Lauren Ashley Carter’s presence in a horror film tends to mean that it’s something you should watch. From her break-out role in Lucky McKee’s ferocious The Woman through to her work on Pod, The Mind’s Eye and Jug Face, she’s become one of the genre’s most exciting rising stars and most interesting actors, taking roles that are unusual, challenging, or just plain awesome (if you’ve not seen her telekinetic powers in The Mind’s Eye yet, you’re going to have fun with that one).
Her most recent collaboration with writer-director Mickey Keating is Darling, and it’s just come out in the UK on DVD. It’s a fantastically stylish homage to Roman Polanski’s Apartment trilogy, and stars Carter as the titular character who agrees to look after the New York mansion of a wealthy woman (Sean Young). Once alone, her grip on sanity becomes somewhat uncertain…is it the house? Or is it her?
We spoke to Carter about her work on Darling, moving behind the camera, what she looks for in a role, and why she can find a horror movie for anyone.
You worked with Mickey Keating on Pod, how did you end up getting back together for Darling?
So after Pod we were both a little blue and we both were just dying to get back in and do another and hated waiting, and we talked ourselves into making another movie. I was kvetching to Mickey that I really wanted to play a villain and I never get asked to, and Mickey said “Yeah, we definitely have to do that!” Little did I know he was writing this movie for me!
The location’s amazing! How did you find it?
Mickey lives in LA and I was looking for locations in New York City, and I was having a really hard time getting any locations because, if a crew comes into your apartment, they will destroy it! No friends of mine who are in the industry were going to allow us to take over their house. It worked out that a friend of mine bought this dream home in Harlem and she was renovating it and wanted me to come by and see it.
I told her that Mickey and I had been looking for a location for this film, and she said “Why don’t you do it here?” So I said “Really, do you mean it?” “Of course!” I called Mickey and put him on speakerphone! So I took as many pictures as I could and sent them over to him, and he did this rewrite, but he didn’t actually see the house until he came to shoot.
Was it aways going to be this very stylised film?
Oh, for sure. We both decided very early on that it was going to be black and white. There were some beautiful rooms in the house, a couple of people said “Oh man, maybe shoot it colour, you can always change it.” And we were both always adamant that this was going to be a black and white picture. We watched all the Polanski Apartment movies beforehand; obviously you can tell when you watch the movie. So it was always in our minds to do it this way.
I was going to ask about the Polanksi influence!
From the very beginning it was going to be our love letter of a lot of different films. Mickey’s always very outspoken and honest about his influences, which is something that I like. Of course we tried to add in some of our own bits and pieces. I really wanted the scenes between Brian Morvant and I to be as brutal as they could be, that’s what’s nice about working with a friend who you trust. We can throw each other around, I want him to punch me in the face and I want to scratch him and stab the shit out of him, so we had a lot of fun.
It’s a pretty intense film, but was there a comfort level having worked with Mickey and Brian before?
Yeah, of course. We shot Pod in only three weeks, Brian had a lot to work on in that film, but because we’d worked together with such a dialogue heavy movie like Pod with so many scenes and locations, they’re both very calm people, they’re fun, they’re funny, and that’s definitely a kind of vibe that you need sometimes for these kinds of films.
When you’re going batshit crazy you need the in-between times to be as smooth as they can be working on a low budget film.
A lot of the film is pretty much just you, and you’re in the entire film! How was the experience of carrying this film?
We were doing really well for the most part, but there got to be a point in it where we’re filming these bits and these pieces of Darling just being by herself in these quiet hours, and I kind of lost my footing a little bit. I said “Mickey, is this too much? Am I really going way too out there, is it working?” And he was like “Trust me, trust me, it’s going to work, if I’m uncomfortable with anything I’ll tell you.” But that was the only time I had a little break. After that I was good.
I think we all became more confident as we were going along, but in a stylish piece like this it’s really important that Mickey had all the pieces put together in his mind. It’s very hard for me to keep track and to think “What is this going to be? What are people going to see when they sit in the theatre?” So I was confident, I felt great about it after we finished, and then all of a sudden you’re waiting to see it and you’re like “Oh maybe it was too much, maybe it didn’t translate, what do I look like…!”
So when I finally saw it I was blown away by the work that our editor Valerie Krulfeifer did, and I was happy how Mickey put all the pieces together, and the score is so awesome.
It’s also your second film with Sean Young, what’s she like to work with?
Oh yeah, Sean’s brilliant! She’s just a sweet person, she was there on set before everybody else, she’s a pro. She knows her lighting and where she should stand so she can look the best, it’s very impressive when somebody like that gets on set, you’re like “Oh my god, I suck at this, what am I doing?”
But she’s awesome; she’s very protective of me. I don’t know how many women there were on set when she first started out and I think that she’s very aware of making sure that I’m comfortable and that everybody’s doing things the right way, she’s very professional.
And she’s so great, she tells stories about Blade Runner and all the films she’s been in. I feel so weird asking people for stories, especially her calibre and the films she’s been in, but she just volunteers them and tells you everything, it’s very cool and kind of surreal.
You’ve done a lot of genre work but your they have all been very different, from The Woman to The Mind’s Eye or Jug Face. Are you consciously looking for variety?
