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The Mind of a Serial Killer: An Interview with 'Poor Agnes' Actress Lora Burke

October 28, 2017Britany Murphy

Portraying a serial killer is no easy task, and Poor Agnes' lead actress, Lora Burke, certainly had to delve into some dark places in order to become the titular character. In this dramatic thriller, we learn about what it's like to be Agnes — the depression, the need to find somebody and the need to feed her darkest desires. But despite the obvious horrors that surround Agnes' life, there is something oddly intriguing about the unassuming young woman.

The film is certainly one that can make the audience feel uncomfortable, but in doing so, there are still relatable themes throughout that the audience can latch onto — specifically, the themes of aforementioned depression, loneliness and feeling sedentary in one's life. Following Poor Agnes' Toronto premiere at this year's Toronto After Dark film festival, I was able to catch up with Burke to talk about the movie, its cast and crew, and, of course, what it was like to portray such a dark character.

First thing's first — was this your first time at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival? What did you think of the experience?

Burke: It was, yes! First time being part of a film festival and first time just attending as well. It was a lot of fun. On the last night, I went down to see Tragedy Girls, so I stayed for that Q&A and it was great. I really enjoyed the film; very interesting to hear about it afterwards.

What was it like to work with the director of Poor Agnes, Navin Ramaswaran?

Burke: It was a lot of fun! Navin's a really great guy. We got on quickly and we built a trust and rapport right away, and he was always very open to what I had to say as my interpretation of the character. And he was always, always willing to allow my ideas into what we were doing on set. So, it was great to be working with somebody so collaborative. And he's a fun guy.

So, what methods, if any, did you use to get into the role of Agnes?

Burke: You know, it's kind of funny. This has come up a few times and I don't know if I have a method, per se. For me, it was a lot of preparation in terms of physicality, research and that kind of thing. And then, on the day, it was more just sort of allowing myself to let go of all my preparation and just hope for the best in terms of Agnes coming through me.

When you were doing your research for the role, was there anything in particular that you read or saw that stuck out in your mind?

Burke: I don't think there's one specific thing off the top of my head now. But as a collective of these interviews I was watching with various serial killers, the main thing for me was just how calm and sort of detached they all seemed. Every time I would watch some, they'd be saying these terrible things, sometimes with just a completely straight face like it just wasn't affecting them at all. So, that was an essence that I really wanted to try to make sure I portrayed through Agnes, as the sociopath that she is.

After playing a role like Agnes, are you tempted at all to play another role that is similar to her again?

Burke: Yes! I would love to, it was a lot of fun to get to play this — she's complex. She's a very complex person, and obviously there were some dark places that I had to go to, but I think as an actor, those are the roles that are the most enjoyable because they're the furthest away from what we are in normal life, for the most part.

Is there any particular experience you take away from working on Poor Agnes, moving forward?

Burke: A lot of things. I mean, just working with the whole cast and the whole crew; we literally got grouped together and shipped off to Thunder Bay for two weeks with a bunch of strangers and maybe met once or twice. And from being in that environment and pretty much working all day, every day and going home and staying with the same people, I really made some lifelong friends there and met people who I would really love to work with again.

This was really the first time for me getting out of my regular environment and actually going up to Thunder Bay, and being on set for that whole two weeks pretty much. And I found that I really, really enjoyed that process because I was able to completely detach my regular life. Because if I was filming in Toronto, I might come home and have some other work to do here, and so it was nice to just focus on what was happening. So I definitely realize that I'd like to do that again moving forward. It really helped me as an actor and performer.

What are you hoping audiences get out of Poor Agnes?

Burke: It's a film that I think is designed to make the audience feel uncomfortable. So if we could achieve having them feel anything, be it them being uncomfortable or whether they hated Agnes, or loved Agnes — for me, I just wanted them to feel something and hopefully maybe even slightly root for Agnes towards the end.

I don't know about the rest of the audience, but I know I was. I know it sounds weird...

Burke: You were?! That's good. I know that was honestly one of my goals for Agnes. How can I make this horrible person somewhat likeable to the audience, because you're stuck with pretty much her face for the whole 90 minutes. So I wanted to somehow make her connected to the audience, and I think actually the humor that was written in by [screenwriter] James Gordon Ross was a big hook for the audience to enjoy Agnes.

It was interesting because it was a bit of a love story — at least from Agnes' perspective. And there's the part where she is almost just trying to find somebody.

Burke: Yeah! We start off at the beginning of the film, and she's just depressed. In her life, nothing excites her, she's just kind of living day-to-day. And then, I think when she needs it most, poor Mike happens upon her doorstep and ignites a fire in her.

As you just mentioned, the film does touch upon depression, which a lot of people struggle with.

Burke: Oh my gosh, yeah. I mean, obviously she deals with it in a different way to most people again, but those themes [that] are running in there [are ones] that people can relate to, absolutely. Just trying to get through each day as best as you can.

Lastly, what can we look forward to from you, going forward? I know there are a couple of projects your name is attached to.

Burke: Yeah! So, I'm actually going to be teaming up with the producers from Poor Agnes again, working on their next project. It's still in the pre-production phase right now, but it's going to be a really interesting, dark thriller with a little bit of an epidemic-type feel to it. But that's not until summer of next year. But coming up right away, I'm doing a film with Justin McConnell, who is actually one of the programmers for Toronto After Dark. But my character will have a lot more emotion. She's been through a tough time so, she is completely different to Agnes. I'll be tapping into some raw emotion in it, which is going to be hard but fun.

Poor Agnes is receiving its Toronto premiere at Toronto After Dark 2017.

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