Donner Pass isn’t your usual direct-to-DVD slasher opus. Its storyline uses the macabre and very real history of the Donner Party (settlers who moved West in 1846 and resorted to cannibalism to stay alive after being stranded) as thematic material.
The movie then follows a group of modern-day high school kids spending a ski weekend at a cabin up in the Donner Pass area who end up finding out that they have more to fear than the grisly history of the region. Directed by first-time feature filmmaker Elise Robertson, Donner Pass stars Desiree Hall, Erik Stocklin, Colley Bailey and The Crypt Keeper himself- John Kassir.
Recently Dread Central had the opportunity to talk exclusively with Donner Pass star Hall, who portrays the sensible Kayley, who keeps her head once she and her friends begin to be terrorized by a mysterious madman.
Check out the highlights of our interview with up-and-coming actress Hall below, and make sure to check back daily for more coverage in honor of Dread Central’s Indie Horror Month celebration, too!
Dread Central: I’d love to start off by hearing more about how you came on board Donner Pass.
Desiree Hall: Well, I was taking an acting class being taught by Elise (Robertson), the film’s director-to-be, and one day while she was working on some rewrites for the film, she brought some of the material into class and asked me to read it for her. I thought it went pretty well but wasn’t exactly sure what was going to happen from that. Then, a few months later she asked me to audition, and then a few weeks after that we were in rehearsals. It started off slowly but then felt like once Donner Pass got under way, it went by super-fast.
DC: Was it easy to collaborate with Elise because you had been working with and learning from her prior to the film?
Desiree Hall: It really was very easy; I’ve found that a lot of times, when you are working with a director, you have to go through this process of trying to understand what they want from you as a performer. But Elise is also an actress so she knows how to talk to actors, which makes it very easy to collaborate together when you have that kind of dialogue between you.
Elise and I have this language we have developed over the course of working together that makes everything so easy. I probably got a little spoiled because of how easy it was to work with her, especially during some of the harder scenes to get through. So it really was a lot of fun to work with her.
DC: Let’s talk about your character Kayley because she wasn’t your typical ‘damsel in distress.’
Desiree Hall: I know, right? (laughs) That was really, in large part, due to Elise because the character of Kayley was written in a way that she was a strong but you don’t really know it until the direction of her character takes off down the line. We had some discussions about it and that’s just how she evolved. But Kayley’s the responsible, mature kid in the group and she’s the rational one who tries to keep everyone calm and focused on surviving once things go down.
For me personally, I have a hard time playing the typical ‘damsel in distress’ because that’s not really who I am. I’m a take-charge kind of person, and because Elise knows that about me, we really did try to work in my own strengths as a person into this character.
DC: Working on indie movies, especially in the snow, is never easy. How challenging was it for you while working on Donner Pass?
Desiree Hall: Well, there are always challenges when you are making movies, but snow is never fun (laughs). But one of the biggest challenges on this film specifically was that we only had like three takes at most for each setup because we were shooting on expensive super 16 film. That’s something I always had in the back of my head because I never wanted to cost the movie any more money with extra film.
But overall, it was really fun filming Donner Pass even though I didn’t know how hard it would be to maintain being afraid for an extended period of time; it requires so much energy because your heart is racing, your mind is racing and you’re running through the woods and snow and hoping it looks okay at the same time. It ended up being a lot more physical than I thought it would be, but it was a ton of fun, too.
DC: Well, there’s one more project I wanted to ask about that you were involved with last year- “Teen Wolf.” Did you have any idea just how involved your character would end up being with the whole Peter Hale storyline when you first came on board?
Desiree Hall: I seriously had no idea when they first cast me; I just thought it was your usual background character but I soon realized that with something like “Teen Wolf” – a show that has so much attention directed at it even before anyone had seen it – they were very hesitant to release scripts or even any information on what is happening prior to things being shot. You don’t want any of the secrets getting out there on Facebook or Twitter.
So a lot of the time when I was shooting, I knew that the nurse had a relationship with Peter Hale, but I wasn’t really sure how it would ultimately play out. But how things end up working out, I was a nurse who saw him transform from this burned and vegetative state to become the ‘Alpha’ and for some mysterious reasons, I decide to help speed the process up for him.
DC: Do you know what those reasons are? Have you been asked to return for Season Two yet?
Desiree Hall: I don’t really. I wish I did; I bet it’s something really interesting because the show is pretty great at developing these dark mysteries. But I don’t know and I haven’t heard anything about coming on for Season Two. I know they’re still shooting, but so far I haven’t gotten a call.
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