Quantcast Erica Leerhsen interview - WRONG TURN 2, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, BLAIR WITCH 2

Actress
Erica Leerhsen!!!

This October, actress Erica Leerhsen plays Nina, the vulnerable lead in Joe Lynch's directorial debut WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END (available on DVD now)! Besides co-starring with Henry Rollins in the new sequel, genre fans already recognize her from her film-acting debut in BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2, as well as "Pepper" from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake. Erica was kind enough to chat with Icons about her genre work. We also managed to set the record straight on some of the trivia facts listed on her IMDB page. Here's what she had to say! - by Robg. 10/07


What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? Do you remember the first films to scare and have an impact on you as a kid?

CHILDREN OF THE CORN. Yeah. That was the first movie I remember seeing and being completely petrified and having to go sleep in my mom’s bed. I think I was like 8?

There’s something weird about kids killing their parents! I remember it freaked me out when I saw it too.

Yeah, but it was actually the weirdest thing. I used to get freaked out just by the opening scenes of movies like that. That shot of the corn and the diner. I remember those 2 images and it was just too much for me. Just with that, my imagination went crazy. Because your imagination is so active as a kid, it’s weird. I just lost it with that. And it was the same with GREMLINS. I was petrified just by the commercials! The commercials freaked me out so much, I actually had to go see the movie just to face my fear.

Do you remember that? What was funny about that is I remember they tried to sell it almost as a kid’s movie. And then all these parents take their kids to see GREMLINS, and a GREMLIN gets blown up in the microwave. Little old couple gets mowed down. (Laughs)

It actually made me feel better to see the movie because I developed such an intense fear. I remember my mom bought me a Gizmo doll, partially to get over my fear of the commercial! (Laughs) I had to conquer it, because I couldn’t sleep. My imagination was far more crazy then the actual movie probably was. When I saw the figures of the GREMLINS, I had to embrace Gizmo and accept that he was a “good GREMLIN”. (Laughs) It was this whole psychological process just to get over those commercials.
So, were you a fan of the genre after having conquered your fear of GREMLINS?

I definitely got into them (horror movies). I come mainly from theater background, I was always intrigued by the Shakespeare play TITUS ANDRONICUS, which is really a horror movie – they made a movie of that with Anthony Hopkins. But it’s probably, well, not the first horror play, but those themes date back to the Greeks that have Oedipus pulling out his eyes. That kind of stuff always appealed to me. And I think that’s the roots of horror. Film has been around for such a short time if you really think about it, in terms of the whole scoop of history.
Compared to theater.

Yeah. But yeah, I did get into things like THE SHINING and other horror films like that. I can’t go for gore when I watch horror movies though. I still go towards the kind of films where your imagination creates the monster.

(Laughs) Well, you and Joe Lynch are on opposite spectrums in that regard.

Yeah, I know!


So, you mentioned theater before, and I thought I read you went to Boston University, was it?

Yeah.

When exactly did your interest in acting and the making-of films begin? What was it like for you at the very beginning to pursue this career?

I wasn’t really that interested in making films, to be honest. Until I was about 25, all I ever wanted to do was theater. My goal was to be in Off Broadway plays and work with Tony Kushner, he wrote Angels In America. That was my ultimate goal in life. I did always have an obsession with Woody Allen movies from a young age. I was very into his films, but I wouldn’t say I was a film buff at all, I was a Woody Allen buff. And I ended up working in theater and I got BLAIR WITCH 2. That really started my interest in working in films, because when you get thrown into being one of the leads of a movie when you never have done a movie before (except for student films, I’d done a lot of those in college), you learn so much. So much of acting in film is experience and getting in front of the camera and realizing what kind of muscles you have to develop to be a film actor. And so, then I started getting much more interested in film after that experience.
I started studying with film acting coaches and just started developing that aspect of acting for film. I mean, I’ve always been specifically an actor, and I see that as my job. And it’s funny because a lot of people ask me all these film questions. A director I met with recently had me watch all these other movies, because he felt it would be valuable. But as an actor, I think your job is to preserve your own view of life and tell a human story. Not a story that’s necessarily been told before by another actor.


It should be your own take on that particular character. I know for example when someone is hired to do a sequel, they’re not always required to watch the movies that came before because some directors just want an actor’s own fresh take on the material.

