Katie Kelly and Paola Andino - As Pure as Driven Sno Babies
Updated: Oct 3, 2020
Katie Kelly and Paola Andino
As Pure as Driven Sno Babies
By Jay S. Jacobs
Drug abuse has been a scourge in America – in the world – for generations. It often has tragic results for the users, and there are no simple answers to the problem.
The new film Sno Babies takes a hard look at the dilemma, showing the lives of Kristen (Katie Kelly of Murder in the Vineyard) and Hannah (Paola Andino of Queen of the South). They are two smart high school students who live in a middle-class neighborhood in the Philadelphia area who succumb to peer pressure and temptation and have their lives turned around by heroin.
These roles were difficult, soul-baring jobs and the young actresses dug deep to illustrate their desperation. Stylishly (but darkly) directed Bridget Smith, based on a hard-hitting script by Michael Walsh, Sno Babies packs a wallop, but it will also open up conversations and maybe – just maybe – will save people from going down similar paths.
About a week before Sno Babies was to premiere on Video On Demand and at selected theaters, we got together on Zoom with stars Kelly and Andino to discuss the movie, the importance of drug education, best friends, voting and life during a pandemic.
What was it about this script that intrigued you as an actress?
Katie Kelly: This is a loaded script. There is a lot of content that we cover. So just as far as being a young actress in the industry, there really aren't that many scripts that are as challenging to accomplish as Sno Babies is and was. That grabbed my attention right away. It was very raw, real and gritty, which just inspires me as an actress, as far as being drawn to the project. But obviously more than that, there's such a deep meaning to the film. The film has the possibility and ability to save lives. That was also another driving force of me wanting to attach to it. It was just so well written. I mean, it's a page turner. You sit down to read it and you're reading it until you're done. I read it multiple times. Just as far as me wanting to attach with it, those were the main things for me,
Paola Andino: I honestly completely agree. Katie said it perfectly. It's very intense. It's very heavy. There's a lot of work that's required as an actor to accurately portray these characters, which for us, it's such a gift, because then we're really able to stretch ourselves. We can make a difference, hopefully, by doing so. Not only are we getting to do what we love, but we also have the opportunity to make a positive difference. I don't know what else we could really ask for.
Katie Kelly: Exactly.
Drug abuse is such an important issue, and it's one that has plagued the world for generations. What do you think that people can learn from watching Sno Babies?
Katie Kelly: So many things. Too many things. I think the main thing that will be a big eye opener is that when people think about someone who has an addiction to anything, any sort of substance, it immediately draws a mental image right then and there. I think that anyone would tend to think that someone with an addiction is like low class America or whatever. In reality, that could not be further from the truth. There's such a stigma on it. In reality, this movie shows it could be a 16-year-old honor student who lives in nice suburbia. It doesn't discriminate. At the end of the day, addiction is a disease. I really hope that it opens people's eyes to see that your child, your aunt, your uncle, your brother, whoever, they can have an addiction. It is definitely not out of the realm of possibilities for someone that you know to have an addiction.
Paola Andino: Yeah, I think Sno Babies will really help to destigmatize addiction. Before someone is an addict, they are a human. They are a person. We see that these girls have great personalities. They have great chemistry. They're likable. They're just your regular students. That's so important to see because it really can be anyone, like Katie said. I think it's important to show that. Also to show the fact that it not only affects the person that's struggling with addiction, but it also affects their family, their friends, their community. We show how easy it is to hide and miss the signs.
You two are playing a lifelong best friends who have been together and there for each other throughout everything, even before the bad times. At what point – just as actors because obviously you only have so much time to get to know each other on a set – did you feel comfortable enough to feel that could be shown in your relationship?
Katie Kelly: Well, in our case, Paola and I have been best friends since I was eight and she was 10.
Oh, really? Very cool…
Katie Kelly: So this was an off-chance amazing thing that happened to us. We got to live this experience not only as on-screen best friends but real-life best friends. That's not something the average actress gets to experience, and it was such a special, special time for us.
