Interview: Najarra Townsend on Kickstarter for Feature Film THE STYLIST and Getting Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer
Actress and producer Najarra Townsend is well-known and admired in the independent horror film community. She’s starred in films like Contracted (2013), Contracted: Phase II (2015), Wolf Mother (2016), and the short films The Stylist and 42 Counts, both from one of the most innovative and hardworking women filmmakers in horror, director Jill “Sixx” Gevargizian.
In The Stylist, Townsend plays Claire, a hairstylist and serial killer. The short film is beautifully shot and fantastically disturbing, and director Gevargizian has described Claire as “her female Leatherface.” You can read my interview with Gevargizian here. Fans of The Stylist, including myself, have been begging for a feature film version for years and now the amazingly talented team behind the short have launched a Kickstarter campaign so they can finally make the film and tell more of Claire’s unnerving story.
The Kickstarter is now live and will run through September 26th and features special rewards based on the amount pledged, including an exclusive poster, that is an homage to the original Maniac poster, designed by macabre artist Lou Rusconi, which you can see above. You can be a part of the feature film The Stylist by joining the Kickstarter campaign here.
Dread Central had the pleasure of talking with Najarra Townsend about why she loves starring in horror movies, getting inside the mind of a female serial killer for The Stylist, and much more. Read on to find out what we talked about, watch The Stylist short film for free at the link below, and support independent film by joining the Kickstarter!
Dread Central: I know your first film was a thriller called Menace and you’ve been in so many horror movies since then. We’ve seen you in very diverse roles including Samantha in Contracted (2013) and Claire in the short film The Stylist (2016). I’m wondering if it was your intention to star in so many horror movies and if so, what do you enjoy about horror, and why?
Najarra Townsend: I never gave much thought about working in horror movies. As a kid it wasn’t particularly a genre I loved, I was pretty scared of horror movies. But I ended up shooting quite a few growing up and the more I did the more I became interested. It wasn’t until Contracted when I came to the realization that I love working in horror. I’ve always been drawn to emotionally complex characters and high drama, and it seemed like the characters I liked the most and found the most challenging were in horror movies. That’s when I really started diving into the community and learning more about the genre. The past 8 years I’ve come to embrace all things horror and love working on them.
Dread Central: You’re so convincing, and terrifying, in the role of Claire in the short film The Stylist. How did you get inside Claire’s head and bring her to life?
Najarra Townsend: Thank you! I never meant to be terrifying, but that’s great. For feature films, I have a process I go through with every character I play. I try to develop a full backstory and understand how and why they have become the person they are at the stage I’m playing them. I develop memories for the character and look at the different relationships in their life. I also usually create a playlist with songs that either I believe the character likes or songs that put me in the right mood for my characters’ mindset. I don’t usually do all of that work for shorts, it’s usually a much more contained prep.
But for The Stylist, when I was first trying to understand Claire and her actions, I found that I needed to do the full process for her. Not only needed but really wanted to. I also talked to director Jill Gevargizian about the script and Claire’s background to get a better understanding of what Jill wanted for the role. Claire is such a complex and disturbed character that I needed to make sure I knew her and understood her to the best of my abilities. I’m so excited to dive back in and go even further with her this time around.
Dread Central: The Kickstarter for The Stylist feature film is underway and runs through September 26th. Are you excited about telling more of Claire’s story and what are you looking forward to most about making the feature film version of The Stylist?
Najarra Townsend: I’ve been hoping we would make this into a feature since I first read the short. It’s not often we have female serial killers in film, and I love that I have the chance to bring one to life. I wanted to explore Claire more and frankly wanted to work with Jill in a longer capacity. Her vision for the short was so clear and executed so well that I’ve been dying for her to make a feature. There were endless ways Claire’s story could go for the feature and the story Jill, Eric Havens and Eric Stolze have written hits exactly what I was hoping.
I am most excited to be on set again with Jill and Robert Stern, the cinematographer, and all the other amazing crew we’re bringing back. As dark as it sounds, I’m so excited to get back into Claire’s head and bring more of her into the world. It’s way overdue in my eyes and I just can’t wait to finally be on set back in Claire’s clothes making this dream of ours a reality.
Dread Central: What’s it like working with director Jill Gevargizian?
Najarra Townsend: Working with Jill is such a fantastic experience. She’s always extremely prepared and with every one of her projects has a very clear vision of how she wants things to look and feel. During The Stylist short, we very quickly developed a trust and she gave me enough space to find Claire myself while still guiding me in certain moments. It’s extremely important as an actor to feel completely trusted by your director, and vice versa as well, for the director to trust their actor.
That trust we formed in the beginning set the tone for the rest of our work together. Having that going into this feature has been wonderful. I’ve been able to have input on the script and ask for certain things to be tweaked in ways I believe strengthens Claire’s choices. Plus, through this developmental process, my friendship with Jill has grown. I’ve always adored her as a human, but I feel much closer to her now than ever before. I feel very lucky to be a part of The Stylist. Film is such a collaborative medium. When you find people that you work well with and enjoy working with, I think it’s really important to keep creating projects together and keep supporting each other.
Dread Central: Can you tell me what you’re working on now?
Najarra Townsend: At the moment I’m very much in development with The Stylist and focusing on prep for that as a producer. Also giving a lot of energy to the kickstarter campaign and trying to get us funded so we can actually make this movie! But besides that, I have 4 films currently in post-production. All different subgenres within horror.
The Devil Makes Three, which is an anthology. I star in the first of the three, titled Bug. My segment is all about paranoia and stalking and whether or not what’s happening is all in my mind. I also starred in a film called Darkness of the Road, which I’m really excited for people to see. This is more of a psychological thriller and I’m still not sure how to explain it without giving too much away but I had an amazing time shooting it and can’t wait for this one to be released.
I also co-starred in a film called Portal which is about a group of Ghost Hunters who open a portal to the other side and find themselves fighting for their survival. And last but not least BITS which is a super fun film about a haunted video game from the nineties that resurfaces and starts killing its players. So, you should be seeing a lot more of me soon.