Exactly! I think that’s part of the actor’s job. It’s more of a director’s job to know everything about film. It is useful to know about cinematography and film, you end up learning a lot about that from working on the set. But it’s your job (as an actor) to preserve the authenticity of your expression.


You just mentioned BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 and obviously that’s the first time I discovered your work. It’s funny, I was having a conversation with Joe Lynch about that movie the other day and I really like that film for what it is. As its own horror movie, I dig what director Joe Berlinger tried to do with it. I’m not sure exactly what people were expecting in terms of it as a sequel, but it was an effective horror movie. I was curious what you remember about that whole experience in retrospect, especially since it’s been so long since the whole BLAIR WITCH craze?

Well, it was a crazy experience. We didn’t even get a chance to read the script until we already had the offer for the role, because it was so secretive. And it was just so exciting getting the role. It was so competitive. Like I said before, I had never done any film or TV before, and to go through the audition process, it was all really exciting to me.
When I read the script, I saw the nudity and then we were all asked to sign off on it, but you’re coming from the perspective of “Oh my God, I just got this amazing opportunity.” So we all signed off on it. And then later on, it sort of became interesting, because I think if there are problems with that movie, it wasn’t the directing, it was the script.


Did they change the script a lot during filming? Because I thought I had heard that there were a lot of tweaks and adjustments right before it came out.

Yeah, there were tweaks afterwards and while we were working. I just think that it all culminated in a whole orgy type situation, it’s really a tricky thing to do in a horror film, because… I don’t know. Sometimes when you involve sex… Ok, the mythology of the Blair Witch had nothing to do with sex and then to make this sequel about a sexual experience, to me if I were to analyze what I didn’t like about the script, it would be that.
Because it wasn’t originally in the first movie, there was no point of reference for it in the Blair Witch story, so it almost became something that could be funny. Whereas if it was a movie on it’s own about people not knowing what they were doing and having a crazy bacchanalian experience. But to bring the bacchanalian experience into the Blair Witch was a little bit far-fetched to me.


Joe Berlinger is mostly well-known for his documentary work. He did the PARADISE LOST films, as well as that recent METALLICA documentary. Since BLAIR WITCH 2, you’ve worked with a number of directors, Woody Allen as you mentioned before. Do you recall any difference in Joe’s approach to directing considering he came from a documentary background?

I actually loved that. Because that’s very close to my interests in acting. I study real people all the time. I watch a lot of documentaries and a lot of forensic file type shows and real true-crime stories. I’m very interested in true crime. So, I loved Joe’s approach. And I think he’s a great director, because he’s interested in the truth as a human experience, which is really what I think we’re all after. Especially in terms of film where you don’t need to project. There’s no skill required to project to a large amount of people. The camera’s right there. You just have to be a real as people are in real life. And so I love working with a documentary director.

One of the things I wanted to ask you about WRONG TURN 2 is, it obviously incorporates the “reality television” angle. It’s not prominent for the entire movie, it’s actually more a part of the first act. Were there technical issues for shooting the “reality” footage? Did you have to adjust your acting style at all for portions that are meant to be part of “reality” television?
Uh, no. Because the whole time I was playing a character on a reality show. I didn’t play it that I was coached to act a certain way on a reality show. I just played it as me, Nina being herself in that situation. Because I had actually been on an audition for THE REAL WORLD with someone? I went on a date with someone, this is over 10 years ago, on an audition. I remember they didn’t tell me anything, we just tried to be as realistic as possible and give a real reaction. I mean, that was probably the third REAL WORLD or something? It was before the whole “reality” thing took over television. But yeah, they just wanted us to be ourselves. So that was my remembering of my one “reality” TV experience.


So, you were always Nina, it didn’t matter which camera was capturing it.

Right.

How’d you initially get involved in WRONG TURN 2, what attracted you to it and what can you share with us about the character of Nina?

