Most horror aficionados first became familiar with the name Lauren Ashley Carter when the actress burst onto the scene as Peggy Cleek in Lucky McKee’s ultraviolent, uber-controversial flick The Woman in 2011. Since then, she’s become a powerhouse in indie horror, featuring prominently in Jug Face, Darling, The Mind’s Eye, and Imitation Girl with other creepers coming down the pike. In my opinion, she’s just one role away from breaking through into mainstream superstardom.
Her most recent release is Dread’s Black Site, a genre mashup of futuristic sci-fi and old-school, Lovecraftian cosmic terror. The film is currently available on Epic’s online store, HERE.
Dread Central was lucky enough to sit down with Carter recently for a conversation that covered her past, present, and future. In addition to talking about some of her most impactful roles, she shared some of her personal, real-life horrors; specifically, unexpected challenges that come as a byproduct of fame and notoriety.
Check out the trailer and synopsis for Black Site below, followed by our exclusive interview with Lauren Ashley Carter.
Members of an elite military unit encounter supernatural entities known as the Elder Gods, forcing them into a battle against an army from another world.
Black Site is written
and directed by Tom Paton; in addition to Carter, the film stars Sophia Del
Pizzo, Henry Douthwaite, and Angela Dixon.
Dread Central: You graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Dramatic Performance in 2008. How did you get from Ohio to Hollywood? And I’m using Hollywood in the figurative sense, meaning moviemaking in general.
Lauren Ashley Carter: We had showcases where we go to New York and L.A. to perform in front of casting directors and agents in the hopes that someone will want to meet with you. I was pretty sure I wanted to go to Los Angeles because I was interested in filmmaking and being in film more so than theater at that time. But I went to New York and there were a lot of people who wanted to meet with me. I had a really good time there. I’d been to New York a lot just because of the proximity; I’d been there a lot with friends and family many times but I never really felt like I wanted to live there. But after I left university, I thought, “Well I could actually see myself working and living here.” Then, when I went out to L.A., I was certain I wanted to move there, but once I got there, I didn’t feel the same way.
DC: Very understandable.
LAC: Yeah, I didn’t realize how spread out it was and the insane amount of driving involved. I guess I just didn’t feel it. What really put the nail in the coffin was that the writers’ strike was going on that year in 2008, and I think it had just lifted the day we got there. So, because there had been such a lull when it was lifted everyone was rushing to get back to work and no one showed up to our showcase. I thought, “Well it doesn’t make sense for me to move out here when no one wants to see me, but I have lots of meetings in New York.” And plus, I felt I really wanted to be there. So, I made the big leap to New York and I signed with one of the agents that I had an interview with.
I started auditioning right away and I think for my first role, I had I ended up going to Europe for a few months. It was for a motion capture animated film in France. Unfortunately, the translation wasn’t that great so the film didn’t do too well. But the next one I did was an independent film, Rising Stars that Andrew van den Houten was producing. When we were shooting that together, he was talking about how he made horror movies. He had heard me talking about Martyrs at the lunch table, and he was like “No way, Carter, you like horror movies?” and I was like, “Yeah,” and he was like “No way! We’ve got to get you in one!” And so later Lucky [McKee] was making The Woman and we got in touch again and—things just kept going from there. So, I moved to New York for about ten years; I did thee indie films and was also performing in theater, off-Broadway in states all over America.
DC: There isn’t a lot of information about you online. Is this on purpose? Are you a private person when you aren’t acting?
LAC: Yeah, I am. I ‘ve just always been that way. But what really did it for me is that I had a stalker.
DC: Oh no, I’m really sorry to hear that.
LAC: It was really terrifying.
DC: I bet!
LAC: Yeah, and she was able to find out so much about me online—even, like, pictures of my family and things, because it was all there. I think I had Facebook links to my family and you could see who my mother was and who my sister was at the time. And I got really paranoid that she was going to find my friends and family and start harassing them—or do something. So, I immediately got off Facebook and kind of severed my ties with a lot of people. It was kind of a good thing because as soon as I did, I felt so much better. Not only because of her not having access to me and my friends and family, but also just that pressure of being online in general—and it was such a great excuse to let that go. Since that happened, I’ve just been super paranoid, and I’ve had some other… odd encounters. I actually set up a block for myself, so I can’t go on Instagram or Twitter. I won’t delete my accounts so if I have to tell people something I can still get back on. I’m happy to talk about anything people want to ask me, I just don’t want my information readily available for everyone.
