The Last Stop in Yuma County's Jocelin Donahue Talks Bringing a Ground Perspective to the Thriller

The star of the tense new experience reveals what connected her to her character.

After starring in Ti West's The House of the Devil in 2009, actor Jocelin Donahue has been a fan-favorite star of a number of genre films, ranging from Insidious: Chapter 2 to Doctor Sleep to Offseason. When genre fans see she's starring in a picture, not only do we know we'll get to see a layered performance from the actor, but we'll also be given an unconventional exploration of a familiar formula. Donahue's latest film, The Last Stop in Yuma County, takes a premise that could tick all the boxes of a neo-noir and still make for an engaging experience, but instead elevates the narrative and takes it into unexpected directions. The Last Stop in Yuma County hits theaters and Digital on May 10th.

The Last Stop in Yuma County is described, "While awaiting the next fuel truck at a middle-of-nowhere Arizona rest stop, a traveling young knife salesman is thrust into a high-stakes hostage situation by the arrival of two similarly stranded bank robbers with no qualms about using cruelty -- or cold, hard steel -- to protect their bloodstained, ill-begotten fortune."

ComicBook caught up with Donahue to talk her interest in the project, the challenges of filming in an isolated setting, and the possible future for one of her fan-favorite characters.

(Photo: Well Go USA)

ComicBook: When indie, horror, sci-fi, and Western fans, when they see that you're involved in a project, they're excited. We love seeing you in these projects. As a performer, whether it is horror or sci-fi, Western, neo-noir, what is it about genre storytelling that really excites you and offers you opportunities that aren't available in other arenas?

Jocelin Donahue: There's so much. I think it's about the high stakes. It's about the atmosphere. When you're playing in a world where there's a constant threat of violence, those are fun worlds to play in. Whether it is neo-noir or Western, horror, they have something that keeps you guessing the whole time. And so, as a character, when you get to discover this world as the audience is and be an avatar for their fears and vulnerabilities, whatever the genre is, if you get to do that, it's cool for an actor.

This is Francis Galluppi's feature film debut. He's made a few shorts, so this isn't entirely his first rodeo, but as far as features are concerned, it is his first rodeo. What was it about collaborating with Francis, what was it about his vision for this feature that you knew you could put your trust in him as a first-time feature director?

It's so highly impressive what he has accomplished with this and how he executed it. The script, as soon as I read it, it keeps you guessing. It has all these super colorful characters and punchy dialogue and it's funny and it's scary and it's fast-paced. There was so much to love about the script itself. The script is also very visual. You could tell from the set pieces that he was putting together that he had a really strong vision for it, almost in this Hitchcock kind of way where it's ratcheting up the tension the whole time.

Then when you talk to him, he is just so exuberant about films and passionate and knowledgeable, and I loved all his references and we had shared a lot of love for the same types of films. And then it's the team that he put together, because he attracts people that are like that, as well. Just super lovely to be around and also great crafts people. 

I just feel like he has this eye for detail and he was very prepared. And I knew, also, he was going to be working with Mac Fisken, who I got to work with on Offseason, our DP, who's just one of the best DPs I've ever worked with. And I also knew that Richard Brake was going to be involved and then Jim Cummings and all of these elements coming together, it was just an easy yes. 

With your character, what was it about her that most personally resonated with you that really grounded you in her outlook? Was there any major shift along the way, a suggestion or collaboration that you brought to Francis that impacted how you brought her to life?

You used the word grounded, and that's what Charlotte's role is in this film. She grew up in this diner, it's her family diner. It's basically her home. So when it becomes a hostage situation, it's almost like she needs to defend her homestead. And I just love that she's a salt-of-the-earth-type character. She's probably seen it all, she's been at this road-stop diner her whole life and seen all kinds of characters come in. So she is observant and resourceful, and I think she becomes a really good match for Beau.

We just talked about that, that while she presents as a vulnerable character, that I just wanted to make sure she goes down fighting and that's something that we added. She's looking for ways to alert her husband, the sheriff, played by Michael Abbott Jr. wonderfully. But then I think once she realizes that she's on her own, I was like, "She needs to grab a knife." So yeah, Fran was wonderful and we added a little bit of that, which was great. 

You get the distinction of really being one of the only characters who gets to move around in this diner. Speaking just to the contained, pot-boiling sense of the story, you get to physically move around in this location. With it being filmed over the course of three weeks, in one diner, in what I assume was maybe a warm environment, I'm just wondering how that tension, how that contained setting, how that constricted location, how does that impact you as a performer? Does that mean you approach every day on set with awareness of the restrictions on what you can physically do so you can go through it much more quickly or does that take a toll on you negatively or as motivation for your character due to the restrictions of that contained setting?

The setting is huge, the location, it's something you don't even necessarily have to think about because you're just living in it and, like you say, the sweaty claustrophobia and you're just getting backed into a corner the entire film, it just helps so much. It really felt like a stage play. So it was really cool to have the geography of the space, to know where all the characters are, to, yes, have prescribed movements, but all within a tiny location. It just really adds to the pressure-cooker situation, and that was just something I loved immediately, as well. This simple nerve-wracking setup where everyone is held hostage until the gas arrives, which the audience knows it never will. 

I know it has been 15 years now since House of the Devil and with Ti doing his trilogy of X movies, which I don't think anyone saw him doing sequential movies, I don't know if you've thought about this before, but I can't help but think back on how we left Sam in House of the Devil. Not that there's ever been any talks to do a sequel to that 15 years later, but what did you see for Sam's future, either just personally over the last 15 years, or actually talking about with Ti? Is that an experience that she ever came out of, or is it just that the open-ended nature of that story is what is so enjoyable and that's just where you leave it?

I guess it could go either way. I mean, I feel like there are good ideas of if she had the baby, then the baby grows up and all of that. Yeah, but I don't know. I don't think he ever really had plans for a sequel for that film. But it's been amazing to watch this trilogy, as a fan of his work. And, of course, he's just so good at playing time traveling and doing these period pieces and really capturing the nostalgia of each era of filmmaking. So yeah, we'll see. But I mean, he has told me that he has had some good ideas for it. So we'll see. 

The Last Stop in Yuma County lands in theaters and on Digital on May 10th.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.