Beneath the glitter and glamour of the City of Angels, life can take unexpected turns. Shy Pilgreen, a dynamo of talent who wears many hats in her latest film, “South of Sanity,” knows this firsthand. The film, now available on various digital formats, is a gritty exploration of life on the edge, where addiction, family dysfunction, and resilience intertwine in the heartland of Alabama.
“South of Sanity” follows the story of Lacy, a woman fresh out of rehab with no money and no options. She is forced to return to her family in rural Alabama, trading the world of movie premieres and fashion shows for flea markets and meth dens. The film, as Pilgreen says, is “based on some real shit,” and the intense authenticity of its story is a testament to that.
In a deep dive with Pilgreen, who not only co-produced, co-wrote, and co-directed the film, but also portrayed Lacy, we discuss her personal connection to the character, the emotional journey she underwent for the role, and the fine balance between dark humor and grave reality in her narrative.
“As I began to write the script, I realized the parallels between Lacy’s return to Alabama and my own journey back to Louisiana,” Pilgreen shared. “Visiting family and collaborating with them, all while dredging up childhood memories, gave me a visceral connection to the character I was creating.”
Portraying a character like Lacy, emerging from a difficult past and making tremendous personal changes, required Pilgreen to delve into her own emotional depths. “To prepare for this role, I had to tap into uncomfortable memories from my past and confront my present. I also took away all judgment,” she revealed.
Pilgreen found the journey of Lacy, filled with real-life events and characters inspired by her past, highly relatable. “Lacy’s strategy of emotionally disconnecting to protect herself, her struggle with boundary issues with family, her encounters with drug addiction – all these resonate deeply with me,” she admitted.
The film also treads on sensitive themes like addiction and family dysfunction. Pilgreen emphasized the importance of portraying these aspects with respect and care. “I shared with the actors that the story was loosely based on my family, and even sent them family footage to help them understand the characters they’d be playing. That created a bond of trust and respect between us.”
“South of Sanity” walks a fine line between dark humor and serious reality. A scene, for instance, shows Lacy using her family’s flea market as a cover for their meth operation. Pilgreen explained how this delicate balance was achieved: “Understanding the harsh reality of the drug problem in the rural south, we found moments to inject humor.”
Pilgreen’s upbringing in rural Alabama profoundly influenced her portrayal of Lacy. “Growing up there helped me create Lacy’s character as a real, flesh-and-blood person, not a caricature,” she said.
Beyond acting, Pilgreen has a rich background in sports. She discovered that the discipline required in athletics parallels the grit needed in acting. “Sports teach you to cope with setbacks, to get back up when you fall. That’s invaluable in acting, where roles you covet can often slip through your fingers,” she mused.
Pilgreen credits the American Conservatory Theatre for preparing her for a complex role like Lacy. “ACT taught me how to analyze each role thoroughly, the importance of vulnerability, and not to judge but justify even the most outrageous characters and situations.”
A majority of roles that spoke to Pilgreen in college were comedically inclined. “After graduating, I moved to LA, and it seemed that casting saw me differently,” she says, reflecting on her transition from her stints in theatre and NCIS New Orleans to the black comedy of “South of Sanity.” “I did, however, produce a few theatre shows myself and they were packed with dark humor. When we were developing SOS, years later, I was reunited with the dark comedic theme that I had always loved.”
The dark humor indeed runs deep in the narrative of the film, as it spins the story of Lacy, a recovering addict who returns to her Alabama roots, which also double as a hotbed for meth production. The character resonated deeply with Pilgreen, who herself returned to her home state for the role. Yet, she admits that wearing the producer’s hat while playing Lacy wasn’t easy. The transition between paperwork and creativity required her to shut off certain parts of her brain.
Juggling these roles was just one challenge that Pilgreen had to overcome. She confesses, “Once filming was done for the day, I had to sit down and make call sheets and check wardrobe. I was pulling 18-hour days most of the shoot.”
A remarkable feature of the film is its timeline that spans from 2018 to 2022, covering pre, mid, and post-pandemic events. Filming began before the pandemic struck and was interrupted when Pilgreen was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Once I was on the road to recovery, the pandemic hit. I still had some surgeries to go through, but was in remission. I was literally about to give up when I had the thought, that we could change directions and film during covid by video chat. It was a leap, but all of the cast that was attached were game.”
Her determination to continue filming through the trying circumstances speaks volumes about her dedication to the project. It also served as a motivation for her to keep going. “I really wanted to be productive and not think about the world around me at the time and I’m really glad I did.”
“South of Sanity” is a rare film that blurs the boundaries between humor and tragedy, challenging audiences’ perceptions of comedy, drama, and social commentary. “I feel it pushes the envelope, but also hope it opens people’s eyes to the real issues that we discuss throughout the film,” says Pilgreen. She hopes that audiences will not only be entertained but will also appreciate the social commentary woven throughout the narrative.
Looking back, Pilgreen acknowledges that the project has shaped her future acting and producing choices. She states, “During the making of ‘SOS’ I had many ups and downs. Dealing with all of that in such a short amount of time makes me realize that life is extremely short and we should all be so lucky to do the things we do. If something catches my interest, I’m going to go for it, because life is too precious to waste any time doing things we don’t believe in.”
We couldn’t help asking about some of her past roles on the small screen. Reflecting on her guest spots on top TV shows, Pilgreen shares, “I was so excited to work on NCIS New Orleans. The director, Michael Zinberg was an absolute dream to work with. He was kind and really knew how to talk to actors. The entire cast was also very welcoming.” A bout of shingles complicated her role as a stripper, leading to some quick wardrobe adjustments.
As for her time on CSI, Pilgreen recalls, “I bartended for years and sometimes I would get auditions while I was working and didn’t have any time to rehearse or get ready to go in the room. That’s the tough reality about being an actor, but also needing the side gig to pay bills. It’s a double edge sword.” Despite some rocky auditions, Pilgreen eventually booked the show, and enjoyed a memorable death scene.
“South of Sanity” is an honest, emotionally charged portrayal of resilience in the face of adversity. It is a testament to Pilgreen’s ability to transmute real-life experiences into cinema, connecting audiences with an unfiltered view of life in the rural South.
Follow the film on IMDB: www.imdb.com.