Caren Pistorius goes toe-to-toe with Russell Crowe in ‘Unhinged’


Caren Pistorius in ‘Unhinged.’

Caren Pistorius was working part-time in a fabrics shop in Sydney last year when her RGM agent suggested she audition for the lead female role opposite Russell Crowe in a US road rage thriller.

The South African-born, New Zealand-raised actress did a self-tape but felt it was too rushed and didn’t expect it to lead anywhere.

The following day her agent told her the producers wanted her to fly to New Orleans the next day to audition with Crowe.

“I turned up in that room after almost no sleep, feeling delirious,” she tells IF on the line from New Zealand, where she is spending lockdown with her family. The next morning director Derrick Borte rang to tell her she’d won the role in Unhinged.

Caren plays a single mother named Rachel in the Solstice Studios production which opened in Australia yesterday via Studiocanal and will debut in the US on August 21.

Rachel unwittingly triggers a confrontation with Crowe’s character when she taps her horn at him at an intersection after he was slow to respond to a green light.

“The director wanted my character to be as relatable and real as possible,” she says. “She is a vehicle for the audience to go on this ride. When you meet Rachel, she is having a shitty day and is definitely on the back foot when she has this encounter with Russell’s character.”

Without giving away spoilers, suffice to say most of their interaction happens over the phone but there is a face-to-face confrontation.

When her casting was announced, Crowe said: “Caren has that magical thing seen in all great actresses, you just believe she’s inhabiting the skin of the character she’s playing.

“Derrick went through a long casting process that culminated in an old school audition with both of us in the room. She claimed that audition in a definitive way. I know she’s been working a long time and has some great credits, but casting Caren still feels like we’ve made a discovery.”

Gabriel Bateman as Rachel’s son with Caren Pistorius.

The actress has amassed an impressive resume including playing Eloise Ward in Offspring and with roles in Kriv Stenders’ Wake in Fright, John Maclean’s Slow West, Derek Cianfrance’s The Light Between Oceans, Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke’s Cargo, Mick Jackson’s Denial, the Peter Jackson-produced Mortal Engines and Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria Bell.

She will next be seen in Stephen Johnson’s 1930s-set drama High Ground as Claire, a teacher who runs a mission for Aboriginal children in a small town in Arnhem Land.

Most of her scenes were with Ryan Corr, who plays Claire’s brother, Simon Baker as Travis, a bounty hunter who enlists the help of Gutjuk (Jacob Junior Nayinggul) a young Aboriginal orphan, to track down the most dangerous outlaw in the Territory – his uncle, and Jacob Junior.

“It was such an honour to get to experience that location with the most incredible cast,” she says. “We had a smoking ceremony, which I’d never experienced.

“It was inspiring. Environments and locations often add so much to my preparation and that film had such a beautiful setting.”

After studying art and design, majoring in animation and illustration, at Auckland University of Technology, she decided to pursue her love of acting.

She made her feature film debut in Kirstin Marcon’s Kiwi drama The Most Fun You Can Have Dying. Her first Australian role was in Paper Giants 2: Magazine Wars.

In director Christian Rivers’ Mortal Engines she played Pandora Shaw, the mother of heroine Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar).

Asked what she learned from Jackson, she says: “With Peter there is no such thing as too big or too much, just bigger and bigger. You don’t have a lot of time so you have to deliver.”

Since lockdown started she has auditioned for several roles and read a few scripts. “It’s a strange time,” she says.