Well, the role attracted me. I love playing women who get a chance to use their brains and psychical strength, which really isn’t a common thing. You usually see someone like Jodie Foster getting those opportunities. There just aren’t that many roles for women where they’re allowed to be really powerful. So, that appealed to me first and foremost. And then, the fact that the action sequences were really cool to me, I thought that there was a lot of opportunity for good fights, and it really was an action/horror movie. I really felt that it did a good job of fitting into that genre. Having some really funny action movie lines. It kind of reminded me of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie in the horror genre. (Laughs)


(Laughs) It’s funny, when they first announced that there was going to be a sequel to WRONG TURN, it wasn’t exactly the type of sequel that everyone in the horror community was excited about. But then Joe Lynch got attached as director, and it’s obvious to anyone that meets Joe either at a screening or at a convention that he’s totally one of us, absolutely loves and respects the horror genre, and has an enthusiasm that can only be described as contagious. What were your initial reactions to meeting Joe and working with him on this?

Well it was so great to work with someone who was so excited about what they were doing. I mean, he had a childlike innocence about it, but at the same time, a knowledge of horror movies compared to no one I had ever met. It was this oxymoron, sort of. To be that innocent and have that much knowledge about something which is unusual. I liked the fact that he wanted the characters to be well rounded. He wanted us to do some acting work beforehand, and give him a list of all our characters favorite songs. I actually really like that. I found that to be really appropriate for this movie, because it’s such a pop-culture type of movie, so it really is important what kind of music these people listen to. It’s an important part of all of their personas.


Nina has an interesting arc in the movie. She comes off as this strong character at first in a sense; we slowly begin to discover that she’s somewhat broken. A bit lost. She’s this girl from Brooklyn that’s got problems. How much of that were you able to create or incorporate? How much of yourself were you able to put into Nina to really flesh her out as a character?

To me, I end up in my characters because I have to draw from my own experiences to relate to the character’s experience. So, I’m always in every single one of my characters. And really, I kind of based Nina on this girl my husband now had been dating. Just sort of a very angry person, who came off as very intimidating at first. I was intimidated by her. And then, you found out later that underneath it all, she was really, really vulnerable and kind of childlike and maybe hadn’t met the challenges of growing up as well as other people have, you know?
Sort of stayed a little bit immature. So, I kind of based it on someone I knew, actually. Well, that I knew from the outside. I created the soul of who I figured out this person was. She inspired me, this girl, who in real life is a stylist, but seems on the outside to have it all together, but then you get underneath it and there’s a lot of vulnerability there and a lot of anger. I usually base characters on people I’ve seen. It’s almost like I take pieces of different people and put them all into a stew. (Laughs)


(Laughs) One of the films strongest points (besides you, of course) was the addition of Henry Rollins to the cast. Everyone loves Henry. Was he intimidating to meet and work with at first? What was it like having Henry on set?

Yeah, he is intimidating. I’m a little bit of a… I don’t know how to say it. I’m a theater nerd. I would freak out when I would meet some obscure person from theater. Sometimes the most famous people, I don’t actually get that intimidated by. It actually helped me, because I was able to talk to him as a regular person. I did see his show, and I knew of him and I knew his music. But I tried not to focus on the fact that someone is so famous when I’m having to deal with them and work with them. Having worked with Woody Allen, I actually had to learn that. To not put someone on a pedestal, because then it can actually interfere with the work. So, I did my best to keep Henry on a human level.


It’s interesting. You mentioned before you weren’t a huge film buff, but you loved the films of Woody Allen. I love a lot of them too. So, was it odd working with him for the first time?

Yes, that was one of the most difficult things. It was so surreal to me to be working with him that it was almost overwhelming. I was so nervous around him. You’re just sort of enamored by him. And then, it actually helped, because I worked with him 3 times now, so by the third time it was like “Ok, that’s just Woody.” (Laughs)

What’s one of your favorite early Woody Allen movies?

Um, CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. You know, it’s funny because I tend to go more for his dramas, even though everybody always wants him to be funny and will say BANANAS or EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX. I mean, I love that movie…

SLEEPER is my favorite! I love SLEEPER.

I’m such a drama obsessed person, I’m realizing in terms of my interests in film and theater. I tend to gravitate towards that genre. So, my faves are CRIMES AND MISDEMENORS and HANNAH AND HER SISTERS and then later HUSBANDS AND WIVES and of course ANNIE HALL. That’s more of a comedy.

ANNIE HALL has its dramatic elements too!

Yeah.

