Icons of Fright Talks SUN CHOKE With Sarah Hagan!
This past October, I remember being in Los Angeles and seeing a poster for an upcoming independent thriller called SUN CHOKE. I didn’t know much about it at the time but something about it intrigued me and I cataloged it in my head as something to keep on my radar. A few weeks ago I had the chance to watch it and I was blown away by the story but also the superb acting from Sarah Hagan, Barbara Crampton, and Sara Malakul Lane. I can see SUN CHOKE going down as one of the best cult thriller movies of all time. To prepare for the film’s release, I had the opportunity to sit down with actress Sarah Hagan to learn more about the film, her character, and what it was like to work with the legendary actress Barbara Crampton.
Shannon McGrew. Thank you so much Sarah for sitting down with me today! For those not familiar with your character Janie in SUN CHOKE, can you tell us a little bit about her and what interested you in the role?
Sarah Hagan: Janie is a young woman who is mentally unstable and has been raised by her caretaker/nurse named Irma played by Barbara Crampton. Basically, she’s been in isolation from the rest of the world, though she is let out on occasions for small periods of time when Irma feels it is safe and Janie is in the right state of mind to go out. We are watching one of the times when Irma has decided that it’s okay for Janie to go out into the world. During this time, Janie comes across this other young woman named Savannah and immediately becomes obsessed with Savannah’s freedom and way of living and she takes it a little bit too far.
I was attracted to the character of Janie because it was a role I had not played before and it was a challenging, mysterious character. In the script and in the movie we aren’t given much backstory to Janie so it was going to take a lot from me as an actor to develop this character and make it into this real human being. So that was scary and intriguing and I had to take the opportunity to do that. I worked a lot with director Ben Cresciman and we sat down for a couple of days and he went over the script with me and we went through it scene by scene and talked about the motivation and reasons for what the character was going through – I took a lot of notes and I took what he gave me and kind of developed it further by creating this backstory to this character to the best of my abilities in order to play her when I got to set. Ben also gave me a lot of films to watch that had similar themes such as isolation and being raised in isolation; films such as DOGTOOTH and ANTICHRIST – showcasing the doctor/patient relationship. I also watched a lot of YouTube videos that showed people getting shocked by shock collars and stuff like that. I also had to figure out the physicality and what it would look like and feel like having that happen to me. It was a lot and I only had 2 weeks to do this before we started shooting. It was a very intense and crazy time but these opportunities to challenge yourself as an actor don’t come around often. It was definitely a risk and I was scared as shit to do it because Janie is in the whole fucking movie – it’s an hour and a half of watching this character and essentially watching me play this character.
How difficult was it playing a character that essentially had two different personalities?
It wasn’t that difficult because they shot the film as much as they could in chronological order, which was awesome for us as actors because you are seeing the day to day routine that Irma and Janie have. You are settling in and figuring out who was Janie and who was Irma and this really laid the groundwork of where the film was to go from there. Janie has this relationship with Irma who is such a dominant character and the caretaker in the relationship and when it gets to Janie and Savannah it’s as though it switches to Janie being the dominant character in this relationship. She basically takes on Irma’s role which makes sense because her whole life was raised by this one person and all she has to model any sort of behavior or way of living is through Irma. So that’s what Janie ends up doing with Savannah. So it was very interesting because I got to do most of my scenes with Irma first and then towards the end of the movie is when I spent most of my time with Savannah. It really helped, in that sense, to make that transition very smoothly.
In SUN CHOKE, you got to work with legendary scream queen Barbara Crampton. What was it like working side by side with her?
Oh it was great!! She’s so giving as an actress and as a human being – she’s just the sweetest. She was like the set mom; making sure everyone was okay and she always brought this positive vibe into every room she walked into. She really embodied her role very well probably because she’s a mother (laughs).
Your resume spans from television to film. Are there certain types of roles you find yourself being drawn too?
I am drawn to darker roles definitely – my first independent role was this film called JESS + MOSS where I played this 18 year old girl who’s basically figuring out how to be a woman. The only person she hangs out with is her 2nd cousin who is this 11 year old boy. During the film she is exploring her sexuality and the only person she has to explore it with is this little boy. It’s definitely a darker role and character but I like playing characters like that as it brings a bit more depth. However, I still love playing the comedic supporting roles like Millie Kentner from “Freaks and Geeks”, I love playing the supporting friend (laughs).
Well in everything you do you always end up stealing the show so what can we look forward to in the future from you?
SH: Well hopefully lots of things! As of right now, nothing specifically, I’m just riding along for the next big wave. I’m excited for people to see SUN CHOKE and to see their reactions of the film. I’m interested to see what opportunities come along from that.
Well whatever that may be, we are excited for you and look forward to whatever the universe hands you next! Thank you so much for you time.
For those who are interested in seeing SUN CHOKE (and you should be because it’s phenomenal) you can rent it on VOD and iTunes now and it will be released in select theaters beginning August 5.