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Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment

May 2, 2006

The story of the Bell Witch, a nearly 200-year old legend that is the first account of a spirit being officially responsible for a person's death in American history, sets the stage for An American Haunting. In the film, writer/director Courtney Solomon presents one interpretation of the paranormal tale, which has been the basis for several books throughout the years. He examines the lives of patriarch John Bell (Donald Sutherland), matriarch Lucy Bell (Sissy Spacek), and their daughter Betsy (Rachel Hurd-Wood), and explores the possibility that misdeeds brought a curse down upon the family, afflicting them with extended episodes of violent poltergeist activity.

Rachel Hurd-Wood (who made her feature film debut in 2003's acclaimed retelling of Peter Pan) delivers a fantastic and nuanced performance as Betsy Bell, the very central role that essentially carries the entire movie. In this interview, the young UK-based actress talks about working on An American Haunting, preparing for a career outside of acting, enjoying horror movies, and getting into character for yet another pivotal role.

The Interview I understand we didn't see you last week with Courtney Solomon and co-star James D'Arcy because you were back in the UK taking exams...

RACHEL: Well, not quite taking them yet, but soon. I've got so much school work. You know, my school said, "She's only allowed one week, and that's it!"

I have to commend you, because preparing for tests seems like a lot less fun than jetting off to Los Angeles to promote your film...

You're damned right! It sucks! [laughs]

In Peter Pan, when your character Wendy joins the pirates, she says, "I could not be expected to pillage!" Since you could not be expected to make a living out of pillaging either, what school subjects are you planning to study down the line?

[laughs] I'll be taking art and design, psychology, and English language. Those are my three best subjects.

And where does acting fit it with all of this? Do you plan on sticking with it?

Well, as much as possible, but I'm more interested in working with autistic children, because that's just something that I find really fascinating and I know I'd be good at.

When did you develop that interest?

When I was younger, I wanted to work with dolphins and be a marine biologist. But then around two years ago, I just decided that that wasn't really the thing for me, because you have to be really good at science and stuff, and I'm not. [laughs] I know [science has to do with] the job I want to do now, but it's more a psychology-based course...

What attracted you to your American Haunting role of Betsy?

She's an amazing character. She stays strong throughout the whole horrible ordeal, and that's something I really respected. I found her to be quite similar to myself, so I couldn't stand the idea of anyone else playing her. [laughs]

In what way is she similar to you?

Well, she's definitely outgoing. At the beginning, she's very outgoing, very sure of herself, and very confident and everything. But then there are moments, especially when everything happens to her, she's so tired all the time (which is another trait that we bear in common), and then she becomes very introverted and very withdrawn, but she's still strong--she doesn't like go and commit suicide or anything.

Speaking of being tired, one of the movie's most memorable lines is when Betsy says, "I am tired. Our house makes strange noises at night." Were you actually tired when you said that line, or did it require a lot of takes to feign that exhaustion just right?

Hey, no, I was tired. And the funny thing is there's actually a pause in between that because I ran out of breath. And I'm really embarrassed now because every time I see that, there's this massive pause in between because I was yawning. I was trying to hold it in. I don't sleep at night, you see. I'm one of these people that I just get very limited sleep at night and then end up napping throughout the day. [laughs]

You had to compete against a lot of other actresses for the role. What was the casting process like?

I had to work quite hard for it. At the beginning, Courtney was saying, "You're not doing enough work. You need to really get your act together and sort this out." Because I needed to get the accent good, and I needed to show him that I could play the role. And so there was a lot of preparation work to do. But in the end, it all came good, so I was very pleased.

Is it true Courtney told you to "shut up" during your audition?

Yeah. I have a habit of just going on for ages when I'm allowed to. When I first saw Courtney, I just was so nervous because I really wanted the role, and so as soon as I went in there, I just started babbling and just started going on and on and on about completely irrelevant things. And he was just like, "Shut up." And I was like, [surprised] "Ooooh!"

This movie was shot in Romania. Do you enjoy traveling abroad?

I love to. It's great. I mean, the actual traveling bit itself, like going on the plane and all that, is boring, but being in different countries is fantastic. And yeah, Romania was very different than anything I had ever experienced before. But it was good.

