JESSICA STROUP on 'THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2' Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
March 13, 2007
A sequel to 2006's remake of Wes Craven's 1977 horror classic, The Hills Have Eyes 2 finds a group of National Guard soldiers trapped in a desolate wasteland and victimized by a band of marauding, murderous mutants. This second installment brings a gritty and violent brutality to the screen, attempting to harken back to its less glossy source material from the '70s. Craven serves as a producer, and shares writing credit with his son Jonathan.
In this exclusive interview, actress Jessica Stroup, who plays one of the soldiers beset by mutant mayhem, talks about working on the film, being a fan of classic horror flicks (and, incidentally, Velveeta cheese), and making the move to Hollywood to pursue an acting career.
RadioFree.com: For last year's The Hills Have Eyes remake, the tagline was "The lucky ones die first." For this sequel, it's "The lucky ones die fast." Personally, I think the lucky ones don't die at all. What's your take?
JESSICA: [laughs] I kind of agree with the tagline, because if you see the mutants, if you see the condition that we're thrown into this time, if you're actually in the grasp of these mutants, if they're torturing you, you don't want to be around. I mean, the other girl in this film, Daniella, goes through some nasty stuff--really, really intense scenes where when I was watching the film, I had no idea how engrossing and deep it was going to get with her character and how they torture her. And so the tagline is definitely right on. [laughs]
Was it an equally intense set when the cameras weren't rolling, or could you guys relax and hang out?
Oh, absolutely. The cast, I'd say, was absolutely the greatest people that I've ever worked with. We had so much fun. And I think you've got to have a bit of a sense of humor when you're working on a horror film like this. When it comes down to the work, we were all very, very focused, and we knew what we needed to get done for a day...And when the film cut off, Martin, who's the director, was hilarious. There were always pranks going on somewhere. We'd just kind of laugh it off, look at the mutants, and see what we're covered in that day--like some kind of blood, or if it's dirt, or if we're like soaking in water or something. [laughs] So it was a really great atmosphere when the camera stopped rolling.
Where was the movie shot, and what was your experience like on location?
We filmed the same location [as the first Hills remake], in Morocco. Ouarzazate. We were over there for a little over two months. I had never been to Morocco. I had seen Casablanca obviously, and I had this whole romantic vision in my head. [laughs] And we got to Ouarzazate, which is midway through Morocco, and wow--it was completely unlike anything I've ever imagined. Culture shock to the extreme. We traveled about an hour every morning just to get out to the location. And for the first month, we were actually outside in the heat and the crazy mosquitos and the dirt. But the location was beautiful. You know, it was life-changing in a way for me. But I think actually being out there and not knowing where we were, and it was all so new, and then filming a horror movie on top of that...It was frightening. [laughs]
Were the actors playing the soldiers segregated from the actors playing the mutants when the movie wasn't shooting?
Actually, it's kind of mixed, because all the soldiers...We had to meet the first few weeks we were out there, because we were doing training and we were doing boot camp-esque type scenarios. And the mutants got out later because we filmed all our stuff first. So when the mutants got there, we met Michael Bailey Smith and all the guys that were playing the mutants. But we didn't actually see them in full-on costume and masks and stuff until the actual day. Or I didn't, at least. I think maybe some of the other people [did]. But for me, I wanted the first thrill to be seeing them on set.
What scene was the most fun for you to shoot?
I will tell you what it was! [laughs] There's a scene in the movie where we're walking through one of the tunnels, and it's been flooded out, there's water everywhere, and we're kind of treading through. And it's a very, very intense moment for me because I'm considering saving bullets in case I want to take my own life at some point, because...
...Because the lucky ones apparently die...
Exactly! [laughs] Keeping with the theme! So we're walking through, and basically the whole floor falls through. And filming the scene, I got strapped into all these harnesses, and I'm like standing in a huge tank of water. 3...2...1...And the floor breaks and I fall straight through. And just that action of all the water on top of me, and you could only have one take and you've got to get it right...It was so exciting. [laughs]
So did you get it all successfully in one take?
Successfully one take, baby! [laughs]
On the flip side, what was the most grueling or disgusting scene to shoot?