Paola Andino: Absolutely. I think too, what's so great is that the chemistry just shines through the screen. That's so special because you could put two phenomenal actresses in these roles but when you actually see that true genuine connection as Kristen and Hannah, it makes the story drive home even more. You're rooting for both of them. And they're both making mistakes. They're trying to find something to grasp on to in this world. Then when they start clashing, you're rooting for both of them. You want them to get the help that they need. You want them to pull each other out of this, but they're just pushing each other away.
Have you ever had to deal with anyone in your own life who was having addiction problems? How did that inform the way you played the role?
Katie Kelly: In my personal life I have known some friends who have battled with addiction in some sort of way, whether it be this or that. So, I did have firsthand experience with someone who had to go through these things that my character also had to go through, which obviously really helped me draw. When I played Kristen, I had to go to crazy, dark places that I never could have imagined at such a young age I would be able to go to. I really think that the only reason I was able to do that is because of the extensive research that went on, because of talking to addicts who were in recovery. More than all, it was just the trust that was on set between me and everyone else who was there. I just felt 110% like I could trust every single person. That's how every single day I was able to get the performance that I did is because there was no hesitation or hold back for me at all. It was such a safe space for sure.
Paola Andino: Exactly. It was such a gift to have a scene partner like Katie and then have a director like Bridget Smith. They're willing to go there with you 110% because like Katie mentioned, when you're going to these really dark places, you have to feel safe. You have to feel safe as yourself to access these emotions that obviously you don't on a daily basis if this isn't something that you're experiencing. That's why it was so important for us to do the research to read the articles, stay up to date with the news, watch documentaries, films, etc. was a huge part in in the learning experience going into it.
Katie mentioned in her research that she did speak with some former addicts. Did you guys also talk with drug counselors, doctors, anyone else to get to know more about the addiction experience?
Paola Andino: We did have a technical consultant on set one of the days that we were filming. [That] was extremely helpful because from a technical standpoint. I don't want to give too much away as far as the film goes – but there are things that you need to accurately portray. It's very specific to the things that these girls are experiencing, as well as of course the actual act of shooting up the drugs. That's all very technical. When Kristen and Hannah are seen doing this, it needs to look very routine. It has to look like their normal. This is their everyday life. We got that down to a tee. It's very disturbing when you see it because almost looks the way that two girls would be taking out their makeup to try on a fun new look. It's what they're doing with a very, very horrible substance.
What parts of your character did you feel were the most like you? You're going through some very extreme stuff but there must be some something of you in there too.
Katie Kelly: It's pretty funny to mention that in reality I am more of a Hannah type of character. Paola is more of a Kristen type of character. It was really fun for me to be able to play the more sweet, soft spoken, honor student kind of thing. I'm much more like a very outgoing social butterfly – big personality. It was really fun for me to play Kristen because she is so sweet and soft spoken. I think that the thing I related to most with Kristen is just that she had a very strong relationship with everyone in her life. I tried to go out of my way to make sure that everyone in my life, [I] have a very great relationship with them and everyone's very understanding of each other. I always felt like Kristen was very, very, very sure to make sure that she knew what everyone was doing, what they were supposed to do. She was just very in touch with everyone in her life. I feel like I relate to that for sure.
Paola Andino: I think for me, Hannah is a little bit naïve. As [you] get older, you gain more worldliness. You're a little bit less naïve. Bless her heart, she makes some rough mistakes along the way, because she just really truly doesn't know any better at the time. And then too, she's very loyal. She's fiercely loyal. Kristen is the most important person in her life. She tries so hard with her. It's so heartbreaking because like I said earlier, you're rooting for both these characters and there's so much miscommunication between them. Then when it comes to her older boyfriend Jeff, she's also so loyal. She's trying so hard, but it backfires on her in some ways whenever maybe he doesn't have the best intentions for her and then Kristen and her just aren't seeing eye to eye.
Your characters both go to some very dark places. Without giving away spoilers or anything, but what were some of the hard parts for you to get ahold of as an actress?
