Pollyanna McIntosh might seem like the most misnamed actress working today. Despite her optimistic moniker, the Scottish-born stunner has become known for playing grim roles in British films like Filth (based on a novel by Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh) and the primal horror saga The Woman. Still, she contends, “Everything I’ve done that’s dark has had hope in it. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t interest me.”
She’s bringing that spirit to another violent character as the equally misnamed Angel, a murderous moll in SundanceTV’s Texas crime dramedy Hap and Leonard. McIntosh spoke with Playboy.com about the new six-part series (co-starring James Purefoy, Michael K. Williams and Christina Hendricks), her background in plus-size modeling and burlesque, and her gift for making relatable characters out of the darkest material.
How did you get into the character of Angel?
For me it was just about making her relatable. I created this whole crazy backstory of how and why she fell in love with Soldier [Jimmi Simpson], because a lot of people would say Angel is mad, bad and dangerous to know. But she’s not a sociopath or a psychopath, as far as I’m concerned. I didn’t want to play her that way because I really felt she was genuinely in love with Soldier. I created this whole history of abuse and he was her knight in shining armor. I had this really embarrassing moment when I took Jimmi into my trailer and I was like, “I just want to read you this thing about why I love you. But not you; Soldier, right?”
How did you settle on her British accent?
On the second day of shooting, when I had dialogue for the first time—Angel is a woman of few words—I was told by the producers that they really loved my natural accent and could I do Angel as a Brit? I said, “If Angel sounds like this, it doesn’t make sense. I’ve had all this schooling, and this woman wouldn’t sound like that.” So I went with this kind of Cockney vibe, which went with her more punk mode.
How did you come up with the look of the character?
That was definitely a team effort with our incredible makeup and hair team and our wonderful wardrobe department. We tried to make her as big as possible with the hair. I sent them a bunch of pictures of David Bowie when he was in his glam phase. She’s definitely influenced by Grace Jones and the Sex Pistols and Bowie. It was a collaboration.
So you don’t think of Angel as a villain?
You can’t judge yourself when you’re playing these roles. If Angel thought she was bad, she wouldn’t have as much fun doing what she’s doing, and the audience wouldn’t have as much fun with her. As far as she’s concerned, she had a mission and it had to be completed and fuck everybody else. It’s just her and her man. Everybody else is an idiot. It’s very primal. Anything that gets in her way just gets torn apart.
Is it fun to do bad things on screen?
Do you really have to ask? To make it relatable to somebody who doesn’t act, would it be fun to do bad things if you could get away with it and you didn’t actually hurt anyone? Hell yes! It’s like that. Really fun.
There are certain things you can do in [modeling] that are really fun and creative, but going down the catwalk looking like everyone smells of shit is not something I need to do again.
Are you comfortable with violence from your work in horror films?
Yeah. I’ve never come through a window before, so that was new for me. I’d never fought two men at once. But I love getting physical. The choreography of fight sequences I really enjoy. I knew how strong the writing was. It’s entertaining at the end of the day. I never thought the violence was gratuitous. I loved going on that ride, and I hope the audience loves it too.
And you felt like the sexuality wasn’t over the top?
I didn’t have a sex scene. I had one kissing scene, which was a pleasure, by the way. You get an instinct for these kinds of things at this point. I know what suits me and what I feel comfortable with. I know if something makes me uncomfortable or is coming from a male perspective that doesn’t really understand how it could be more interesting from a woman’s perspective. I’ve always said something, and I’ve never lost a job because I had opinions. I encourage any actress to talk and collaborate. Sometimes there hasn’t been a female voice in there. But in this case, it was all good from the start.
Do you see this role as a way to help keep you from being pigeonholed as a horror actress?
The audience, and I include journalists in that, sometimes knows me as the scream queen, but everything I’ve done has been different from the last thing. I just feel good about it all.
Do you ever feel like you’re being typecast as a badass? When you’re tall and brunette and you’ve got a deep voice and broad shoulders like I do, you’re more likely to get those roles, and I’m really grateful for that. If I was playing a romantic lead for my whole career, it wouldn’t satisfy me.
You started out as a model. Are you done with that?
Don’t get me wrong, if someone offered me a lot of money, this work is not always stable, so I’d take it. This is going to sound arrogant, but I kind of ended my career by doing the Pirelli calendar and 16 pages of Vogue. As a woman who is more curvy than most models, I felt really good leaving it there. I felt like, All right, go out with the bang. I didn’t feel right on the catwalk. The serious model face nowadays doesn’t suit me. There are certain artistic things you can do in that business that are really fun and creative, but going down the catwalk looking like everyone smells of shit is not something I need to do again.
Is it true you were considered a plus-size model?
Oh, yeah. I had the measurements of Cindy Crawford and I was considered plus-size. It just ebbs and flows. At the time I was studying at university and I was thinking, How am I going to pay the rest of my tuition? I ended up going to a modeling agency to do commercial work and they said, “Oh, you’d be great for plus size.” I went, “What?” Then I discovered this whole other side of the business where you made all this money and did a lot of catalogue work and traveling. I didn’t have to worry about what I was eating, which was great. I put on a little weight during that time, so I was bigger than I am now, but it really is ridiculous. The whole thing’s silly. I love fashion and aesthetics and celebrating clothes, but they can’t decide what’s plus size. We have to decide what we’re comfortable with individually. As a society, we’re so beleaguered by this idea of perfection, and it changes all the time. In the time of Cindy Crawford, I would’ve been a regular-size model, as it were, but when Kate Moss came in, that changed.
You’ve also got a background in burlesque. What was that experience like?
I was married [to Melrose Place actor Grant Show] and I needed to go out there and feel my sexuality for myself. I happened to bump into a woman at a bar who was teaching burlesque. I said, “This is exactly up my alley.” So I became Whisky Jane, spelled the Scottish way, not the American way. And I had the best time. Just as I got on to the stage I went, “What the fuck am I doing? How can I get out of this?” It was comedic but very sexy. It was everything I needed it to be. I celebrated my body, my sexuality, and I got to be a performer in a way I really needed to be at that point. And I did it a few more times and had fun with it. It was just delicious.
Wardrobe Styling by Tiff Horn
Hair and Makeup by Christina Guerra for Celestine Agency
Lighting by Steff Walk
Hap and Leonard airs Wednesdays at 10pm/9pm Central on SundanceTV.