a new spring­board

Horror films are no longer bad ca­reer moves for ac­tors.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIFESTYLE - by JEnELLE RI­LEy

Horror films are no longer bad ca­reer moves for ac­tors.

ASHLEY Bell has been a work­ing ac­tor since her teen years, ap­pear­ing in plays in Los An­ge­les and in guest spots on TV shows, most no­tably the Show­time se­ries United States Of Tara.

Last year she signed on to play a girl seem­ingly pos­sessed in the low-bud­get horror film, The Last Ex­or­cism.

The week­end it opened, Bell flew into Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port and was promptly swamped by pa­parazzi.

“I didn’t un­der­stand why there were all these pho­tog­ra­phers,’’ Bell re­calls with a laugh. “I ac­tu­ally asked some­body who they were there for, be­fore I re­alised they were tak­ing pic­tures of me.’’

Horror has al­ways been a tough genre for ac­tors. Though the films tra­di­tion­ally do well at the box of­fice, the ac­tors’ per­for­mances are not of­ten sin­gled out for praise.

In the past, par­tic­u­larly in the 1970s, some ac­tors saw their ca­reers launched by scary movies. Think Amy Irv­ing in Car­rie and The Fury, Linda Blair in The Ex­or­cist, or Jamie Lee Cur­tis in Hal­loween.

But most re­cent fright­fests are stocked with good-look­ing and in­stantly for­get­table faces, or once-fa­mous ac­tors look­ing to cash a quick pay­cheque. Things seem to be shift­ing, how­ever. Rooney Mara re­cently landed the cov­eted ti­tle role in the Amer­i­can adap­ta­tion of The Girl With the Dragon Tat­too. Prior to that, her largest on­screen part was in this year’s re­make of A Night­mare On Elm Street.

Al­though we don’t know whether her per­for­mance in that film helped her land the Tat­too role, it cer­tainly didn’t hurt to play high­stakes emo­tional scenes op­po­site Jackie Earle Ha­ley as Freddy Krueger.

The In­no­cents

Sarah But­ler landed the biggest role of her ca­reer so far in a re­make of a fa­mous thriller. The orig­i­nal I Spit On Your Grave (also known as Day Of The Woman) was a wildly con­tro­ver­sial 1978 film about a young girl named Jenny who is sav­agely raped and left for dead. She then ex­acts grisly vengeance on her four at­tack­ers.

It starred Camille Keaton (grand­daugh­ter of Buster Keaton), who ap­peared to be in the midst of a promis­ing ca­reer af­ter earn­ing pos­i­tive notices for her work in the 1972 film What Have You Done To Solange?.

But af­ter I Spit On Your Grave, Keaton’s ca­reer stalled. Films with ti­tles like Raw Force and Sav­age Vengeance rounded out her ré­sumé.

But­ler ad­mits to hav­ing trep­i­da­tion at tak­ing on the role. Her first au­di­tion con­sisted of just two scenes, nei­ther of which in­di­cated how

ca­reer of Rooney Mara? bru­tal the story would be.

“Then I got a call­back a day or two later and was given a full script, and then ev­ery­thing be­came clear,’’ she says with a laugh.

Her first in­stinct was to turn the part down: “When you read some­thing like this, it’s hard to see past all the vi­o­lence and nu­dity. I had my man­ager take a look at it and was sure he would come back apol­o­gis­ing, be­cause he’s nor­mally very pro­tec­tive of nu­dity and such. In­stead he came back and said, ‘ You have to do this; you’re go­ing to be so badass.’’’

Ul­ti­mately, But­ler re­alised that this was a great op­por­tu­nity to show her range as an ac­tor.

“My friends were so en­vi­ous that I was get­ting this shot at a role with such an amaz­ing arc,’’ she says. “And I re­alised they were right; just the char­ac­ter’s jour­ney made it worth do­ing. It was al­most like play­ing two sep­a­rate peo­ple.’’

Horror and sus­pense seem to be among the few gen­res that can get away with cast­ing com­plete un­knowns in lead roles. Last year’s hit, Para­nor­mal Ac­tiv­ity, sold it­self on the strength of its premise, not lead ac­tors Micah Sloat and Katie Feather­ston.

In­deed, at times the story works bet­ter if you’re not dis­tracted by the sight of your favourite movie star in jeop­ardy. Though sev­eral name ac­tors were in­ter­ested in play­ing Jenny, the film­mak­ers be­hind I Spit On Your Grave were in­tent on cast­ing an un­known – great news for But­ler, whose only pre­vi­ous film credit was Syfy’s TV movie Flu Bird Horror.

“I don’t know if you could give your­self over to be­liev­ing this sce­nario if you were so aware you were watch­ing a star,’’ But­ler says. “I love that they wanted to of­fer some­one new this chance.’’

The Ex­or­cists

Eli Roth, the ac­tor-filmmaker who made his name with such in­die horror hits as Cabin Fever and the Hos­tel movies, be­lieves that ac­tresses, in par­tic­u­lar, get to shine in such films.