DC: That’s a good idea in this day and age—and it makes you more mysterious.
LAC: There’s something to that in the sense that you always want people to watch you as a character and not so much as your actual personality. I just remember, growing up with my father, he had so many judgments about famous people who were open in the media. He’s like, “You’re an actor! Just keep your mouth shut!”
DC: I like the way you explained how it really keeps the focus on your characters as opposed to you as a person. Now, I’ve heard you’re a life-long fan of horror and sci-fi. When did you first discover your love of these genres and what are some of the first movies that hooked you?
LAC: It was because of my father and I can’t remember what really happened—I don’t remember if we were watching TV or if it happened when we went to the video store first. But I do know that I always wanted to go to the horror section. And I’ve heard a lot of people say that, that when they were kids, they liked the scary covers and titles, and they were just drawn to that dark VHS box art. And I think that was a huge thing for me, for sure, because when I was five and six, I would just point at covers of things and my dad would let me take them. I think it was just an unspoken rule that we wouldn’t tell my mother. But the first movie that we rented that I remember watching over and over was Sleepaway Camp. The original kept getting stolen from the store so we usually rented Part 2 and Part 3; Part 2 was my favorite. Then there was the first Hellraiser; I did see the other ones, Hellbound and Hell on Earth, but the original was always the one I always wanted to rent. Puppet Master and all the Puppet Master movies. Halloween, all the Halloween moves. I wasn’t a big Jason fan, and Freddy—I got pretty tired of him early on and stopped being scared of him. I remember telling my dad I wanted to watch scarier movies. At some point, he rented Faces of Death and I screamed and cried. I think we had to put on Rocky and Bullwinkle after that!
DC: You already mentioned The Woman, which was super intense. What was that experience like for you and do you think the themes explored in The Woman are more relevant now that when the film was released?
LAC: Well, hmm… The Woman was a little taboo when it came out. There was a lot of controversy about possibly exploitive imagery. People thought it was just torture porn, but we obviously never thought it was; we all knew the movie we were making. But it was a really challenging film for everyone involved. There’s so much pressure when your shooting independent films in general. You’re not always working under the greatest conditions. I always say, “It’s either way too hot or way too cold!” The food sucks and people are really stressed out and overtired. We were sleeping on rubber mattresses… The rooms had no locks on the doors and people were always coming in and out. There was a frog living in one of the showers. But we really loved working together. We were such a family and such a team and I ended up staying friends with a lot of the people involved afterward. But we came to work every day to work on this really heavy material. And working with Sean Bridgers and Angela Bettis and Pollyanna McIntosh was so helpful for me and that movie taught me a lot. It was the film that made me 100% certain that I wanted to move forward with my acting career. Before that, I wasn’t quite sure and I wasn’t taking everything as seriously. But working alongside all those other actors gave me that figurative slap in the face I needed—in a good way. And Polly I remember she came on set and, initially, she didn’t intend on speaking to any of us. She wanted to keep herself isolated. But she said that when she saw how much fun the rest of us were having, she said, “Ah, forget it!” I think that’s a good way to be when you’re doing independent movies because of the factors I spoke about earlier. You don’t really have the luxury of just staying in character and retreating to your trailer. I think that in some cases it’s to your benefit that you talk to people and hang around them so you know that you can trust them. Feeling taken care of, when you’re in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone reception, you need to feel safe, and that created a very nurturing environment—and that leads to better performances. You can take care of one another.
I’d be interested to hear what people think after watching The Woman for the first time now and compare that to what people thought when it first came out. Because of the rape scene that’s in it and the incest/molestation that’s happening. I think it’s important to show these things in a real light. But there is a line though. I’m one of those people who thinks that the rape scene in Irreversible was absolutely unnecessarily long. People will argue with me about that, and that’s fine. But people will say to me “Well, how can you be OK with the rape scene in The Woman?” For me, they’re completely different. I think it’s important to show abuse and also to show the men who do it getting their hearts ripped out through their stomachs!
