Range Runners is a new film from director Philip S. Plowden (Cellar Door) and starring Celeste M. Cooper (Chicago P.D., Chi-Raq) as a woman on a personal mission through the wilderness that’s derailed by the macabre intentions of two psychopaths.
Mel (Celeste M. Cooper) is a driven woman. She’s an endurance runner who came up short when trying to reach the pinnacle of athletic achievements — the Olympics. Mel’s driven and pushes herself to accomplish more. She sets out to hike across thousands of miles of rough terrain. Isolated and drive, Mel encounters Wayland (Sean Patrick Leonard) and Jared (Michael B. Woods), two men who see Mel as an opportunity to get things they don’t have. It’s soon a game of cat and mouse within the wilderness with Mel’s life on the line.
PopAxiom talks with Celeste M. Cooper about going from athlete to actor to becoming the star of Range Runners.
The Real Celeste
Celeste grew up in Illinois, where she excelled at sports, but socially was quite introverted. “My teachers would see that when I was around a couple of friends, my personality would come out. The teachers didn’t see this in big settings. They saw something in me that I didn’t quite see.”
Celeste ran track in high school. But, she says, “I didn’t have a passion for track.” However, teachers were nudging Celeste to try acting. “After being prodded so much to do it, I ditched track practice. I think I ran a lap or something. But I left to audition for ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ and booked the role of Lucy Van Pelt.”
Celeste’s father, the former warden of the old Joliet Correctional Center in Illinois, wanted his daughter to be an athlete, particularly basketball. “When I started to become an actor, which I blamed on my teachers, I said, ‘I got put in this play, I can’t run track.’ It definitely took him some time to adjust that I wasn’t going back to sports.”
Becoming an actor gave rise to a new Celeste. “It’s kind of like a social butterfly emerged. I felt a freedom on stage that I didn’t always feel in my actual life. And that freedom…that open heart came with me off of the stage.”
Celeste thinks her personality settled somewhere in the middle. “I think I’m in-between like an ambivert person. Sometimes I love the crowd,” Celeste says, then laughs, “and sometimes I’m like ‘This is way too much’ so I find a way to sneak out and go somewhere else.”
Mind Over Matter
The nudge toward acting didn’t need to be too strong. “I secretly loved acting,” Celeste admits, “I did a lot of sports, and we made fun of those people. We made fun of actors because they made funny faces and were kind of weird. But I admired them.”
Why the admiration? “They’re not afraid to do something that looks silly. And this is high school. You’re intentionally doing something that’s ‘not cool. Wow that was admirable, plus they had license to transform into someone else.”
Looking back, Celeste thinks, “… what they saw in me when I was with my friends was a performer. So, it was about getting over the fear of making funny faces or not being enough.”
Celeste may have left the sports world behind, but she learned vital things about herself in the process of being an athlete. “I think sports have informed who I am as an actor. The mind over matter concept, where you have to do what you have to do to make it to that finish line. I’m also very physical in the roles that I play. I like to transform physically. I don’t want you to see Celeste’s movement; I want you to see whoever the character is. I might give a character a limp, create a repetitive hand gesture etc. to make that character different. My sports background connected me to my body at an early age.”
About Range Runners
You were an athlete turned actor who took a role as an athlete. “I did it all over again.”
Celeste’s agent reached out about the role for Range Runners. “As soon as I got the sides, I said, ‘Oh, yeah, I can play this.’ This woman was pushed very hard by her dad, and she ran track, but she didn’t make it to the Olympics.”
Celeste saw a lot of parallels with the character of Mel in Range Runners. “My father pushed me hard in sports. So, I get that tough love and running and running and trying to live your father’s dreams.”
“I auditioned,” Celeste says about the role for Range Runners, “I got a callback at another location, Cinespace. I met the director, stunt coordinator, and producers at this warehouse. I also learned that I was the only person called back.”
Celeste was the only person at this callback, and it wasn’t your standard second audition. “The call back consisted of me running back and forth in different physical and emotional states. The stunt coordinator had me do different fight combinations. It was a full on physical call back.” The call back also included, “The director started talking to me about when we were going to film.”
Making Range Runners
Celeste became Mel for the role in Range Runners, which required a lot of physicality, including fights, jumps, and running towards cliffs. “The stunt coordinator, the awesome Aaron Crippen, was extremely helpful, as well as my stunt double, Kiea Houseton, who is amazing. I was grateful to have this team of people helping me.”
Celeste has a fear of heights yet, “There were a few scenes where I had to run up to the edge of something, and I could potentially fall off. Aaron and Kiea would be there to make sure that didn’t happen.” Celeste recalls, “In one scene, I had to jump backward, which is awkward and scary, but Aaron was there to catch me every time.”
“I compared making Range Runners to the ultimate Fear Factor episode,” Celeste says, “If I could do this, I could do anything.”
Celeste lets us in on the process of becoming Mel. “Philip and I met before shooting. He was talking to me about what he and [writer] Devon Colwell envisioned for Mel. Based on what they said, I got the idea that this is an extremely strong woman, and she’s out there to complete a mission and prove something to herself.”
“Mel’s all about perseverance, says Celeste, “And if somebody ever tries to take anything from you, then you have to take back what’s yours.”
Based on the conversations with Philip, Celeste “could see that Mel wasn’t a character who takes things lightly. She’s focused and ambitious.”
Range Runners is equal parts character drama and thriller with brutal, violent action. “A lot of the fights in this film were dirty. I’m finding things near me to do whatever I need to do, and I don’t always win.
Celeste began acting on stage. What’s her focus now, stage, or screen? “I love theater. But I’ve been doing it since high school, so I’m more focused on TV and film right now. It’s all so new to me, and I crave learning.”
Who inspires Celeste? “My brain is going to so many people: Michelle Obama, Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett, Viola Davis, Denzel Washington, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, the late Robin Williams. I could do this all day.”
What’s a dream remake for Celeste? “Eve’s Bayou. That movie fascinated me growing up. I don’t know who I would play in it, but I enjoyed that film for a lot of reasons.”
Range Runners is out on DVD and On-Demand. So, what’s next for Celeste? Follow her on Instagram to find out: Celeste M. Cooper @_be_that_light_
Is Range Runners on your watch list?
Thanks to Celeste M Cooper and October Coast
for making this interview possible.
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