When first seen in Jim Mickle's rough-edged vampire movie, Stake Land, opening in limited release Friday (4/22/11), Kelly McGillis is in a badly torn nun's habit, blood running down her face, shrieking at the top of her lungs while running to save her own life.
"I'd say that's the most unique entrance I've had in anything I've ever done," McGillis says by phone. She is standing in her own kitchen in Collingswood, N.J., near Philadelphia, taking a few minutes to talk about her first real movie role in a decade. In Stake Land, she plays a nun, part of a group who survive a vicious attack in a post-vampire-plagued American landscape. She's rescued, en route to what is hoped will be a safe haven.
"I liked the kind of apocalyptic story they were going through," McGillis, 53, says. "I also liked the fact that it was shot in my neighborhood.
"I took some time off when I had kids and now I thought I'd go back to work, since my kids moved out. And this was right here. I was looking at my life and thought, well, it's half-over. What do I do with the rest of it?"
McGillis was a popular ingénue with a career that seemed poised to launch in the early 1980s, with back-to-back hits in Top Gun and Witness and a steady run of studio films through The Accused in 1988.
"When I was younger, acting was everything to me," she says. "But I changed and grew and matured. Acting no longer defines me. I have a lot of other interests I'm passionate about and I'm willing to explore what they might be."
One area that compels her is addiction medicine: "I work at a drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation center here in New Jersey," she says. "In fact, I'm working there this afternoon; that's why I can't be in New York doing press for this movie.
"Being a star was not anything I grew up wanting. And really, I didn't like it. I never honestly even thought about making movies. I wanted to be on stage."
She has been back on stage, doing The Graduate and Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune: "I do enjoy it immensely," she says. "Otherwise, I live a quiet little life and really enjoy that."
Her children having departed for college and beyond, McGillis isn't suffering from empty-nest syndrome, either.
"My identity was never fully vested in my children," she says. "I kept a sense of myself. So I'm not having a problem."