AnnaLynne McCord Talks Role in New Film 'Condition of Return'

We chatted with McCord to talk about the film, mental health, and more

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Pasidg Productions, Inc

AnnaLynne McCord is returning to the screen in one of her most comprehensive roles to date as Eve Sullivan in her brand new film Condition of Return. Starring alongside Dean Cain, McCord plays a woman who commits a mass shooting in a church, with Cain taking on the role of the psychoanalyst determining if she's mentally competent enough to stand trial.

In a heavy film that takes more than one watch to fully digest, McCord turns in a brilliant performance that is without a doubt one of her best, and in our opinion, should definitely earn her some nominations this coming award season. Condition of Return is available for streaming on AppleTV, YouTube Movies, GooglePlay, and Vudu/Fandango and just recently made its way onto Prime. Ahead of the film's Prime release, we sat down with McCord to chat about her performance, what prompted her to take the role, mental health awareness, the controversial nature of the film and more.

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It was the question on how you do a film about mass shootings—or any issue that's so horrific or relevant in the era in which you exist—where you're able to showcase the issue without glorifying the process.

- AnnaLynne McCord

"It's an intense watch," McCord tells ONE37pm as she reminisces about a conversation she had with director Tommy Stovall ahead of the film's release. "I jokingly told Tommy that I would be there for the red carpet and Q&A, but that I would have to skip the screening. It's something that brings so much that's relevant in our world today to light. It's definitely intense so make sure to take care of your mental as you watch it."

McCord's role as Eve Sullivan, a mass shooter who suffers from mental illness, is quite different from any other character she's portrayed in her career thus far—one that she originally turned down at first. "Initially I read page one, which is my character walking into a church with an AR-15 and firing off 19 shots into the crowd—I read that and was like... I'm moving on to the next script for the day!

"It was not a light decision at all for me, and the initial response was no," she says. "That's always a curious thing in my world—I don't like resistance. So when resistance shows up in my world, in my energy, and on my screen—I need to know why. And... I was feeling fear about taking on a project so controversial—and I'm not one to shy away from controversy! This wasn't so much about the controversial nature of the project so much as it was the question on how you do a film about mass shootings—or any issue that's so horrific or relevant in the era in which you exist—where you're able to showcase the issue without glorifying the process.

"That was my concern—I didn't want to at any given moment be perceived by any individual, specifically the ones personally affected by mass shootings, to have been a part of glorifying something that caused them perhaps the most harm in their entire life. That was present first in mind, and then in my body. It doesn't matter if my intentions are pure, it could further the hurt for people who have been affected by these atrocities."

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I had to decide if I was going to see that fear to fruition, or if I was going to bring the AnnaLynne vibration of love that I bring to everything and choose to see this from a higher perspective.

- AnnaLynne McCord

After mulling over it for some time, McCord ultimately decided to take the role, noting that she had to "think a little bit broader"—something she's regularly challenging the people around her to do. "I needed to do that myself," she says adding: "I needed to not be so close minded. Yes, there will be people who don't agree with my decision to do this film, and yes, I was one of those people. I had to decide if I was going to see that fear to fruition, or if I was going to bring the AnnaLynne vibration of love that I bring to everything and choose to see this from a higher perspective. Once I was able find that space I could really take on the project, but before I did that I just said yes to the film because I decided I wasn't doing a no-based fear decision."

Playing a dark and heavy role is one that can weigh on their mind, body, and spirit. I draw the comparison to the late great Heath Ledger, who was very open about what it took to get into the role of the Joker through his journals, and how it put him in a dark space as a result. "You mention Heath Ledger—he was someone on my wall of actors as a child that I wanted to work with when I grew up, got out of the trailer park and made into Hollywood," McCord shares. "I was in Turks and Caicos when I found out he had passed. I had a very personal moment and started crying because I felt so profoundly effected by that man and his performances in his films like Knight's Tale, which was my childhood pleasure. It was my first realization that this job takes people from us because they don't get out. Nobody, and Joaquin Phoenix did an incredible job in his own right—nobody will be what Heath Ledger was as the Joker."