What was it like?

At the beginning, it was really hot. We were just wandering around in t-shirts and shorts. But then towards the end, it got freezingly cold, and on location in the middle of Romanian nowhere, it was knee-deep in mud, and you needed boots and coats and scarves and hats and everything. It was pretty cold, but it was a good experience. It was very different to England.

What was your experience like working with Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek (especially since she also played a girl afflicted by the paranormal in Carrie)?

Oh, Sissy's such a lovely lady. She's really motherly, she's always ensuring that I was warm when I went outside, and drinking enough and eating enough and everything. She's just such a sweet lady. And she taught me how to scream. Little nuances, little tricks that she'd teach me all the time. Not really stuff you can explain. Just watching those two, you get so much of an education, it was like spending years in film school. [laughs]

In both Peter Pan and An American Haunting, you get pulled around by your hair in your nightgown, although one film plays it for comedy, while the other (obviously) plays it for horror. Did that sort of stuntwork on Pan help prepare you for the stuntwork on Haunting?

Of course, because we spent absolutely ages on wires and everything. So every time now, if I go climbing or anything like that, I'm so used to being in the harness that it's sort of like a familiarity for the pinch of the harness and everything. Everyone else is complaining about it. It's like, "Oh, dude, what is your problem?" [laughs] But yeah, it's absolutely fine. It definitely gave me a grounding in the whole stunt thing, but I'm definitely no stuntwoman. [laughs]

Were those physical scenes rougher in Haunting than Pan?

Yeah, because it's more dynamic. On Peter Pan, it was just long hours in the harness and lots of flying, and it was more about holding us up in various positions and stuff. But then with American Haunting, it was more about being dragged around, thrown around, slapped about, and all that kind of stuff.

You made it through without any serious injuries, I trust?

I didn't get injured once! I got the odd scrape, but other than that, I was absolutely fine.

What is your own belief in the paranormal?

I don't really have any beliefs in the paranormal. I mean, I've never had any contact with ghosts or anything like that. But I'm sure I would be more open-minded and think differently had I.

So you have no ghost stories of your own? Or even ghost stories that you make up for interviews like this?

Uh, no. I don't do that. [laughs]

Do you have any favorite horror movies?

Oh, my favorite horror movie of all time is Battle Royale. It's kick ass. [laughs]

For those who are unfamiliar with it, what's that about?

It's quite gory actually. It's a psychological thriller with blood and guts and gore. It's about Japanese teenagers who get sent to this island, basically, and told that there has to be one survivor by the end of it, and they've got three days with which to do so. I love the story so much and it's really, really fantastic.

Did you always like horror movies, or were you scared of them as a little kid?

Well, I remember even watching Beauty and the Beast would always make me scared. [laughs] But when I got older...I love horror movies. They're my favorite genre.

Can you tell us a little about your part in the upcoming film Perfume?

My role is a girl called Laure Richis. She's the daughter of Antoine Richis. She's really vivacious, and I imagine her to be like a butterfly. She's always trying to get away and escape, and her father's always there to try and bring her down, and protect her and everything. It's a really interesting story.

Did you enjoy being transformed into a redhead for that role?

Yeah, it was fun! I loved the color they dyed it originally. It was really deep red, but then it kind of clashed with my school uniform, which is maroon. I wanted to get my hair cut and just change from the red and everything, because my own hair's brown, so when it started to grow out, it looked gross. So they took as much of the color out as possible, but it remained slightly ginger, which I wasn't too pleased about, but I dealt with it. [laughs]

Actresses frequently talk about having problems with corsets. Did you have any trouble with the one you had to wear?

No! I don't know what people are crying about. It was in the south of France and Spain in these really extravagant costumes, but I loved it because it was just a real experience. And I didn't really find it too bad. You know, you have to get used to it. Especially around lunch time, it sucked because they untie it, but you know you've got to get back into the corset--if you eat too much, it's like [groans].

I guess after all the stunts in An American Haunting, a corset is nothing, right?

Exactly! [laughs]

Thanks for your time.

You're welcome. Thank you.

Best of luck on future projects. Maybe we'll see you in LA at some point.

Yes, sir! Take care.

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