One evening, a friend of mine convinced me to come along with him and check out a midnight screening for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. At the time, I’d heard some hype, but not nearly enough to really get excited about. So I decided to go along for the ride. Watching this homegrown thriller was a real treat for me. I didn’t even want to turn off the lights when I arrived home. And one of the most important factors in my enjoyment of the film was the lead actress, Katie Featherston. She is absolutely fantastic as a much put upon young woman fighting off a mysterious and unseen force. Her performance raised the stakes for me, and thus, I gave a damn.
With Paranormal arriving on DVD and Blu-Ray this week, I was given a terrific opportunity to speak to the Ms. Featherston. And what a pleasure it was. Katie is one of the sweetest ladies I’ve had the satisfaction to chat with. We spoke about the film, including the release and the casting process, and we also talked a little about horror in general. But I just couldn’t get past how terrific she was. Happily, interview wise, my year ended with Katie, and the man behind the movie, Oren Peli. A great way to finish off the year.
What was the audition process like for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and how did you find out about it?
Well, there is this thing called “LA Casting” that list auditions. You know, you just go to their website for actors and you audition and whatnot… you know, you submit yourself. So I submitted myself online. I got a callback. There were a few hundred girls that auditioned and it was in this tiny little theatre in North Hollywood. And we just, one after the other, went in the room and… you know, usually you hand a headshot over and you introduce yourself. But in this case, I just walked in and sat down, and Oren said, ‘Why do you think your house is haunted?’ And immediately I just had to start telling him why my house was haunted. So from the get go, it was purely improvisational and you had to be really quick on your feet. And that audition lead to a number of callbacks where I met Micah [Sloat]. And he and I just… it was literally like, we walked in and we didn’t know each other, we were strangers. And Oren said, Katie this is Micah, Micah this is Katie, how did you guys meet? So we looked at each other and we said, oh, we met… and we just started this story about how we met and how we fell in love and all of that. That was how the audition process was, it was just really improvisational. I think Micah and I were supposed to see other people, and see who fit each other best, but once Oren saw Micah and I together, he never set us up with anyone else. It was just the two of us. He had us come back a few extra times to make sure that we had a consistency and could keep the chemistry, and we did. So that’s how I got the role.
Now you mention the improvisation that went into the audition, how much of what you did there find itself into the film?
Well the whole… there is no script to the movie. Oren had a very clear idea what he wanted and the plotlines he wanted to hit and whatnot, but there was no script so everything that came out of our mouth was made up in the moment. And the backstory that we created in the actual audition about where we met and how long we’d been together, that is in the movie because that is what we used. We thought, we’d just made it up so why would we make something else up, you know. So we met overseas, we were both at school, you know that whole thing. So whether or not we actually talk about that in the movie, that was in the back of our heads.
That seems like such a amazing experience to have as an actor, to come in and basically make so much of the story up yourselves…
We really did. It is not an experience I’m likely to have again as an actor until I’m both acting and producing and whatnot. There was a lot of creative freedom we had. I remember thinking at the time, ‘soak this up Katie, this is not going to happen again.’ I mean, not just the acting, but the acting process is a blessing, but we were acting and we were creating a script and Oren was really collaborative with us. If we had ideas, we talked about them and we shot them. There were whole plotlines that we shot and got cut out, you know, seeing what would work and what wouldn’t work. It was truly like we were a little unit, a little team, Oren, Micah and I. It was just the three of us. We just worked really well together.
How big was the entire crew?
Well the crew… well there was the three of us and there was a lady that did the blood, and the bite mark that I have. So she came in once or twice and worked on that stuff. And then there were two people that helped on the heavy stunt nights, so the nights where we had something crazy, like being dragged down the hall or something like that. So they helped with that. So at the most there were six people, including us, the director and the actors. But for the most of it, it was just Micah, myself and Oren.
Speaking of getting dragged down the hall, how’d that work out for ya?
It was super fun! I mean, I loved it, I love that kind of stuff. And we shot that thing for like… I don’t even know how long, like four or five hours. Because we didn’t have anything fancy, it was just if one thing messed up, we had to start all over. Everything had to look exactly right. And I think we only ended up with getting the shot right once, getting dragged down that hall, over and over and over. But it was cool, you know, I had bruises and scrapes to show for it the next day, but it was worth it.
You do seem like the type that would be like, ‘Bring it on!’…
Yeah, I actually wanted… the stairs were right there, and I wanted to be dragged down the stairs, you know, how scary would that be? ‘No, I’m not going to let you get dragged down the stairs Katie. Just down the hall.’, ‘Oh, fine, okay.’ [Laughing] But we had a good time. It was a long night. We did a lot of shooting in that night. We did the footprint stuff, we did the drag me down the hall and something else, maybe the attic stuff, I can’t even remember. All in one night. Long hours, but so much fun.
Now I’m sure you get this all the time, but how much of this do you actually believe in. Did you ever sort of get chills while filming, thinking what if this stuff does, or could, happen?
Sure. I mean, there are a lot of things that are unexplainable. And everybody knows somebody that has a story. So somewhere in all that has got to be some truth. I’m open to that. But I tend to shy away from thinking about evil spirits haunting people, because that’s just sort of scary, so I try to stay away from that. But there is so much out there that is unexplainable so I’m open to those kind of things being a reality in some way. I definitely freaked myself out a little filming with Micah. He freaked himself out a lot. It’s my fault, but really its just that he’s a big scaredy cat [Laughing]. Between the two of us, one of us is always inadvertently scaring the other or whatever. We were always kind of creeped out. I remember watching the ending of the movie, when we saw it for the first time at Oren’s house, and we were just like - you know, the actual ending - we were either doing a re-shoot or ADR or something. And Oren was like, I’ve got a copy, you want to see? And we said, oh yeah. So he had this giant, giant, giant projector screen that he pulled down and we were watching it, and we both jumped out of our skin. We were freaked out for awhile. So we were definitely scared throughout the process more than once.