“I know some peo­ple think of horror films as a last re­sort, but I never saw it that way,’’ Roth says. “I think in horror you get to show a wide range of emo­tions you can’t in other movies. Horror can make a ca­reer.

Linda Blair earned an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for Will a role in

help launch the The Ex­or­cist. He cites Jen­nifer Car­pen­ter in The Ex­or­cism Of Emily Rose as a more re­cent ex­am­ple.

Roth, a pro­ducer on The Last Ex­or­cism, says cast­ing was vi­tal to the suc­cess of the film. Shot in a doc­u­men­tary style, it tells of long­time preacher Cot­ton Mar­cus, who per­formed his first ex­or­cism as a child.

Hav­ing staged count­less cer­e­monies since, he de­cides to ex­pose the in­dus­try as a fraud by invit­ing a cam­era crew along to film what is to be his fi­nal ex­or­cism.

His sub­ject is a sweet, naive farm girl named Nell, who is be­ing raised by an al­co­holic fa­ther and over­pro­tec­tive brother. Slowly, Mar­cus and his crew be­gin to re­alise that they may have stum­bled onto an ac­tual su­per­nat­u­ral event.

Shot for an es­ti­mated US$2mil (RM6.4mil), the film grossed more than US$20mil (RM64mil) in its first week­end.

Di­rec­tor Daniel Stamm se­lected Bell to play the lead role of Nell, a part that re­quired the ac­tor to ex­ert her­self phys­i­cally and men­tally more than any other she has done.

In the be­gin­ning, Bell nails Nell’s sweet in­no­cence with­out mak­ing her sim­ple or car­toon­ish. Be­fore long, she is run­ning around in a blood­ied night­gown, con­tort­ing her body like a Cirque du Soleil per­former – no spe­cial ef­fects were used in the scenes in which Nell lit­er­ally bends over back­wards.

Bell jokes that she was will­ing to go even fur­ther: “I would have bro­ken my own fin­gers like the char­ac­ter does. I was will­ing to go there.’’

As the jaded Rev Mar­cus, Stamm cast Pa­trick Fabian, an ac­tor with a lengthy list of stage and screen cred­its, who, in his words, is now an “overnight suc­cess 20-some years in the mak­ing”.

Though the film ini­tially presents Mar­cus as a fast-talk­ing con man of sorts, he be­comes much more com­plex as he be­gins to re­alise the depth of his sit­u­a­tion. In ad­di­tion to de­vel­op­ing an al­most pa­ter­nal car­ing for Nell, Mar­cus finds him­self ques­tion­ing his own lack of faith – meaty stuff for any genre.

“I knew I could do the early stuff; I’ve tended to play a lot of dif­fer­ent guys in suits, or what I call ‘ CEO types’,’’ Fabian re­veals. “But this gave me a chance to show a whole dif­fer­ent side. It was a full-bod­ied char­ac­ter with so many great mo­ments to dig into.’’

Bell echoes the sen­ti­ment, say­ing, “You get to do so much in horror films, es­pe­cially women. One sec­ond I’m clue­less, then I’m ter­ri­fied, then I’m flail­ing around and talk­ing in a de­monic voice. Where else am I go­ing to get an op­por­tu­nity like that?’’

And for a change, crit­ics have no­ticed, prais­ing the per­for­mances of both ac­tors, some even call­ing the pair wor­thy of Os­car at­ten­tion.

“I can’t even be­lieve that,’’ says Bell, laugh­ing. “It’s so flat­ter­ing and so un­ex­pected. And some­thing that never even crossed our minds while film­ing.’’

Fabian adds, “The first time I heard that, I thought it was beau­ti­ful and won­der­ful, but also knew that horror wasn’t go­ing to get that kind of re­spect. Where it does get re­spect, though, is with the peo­ple, be­cause it makes good box of­fice and shows peo­ple will go to see a smart, creepy, scary film no mat­ter the bud­get.’’

The Shin­ing

While the genre might pro­vide an ac­tor with a great op­por­tu­nity, the ques­tion then be­comes how to build on that. Fabian re­cently booked his first se­ries-reg­u­lar gig, on CMT’s up­com­ing Work­ing Class, a job he says was “a di­rect re­sult of the movie’’.

Bell has also seen re­sults from star­ring in a hit film.

“Things have def­i­nitely changed, just in terms of the peo­ple I’ve met and the roles I’m be­ing of­fered,’’ she says. “I guess it’s to be ex­pected when any film does well.’’

But­ler ad­mits to turn­ing down of­fers that were too sim­i­lar to I Spit On Your Grave – which is dif­fi­cult af­ter hav­ing strug­gled for so long to break in.

“I look at the of­fer and I think, ‘Well, there’s health in­surance’,’’ she says. “But I want to cre­ate a broad foun­da­tion for my ca­reer, not get into one genre I might not be able to get out of.’’ – Reuters

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