Absolutely. I’ve seen actors come in and there are definitely doing the movie because they want to work, and they like to work, but there’s also an unhappiness sometimes when people are playing the same thing over and over again. I understand that, but I never wanted to be that person on set where everyone’s like “Goddam, she’s fucking miserable!” Being on a low budget film is difficult enough and you may as well be working on something that you really believe in and you really love, and for me that’s to play different characters, to play different roles, and challenge myself.
I don’t ever want to watch anything and think “Oh fuck, I’m doing nothing,” or “I’m doing the same thing,” and I want to have a good time. There have been some scripts that I really like but it’s been too close to something that I’ve done, and I don’t want that nagging feeling in the back of my head.
You’re an executive producer on Darling and you’re also an associate producer on your next movie Imitation Girl. Are you going to keep working behind the camera? Maybe into directing?
Absolutely, that’s always been a goal of mine. Half of the reason was, when you first start out and you do a couple of films, I think actors like to complain in general, we’re a little dramatic, and it got to the point where a few things had happened on some films that I worked on where people had behaved really badly. The excuse is always “This is how it happens, this is how it has to be, we don’t have the time or money…” and I wanted to know: Is that true? Is this how you have to behave? Is this bad behaviour something that’s inevitable? And I realised that I either needed to try it or I needed to shut the fuck up.
So I hung out with the crew, I’m curious; I want to know what everybody does. I wish that I could do it all but I can’t, and once you find out about all these other people’s jobs, I had a massive amount of respect for everybody involved. I started producing, there’s a lot of things that I can’t do that I’m really shitty at, like budgets, you see how the money starts racking up, and time. I have an immense respect and love for ADs!
I’m having a great time and it makes me really happy when I can jump back into acting. I’m trying to get my mitts on directing next, my friend wrote a drama feature which I’m trying to get financed right now. I directed a short film and I had a great time doing it so I’m ready to tackle a feature and see if I’m any good at it, and if I really like it.
Can you tell us anything about Imitation Girl?
Imitation Girl is a feature written and directed by Natasha Kermani. She’s one of the founders of Illium Pictures who co-produced Pod. It’s a sci-fi drama, an alien life form lands on earth and the first image that she comes across is an amateur porn star in New York City, so I get to play both of these roles.
The alien imitation travels across the country to find this real woman that she looks like. You see the journey of a completely foreign life form and also this poor girl who got into porn just to pay the bills but kind of blew up.
I really enjoyed The Mind’s Eye, and I did just want to ask: was all that telekinesis acting as exhausting as it looked?
Oh yeah, it was, but I have to say that Graham [Skipper, star of The Mind’s Eye and Beyond The Gates] had it way worse than I did, so any time I was feeling a bit like “Eurgh…” Graham was out there every single day, usually outside, for 12, 13 hours, fighting, his eyes bulging out of his head and shaking and I really worried about him. At one point I was like “Dude, you have to take a day off. I know it’s not in the schedule right now, but you should do that so you don’t get pneumonia.” It was tiring but everybody was giving it their all, just busting ass. Joe Begos, who’s the writer-director-cinematographer, I don’t think that he did sleep at all during those 6 weeks.
Everybody was very collected, everybody was in it together, they’re all very close friends and they love the genre and we wanted to make a movie that we wanted to watch. Joe only uses practical effects so that was so much fun. I got shot for the first time, I had the squibs on both sides of my knee, I thought that my knee was actually exploding when they did that! It’s so much fun. It’s like playing with all these toys! It’s Greek theatre, everything is at the highest emotion it can possibly be and that’s where I feel most comfortable.
Could you also tell us the story behind your online readings of Jackie Chan’s autobiography?
[laughs] So, I’m a huge Jackie Chan fan and my boyfriend is Taiwanese and he doesn’t like to read. He had this Jackie Chan book, and I was asking him questions about him and he didn’t know, and I said “What do you mean you don’t know, you have the Jackie Chan autobiography right there on the bookshelf!” And he’s like “Oh, I haven’t read any of those!” He asked me “Maybe you can read a chapter like an audiobook and then I can listen to it on the road.”
It was a Friday night, and I tweeted that “I’m sitting here alone on a Friday night making a Jackie Chan audiobook,” and Lucky McKee actually responded and he said “You have to share this!” So I did, and I had a handful of people that were really into it, so I decided that I’ll start putting it on Twitter for a couple of people. Then I stopped at one point, I went to do a show, and then all of a sudden about 25 different people said “What happened, where is it, I’m caught up, where are the rest of the chapters?” So I had an obligation to these 25 people to continue, and then I put it on Soundcloud and I’m up to about 2000 listeners.
It’s’s been a fun little project for me. My next one, I’m going to do a poll, I’m either doing Ruth Gordon’s autobiography or Lenny Bruce, so I’m going to see what people like. It’s a fun fan project and a thing for me to do to be creative and odd, I guess!
Finally, which horror movie do you love that you wish more people had seen?
I always like to revisit things. We watched Peeping Tom which is terribly odd and lovely and I think people should check it out. I watched High Tension again and I still love that movie, I think it’s fabulous. Society is another one, Phantasm is coming out on Blu-ray right now, which I’m very excited about so people should check that out. All the Vengeance movies.
I always tell people, “If you say you don’t like horror, it just means that you haven’t found the right movie.” So anybody who says that they don’t like it I say “Give me a list of movies that you really like, whatever they are, they could be Top Gun and 16 Candles and I will find a movie for you.”