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ORPHAN: ICONS INTERVIEWS!

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I’ll admit it. I was slightly intrigued by the promotional poster for ORPHAN the first time I caught it at a bus stop back in New York. I couldn’t help but stare at this oddly photoshopped image and try desperately to figure out exactly what was wrong with Esther? Needless to say, whatever they did to the image worked because it got me to stop and examine it. But after that, I honestly didn’t have high expectations set up for yet another “evil child” horror movie. However, because my expectations were low, ORPHAN actually ended up exceeding my initial expectations and I left the theater more then satisfied by the experience. It’s a fairly solid little horror movie that definitely earns its R rating and delivers on some truly genuine shocking twists.

ICONS OF FRIGHT was invited to sit in on a series of roundtable interviews with various people involved in its creation including producers Joel Silver & Susan Downey, writer David Leslie Johnson, director Jaume Collet-Serra and actors Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard and Isabelle Fuhrman making her screen debut as Esther. The following is a series of quotes pulled from an array of topics we covered in the hour long interview session. Enjoy!


On the origins of the story & co-producer Leonardo Dicaprio?

Joel Silver: Appian Way is Leonardo’s production company, they had really come up with the idea for this movie and it was a horror movie they wanted to make. And he had sent off the script and Warners had read the script and thought this might be a great vehicle for us at Dark Castle to jump into. We met with Leo and his business partner and we felt that it was a great idea. Susan worked with them very closely to bid off the script and with the movie itself.

David Leslie Johnson: At the very beginning, the project was developed internally at Leo’s company Alpine Way, and one of his executives Alex Mace wrote a treatment for it. They basically were looking for a writer to adapt the treatment and get a fresh take on it. They only gave me the first 3 pages of it. Basically the beginning of the story, the family dynamic, who the characters were and Esther comes to the home – now what happens? So, I sort of took that, came up with the ending and worked backwards to match up with the story they had and pitched them that and that’s sort of how it came to be.



On casting Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther?

Susan Downey: It was pure old fashioned casting. We put a bunch of kids on tape and she just popped right out. And it was interesting because if you do read an early draft of the script, the description of the little girl is the complete opposite of what Isabelle actually looks like. She was supposed to have pure white skin, and blonde curly hair. It wasn’t her look, but she was so good in her audition and just stood out from all the other kids that it was a no brainer.

Joel Silver: Leo was making a movie in South Africa, BLOOD DIAMOND actually, and the way that you can cast now, there’s websites with protective locks so you can put up video of all the people testing for a role. Leo called me early one morning and said, “I saw this girl and she’s fantastic!” We hadn’t even seen it yet because he had been ahead of us in time, and he just said, “She’s the one. She’s the one.” He was very specific about that because being a child actor himself, he was very conscious of what that does and what that is and he was always concerned that this girl not be affected by the process. He was very conscious that she be very focused and not given too much information about things in the movie that might hurt her future.



Isabelle on portraying the character of Esther?

Isabelle Fuhrman: I read the script and I talked to my acting couch about the character and he helped me figure out different things I could do, because each person has different things. Some people bite their nails. Some people run their fingers through their hair, or scratch or itch. So I was thinking about different things I can do that would make Esther different from me, because she’s totally different from me. I like touching my hair, and I don’t do it all the time but I do run my fingers through my hair, so Esther I thought maybe would do something a little different. A little more swing in her step and she’d be a bit more girly because of her secret. I went to lunch once with Vera and we were at a restaurant I kept watching all these women, they kept looking at me like why is this girl starring at me? I was watching them for how they crossed their legs or tilted their heads. Or how they grabbed for their water. I was watching Vera a lot on set, and it all just helped and worked. On the day, it all came into place.


Susan Downey: The thing with Isabelle is she’s got great parents and they’re really smart. They’re incredibly supportive and with any movie you do, you always have a teacher on the set as well. You just kind of talk them through it to a certain point. You’re always conferring with the parents and with the teacher about what is appropriate and not. And what’s great, we saw this when Jaume was working with her and the other kids, there’s certain things you can explain in a somewhat adult way, and there’s other things you try and you see it’s just so above their experience level and you’re like “OK, just imagine that your sister just stole your toy.” (Laughs) You know? You have to really boil it down for them. But I think with Isabelle, she’s incredibly smart and very articulate. Her parents are the same way, so it made it very easy.