Well, one of the things missing from the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake was the dinner scene, which is one of the most famous scenes from the original. But alas, you didn’t escape the dinner scene in WRONG TURN 2, which goes quite over the top. Can you talk a bit about filming that scene and the horrible things you had to endure? I cringe every time you pull at the barbed wire they use to ties your hands down.

Really? Oh good! (Laughs)
It's bad enough you’re tied down with these people, but the fact that you have to tug and struggle against barbed wire? Gets me every time. What was your experience shooting that scene?

It was incredibly disgusting! Actually, I couldn’t eat Indian food for 6 months and it’s one of my favorite foods…

Is that what the entrails were? Indian food?
Yeah! Yeah, it was so disgusting. Actually, someone, one of the family members was getting sick in their costume because it was so hot, and they were kind of throwing up, and that was making me start to throw up. I was almost throwing up that entire scene, for real. There were a couple of times where Joe said cut and thought that I was actually throwing up, and he came over to me and said “Are you ok?” But, I really was about to throw up. So it was so disgusting, I couldn’t even deal with it. People were leaving the room!


Crew members, but actually that was because of the family praying? They were offended by the praying. It was a really heavy, heavy atmosphere where everybody was just gritting their teeth and trying to get through it. It wasn’t fun, it smelled disgusting. That’s the thing you wouldn’t know about these movies if you didn’t do them, that that fake blood is disgusting and it’s not exactly the cleanest environment. Hair and make-up is doing their best job to keep everything clean, but it’s not. You’re on a dirty set in a dirty warehouse and there’s this disgusting Indian food, people are throwing up, their costumes are uncomfortable. It has real elements of torture. (Laughs)

Which is why the scene is so effective!

Yeah. I’m not going to lie. It does help with your acting. (Laughs) You don’t have to work as hard when you’re actually grossed out. I’d never been to the point where I was almost throwing up in a scene like that.

Wow, that’s pretty crazy. Damn you, Joe Lynch!
I know!

Let’s talk a bit about the TEXAS CHAINSAW remake, because obviously a lot of genre fans know you from that. Judging from the making-of featurettes on the DVD, it looked like you guys had a blast making the film.

We did.


When they first announced it though, I remember people were livid! They didn’t want it to be remade. But then when it came out, most fans seemed to be OK with it. Even though you guys had a great time making it, do you remember there being a sense of intimidation or pressure to remaking THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE?

Yeah. I remember people really not having high hopes for it, in terms of the feeling from the horror genre fans. And the country in general, nobody thought the movie was going to do well. Everyone thought it was just going to be another of the millions of sequels. So, there was a real pressure to try to do things different from the original, and not just copy it. For instance, a lot of people were talking about the PSYCHO remake that Gus Van Sant did and how we didn’t want to do that. When a movie is so great like THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE is, the original inclination is to just copy it. But that’s specifically why I watched it once (again) before we started. I got the images in my head. I didn’t want to get the (original) movie too much in my head. I almost wanted the character to be a dream-like subconscious reference to that movie, but not be the girl from that movie. The script for the TEXAS CHAINSAW remake, I have to say was amazing. Scott Kosar, who wrote THE MACHINIST. It really all goes back to the script. You can have the most amazing director, the most amazing cast, but if the script doesn’t set up these characters and what they have to endure, especially in a script like this -
You can do the best acting in the world and it won’t work as well. I thought Scott did a great job because he set up Erin to be really good with her hands. Like she’d been in juvenile detention, which obviously wasn’t in the original. Not to say it improved the original, but it gave Erin just this one little character detail which ended up making sense why she could hot-wire the car in the end. It wasn’t just like “Here comes this hot chick suddenly hot-wiring the car.”
I think one of the remake’s benefits was that it wasn’t the exact same characters, it wasn’t the exact same story, but it definitely tried it’s best to keep with the spirit of the original.

It did and the script worked in of itself. It was a well written movie, which was allowed to take a lot of different ideas because it was a remake. But in of itself, it stood as a well-written piece which is why I think it turned out so well.


I can’t say the same for TEXAS CHAINSAW: THE BEGINNING, but that’s just my own personal opinion.

That’s why I always go back to the script on any movie. I would love to do another movie with Scott Kosar. I love the way he wrote the character of Pepper. He put in just enough detail to make her three-dimensional. And to make it make sense, like when she panics at the end. You know she’s going to panic, because she’s been unable to stomach anything the whole time. It has the elements of the character’s destiny. That’s so important and underestimated. Because we can get so into special FX nowadays, that sometimes writers forget to create people.