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I had to face everything about me that turned me into my shadow self in many ways, and play the roles that I did so frequently in my career.

- AnnaLynne McCord

"When you haven't realized your shadow self and you go into that space, sometimes you don't come home," McCord continues. "I went to my shadow five years ago after having worked for 15 years playing villains. I had memories of child sexual abuse come back, and I had to face everything about me that turned me into my shadow self in many ways, through playing the roles that I did so frequently in my career."

McCord has even more to say on her personal journey to Condition of Return. "By the time you get into the part of my life where I choose to do this film—I've now faced my shadow fully, I've embraced my shadow, and have forgiven my shadow and made amends for some of the things my 'little shadowy shadow' has done to people which are not so wonderful and I'm not very proud of. What I found is that by facing my shadow, playing my shadow was actually much harder!

"It was much easier for me to be nasty, yucky, gritty because I was 'just acting,'" McCord adds. "When I had to go into Eve Sullivan and be her deteriorating mind and self throughout the film and ultimately film the mass shooting—I was like, 'I need a salt bath and some sage after this...' It was really dark. We were shooting in Phoenix, and I had the luxury of going to Sedona and being in a place that is one of the most powerful places to visit sacredly. The Indigneous used to travel specifically to Sedona for healing. I went to the mountains/red rocks, and did quite a few ceremonies and rituals to clear the energy. I think if our wonderful actors like Heath Ledger and some of the others were able to be more educated in our training to not just step into roles, but get out of them—we wouldn't see the loss that we see in our community and industry. We don't understand the doors we open, and we don't know how to close them because nobody talks about how to. I take it very seriously."

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McCord was also very protective of her fellow castmates and crew, offering up healing services for them to preserve their mental through the filming process as she's now a Reiki Master herself. "They were appreciative," says McCord, noting that some of her efforts brought laughter. "If for nothing else, it brought comedy and lightness to the set, and that energy is also something that's uplifting to remove dark energy."

The positive energy was definitely needed, especially on the day they filmed the mass shooting scene, which in a very sad irony was on the same day as the Uvalde, Texas school shooting. McCord and the rest of the cast and crew were unaware of the events that were unfolding as they filmed. "It was not lost on us how specific it was that they both happened on the same day," she says with noticeable emotions. "When you're filming, you're in a vortex for 14 hours. You go home and turn on the news or get on social media, and that's when you find things out.

"We all came into set the next day and had a group conversation with everyone to discuss everyone's feelings and how we could give support to those individuals. As we continued the filming process, we really took care to make sure that the door was open for anybody to talk. I work with trauma survivors and I am a trauma survivor—I've done this for 15 years, have a lot of certifications, and am very qualified to hold a support conversation with somebody and determine the support level that they need. Thankfully a lot of people did come and talk to me, and a lot of conversations and tears later, we kept inspiring and encouraging each other that this film was important for reasons like this."

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In an effort to uplift the conversation a bit after talking about something so traumatic, I ask McCord who some of her influences in acting are. Charlize Theron, she tells me, is "the one," thanks to her choices in films. "She makes such nuanced choices in projects when she wants to make a point, and she made such a point with Monster. That to me was aspirational because, and I'm sure she's dealt with this, if you've ever done modeling, there's an energy towards you in the industry and it ain't nice. It's like, 'Oh wow, you actually act!' And I'm like, 'Yeah and I actually have a brain too even though I look like a dumb blonde!'"

Continues McCord, "There's a notion to undermine and undercut a woman based on how she looks across all industries, and I actually laugh when people make that assumption, because the only person that will affect in an ill way is you. If you undermine than that's your f*cking problem! It's hurts your feelings because you're human, and why would you make an assumption of how I am just because of the way I look? I know Charlize was making a point in the industry with Monster to let people know that there was more to her than what you see. She proved herself in the most powerful way, and I found that to be incredibly aspirational. And then Angelina Jolie is like the goddess of the universe to me. Oh, and Michelle Pfeiffer, too."