Isabelle Fuhrman: I had a dialect couch during the entire filming (in the movie, Esther has a thick Russian accent), so he’d come into my apartment where I was staying in and we’d go over the lines in the accent and we’d try to get different sounds. Like the W’s are different. My mom’s Russian, so I watched her a lot. Foreign people move their lips a different way. We tend to move our lips fully when we say something like “show”. But European’s keep their mouths kind of closed, they’re not very open when they talk. (Gives example.)


Isabelle Fuhrman: Well, my usual day was, I’d get my hair curls and then I got into my dress, I would go, I would transform into her and I would go about my day being her, being Esther. And um, something clicked. Every morning I would put on the dress and it clicked, time to perform.

David Leslie Johnson: When I first started writing the script, it was sort of one of those things that you can fall into with the evil child is how are all these adults being outsmarted by this child? I wanted to go into it thinking she’s just really that smart. She’s Hannibal Lector smart. She walks into a room and sizes everybody up and she figures out ‘ok, I know what your weakness is and what your weakness is’ and I don’t want anybody looking at me. I want you looking at her. And being mad at each other so that I can do what I want to do. That was the idea.



On the appeal to this story and the character arch’s?


Susan Downey: It was very much in the writing. It was very much in the script that we had originally received and then continued to work on & develop. The characters that we got from the original material in terms of Kate’s backstory and John’s backstory or for the little girl – just everyone, there was such a level of consideration that you often see more in dramas then in genre pictures, so we were fortunate to be able to have that as a starting point and to continue to develop it. Which then when we brought Jaume on, that’s what really appealed to him. He’s one of these director’s that grew up on the great horror movies of the 70’s, the ones we always reference in our development meetings that we hope to achieve and you never do. Or you ya know, you keep looking for that. He continued forward with what the script already brought to the table and it allowed us to get actors excited & involved who furthered that and continue to elevate the material.


Vera Farmiga: For me, when I consider a script there’s always a sense of wanting to defend the character and I had that with Kate. The appeal of the script for me was trying to understand miscarriage grief and at a time when I was desperately trying to get pregnant and wanting to be a mother. So there were issues in there that intrigued me about it. I spent a lot of time on websites for women who’ve gone through 3 trimesters and then suffered miscarriages and I was completely moved by it. The shock, it’s an intense grief and the recovery from it. The body heals before the soul does, so I saw that in my character and wanted to explore that.


Peter Sarsgaard: Well, I immediately felt very comfortable around Vera. There’s usually a ‘getting to know you’ awkwardness. But from the first day, when she busted her lip we were fine. It was also the only accident I remember happening on the film before cameras rolled.

Vera Farmiga: I wailed into Jaume and cracked my nose.

Peter Sarsgaard: And got a bloody nose! With playing these characters – you feel them out and they’re from your own life and they’re from what you’re sensing coming from that place, and it’s fairly subtle, so it’s those kind of things that just happen.

Vera Farmiga: We have a chemistry and we’ve known each other for 10 years. We have the same manager for a decade.

Peter Sarsgaard: We didn’t go back and write the story of our lives together, no. But the alcoholism, we talked about that stuff.

Vera Farmiga: Sure, this is a highly dysfunctional relationship that they have. I think how she first deals with the shame and pain and guilt and bereavement is to turn to alcohol. This is a man who just puts bandages on these bullet holes, he doesn’t really deal with things in this relationship and the grief is really what drives her to drink. She spends the whole film recovering from that. She feels tremendous guilt for her daughter.


How does ORPHAN compare to other “evil child” movies?

Vera Farmiga: I did something similar, but not many people saw JOSHUA. I had a great time with Sam Rockwell and the only really similar thing is that there’s a mother in distress, but I really don’t feel that my career’s in danger of being pigeonholed. And the story was radically different for me. I look at the character and what her trip is and I found this really complex. It’s a complex grief, trying to get over a miscarriage, and the dysfunction of this family. I have to say, what really got me, the secret of the film, I had never read anything like that before and I wanted to be a part of that but I wanted to make sure that whomever would be a part of that as well could make it work. As soon as Peter’s name was brought into the mix, I said ‘I’m in’. We’d been trying to find things to work on over the course of a few years.