Katie Kelly: Oh my God. I think that the toughest thing that I had to battle just as far as the filming process goes was, we were filming up in the outskirts of Philly. There's a lot of scenes that we did that were taking place outside. We were filming in November, so just as far as the actual conditions of filming, sometimes it was a little bit rough to be able to give a performance and also be wearing a sun dress in 20 degree weather, which was exciting. It was exciting to be able to figure out what it would be like in those elements. That was probably just the toughest thing as far as filming goes. Just dealing with the elements was somewhat difficult for me at times, but worth it.
Paola Andino: For me emotionally, and I'm sure Katie can relate to this as well, there are a great number of scenes towards the end of the film that just emotionally are very taxing. You finish the scene and you have to pull yourself out of it as an actress. Sometimes it takes you a little bit longer than you anticipate when you do put so much of yourself into it. [That] is a beautiful thing but then you have to like a light switch turn it off and pull yourself out of it. It is really heartbreaking, and it is hard to see. When you're dealing with real families on set that have lost loved ones to addiction it makes it all the more real. When you're able to look them in the eyes and just give them a genuine hug. It's something that you feel. It's hard to describe but in that moment, you are so connected with someone that's living through this. You're just showcasing their experiences as best you can.
Katie Kelly: Piggybacking off what Paola said is at the end of the day when you're done, and they call cut, you have to almost remind yourself that you're not the character. You're not actually going through that. It is so real. Especially with Bridget Smith being the director. She just made everything feel so authentic. We really were in it. We really were experiencing those emotions. Just having you know your real-life best friend on set – and my mom always goes to set with me – those things really help you get out of it. And plus, eating comfort food always really helped. Just at the end of the day, you do have to remind yourself these are not my problems. This is just acting. (laughs)
One of the saddest parts of the movie is Kristen and Hannah really have so much potential. They're going off to good schools. So many good things could happen in their lives, and you don't know if that's going to get messed up. Katie had said earlier that it’s not just poor people or people who are uneducated who fall into addition. How important you think it is to tell a story of middle-class smart girls getting involved with drugs?
Katie Kelly: I think it is incredibly important. This is a conversation that many people are perhaps sweeping under the rug or maybe they feel it's a bit taboo to talk about it. In reality, the people that are struggling with the addictions, it is our youth. It is killing our youth at a rapid rate. I think that when people see this on the screen and see the reality of it, all the harsh realities that come with addiction, it will be eye opening. Hopefully, it allows parents to see that their kid is not immune, and life is very fragile. You can lose your life like that (snaps fingers) in an instant. Now that they're lacing fentanyl with these drugs, you could do a one time and you're dead. Furthermore, you do at one time, and you're addicted just like that. I really hope that with this movie, parents can have conversations with their kids that they probably wouldn't have had before because they were afraid to bring it up or didn't want to [take] the bull by the horns. If you don't have the conversation that could kill your kid to be honest.
Paola Andino: Absolutely. I completely agree. It's so true.
Both of your characters are introduced to the drugs through guys in their lives. How do you think that kids in school – of course, most kids aren't in school now, but in general – how can kids fight that kind of peer pressure? Particularly from guys who they might think are cute and want to get be involved with.
Paola Andino: Yeah, it is really important to see that it almost starts as something fun. It's social for them. Kristen and Hannah are seen at a party and having a great time. Then they end up doing something so, so awful. It's not something that should be taken lightly by any means. Kids and teens alike need to have that confidence within themselves to say no. I don't want to sound like a cliché PSA [public service announcement], but it's the truth. With Kristen, it starts with oxycontin. It's one pill. I think that the problem with teenagers is sometimes they think that their actions don't necessarily have consequences, or “Oh, that'll never happen to me.” But it can happen. It only takes one thing for you to get hooked and then be like, “this is the best thing I've ever felt in my life.” No, it's not. No, it's not. You can't keep spiraling downwards. It's very easy to and then it's tunnel vision. That's all you see. It's very dangerous.
