Rebecca Romijn on shooting ‘Endangered Species’ in Kenya: “It changes you”

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Being hunted isn’t exactly what you would predict for a family vacation, but in actress Rebecca Romijn’s latest film, ‘Endangered Species,’ starring Phillip Winchester and her husband Jerry O’ Connell—it’s what you get.

‘Endangered Species’ follows one American family who goes off roading during a safari experience. The results of a totaled car, slew of wild animals, sinister poachers and elements causes a lot of inner turmoil for the family within this action-thriller. Filming on location, director M.J. Bassett utilized her past experiences as a wildlife photographer to really immerse the cast and crew into a bit of a more natural experience… one that made an impact on Romijn for more reasons than just a good plot line.

Romijn, who plays the matriarch of the family, Lauren, sat down to discuss what it was like to make such an action-packed film with a hard-hitting message during the pandemic.

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What was it about this particular film that interested you to want to sign on?

The very first thing that came through was a script with a note from my agent saying would you ever consider working in Kenya during a pandemic? I had been to Kenya before, and it’s a place that I know I will always need to go back to. If you ever go to Kenya, it changes you, and not only was Jerry invited, but my kids were invited. It was just the perfect opportunity to take a break and go.

Also MJ Bassett has a background in photography and used to present a nature/wildlife show in the UK and spent most of her life in Africa, so I knew no matter what the script was, it was going to be gorgeous. I almost didn’t care what the script was—but the script is really fun. It’s a safari gone wrong: An American family goes on a safari in Kenya and obviously goes off the beaten path and now has to fight for their own survival. But, the fact that there was also a nice message at the end about the illegal wildlife trade—which is a 24 billion per year industry. There are still 20,000 elephants a year that are killed for their ivory and rhinos are on the endangered species list, but they’re still killing them for their horns. So there were just too many reasons to say of course I want to do this.

What was it like filming in Africa?

When you go to Africa, or Kenya rather, there are a lot of ethnicities. There was a moment where Phillip Winchester, who plays my husband, and Jerry my husband (though we don’t play a married couple in the film) were sitting in Amboseli National Park where we shot the movie. It’s where all the elephants are, so literally, shooting there was a live safari and we were very aware of that. At one point we were just looking down at the ground and it’s all of this white dust and Jerry goes, ‘I imagine this is what the surface of the moon looks like.’ And Phil says, ‘Yeah, I guess this is what planets are made of?’ And I say, ‘I guess this is what our planet is made of.’

You are just so in it and watching the wildlife around you, you’re watching the gazelles and the zebras and the giraffes happily eating next to roaming lions who are not chasing them, no one’s acting like prey and no one’s acting like a predator. So you’re like okay, I got it. This is nature. There are just so many takeaways when you go to Africa. You constantly have these [realizations] of okay, I understand our planet, I understand nature, I understand living in concert with one another. It’s shifting your thoughts.

What was it like shooting with the wildlife in Kenya?

MJ has a great way of shooting which I loved. We were in Amboseli and if there was a family of elephants right next to us, she would stop and shoot a scene around it and make it up as we were going along. It’s funny because when the trailer came out, I made the mistake of reading some of the comments and people were talking about the CGI with the animals…and those are real animals, they are not CGI. This is really what we were shooting there in Amboselli and it was really special.

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What can you tell me about your character, Lauren?

The film is an action/thriller and there’s a family drama within it, and my character is facing her own mortality. She’s a new empty-nester, she gave up her life as doctor years ago to raise her children and now they’re grown. Within the story, she finds out that her husband is facing some professional trials as well, and then in the safari gone wrong, her insulin is shattered so she might die. It’s an interesting look at checking your own mortality and asking what am I? Why am I here? Which is what we’ve all been doing.

What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

The message of the illegal wildlife trade to me is the most important part of it. Also, if anyone can ever get to Kenya. We went there during a pandemic, and the way they were handling the pandemic in Kenya was perfection. In production in Kenya, we were getting tested every other day, but to make a movie all the way out in the bush—it was amazing. The people of Kenya are the most beautiful people in the world, and I’m telling you it will change you forever if anyone ever has the chance to go. It’s life-changing is all I can say.

‘Endangered Species’ is in select theaters, On Demand and Digital May 28.

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