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You just don't tap into the level of understanding on an intrinsic cellular level of another human being unless you've been to the depths of a pain you can't fathom.

- AnnaLynne McCord

As you watch Condition of Return, it's clear McCord put her heart and soul into playing the character. So is the role her most challenging to date? "It's hard to measure challenging, because you get different types of challenges and you're at different points of your life. Perhaps as far as my initial response and how I had to navigate it as far as the in the moment feeling because I'm so present now. However, I was really dissociative and out of body when I did Excision," says McCord of playing the scared—and very scary—role of Pauline in the 2012 film. "That film... talk about not getting out of a role... I didn't know the ramifications of the aftereffects. That role stayed with me, and I was very dark for a while. I didn't have the tools and modalities that I have now, so in two very different ways these two films were equally challenging in certain aspects. I would say Excision for the me I used to be, and Conditions of Return for the me that I am today."

While not surprising due to McCord's certifications in healing and therapy, our convo turns into one about the connection between trauma and acting that sometimes presents itself. "I would dare say if an actor is close to one of the great talents that we see, they've had some severe trauma. You just don't tap into the level of understanding on an intrinsic, cellular level of another human being unless you've been to the depths of a pain you can't fathom or others can't fathom surviving," she says. "I couldn't fathom surviving my own pain, so my mind blocked out my trauma. However, I was still tapping into it because it was existing in mind, cells, and body. They were reliving the pain through my different roles, but they were also experiencing catharsis because we must relive the same experience in a safe setting, and have the exposure to it with safety to close the loop and end that cycle.

"I have my career to thank for that catharsis, and I know for a fact that I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for the arts. I'm so grateful for the schools that have arts for kids where you don't know what's going on at home. To any US senators, congressmen or woman/individuals of our federal administration, if you try to take away our funding for the arts I will... show up at your birthday party and cuss you out!"

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I'm offering something different, I'm offering compassion to end this as a pathway forward versus just talking about it.

- AnnaLynne McCord

If you watch Condition of Return, there is an element of the film that does very much focus on the mental health of the film's protagonist. My final question to McCord was a tough one—what is her response to criticisms from those who might think the film is trying to sympathize with mass shooters by focusing on mental health? "I—meaning me personally, because I can't speak on behalf of the film or anyone involved—am giving sympathy to mass shooters," McCord says. "And I can do that because I have compassion for the man who sexually abused me as a child for years and years, and I know a lot of people don't appreciate that—even my friends don't. I have compassion for the man who sexually assaulted me as a teenager, and I have a compassion for the inappropriate misconduct abusers who have perpetrated onto my body or into my field—I have compassion for all of them."

She continues, "So I do have compassion for mass shooters because they would never do this if they are fully loved. They will never do this if they are in a safe space. The National Institute of Justice funded a research project for the DOJ—100 percent of the shooters out of the 172 shootings that they researched were in a state of mental crisis at the time of the shooting. So yes, I, AnnaLynne McCord, have deep compassion for them, and that is a big part of why I did this film because we will never fix this if we do not go to the root cause. One of my friend's always says that the people in power will never solve anything as long as the problem is more beneficial than the solution. That's what it's been—our politicians love every mass shooting—and they won't admit to it because they can't. But they'll be like, 'This is why you need to vote for me.' But what do you actually do? Nothing has changed. They all talk at the far end of the spectrum but nothing changes."

McCord suggests an alternate path. "I'm offering something different. I'm offering compassion to end this as a pathway forward versus just talking about it," she says. "The way that we do that is through non-judgment, critical thinking—the way I approach a villain when I play them on camera. I cannot judge my character. If I do, I should offer that film back to the producers and tell them to go find another actress, because I've already ruined the project before I started it. I withdraw my self-righteous ability to say they are wrong and I'm right, because I've done many things I'm not proud of. I'm not here to be the judge, jury, and executioner, but I know the power of love and profundity of compassion. That energy will get us much further in moving towards the root of the issue, and that is the only thing that will move us towards a solution."

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