Jug Face’s Lauren Ashley Carter on horror and controversy

Lauren Ashley Carter talks Jug Face, Lucky McKee’s The Woman and complex heroines

Lauren Ashley Carter as Ada in Jug Face
Lauren Ashley Carter as Ada in Jug Face

Jug Face, from writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle, is one of the most intriguing and original horror films of the year so far (read our review here). It tells the story of a small community in the woods which is centred around a supernatural pit. As long as tribute is paid when demanded, the pit keeps the community healthy and happy. But when Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) finds a jug with her face on it, she realises that she’s next to be sacrificed and sets a horrific chain of events in motion.

We talked to Carter about the film, playing complex genre heroines, the reaction to Lucky McKee’s The Woman, and growing up with horror.

What was it about the script for Jug Face that first struck you?

I have to say that [producer] Andrew van den Houten and I have worked together on two other movies before Jug Face, and we’re very good friends and he would send me scripts all the time, just asking my opinion about things. He was very adamant about me reading this script, and I thought I was going to read it a little bit here and there before I made my dinner and I remember just sitting down in the middle of everything and finishing it in one read. I was immediately just drawn to the hell that the character goes through, which is something, oddly, actresses enjoy doing!

Also, just the depth of the characters and the family aspect of it, the conversations that they had with one another about things that had nothing to do with the horror of it, were very intriguing to me. And then once I found out Sean Bridgers [Carter’s co-star in The Woman] was coming back, and then Sean Young, who he’s been trying to set me up to work with since I met him, that she was on board as well…There’s no way I could say no.

Ada’s a very complex character; she’s got these serious flaws but she’s strong, resourceful and proactive. What was she like to play?

It is very difficult…I guess the first thing that I had to do was just take it a scene at a time. And to take every moment at its own time and just think about that moment, because I think that inevitably, unfortunately, that she doesn’t really think ahead. She just thinks in the moment, “What do I need now? What’s the best thing I can do now?” and she is basically running on fear in my opinion, which sometimes works out for her.  I don’t think that it’s necessarily only a fault of her character, but also the environment in which she’s been raised, and she’s never had to make any decisions before, or even been encouraged to.

It seemed like there were some similarities with your character in The Woman. They’ve both been raised in very closed-off environments.

There were some similarities. In The Woman, I think that my character Peggy had a lot more against her. She was an educated person but she was very scared of something that was very real, that she knew very well, which was her own father and knowing that her mother was no help either. She did have her sister to save and I think that she really was at a loss about where to go and what to do. She had been so abused, both with physical abuse and emotional abuse, that she was very traumatised.

Now, Ada hadn’t had this emotional abuse or physical abuse that Peggy had, so I think that in many ways Ada had much more of an opportunity because she wasn’t psychologically scarred. However, she was very undeveloped, she was uneducated and she’d been brainwashed, just like the rest of the people in the town had, to keep going through the same system, that it always worked for them. And her horror and her fear comes from this creature and this possibly metaphysical world that isn’t very concrete and I think that her decisions are only founded in pure fear and instinct. Whereas Peggy, in some ways, I have a lot more sympathy for because of the intense torture that she’d been through at the hands of her father and the emotional abuse at the hands of her mother, the neglect from her mother.

Jug Face

What was it like working with Larry Fessenden and Sean Young as your parents?

They were fabulous, they were absolutely fabulous. They already had a repertoire with one another, having done Headspace together and being a couple in that. And they were just absolutely professional, and easy to talk to with it the entire time. When they came on set and you were with them you really felt their presence and you had to step up your A-game to be with them. And it wasn’t very difficult;  there were a couple of reactions in the film where, honest to god, my reactions were 100% real because of what they were giving me. I just said “Let’s do that again because I was a little bit out of control there!” just actually scared by Sean Young. They ended up keeping those scenes because at the end of the day you want the truth, you want the honest reaction. I have nothing but wonderful things to say about them. It was very easy to act with them because they bring so much.

And in this film you have a very different relationship with Sean Bridgers, who played your abusive father in The Woman and your friend here. Was that a nice reversal?

It was, especially because in The Woman the only scenes that I have with him are me being absolutely petrified and not being able to look him in the eyes and not wanting to,  not wanting to interract with him whatsoever. In The Woman the acting game was trying not to be touched by him or talk to him or look at him, whereas in Jug Face he is the only confidant that I have. Although I think Larry Fessenden as my father, she finds a lot of comfort talking to him, much more than her mother because in his eyes she’s still her little girl, although, later on he finds out what she’s been up to! But it was so lovely to work with him and I was very excited.  That was one of the biggest reasons that I wanted to do this project, when I knew he was going to be Dawai and we would have so much time together, I was so excited, I think the world of his acting and he’s such a great guy.

How much did Chad Crawford Kinkle explain the supernatural element of the film and its mythology to you before you started shooting?

