Exclusive: Fairuza Balk Talks Dose of Reality; Looks Back at The Craft and Return to Oz
In the indie thriller Dose of Reality, we are introduced to a shady Los Angeles bar manager (Rick Ravanello) and his protégé bartender (Ryan Merriman), who discover a bloodied and unconscious young woman named Rose (Fairuza Balk) passed out in the bathroom.
Rose is unable to piece together the events that led to her waking up in the back of a bar. Soon enough, a dangerous cat and mouse game is afoot among the three as dangerous secrets are revealed and Rose determines to find out who can be trusted and who put her in jeopardy.
Dread Central recently had the opportunity to chat exclusively with Balk about her latest project and heard more on her experiences collaborating with writer/director Christopher Glatis. Balk also discussed working with co-stars and what keeps her interested as an actress after 30 years in the business. And since this writer is a huge fan, I couldn't help but ask about two of my personal favorites- Return to Oz and The Craft.
Read on for DC's exclusive interview with Balk, and make sure to check out Dose of Reality, which is currently available on DVD and will arrive on VOD platforms and digital outlets starting Tuesday, April 23rd.
Dread Central: Thanks so much for taking time to speak with me today; I've enjoyed your career for a while now and thought Dose of Reality was another interesting role for you. The movie was so different than I was expecting it to be and I liked that it kept peeling away all these different layers so you begin to realize that what you thought was the real story going on among these characters isn’t the case at all. Was the fact that this had a lot of unusual twists to it a big part of why you took on the project?
Fairuza Balk: Chris, the director, had contacted me about four years ago but the script was really different than the one we ended up shooting. It still had a ways to go so I told him that I liked the idea and wanted to work with him but the story needed some fine-tuning. So when he brought me the new script, I read it and thought he really nailed down an interesting premise that I hadn't really seen in a movie before so to me, that made the project intriguing and something I absolutely wanted to be a part of.
I liked how the story was a bit of a modern twist on the Roman Games, but I don't want to say too much more or that might ruin it for viewers out there. Either way, I thought the idea was fascinating and to play someone who was playing someone who was really playing two other people was just so different and a lot of fun to do as a performer. And I really liked the character of Rose because she was nuts and crazy, which are roles I've done before, but never like this. You never quite know what's going on with her even until the very end, which I think makes the role even more compelling because you never fully figure her out.
Dread Central: Dose of Reality almost feels like it's structured like a theatrical play; was that something you guys picked up on? And did you get a lot of time to work on the chemistry between yourself and your co-stars Ryan and Rick?
Fairuza Balk: I absolutely saw this as a story that would make for a perfect play- I think we all did so we were very deliberate in our approaches because of that. We also had very little rehearsal time for this project, maybe only a couple of days, just because of the nature of production. That was fine with me really; everyone involved was completely professional and ready to work so we didn’t really need all that much, maybe to do blocking and more of the physical stuff. But I think it was actually better the three of us didn't get more time because we were supposed to be strangers; we weren't supposed to have chemistry together because we were just meeting that night so I purposely distanced myself a lot of the times from Rick and Ryan just to keep that tension up between us all.
I think when you're almost doing improv-style physicality and reactions like we were, not preparing too much and being reactionary can only help you when you're trying to make sure things feel natural between yourself and other actors. We shot this pretty quickly so there wasn't a lot of time to over-think things and second guess ourselves at all; I really liked that approach because it made everything far more realistic.
Dread Central: Did you guys add your own touches to the characters then that weren't in the script?
Fairuza Balk: Oh yeah. We all had our own 'things' about each of our characters we wouldn't share with each other, only with Chris, and those were some of those moments we would just throw at each other in the movie- those shocking moments that really add to the tension. Some of those things I said to Rick, he didn't know those were coming so when he looks shocked, he's really shocked; it was a lot of fun to do that and get those reactions.
Keeping my co-stars guessing was something I even was conscientious of during the initial rehearsal process before production started; I was always quiet then and kept mostly to myself and never allowed myself to go 'all the way' with anyone emotionally just so I could keep them off-guard. It's a difficult process to explain so hopefully that makes sense (laughs).
