Annet Mahendru - Manifest West
Best known for her TV work – as mysterious spy Nina Krilova in the Amblin-produced FX seriesThe Americans and currently as security officer Jennifer “Huck” Mallick in AMC’s The Walking Dead: World Beyond – Annet Mahendru is about to cross a new threshold on the big screen.
In the gritty, coming-of-age drama Manifest West, Mahendru portrays an elementary school teacher who goes off the grid with her husband and two daughters to escape the pressures of the city, but the family soon spirals out of control when her secret begins to seep through their new life in the wilderness. With Mahendru delivering an emotional whirlwind performance in a film that addresses mental health issues, Manifest West is a family project in another way with her co-starring role opposite brother-in-law Milo Gibson and her real-life husband Louie Gibson as co-writer/co-director. Manifest West had its world premiere at the Mammoth Film Festival, winning Best Genre Film, and will be released by Samuel Goldwyn Films on November 11.
Elevated Magazines: Tell us about your latest film, Manifest West.
Annet Mahendru: Manifest West follows a family that moves off the grid into American wilderness where they come apart at the seams, spiraling into a standoff with the US Government. I play Alice Hayes, the mother, who deeply struggles with mental health. I was drawn to it because it’s such a human story, heart breaking but ultimately filled with hope. So many families are falling apart with true happiness out of reach. How can we fix the family unit?
What inspired the creation of Manifest West and how did it become a family project?
My husband, Louie Gibson alongside his long time partner Joe Dietsch co-wrote and co-directed the project. The story stemmed from looking at Government standoffs in 90’s, and asking the question of whether true autonomy still exists in today’s society. They wrote the script with me in mind and that gave me a whole different kind of perspective into the story. I lived and breathed the making of it! Plus, Milo Gibson, my real life brother-in-law, was cast as my on-screen husband. The two brothers have been making movies together since they were kids!
What has the experience of collaborating with your family on Manifest West been like?
It was the utmost supportive and collaborative environment. We were each other’s greatest cheerleaders. That really helped considering how broken our characters were and that there were bears eating cherries while we were filming in the forest. I felt comfortable being Annet because my husband was there and I was comfortable being Alice because I knew my brother-in-law had her back. I mean, I had two husbands on set, all of the times- does it get any better than that?!
Your talents span multiple genres and performance styles - which genre inspires you most?
I’ve told a lot of survivor stories, I guess it’s made me really appreciate life. When I was little, we escaped the Mujahideen in Afghanistan and the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s at the core of who I am, although I feel like I haven’t played myself on screen yet! What gets me through it all, hands down, is wittiness. Tim Heidecker, from Tim and Eric, who plays the family’s new neighbor brought a mountain of lightness to the grit of Manifest West- So I have to say a drama with a great sense of humor!
What creative goals do you have for the coming year?
I want to convert my forest barn into an office and give my imagination a home. It deserves it. Cultivating a special place to think clearly is key. We are absolutely overwhelmed these days with the barrage of content streaming from our phones. Constant clearing of our inner caches is crucial. So that we can have the space to form one authentic opinion, at best! Back to the barn: light-filled airy atmosphere with furniture you can fall asleep in. I love the look of desks but I hardly use them. I have to be comfy daydreaming about a script even if it entails occasional nodding off.