Ooo...Grueling and disgusting. In actually one scene towards the end of the movie, we are walking through the butcher room, and I end up finding one of my fellow soldier friends in this room. And it's one of those where you're walking in, you're already so heightened with fear, you have no idea what's coming next, and all of a sudden you look down and you see this person just chopped to bits, and there's blood. I mean, the people that we were working with were amazing at their craft, and they made this extremely life-like replica of...one of the characters. And actually coming face to face with this and seeing it for the first time (because they wouldn't let us see the butcher room either until we actually filmed the scene), it was just disgusting and horrifying. It was one of those grotesque moments that you will never get out of your head.
What are some of your favorite horror movies?
Growing up...Oh, man, I remember The Shining. [sighs] Rocked my world. Pet Semetary was always one of the ones that scared me. And of course, Wes Craven...He's amazing, so all of his earlier movies. And Poltergeist, that one scared me. I mean, there are just so many. I actually was a horror movie fan growing up, and still am to this day.
A lot of horror fans will no doubt be looking up your bio after seeing this film, so what's your career story to date? Where are you from, and how did you get into acting?
I'm originally from South Carolina. I've lived in both North and South, like back and forth. I moved out about a little over two and a half years ago. I'm young. I was 17 when I moved out. [jokes] (Do the quick math.) And so when I came out, I didn't really know anybody. I had a scholarship to go to the University of Georgia, but I had always been very, very much into acting and this whole industry. And growing up in my high school, we had amazing opportunities to actually learn and do film studies. I considered moving to New York because at the time I was doing a little more modeling and whatnot. But I had amazing support out in California, and they said, "If this is what you want to do, if you want to focus on acting, you come to California." And so I moved out and immediately got into classes. I got lucky with a couple commercials, but doing smaller things, doing student movies and films and more independents...That's what's helped me learn the most. And I think being on set and being able to actually get the experience is where you learn.
Would we recognize any of your commercials?
Ummm...Maybe. I'm not sure. There was a Dentyne Ice commercial that ran for about two years where I was like "the Dentyne girl." Velveeta commercial. I mean, I've done such a random range, like Honda commercials and whatnot. [laughs]
Did they give you a lot of Dentyne gum and/or Velveeta cheese?
[laughs] I wish, because I actually like both! Everybody said, "What are you getting, like a lifetime supply of Dentyne?" I'm like, "No, no. Surprisingly, not." [laughs]
Being out here for two and a half years, do you have any of the traditional audition horror stories?
[laughs] Oh! Plenty, plenty, plenty. Oh my goodness, I've got so many. Yeah, of course. I mean, it's always a gamble. You prepare as much as you can. I think yesterday even, I had an audition, and let's say it's like 11 pages of sides, and you read the scripts and you work on it, and you're working with your people. And let's say, I'm young, I know that, but this character is a little older. And so you walk in, and immediately, you're like, "Okay, this is not going to work." And you get through half a scene and they're like, [dismissively] "Okay, thank you." [laughs] You know what I mean? There's so many. As an actor, you've got to live and learn, and you gotta just kind of form a hard shell and be confident in yourself.
What was your audition process like for The Hills Have Eyes 2. Was there a lot of competition?
For me, absolutely. They originally wanted a blonde. I'm naturally a brunette. I went out for it in the summer, and they kind of said, "We like you, but we're not sure what exactly we want to go with." And a guy that I had worked with before was friends with one of the producers and said, "Have you read this girl? You need to meet her." And they were like, "Yeah, we have. We'll definitely see her again." And this was a few months after I had originally gone out for it. And so I went back in, met Wes, met [producer Marianne Maddalena]. And I think Marianne Maddalena is just an amazing person because she really worked with me and was a big fan of mine, and pushed for me to get the role. And I ended up getting it.
And how did you like playing a soldier? It's quite a change from many of the TV guest spots you've had...
Absolutely. Yeah, I loved playing a soldier. I grew up with a brother and was always like a tomboy playing with the ninjas and the G.I. Joes. And so for me, just the whole training aspect and really getting involved with the stunts was so much fun. And to represent the National Guard...You know, I think that's amazing. It takes such courage to actually do that in real life, so I hope we represented them well.
Well Jessica, congratulations on the role, and thanks for taking the time to do this interview.