DC: I’m a huge fan of Jug Face, from the animated opening credits to the way the story immediately pulls you in. At the same time, there’s something almost oppressively bleak about it. It’s like, no matter how hard you try, you can’t escape your destiny. Do you agree that the film is completely dark, or is there something more positive going on that I’m missing? What’s the takeaway?
LAC: No, you hit the nail on the head I’m afraid! When I’m doing a film, I always try to find at least one scene where my character has joy and the whole time, I was really searching for something. I remember looking at director Chad Crawford Kinkle, and he was just smiling like, “What’s it going to be? Where’s your joy?” And I told him, “I don’t think there’s anything—she has zero joy. There’s absolutely nothing for her!” One of his writing teachers had told him to just put your protagonist through hell—scene after scene after scene. And that’s what he did.
DC: True that. Your character really goes through the wringer in Jug Face!
LAC: The only positive takeaway from Jug Face is my character’s relationship with Dwight.
DC: Yeah, that was sweet.
LAC: She did find some kindness in all of it, even though she was doomed.
DC: Imitation Girl is a difficult film to describe. It’s horror and sci-fi, but it’s also a drama that explores what it means to be American by focusing on a very unique family. How would you describe Imitation Girl and what messages do you feel that movie conveys?
LAC: I think that was beautiful what you said. That was always writer/director Natasha Kermani’s goal: To feature this immigrant Iranian-American family, because she’s Iranian, and it’s such a beautiful underrepresented culture in film. It’s about belonging and it’s about identity and we have a huge issue with that in America at the moment. Because I think that so many of the battles we’re fighting, offline and online, and with the president at the moment, it’s all about who belongs and who doesn’t and what does that mean? And also, I think that even this idea of “the other” being good or bad. There’s an identity crisis at the moment. There are a lot of white people feeling stressed about their guilt and their duties and responsibilities. And I think a lot of anger and hate comes from white males who are uncertain about their identity and where they belong now. They start lashing out. You hear the argument, “I didn’t come up with money… I didn’t have privilege… I grew up with nothing…” and not really understanding that yes, you have more because you are white. That’s what Julianna’s struggle is: She has no identity and she isn’t embracing anything. And she’s this middle ground average chick, and that’s not enough. But that’s the point of the immigrant experience in the film: Immigrants have to work so hard just to be considered average and to have what everybody else has while people who were born average all want to be superstars or special or important. It’s that struggle to be somebody, and putting these experience side by side is kind of ridiculous in a way. I always think that Julianna is such a pathetic character, but she’s also she’s got hope. And, compared to Jug Face, Ava never had any hope, she was a hopeless character; Julianna, on the other hand, kind of represents the Ava who got out, who escaped her destiny. It’s a difficult subject.
DC: I love how you tied that back to Jug Face. Let’s talk a bit about Black Site before I let you go. Black Site deals with cosmic horror, which can be more difficult to convey than fear of the supernatural or fear of an attacker. What was it like working on that film compared to some of the other films you’ve worked on?
LAC: It was really cool because, first of all, it’s in England. The sets are a lot different and the energy is a lot different. It was very laid back but everyone was really professional even through it was a low budget film. They crossed all their t’s and dotted their i’s. The coolest part was that everyone rehearsed for a really long time before filming. That’s something we usually don’t get enough of—there’s just no time in indie films to rehearse anything. We were in this huge bunker and it was really creepy and I guess they do ghost tours there all the time. So, every day we were trying to beat the ghost tour before they would bring their people in. They would spend the night in there. It was really weird. They put handprints on the walls to make it look like people had been trying to escape. It was a lot of fun. The place was so huge I didn’t even get to see all the sets. And it was dark, so we needed a chaperone to lead us around just so we wouldn’t get lost. And, of course, it was absolutely freezing!
DC: What are you working on next?
LAC: I’ve got two films coming up that I’ll have much bigger roles in. Gags is one that will be On Demand soon (I hope) and Artik. Gags was so much fun for me, shooting in Wisconsin, and Artik was shot in Mexico and I play a more sinister character.
DC: Anything else you want to tell our readers before I let you go?
LAC: I’ll keep making movies if you guys keep watching them.
DC: It’s a deal!