Jamie, you’ve done many different genres, but you’ve got over 20 credits for horror films. So I’ll start with this: are you a fan of horror films?
I am. I grew up watching a lot of horror films with my Mom. We’d watch movies like “Psycho” and “The Birds” together.
So you like thrillers more?
No, I like it all. Those were just the ones that I would watch with my Mom and they kind of got me started. They used to play the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and John Carpenter’s “Halloween” on TV a lot, so I’d watch those too and I absolutely loved them. I used to act out scenes to “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and I’d pretend that I was Nancy (laughs). So yeah, I go way back with horror and it’s always been something that I’ve wanted to do as part of my acting career. I do other genres as well in my work, but there are a whole lot of horror films out there because it’s one of the easiest genres to sell. So statistically speaking I think that a lot of actors have worked in the horror genre, but it really helps that I also love it.
What do you think makes a good horror movie?
I think that suspense is important. I also think the best horror films entice the audience interaction by making them think about it as a ‘what would you do?’ scenario. They must keep your interest and make you care about the characters. Surprises are good too, but there has to be more to it than just jump scares. The best horror films have a good story behind them. Plus, I do always love a good twist. I mean something interesting like in “Saw” where he stands up at the end and the audience is left thinking ‘oh my God!’.
I tried to do something like that with “The 6th Friend”, the film I produced and co-wrote.
So you co-wrote a film?
Yes! I came up with the original story and wrote the first draft. I tried to incorporate a twist and really surprise people.
Was “The 6th Friend” the first film you wrote?
Yes, it was. It was such an exciting project too. When we hired a director, Letia Clouston, she took the script and wrote a second draft that added some great ideas and changes that I absolutely loved. We ended up bouncing the script back-and-forth between us, nine times in total before we had our shooting script.
You were also one of the stars in “The 6th Friend” so I’m curious, how was it acting in a film that you cowrote? Was it easier? Harder?
I would say it was easier. When you’ve been part of the creation process for the script and the story, you know exactly what the mood of the scene is and you know the intention of the story. You can get that from reading a script and talking to the writer and director, but it’s different when you write it. As a writer, you’ve envisioned everything already so you have a better feel for it overall.
Thinking about some of your other work in the horror genre, you were in “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu” which is the fifth film in the franchise, but it’s unique because it is the only direct sequel to the classic 1978 film. It also had Camille Keaton coming back to reprise her original role and writer/director Meir Zarchi back at the helm as well. Can you tell us a little about that experience working on such an iconic franchise with the original star and creator?
It was so surreal to be a part of that project. I was two weeks into it and still thinking to myself “Oh my God, is this really happening?” because I’d seen the original ’78 film and I thought it was brilliant. “I Spit on Your Grave” was such a raw and real film. They didn’t glamorize anything about the rape. In fact, that film was inspired by a true story. Zarchi saw a woman coming out of the woods after she had been raped and he helped her. He put her in his car and drove her to the police station. She had been raped by two men and what happened to her is what inspired Zarchi to write that story. Now the film is a classic; they teach it in film schools all over the world.
Being a part of such an iconic franchise and to be in the leading role was amazing, but it was also stressful. I would sometimes think to myself am I going to be able to uphold the franchise, or am I going to fail miserably? I had to really push that fear aside and just do my best to do the original film justice.
Working with Meir was so great too. I remember I had to do three auditions for the film. The first one I sent in a tape and he liked it so I had a callback in person for the second one and I thought to myself “You know, if I just get to meet Meir Zarchi, I’m good. It’s ok if I don’t get the role because I’ll have gotten a chance to meet him.” Then I walked in and he directed me and I was in there for about 40 minutes. Terry Zarchi, the producer, said that Meir knew I was the one as soon as I looked up and took my moment before I spoke the first words. Then he took photos of me. I was going to leave and he caught me by the elevator and asked if he could take my picture. It was really sweet.
Then I didn’t just get to meet him; I got to work with him and with Camille! It’s just one of those times in your life that are just unreal. I mean I still almost don’t believe it. They are such great people. Working on the film it was like we became a family. The Zarchis have had me over to their home for holidays like Thanksgiving! Terry and I will just get on the phone and talk for over an hour. It’s so great. Working with Camille Keaton was fabulous too. The minute we met on the set we just clicked, and it was like we’d known each other forever. So now whenever she comes into town, we go out and she’s just become a good friend. There is that age gap, but you would never know it. She’s so young at heart and I’m lucky to have her as a friend now.
I think that chemistry comes across on the screen when you watch the film. Why do you think that the film franchise has been so popular?
I know it’s popular with a lot of women. In Terry Zarchi’s documentary, “Growing Up with I Spit On Your Grave”, which came out around the same time as “Déjà vu”, he interviews a number of women who believe the film changed their lives. One woman, who had been raped, said she watched the film eight times in a row. For her, it was a healing thing. That’s not unusual. There are women who come up to Camille at conventions and hug her and tell her “You saved my life!” because of what that film and her portrayal did for them. I believe art can do that. It can heal people.
Even when we were on the set, I had two people come crying their eyes out to me when we were filming the rape scenes, because they either knew someone who’d been raped or, worse, had been raped themselves. So I believe the series is popular because it helps people heal from trauma. Also, anyone who’s ever been hurt by someone and fantasizes about getting revenge enjoys these films (laughs).