It has to be a marriage of all those things combined and an equal balance for it to work.

Yeah.

I’ve seen Andrew Bryniarski - “Leatherface” at conventions and I will say it… he’s intimidating as hell. I’m scared to go near him. I often heard rumors that he was very psychically imposing and threatening during filming. Is there any truth to that?

(Laughs) Oh, he was. I bet the people in THE BEGINNING said that too.

I don’t think you die on camera! Like you don’t psychically see Pepper die.

Right, you don’t.

So you lucked out, miss!

Yeah, but that was an incredibly scary scene to shoot. Andrew did all of his own stunts in the original remake. I don’t know if he did in THE BEGINNING. He was jumping off of the van and chasing me! He was jumping off this 6 foot jump in this costume and I just kept getting so scared that he was going to land on me. I had to just trust that when I jumped out of the van, he wasn’t going to be on top of me. I mean, if I had stopped, he would’ve run me over. You know what I mean? He couldn’t see or really breathe in that costume.
He kept saying he couldn’t breathe when we were shooting that scene, and no one was really helping him. (Laughs) Because he has a tendency to scare people on the set. So, I was literally just running for my own safety, and I was so lucky to have a stunt double pop in and get attacked at the last minute and have to go down and scrap all of her legs up. Yeah. I jumped out of the way at the last minute and she took over for me. I didn’t have to actually handle him, I just had to get out of the way, which was scary enough!
There’s several things listed about you in the trivia section of your IMDB page. So, let’s play a quick game of True or False? Let’s set the record straight so people can fix your IMDB page.

(Laughs)

True or False – Your birthday happens to be on Valentine’s Day?

True.

Ok. True or False – You sang in your high school choir?

Um, true. (Laughs) I don’t know how that’s on there.
I know, very random! True or False – On the set of BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2, there’s a scene where you do a witch chant and rumor has it, the “god of the underworld” chant was so powerful, you passed out. Any truth to that?

Uh, false. I hate to say. That did not happen.
We’re getting to the bottom of things! True or False – You actually auditioned for the Goth girl role in BLAIR WITCH 2?

True.
Lastly, True or False – On your audition for TEXAS CHAINSAW, you screamed so loud that the police were called in by other people in the building.

True.
Wow! Only one falsity on your IMDB page.

Oh there’s another false thing on there. People say I was born in Ossining. I was born in New York City.

Oh good! We’re both New Yorkers. Good to know! Going back to WRONG TURN 2, you did a commentary track with both Henry Rollins and Joe Lynch and I met you briefly at the Fangoria Weekend Of Horrors convention in Burbank earlier in the year. How do you feel about the finished film in retrospect and more importantly the reaction that it’s been getting at these events? Because usually Joe screens the opening scene and every time I’ve seen it, it always gets a huge audience reaction. What’s it like to go to these conventions and to see people really digging the work that all you guys put into this movie?
It’s amazing when I see people have a great reaction to the movie. Just because I know this is an underdog movie also. People didn’t think this movie would come out well, or make an impression at all. Everyone thought it was just going to be a direct-to-video sequel. And the fact that Joe took it and made it into an exciting movie that fans have lined up for autographs for it. The fact that they scream when you show just 5 minutes of it, it’s utterly amazing and it’s completely a high. I love that. When you hear people react to a movie. It means that it worked.
You just completed work on a film called LIVING HELL with Richard Jefferies. I believe Richard was one of the writers on this old 80’s horror movie called SCARECROWS, which I love. LIVING HELL sounds intriguing. Can you tell us a bit about the movie and your role in it?

I play a hazmat specialist, a bio-terrorism specialist for the army and I uncover a virus that’s been locked away under ground. It’s based on a true story, actually on the fact that there may be these things lost underground from World War 2 experiments involving Nazis that were recruited to America to continue conducting their experiments here. So, I let one of these (virus’s) out and it starts taking over the world, and we have to try to stop it.


Sounds like LIVING HELL to me. (Laughs) Erica, I really appreciate your time and thanks for talking to Icons!


Special Thanks to Joe Lynch!


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