While at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival a few weeks ago, Dread Central had the opportunity to sit down and chat exclusively with one of the beloved leading ladies of our genre – Sara Paxton.
After roles in several horror projects including Shark Night 3D, The Innkeepers and the remake of The Last House on the Left, Paxton is taking her career to a completely new place we’ve never seen the young actress before with her provocative performance as a damaged trophy wife in E. L. Katz’s blisteringly violent Cheap Thrills, which recently premiered in Austin.
During our interview with Paxton, we heard her thoughts on taking some huge risks as an actress in Cheap Thrills and working with her co-stars Pat Healy, David Koechner and Ethan Embry. Paxton also discussed why the role of Violet terrified her and what her “line” would be if she was dared to do humiliating and sometimes violent acts for money.
Read our Cheap Thrills review here.
Dread Central: Congratulations on a great movie; I really enjoyed how all four of you are actors I was very familiar with, but in Cheap Thrills you sort of melted into these characters and were almost unrecognizable.
Sara Paxton: Oh wow, thank you. Yeah, Friday night was the first time I was able to see this movie and I’m so happy with it; I’m so proud of everyone who worked on this movie. I guess I really didn’t think about it at the time that you really were seeing all of us in a very different way. Like David Koechner- he’s still lovable, but he’s the bad guy in all this. He’s really messed up.
And with Ethan… I grew up watching Ethan in Can’t Hardly Wait and movies like that where he’s always the cute, nerdy nice guy you were always rooting for. In this, he’s just ripped and all tatted up and just so different than we’ve ever seen him. With Pat, I love Pat so what sealed the deal for me for doing this movie was that Pat was in it. He called me up, and when he said he was doing it, I knew I had to too.
Pat is so, so good in this too- I love watching everybody but because I know Pat so well, I really feel like he went to a different level on Cheap Thrills. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him this good, and he’s ALWAYS good so that should say something.
Dread Central: Because of the way this was written, so much of your performance plays out in the eyes; was that part of the appeal in taking on a role like this that you’d have to rely on a different set of tools other than your voice to connect with the audience? It was almost like David was a really messed up Pat Sajak and you were like Vanna White, sitting there anticipating each situation.
Sara Paxton: Yeah, a little bit. As everyone’s been saying, we only had 14 days to make this movie, and when I signed on, we had a table read where we all got to meet each other and we spoke a little bit about it then. What I think is a testament to Evan is that he brought people together who just really got it. When you read the script, you can see that there wasn’t a lot there for Violet; she doesn’t have a lot of lines so I saw this as a great opportunity to still be present, and while she’s not saying much, Violet is very much the puppet master here. Her rich husband is doing all this to appease her because she’s beautiful, but she’s also this fucked up girl who clearly had something traumatic happen to her at some point. She gets off on this; this is fun for these people. It’s sick.
So yeah, I definitely saw this as an opportunity and just ran with it. Evan also told me that this was going to be a great opportunity to really do something completely different and unusual for me, and that’s what I really enjoyed about it.
Dread Central: Even though that relationship between Colin and Violent was messed up, you could see that there was still love there between them and in their own weird way, they worked really well together.
Sara Paxton: Oh for sure. And in a way – I was thinking about this earlier – I think it’s interesting that in many ways David’s character and Pat’s character are very similar because Pat’s doing all this fucked up shit because of his wife and his family, and so is Colin, David’s character. He’s doing all this because he legitimately loves his wife. I just found that all great.
Dread Central: Evan spoke earlier about intensity in a script and having to be willing to take on and deal with that kind intensity- can you discuss what your approach is when you’re handling emotionally difficult material?
Sara Paxton: When I first got the script, I was immediately so interested in the story but the character terrified me. Normally I play characters where I don’t really have to have a process and so my process is just pulling in little pieces of my own self and building the characters on that. With Violet, I did not know that person AT ALL; I didn’t have a piece of this kind of a person inside of me so I was really scared. So on set, because this was a 14-day shoot and we’re cramped in this hot room, it all just sort of happened. The intensity was just there because tensions were high. We had a lot of pages to get through every day so we all had to be focused, which just adds to the intensity.
Dread Central: Did you think at all about whether or not you’d have a “line” that you wouldn’t cross if you needed money like Pat’s and Ethan’s characters in this?
Sara Paxton: Oh yeah- I realized very quickly though that I’m kind of a pussy so I don’t think I’d last too much after having a guy punch you in the face. That might be my line (laughs). I know, I know- I just don’t know if I could do anything beyond that really. I’m a wuss.
Dread Central: I feel like this is probably the riskiest thing we’ve seen you do so far in your career so I feel like maybe Cheap Thrills is a bit of a turning point for you- not to diminish anything you’ve done in the past, but you really go for broke in this. Do you see it like that as well?
Sara Paxton: Yeah, I definitely felt like it was this weird little turning point for me because, like I said, I was really scared. I didn’t think I could do this at first. And that’s when I realized- if it really scares you, then you have to do it, or at least try. So it did feel like a turning point to me; I felt more like an adult for once and I enjoy playing around in all different kinds of genres, but in terms of risks this is the biggest I’ve taken. But it just felt right, and I’d like to do more projects like this in the future.
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