost a whole day at the barn scene because we were rained out one day, so we had to move around Jolene and shoot scenes from her side that we weren’t planning to shoot. There’s often times on set, during lunch time, instead of eating, I was prepping the shot list for the next day. I think specifically with this movie, what comes to mind is like the writers write Jolene being like, “Emily you have to go left, and then you have to go down the bank, and then you have to take a right. Ooh no, there’s something on your left!” All that kind of has to go out the window. We have to adjust on the day when we actually are on set, and we’re like, “Oh the sand bank is over here instead, and we can’t go that way” so I think a really specific example of that is when Emily is in the car. There was a lot of dialogue about where Charlie was coming from, and what orientation he actually was in the world, and that was actually quite challenging to make it as realistic as possible and not have to play pretend. I didn’t want the audience to go like, “But wait; he might be right there. Why are these girls doing this? It’s not very smart of them.” I always want to make sure that the characters came off very intelligent.

Barbara: For Midori and Jolene, how are you similar to and different from your characters?

Jolene: Sam is anxious and so is Jolene. I’ve talked about this before, but I had postpartum depression for the first eighteen months of my daughter’s life, so that’s something that I brought in for Sam, just that feeling of hopelessness, the heaviness of it, just not really seeing a way out, and it just being the worst day ever back to back to back to back to back. I have done the work, so it’s really nice stepping out of Sam and seeing that Jolene is not still there. I think, as an actor you bring in different channels of yourself to whatever the character is, so that’s where I landed, but I also found that I was bringing that into life. When we were in New Orleans, I was like apologizing for everything and just being super crazy anxious. I couldn’t leave Sam at the gas station when I went back to the hotel.

Midori: I’ll add on that Sam finds her strength in helping Emily and is so incredible as her guiding force, and Jolene is one of the most just inherently supportive people, like a pillar. The first time we started working together, she just was so generous with encouragement and all of that, and that’s such a beautiful quality. 

Jolene: Awwww

Midori: For me, I definitely feel like there’s a scrappiness and a will to live. No matter what’s been done to you or no matter what your circumstances, thinking like I’m gonna do this. I’m going to do this. I definitely think we share that; there’s something in us that is the same. How we differ is Emily, I would say, despite being somewhere between seven and ten emotionally through the whole film, she’s actually really good at handling stress. You see that she even has the capability to help Sam while she’s about to be killed, and I will say that I don’t have that same capability. I think I’m way more stressed out. I think I would’ve had a few more “AAGHH” moments in the movie if it was me, and I think that strength is super aspirational. I think, I kind of really got into this. Emily gave me a lot of confidence and a lot of groundedness and strength, and I definitely think that was because of Emily rubbing off on me. I was able to carry that through.  

Unseen is now screening on Digital and On Demand, and will appear on MGM+ in May 2023. 

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