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CASE 39

The Family
Among CASE 39's most mysterious characters are Lillith's parents, the exhausted, angry, seemingly haunted Sullivans who commit a terrible crime against their young daughter. Are Margaret and Ed Sullivan as insane as they seem, or is there, as they insist, more to their story?

To bring these tricky characters to life, Christian Alvart turned to two acclaimed actors: Kerry O'Malley, best known as an accomplished Broadway stage actress and for her role in Showtime's BROTHERHOOD; and award-winning Canadian star Callum Keith Rennie, who has worked with iconoclastic directors Christopher Nolan (MEMENTO) and David Cronenberg (EXISTENZ). As Margaret, Kerry O'Malley had to dive into an abyss of emotion. Renee Zellweger was particularly impressed with how willing she was to go for it. "When you see Kerry in the asylum where she's eventually committed, it's amazing the places she goes to as an actress,” says Zellweger. "We were unbelievably lucky to get both Kerry and Callum Keith, who is equally fantastic.”

Margaret's greatest fear is fire – the fires of hell and the oven fire with which she tried to do away with Lillith – which is what she winds up experiencing every day in her scorched imagination at the mental institution. O'Malley found her battle with inner demons intriguing. "The interesting part for me is that Margaret was once a kind, generous, loving person who wanted to help people, but when Lillith arrived in their lives, she was severely tested and became deeply conflicted,” she explains. "She and her husband were surrounded by terror, and that changed them.”

O'Malley went so deep into the role that, at times, she even scared the crew. "A lot of the stuff I had to do was really dark and disturbing, and my skin was done in such a way that it looked like I was decaying,” she recalls. "People on set avoided me. It's scary to watch a woman scream bloody murder and act as if she's on fire all the time, so I'd walk down the hall and people would avoid my gaze. It was all very challenging. But then one day I came to the set as myself and everybody started talking to me again.”

When it came to the harrowing scene where Margaret and Edward attempt to murder their daughter in a grisly fashion, O'Malley credits Jodelle Ferland for making it bearable. "It wouldn't have been possible to do those things with a child who wasn't as cool and clear-headed and professional as Jodelle,” she says. "She was a real trouper. She understood that it was meant to be scary, but also that it was just pretend, and that it's what we do to tell stories.”

O'Malley had to endure up to six hours a day in makeup, having extensive facial scars and prosthetics applied to her body so that she would appear as the burn victim Margaret believes she is in her mind. "That's really frightening stuff, because you look in the mirror and it looks so painful,” she notes. "They even had prosthetic scratch marks where Margaret was tearing up her arms because she feels like she's on fire. It was very intense.”

Perhaps most intense of all, O'Malley got to experience the sensation of being lit on fire. "It's tough to act while you're on fire,” she confesses, "because you're thinking things like, ‘Don't let me set my hair on fire, don't let me set my face on fire, don't let me set the cameraman on fire!' And at the same time you're trying to do the scene. It was a little crazy, but it was also a cool experience. And I was very happy with it when it was over!”

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