Dread Central: Because you've had such an interesting career that has spanned over a lot of different genres, what is it that you look for now when you're considering taking on a new project? What kind of challenges are you looking for?
Fairuza Balk: I always want to stay interested; I never just want to work for the sake of working. There has to be 'something' there for me so that I can grow from the experience. I've never just taken a job because I wanted the check- I took the job because either I wanted to do something really crazy like The Craft or get a chance to do a comedy like The Waterboy or do an incredibly powerful drama like American History X. There has to be something interesting for me or I don't want to do it.
I'd really like to try writing one day though; I'm not sure if I'd be a good writer but I'd like to try and maybe test those waters (laughs). I just love acting so much and I think that if you can continue to challenge yourself and find new ways to explore archetypes and different characters, then acting can be enough to fulfill you creatively and I think I'm still at that point. I haven't really thought much about ever really branching out to be honest but maybe it's time that I did.
I struggled a lot with being pushed too hard in my 20's, with people telling me that I had to keep taking more and more movies because that's really only when I'd be relevant. Hollywood is designed that way; it's always about the new flavor of the moment and I've always preferred to be a bit more mysterious. I'd rather only take on projects that I want to, not take everything that's offered to me so I can be more relevant. There's no satisfaction in working like that, at least for me.
Dread Central: I'd love to talk about Return to Oz for a moment because I think it's a movie that many of us love and still really holds up over all these years. It was so creepy and fun and the visuals are still incredible. How big was that moment for you, being chosen as Dorothy, who has been such an iconic character for almost 80 years now.
Fairuza Balk: It was MASSIVE; I think I was chosen out of something like 50,000 kids for the role of Dorothy, which is still really amazing to think about. I remember how much fun we had shooting it and I remember it took a very long time to film because the sets were so complex. At that age, everything really felt like a game to me so I had an amazing time making it. To live in that world as a child was anything but scary so I guess I never realized at the time how surrealistic the story and the tone of the movie was going to end up being.
The other thing I never realized as a kid was just how beloved our movie was; I thought it was kind of popular but that was about it. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized just how special Return to Oz ended up being; throughout the years, fans would send me letters or even these incredible gifts with their stories about what the movie meant to them and I was absolutely shocked. How incredible for me to be a part of something like Return to Oz and then get to share it with all these fans. It's truly a blessing.
Dread Central: Another movie I wanted to talk about is a personal favorite of mine- The Craft. It completely stood out to me at the time because it was so rare to see such a female-driven cast and story that really celebrated being different and unusual, unlike a lot of 'teen' movies of that era. Did those messages stand out to you at all at the time?
Fairuza Balk: You know, looking back on it, I have to say that my experiences working on The Craft are so hard to explain because yes, that movie ended up being so special in so many ways. I think at the time all I could focus on was just trying to do the best that I could. What I remember really enjoying at the time was doing all the research into Wicca for the role of Nancy because I had no idea that it was something that was all about empowered women. That was incredible to see a religion celebrating women as goddesses and then using that as an allegory throughout the movie. Especially at that time because younger female characters usually weren't perceived with that kind of power- not in many horror or genre movies at least.
And I loved how these girls had found their confidence even though none of them were well liked by their peers- they didn't care; they just did what they wanted, and there's something kind of cool and fun about playing in that world.
What's also incredible about The Craft is how it got a generation of girls through a lot of tough stuff that those teenage years throw at you- and I think it still connects with audiences out there too. There's something very timeless about the story because almost now more than ever, kids are being bullied for being different and it's really hard getting through those years. I've heard stories from fans who have told me how The Craft helped them accept themselves or gave them the strength to come out or escape from an abusive relationship or even gave them the courage to stand up for themselves, and I think that speaks volumes for the movie we made. Sure, it's a fun movie but it also made an impact in other ways, which I think is the best part; it's mind-blowingly cool to find out that something you put all this work into not only does some good in the world but continues to live on for years and years.
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