Katie Kelly: So destructive, yeah. I was in high school a few years ago. It’s not been that long since I've been in high school. I think being a very young and naive girl in high school, it's really easy to get wrapped up in boys. Even, not to give anything away, but in an opening scene, Kristen does get wrapped up because of a boy. That one bad decision that she made because of a boy literally derailed her life very, very hard. If she wouldn't have made that one decision to impress that one boy, she wouldn't have been there. It's just important to empower young girls. Know that you are more than a boy. You do not never ever need to do anything to impress a boy. And honestly, in high school boys are nothing but trouble. So stay far, far, far away. (laughs)
One of the other major parts of the movie is Kristen is attacked by a boy when she's under the influence of drugs and she becomes pregnant. That's contrasted with the other couple, who's trying desperately to have a baby and can't have one. Why do you think it's important to show that difference – a girl who doesn't want to have a baby is having one, and another one who wants it is not able to?
Katie Kelly: It's just such an interesting juxtaposition as far as just the film itself goes. It's just written so well with the storylines playing off each other. But also, ironically enough, Kristen is this young, beautiful girl who has so much going for her – [she] could never even expect or want to become pregnant. Then vice versa, you have the exact opposite storyline of a beautiful couple who are married and they're ready to take on the world together. They're just desperately, desperately trying. Obviously, it comes to a to a close at some point. It all ends up working itself out so that's all good. It is interesting. Mike Walsh is just such a fantastic writer, the way he intertwined stories and makes them all fit together. You're always wondering… this, that, what's happening? What's happening here? Honestly at the end of the day, it was a very interesting juxtaposition that helps the film.
I have to admit I'm not a squeamish person, but some of the ways that you guys shot up in different points were really disturbing. I had never heard of a lot of these things. Were there things that you learned about the lifestyle that scared you or freaked you out?
Paola Andino: It can be as easy as Kristen's voice method where she shoots up in between her toes. It was wonderful because we had such an incredible makeup department. Our head of makeup Fre [Alfreda R. Howard] was phenomenal with the special effects. That was all her. It's great because it makes it to where the audience is just uncomfortable. It's like you want to look away but you can't.
Katie Kelly: Yeah, and I also think that it gives you [perspective] of how desperate these addicts are. I mean, they're filling up a syringe and they're injecting it into their veins. If it doesn't hit the vein, and it goes somewhere else, it's a waste. So, they have to redo it over and over again. You'll mess with the vein and eventually the vein doesn't work anymore. They have to pick a different vein. It really just lets you know how desperate they are to get the drugs, to get well. It's just important that we realize that it is a disease at the end of the day. Nobody wants to have a heroin addiction. They can get help.
Well, speaking of desperation, those scenes underneath the El [elevated train] were some of the more disturbing in the movie. Was it hard to go through those filming of those scenes?
Paola Andino: Well, we actually were able to drive through Kensington before we started filming. So, Katie and I drove through with our writer Mike Walsh. We got to take a very good look at something very real. Also where we would be filming, which was so good because we got to fully immerse ourselves as actresses. It wasn't like we were on a set or just some different street that was made to look like Kensington. No, like we were really there. When we went with Mike, we went on a Wednesday night. You would think that it was a Saturday night how busy it is. We saw real life drug deals happening right before eyes. It was crazy, because on the way there we didn't know when we'd get there. We were just goofing off in the back seat. Then it was just like boom, instant. Once we like: “When are we there?” “Are we there yet?” Once we were there, it was complete change in tone. Like a 180.
I'm from the Philadelphia area. I must admit, I didn't recognize too many of the places that were in the film. Unfortunately, I'm ashamed to admit that the El was probably the only one that I did recognize – although not from anything like that. Where exactly was it filmed? And how do you think that the area helped with the feeling of the movie?
Katie Kelly: We filmed in the outskirts of Philadelphia. We filmed in Yardley, Pennsylvania.
Paola Andino: Newtown.
Katie Kelly: Newtown, Pennsylvania.
Oh okay, that’s not too far from me. I'm in Jenkintown.
