If you’ve seen Samantha Schnitzler on screen, you were probably struck by the physicality of her performance – whether it was a lightning-fast punch and a kick, or her grace and poise. It’s no surprise, then, that as a child, she loved to run and jump, and her first performances were as a dancer.
Now in demand as an actress in independent films internationally, her acting talent and outstanding fitness have also won her roles working on big budget productions, such as Doctor Strange (slow-mo work), Pan and Justice League (fight scenes). So I was delighted she found time to answer a few questions.
Born in the French territory of New Caledonia and raised near Paris, Samantha started dancing (ballet) at the age of six.
“I loved being on stage,” she told me. “The end of the year show was everything to me. I also started rhythmic gymnastics at the same age and we would have a bunch of competitions throughout the year, including nationals, so there was a lot of pressure but I still loved that moment when I was performing in front of the crowd and judges. Acting came a bit later, when I was 14, I started theatrical improvisation and absolutely loved it.”
So were your parents involved in performance at all?
“Funny enough – though my mom loved dancing when she was a teen – I come from a family that is passionate about planes, not arts. My grandparents were flying small planes for fun, my mom was a flight attendant her whole life, my dad was a pilot, my sister is a pilot and my brother works in the navy.”
What has been your favourite role so far?
“Hmm, that’s a tough one. I like playing characters that are quite far from me in terms of their life story and habits but that I can relate to in terms of personality. I really enjoyed playing Kate, a party animal type of girl in a feature film last year called Charlotte Wakes – the title might have changed to Darkness Wakes on IMDB [it has]. She was a drinker and a smoker, all things I’m not at all but we still had things in common and it made it very enjoyable. In 2016 I also worked on a Viking feature film playing a vengeful female assassin – I have to say that was a lot of fun too. I think I’m naturally drawn to characters with a dark past.”
So what would be your favourite role? I’d guess Lara Croft?
My ideal role would be a character that has both a great life story and depth and physicality. It might sound weird but something like Lara Croft (you were right!) meets Lisbeth from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I really like Katniss Everdeen’s part [played by Jennifer Lawrence] in the The Hunger Games for that because I think the story allows space for both awesome action and great emotions.
Do you have any favourite actors?
Well speaking of The Hunger Games I do really love Jennifer Lawrence. Being raised in France I grew up with actors like Sophie Marceau and Christophe Lambert, and comedy geniuses like Louis de Funès. I love Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and in the “newer generation”, I find Jake Gyllenhaal utterly brilliant. But of course that’s just to name three or four – there are loads of actors that inspire me! Bryan Cranston is amazing, Boyd Holbrook is great in Narcos, and Mahershala Ali (from Daredevil and House of Cards) is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors.
How does acting in a small-scale indie film compare with doing fight scenes on a big budget blockbuster?
Though I love working on fight scenes on big studio productions , I am an actress first and foremost, so I prefer working as an actress even if it is on smaller scale films. The goal eventually is to have acting roles in studio films.
Your latest role in 108 Hours is very intense. Your character is physically (and emotionally) confined. I get the impression you’d prefer to be jumping around and enjoying a more physical kind of action role? Is that right?
Well, with 108 Hours we wanted to keep the story line under 15 min for festival purposes so there wasn’t space for big action moments. I mean there would have, maybe, but it was an artistic decision to focus on an intricate story rather than action moments. If we ever develop the concept into something else we might have more “physical moments” for Detective Fox to play with. As for the emotional confinement I think it just made sense to me that the character would be like that in the story and I liked the layers of the role. She also definitely had a dark background so I enjoyed that a lot but I love working on varied characters and on widening my range too, so more jumping around, sure, why not!
As well as starring, you also produced 108 Hours. Are you looking to do more work off-camera?
I think more than everything I love creating opportunities and working with people that inspire me so if the chance to produce more films arrises, then, yes definitely. I believe that knowing as much as possible about what goes on around a set makes me better at my job as an actor and working as a producer allowed me to learn loads about production-related things that I had no idea about.
So what’s next for you?
So actually, we just started pre-production on the next short film that I will be producing this year and yes a bunch of exciting projects in the pipeline including playing the role of Tammy in Obsession: The Tournament, a feature film about an MMA tournament that I’ll be shooting this year  in London.
You might be interested in these posts on some other actresses in indie films: Kate Marie Davies, Antonia Tootill, Francesca Louise White, and Dawn Noel. And there’s this one on kick-ass female action heroes.