In your latest film, “Dead by Dawn” you take on a different type of role-playing a sadistic killer named “Snack”. What’s it like being on the other side of the knife as it were?
It was a blast! I loved being able to play with her character. In that film the villains were quirky (laughs). They were almost like the villains in “Home Alone” because at times they were just goofy. So, we didn’t take ourselves too seriously and we did that on purpose. It was written that way in the script. That meant I wasn’t playing a completely dark villain. Don’t get me wrong, it was dark at times, but there was a certain comical element underlying it. That made the role particularly fun for me.
It was great to be able to go over-the-top sometimes with the character in a way you couldn’t with a lot of roles. As an actor, you don’t get to just don’t get to go over-the-top that way in most roles unless it’s a comedy. This made it a fun role and it was also a rare opportunity. Think about this, what horror films place protagonists, who’re playing everything totally seriously, then the antagonists are there and while they are villainous, it is with a real comedic undertone. When you think about it, that kind of film doesn’t happen that often. The “Nightmare on Elm Street” films did it as the series progressed Freddy started to become more and more comical even as he was terrifying the teenagers. It’s really a unique sub-genre to horror. That made it a lot of fun.
Now I’d like to step away from horror and talk about another of your recent roles, this one in the film “The Furnace” which came out last year around the same time as “Déjà Vu”.
That was, without a doubt, the toughest film I’ve ever done. The role was emotionally and physically such a challenge for me. For the role, my character lost the use of one of her lungs, and I had to be constantly thinking about that and about how that would affect everything I did.
I also had to imagine what it would be like to lose my husband, whom I loved dearly, right after we were married. This made my character very bitter and depressed and I had to constantly have that kind of emotion in my performance. Even during the film’s few humorous moments, and there are some, I still had to have that underlying sadness there. This meant that during filming I had to bring myself places mentally that can be quite difficult to get out of sometimes as an actor.
Of course, there were physical challenges too. The character is a runner and there were some days when it was nothing but constant running. We were filming in South Africa and most of those days it was 90 plus degre
es and I’d be running for 10 or 12 hours. I’m not kidding either, there were days where I ran all day long. That is very physically demanding. I was pretty physically fit when we started the shoot, not a bodybuilder or anything like that, but this was good because they wanted an underdog type story, so if I came into it in too good a shape it wouldn’t have worked as well. My character lost one of her lungs and had a lot of time after the car accident, so she couldn’t be too ‘buff’. So when we started it was…. Wow! Easily the most physically demanding role I’ve ever had.
Even though it was challenging, it was also a beautiful experience. This role changed my life in a lot of ways. It’s funny because the character was being awoken and going through these changes and at the same time, so was I.
The Furnace was shot in South Africa, wasn’t it?
Yes, it was! That was an amazing experience for me because I was introduced to a whole new culture and I got to meet so many wonderful new people. I made so many new friends doing that movie it is unbelievable. I spent a total of five months there and it was an incredible place to be and it gave me the opportunity to learn about their culture and experience the world from a different perspective. I can say that “The Furnace” really did change my life.
I know the film is being released slowly throughout the world right now and they're trying to get it out there more in the United States, which is great because it’s such a good film. People who’ve seen it have been raving about it and I think it deserves more attention than it’s getting. It should at least be on one of the faith-based channels because it is such a moving and inspiring story, and the directing, cinematography, and music are all incredible. I just hope that it can start getting some of the same kind of recognition it’s getting in foreign film markets, here in the United States.
Looking at your career you’ve started moving more behind the camera as a producer and a writer. Do you have any desire to direct films?
Oh absolutely! During the recent quarantine, I’ve had a lot of time to think and I feel like I finally have the story I want to make. So now I just have to write it! (Laughs) I’d been waiting for the right script and then it just came to me one day and I just thought ‘Oh my gosh! That’s what I’m going to write!’ I’m really excited about it and, shockingly, this idea hasn’t been done before. That seems a little incredible because there have been so many films made, but I don’t think this exact concept has been done, so it’s really exciting.
I’ve also been thinking of how it will be made. The cast will be very small. I know who I’d like to have as a cinematographer. I have big plans for this project!
Are there any directors who’ve inspired you that you would really want to work with?
Yes! I would love to work with Darren Aronofsky! “Black Swan” and “Requiem for a Dream” are of my favorite films. I also love James Wan, the director of “The Conjuring”. I love those films and the way they were made. When I have the chance to direct, I’m going to go back and re-watch those movies and a few others so I can study their work more. As the director, you’re responsible for the whole project, the look, the feel, everything. As a director, you have to have a vision for how the film will look and how each piece fits together before you even start shooting. I would love to work with and learn from Aronofsky and Wan because they are so talented.
One last question: what is something about you that most people don’t know and might surprise people?
Oh, that’s a good one! (Laughs) OK, I think most people would be surprised to learn that I was painfully shy when I was young. It bothered me all the way through high school. I remember I had a very hard time with it even in kindergarten. I remember I hated to go and I’d get my mom to keep me home. They almost held me back because I missed so many days of kindergarten! (Laughs) I started coming out of it as I went into junior high, but then kind of went back into my shell when I entered high school. I had friends and such, but I never felt like I fit in. It wasn’t until I came to L.A. that I really felt like I found my place. I think there’s always been an artist inside me and when I came here, I was surrounded by so many talented people that it really brought me out of my shell and helped me fit in.
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