David Leslie Johnson: Even when the BAD SEED was made, it was a taboo subject. At the end of THE BAD SEED, they have to break the 4th wall and say “Oh look here’s the actress, she wasn’t really bad and she didn’t really die.” (Laughs) It’s such a bizarre ending! I don’t remember ever seeing a movie like that where they actually had to say “its ok everyone, the little girl’s fine.” So it was definitely I think more taboo then and I think that was sort of – it sort of broke a barrier of what you could or couldn’t do certainly. But I think that the idea of children being scary has always been there. Because there’s something very primal about the need to protect children, so when you turn that on its head and you make the children, the child the bad guy, it’s violating everything that you feel. They are meant to be innocent. And there’s another aspect to it, and I don’t know if this is real or not, but there’s obviously a need to nurture kids and protect kids, but on some level, I wonder, kids also are reminders of our own mortality in a way. Ultimately your child kind of looks like you, grows up and acts like you and ultimately is here to replace you. I don’t know if maybe that’s one of the reasons that it persists as a horror sub genre, maybe.

Jaume Collet-Serra: The idea is for people to see the movie and have them think they know what this movie is going to be like, but it’s not. So, right now with the poster and the trailer, a lot of people are feeling like they’ve already seen this kind of a movie, but I don’t think that’s true. So, hopefully the movie will have an opportunity to grow with word of mouth.


Isabelle Fuhrman: This is an evil character, and most evil characters are male. Not many evil characters are female. There’s THE GOOD SON, THE OMEN. There was THE EXORCIST but I never saw that movie and I probably never will because I’m freaked out by the head spinning around! (Laughs)

A journalist asks insensitively if Isabelle, now 12 is ready for “America to hate her”?

Isabelle Fuhrman: (Pause) I’m totally different then Esther, and if America hates me then I’ve done my job! I’m supposed to make everybody hate me, but at the same time, I hope they feel sorry for her, but at the same time think ‘Whoa I feel sorry for her, but she’s so mean!’



On what’s next for producers Joel Silver and Susan Downey & Joel’s appreciation for comic book properties?

Joel Silver: LOBO (based on the DC Comic character) is the one I’m really excited about doing one day, hopefully soon. I’ve always loved graphic novels. We bought WATCHMEN and V FOR VENDETTA in the late 80’s. I lost WATCHMEN over the years, I wish I hadn’t but I’ve always been interested in graphic novels. When I read WATCHMEN, it changed my view of so many things, it was the first time I read a graphic novel really like that. So, look we made RICHIE RICH before so I’ve been involved with comic book stories for a long time. PREDATOR might as well have been a graphic novel. Obviously it wasn’t but it read like one.


Joel Silver: With WATCHMEN, Look – I love Zack Snyder and I love his work and I think he’s very talented, but the script that we developed was I think better then the movie they made. I thought there were some really good ideas we came up with. I know he stayed very close to the original material, but he made some changes anyways. I think it could’ve been a more satisfying movie. But you make the best movie you can. I think Zack made a great movie though & I don’t want to minimize what he did, but at the end of the day it was more tuned to just to the big fanatics of WATCHMEN as opposed to a broader audience that didn’t know the original comic book. As far as LOBO, we’ve got a script for LOBO we like. And when any of you see AVATAR, the technology is genius. It’s fantastic. So it’s time. I think it’s structured now as a PG-13 movie, but I love it. I want to make a good LOBO movie and it’s a great character.


Susan Downey: We all have high hopes for SHERLOCK HOLMES, that it will be a big fun action version of it and I actually think we got there. It maintains the integrity of people whom are SHERLOCK HOLMES fans. It’s smart, there’s a great history at the core. I think Robert Downey Jr captured the essence of Sherlock. I think Jude Law is going to surprise people in his portrayal of Watson. I don’t think we’ve seen Jude do something in my opinion that’s as fresh and solid as this performance. He’s really, really great. Rachel McAdams adds a wonderful splash as Irene Adler and so I think we’re going to satiate the people who are old Sherlock fans and see that we’re doing it right, and for the next generation who hasn’t really read those stories, I think they’re just going to enjoy the ride.

ORPHAN is playing in theaters now! -Robg.


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