That was a conversation that we all had to have a lot, because at one point or another, everyone has to deal with the pit or the creature and so we did try to make these moments very specific. The idea had come to Chad from just from learning about these jugs that were made and he bascially had this…inspiration and saw the pit and saw the creature and everything surrounding it.

But we made it very clear that they don’t worship anything, they don’t practice anything, the pit is purely for meditative purposes, healing purposes, and the sacrifices don’t happen often. For all these kids, this is the first time that they’re really dealing with the dark side of the pit; up until then they’ve only known it to be a good thing. The horror stories of their past and of their grandfather were never talked about, Ada’s father and mother never really told her what happened to the grandfather, and why he is the way he is and why they treat him the way they do. They’re just brought up not to ask questions. You just accept this blindly, you accept the faith, you accept the people, and as long as you’re fed and you’re clothed and you’re healthy, why should you ask questions?

It does feel like it could be a Quaker community, for example, that had gone off and discovered this strange element.

Absolutely, I think that’s totally a possibility. It happens all the time that these small communities, they break off on their own and they keep each other in the dark and they look down at society and even education, especially for women and I think that’s very prevalent in the story.

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So I really go back and forth with the way that I feel about Ada, I think that she didn’t really have a choice and in some ways she turned out as well as she could and in other ways, yeah she didn’t have a choice but nobody was saying, they do make a stink about when they find out about her sexual relationship with her family. And this wasn’t anything that they condoned, this was somehting to be ashamed of so it was, as much as she was kept in the dark about things and forced into, should have been forced into a marriage, she also made some bad choices on her own.

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With this and The Woman, you’ve made two really interesting and challenging horror films in a quite short space of time. Is it a genre you feel at home in?

I love the horror genre, I grew up watching horror movies with my father. I’ve always been drawn to them, I thought they were so much fun. By the time I was eight I had already seen all the Hellraisers that were made by that point and Puppet Masters, the Sleepaway Camp trilogy, and one of my favourites: the original Black Christmas with Olivia Hussey. I was just a fan, I loved being scared. I would dress up with my friends and try and scare them in their own homes and create stories and it was always something that I wanted to do, so it’s really a dream come true for me to be able to work in this genre.

It was really pretty much how Andrew [van den Houten] and I ended up chatting about it because the first film we did was this family film, and one day at lunch I was talking to another castmate about horror movies and he sits down and goes “You like horror movies?” I go “Yeah!” “Oh my gosh, do you know about Martyrs and Inside?” and we started talking about the French horror films and the Korean horror films that had been made and we clicked after that. He said “I really want to introduce you to Lucky McKee,” I said “You’re kidding!” May is one of my favourite movies, I love May, so I was just so thrilled to be able to talk with Lucky and then it just all kind of worked out that way. So it’s definitiely somethig that’s very near and dear to my heart.

Some people have horrific memories when they think about their first scary movie and all I think about is being with my dad on the weekends and eating ice cream for breakfast and watching Hellraiser.

Lauren Ashley Carter as Peggy in Lucky McKee's The Woman
Lauren Ashley Carter as Peggy in Lucky McKee’s The Woman

Were you expecting such a violent reaction to The Woman or were you suprised by it?

I was shocked, really. When we were filming it everybody was under stress, they were long hours, crazy hours, you’re working with kids and Jack Ketchum’s book and Lucky’s script and I didn’t know, I had no idea what I was going to see. I didn’t see the dailies, so when we went to Sundance I saw it for the first time. I was scared out of my wits, I had no idea what I was about to see. And I was just so happy with the film when I was watching it. I was jumping out of my seat, I was laughing, I was clapping, I was screaming, like I wasn’t even in the movie, I was just totally an audience member.

And then there was the girl, at the end when The Woman is ripping his heart out, there was a girl who was walking towards me, and me having lived in New York for a few years, I’m thinking “Oh no! It’s a crazy woman,” and kind of shielded myself, and she passed out beside me! She was trying to find the exit because she was going to faint from the violence. And Lucky is trying to get the movie to stop and as he’s trying to get the movie to stop and finally the credits roll, and then the man, the famous guy at Sundance, he stands up and starts screaming that the movie should be burned and banned. It was like…it was like a horror show and the Fourth of July, it was ridiculous!  And then the reviews that came out and the comments and everything, I was just shocked but in a very good way.

I’m very proud of that movie and everyone’s work in it and like I said before, the crew, Modernciné that Andrew van den Houten gets together are just top of the line, really great people. So from what I felt when we were doing the film to what it ended up being, I was just thrilled, over the moon.

Jug Face is available on demand in the US now, and is playing at the Grimm Up North Film Festival in October. You can buy tickets here. You can buy The Woman on Blu-ray for £5.99 at Amazon.co.uk.