It’s not surprising, especially hearing how the film was made. It seems so homegrown…
Yeah, I feel very blessed to be a part of it even if it hadn’t been so successful, I still would have been proud of it. Because the process was the same, whether it was successful or not, the process of making the movie was so joyous and so interesting and challenging, and long and tiring and awesome. I loved it, it was so much fun. To be able to work with two people so closely and produce something that you’re proud of is exciting. And for it to be seen by people and appreciated by people is unbelievable.
I can’t imagine your thought process as this little film crossed the 100 million dollar mark.
You know, all that stuff is just now, starting to sink in. Because there was never like a single moment where it was like, this is going to be huge. It was like, oh, they are going to release it in a couple of college towns. That’s awesome. Oh, they’re going to grow it a little and expand it some more. We’ll see how it does this weekend. So it was always like, one step ahead of its time and once it kind of blew up, we had press, and it was just crazy for a few weeks. Now that the holidays are here and things are kind of like, slowing down, it’s kind of like, ‘oh wow, that was amazing!’. It is just now that its starting to sink in and I realized what happened. It’s unbelievable.
And also, you just did a film with Adrienne King [FRIDAY THE 13th], and Paranormal’s success seems to be helping that. As they seem to be enjoying your success also. [The film is called WALKING DISTANCE but in foreign markets it will be called EXPERIMENTAL ACTIVITY]
Yeah, a little bit. A little bit. A friend of mine produced that movie and asked me to be a part of it, and so I was like, ‘yeah, of course’, I was excited to do it. I went down to Houston and filmed for a day. I play the lead guy’s girlfriend. I mean, I don’t know how much I’m supposed to give away but I play a small role in it. And I did that quite awhile back. So it’s definitely getting a boost, but that’s cool, you know. I’m okay with that.
How long did you have to keep in the shadows when it came to Paranormal?
My gosh… all the way up until… I can’t even remember when we did all our press. Late October, early November… November is when I think we did all of our press. It was all so crazy. They started the screenings in October if I remember correctly or the very end of September. So there was like a good month in there where, you know… and I remember the movie coming out and we had the midnight screenings at the Arclight in Hollywood. And people were lined up around the block, and we weren’t actually allowed to go in and be a part of it. Micah and I were across the street in the shadows saying, ‘Oh my gosh, all those people are there to see our movie, this is crazy!’
Now the thing I appreciated about the film, I have to say, is the old school vibe it has going for it. Are you a fan of that type of old school horror? Or are you a fan of horror in general?
Yeah. When I was growing up we always had scary movie nights, and I’d always crave to see a really scary movie and I always ended up jumping at the jump scares, but I was never really “scared” scared. I remember walking out of a movie theatre and walking towards my car thinking, ‘Man, I want a movie that scares me even walking to my car!’ That’s what I always wanted. And there were a few movies that scared me here and there, but I always wanted that one really scary one. I guess the closest thing is like THE EXORCIST. CANDYMAN was a movie that scared me when I was a kid. Me and my best friend watched that over and over again. She hated it ‘cause it scared her so bad, and it sort of scared me and I just loved watching her get scared. So yeah, I love scary movies and horror films, but I’m not a huge fan of blood and guts. I’m more of a fan of, get under your skin kind of thing. Something that sticks with ya. They are kind of few and far in between.
Now with the success of Paranormal, what is next for you? Has this opened up any doors that may have not been open before?
Oh yeah, just in terms of who I’ve been able to meet, I’ve had meetings all over town with different producers and casting offices, people who are working on different projects. That is super exciting because most of them have projects that could be right for me next year. And it’s great to meet with them and talk about those things. There’s a… I don’t know what to call it, it’s a romantic dramedy, I would say, that we’re going to shop around in January and see if anybody takes the bait and wants to work on it with me. It’s a really great project, so we’ll see. We’ll see what happens. So, lot’s of exciting things coming up. I’m really thankful.
It would be interesting to see if they would tie you into Paranormal Activity 2.
Yeah, I don’t know what’s happening with all that. I saw on IMDB that they have optioned rights and whatnot so I guess we’re going to have to wait and see what they come up with that. It will be interesting… speaking of what happens after that, there is an iPhone app and it is “The Search for Katie” and we were looking at it and cracking up. It’s all about what happens after. It’s pretty fun.
That must be so surreal.
It is. I don’t feel any different, I just feel thankful that people like the movie. It’s just very strange… I just feel very thankful that people saw the movie and people liked the movie. And I’m on Twitter now, purely in an effort to keep in touch with people because this project was really fan driven. We had fans three years ago that really stuck with us, and if those people hadn’t stuck with us we wouldn’t be here with the “Demand It” thing, and people were really getting excited and putting fourth some effort to see this movie. It’s just important for me that I don’t take that for granted. Both Micah and I have Facebook fanpages and are on Twitter and we’re talking with people. And there are some people that are so sweet, and they are such fans but I think of them as friends rather then fans. I don’t know, I just feel like me a year ago when nobody knew who I was or cared, you know. It’s pretty surreal. Surreal is a good word for it.
Let me know what you think. Send questions and/or comments to JimmyO@JoBlo.com