Katie Kelly: Oh, cool. Yeah, I don't know if you know the Bird Shop coffee shop or something like that. [ed. note: Pretty Bird Coffee in Yardley.] We went there like every day. But, like I said, just really being there in the thick of that really helped immerse us into the characters and make it feel really authentic. I think that that was a huge, huge benefit as an actress: to be in a real house, with a real room, with Kristen's name on the wall, as opposed to them building a set. That's honestly a benefit I feel of being a part of an indie movie is that you're always going to be dealing with people who are a part of a passion project. Everyone that was involved was so passionate about the film. I really think that filming on location is a huge benefit as an actress.
A few questions that are a little bit off topic here. First of all, how are you dealing with the whole new normal, the stay at home lifestyle?
Katie Kelly: What do you think, P?
Paola Andino: Well, I've always been a bit of a homebody, so it's not too, too bad. Then granted, we're both in the North Texas area, which is pretty far in the reopening process, I’d say. I mean, most everything is open. You just have to wear your mask and be really cautious. I've been spending a lot of time with my family. A few select friends, which is always really great, having that extra quality time; watching movies, getting active. I was never really a person that went on walks, but now I go on walks, which is really nice. Just to get out in nature, get some fresh air. I think all of us can use a little bit more of that nowadays. And just drinking my nightly tea. Just little things. It makes you appreciate the little things more and more, doesn't it?
Katie Kelly: It does. Doesn’t it? It really does. Yeah, I feel the same just honestly spending quality time with family. We were both actually living in LA the past year. After the pandemic, we both decided to move home to be with our families. I think it was – hopefully for both of us – a very nice grounding time. Get back in touch with your roots. Realize where you come from, what's important to you, XYZ. So, I've been loving quarantine. I've not been loving the pandemic, but I have been loving quarantine, that's for sure.
Paola Andino: Yeah, I feel like it gave me a lot of time to work on myself. Just practice selfcare and do some healing. It was really, really nice. It was crazy how the timing of it happened. I came back to Texas in March and quarantined here. It was really, really perfect timing in a strange way.
Katie Kelly: Yeah. I agree.
We have a big presidential election coming up. I don't know your ages, but is this the first time that you get a chance to vote for President? Are you getting involved at all?
Katie Kelly: Yeah, this is the first presidential election I will be able to vote in. I am so excited that I get to use my voice for the better good of this election. I think that it's very important that my generation, the people my age, get out there and vote. That they really educate themselves on what's going on in the election and the two candidates. I hope they have their interest and the country's interests at heart when they get out there and vote.
Paola Andino: I completely agree. This will be the second election that I can vote in. Although I know this sounds so weird, I feel like the first time that I voted, it was right after I'd registered. I don't even know if it counted. Something strange happened with the registration. So, I don't know if it counted, but this time, you better believe I'm going to make it count.
Katie Kelly: Yeah, we’re getting out there and we’re voting! (laughs)
Like Katie said, there aren't many positives to the whole pandemic. But one good thing is that smaller movies like yours have different ways to get to people and they're not being nudged out by all the big blockbusters. They can get to people through things like drive-ins, VOD and streaming. Do you think that this time period might be a good time for a little movie like yours to catch an audience?
Katie Kelly: Oh, absolutely. It really couldn't be better for us. Like you said, releasing on a platform such as Amazon Prime, or iTunes really does give opportunity for so much more exposure. Nobody's going in the theaters. It is a small indie film, and so there's probably people who wouldn't have even watched the trailer, wouldn't have wanted to buy tickets, whatever it may be. Now that we have it on these amazing platforms, so much more exposure is available. Hopefully, so many more people can see it, just because I really hope that it starts conversations and saves lives.
Paola Andino: We're doing our best to spread the word and tell everyone about the film. We worked really hard on it. I think after nearly two years since production wrapped, we're pretty ready for the world to see it and see what comes of it. I think it was actually originally supposed to be released earlier this summer. Having it pushed back because of COVID-19 and everything that's going on, now it's being released during National Recovery Month, so it couldn't actually be more perfect timing. It's important to remember that everything happens for a reason and now it's more relevant than ever. I know that also this time has been a huge struggle for people that deal with addiction, because they are stuck in their homes. It's not easy. It's not easy for them. But now this this film can come out and hopefully help them.
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