The star of the horror film speaks out on taking the lead role
Rachel Hurd-Wood is a normal 15 year old girl, except for the fact that she'll scare the heck out of you in her latest film, An American Haunting. She plays the lead in the movie, Betsy Bell, based on the true story of the Bell Witch.
The legend is known in Adams, Tennessee as the only known case of a spirit causing the death of a person. An American Haunting stars Donald Sutherland, James D'Arcy, and Sissy Spacek as the family who's haunted by this spirit. Director, Courtney Solomon found Rachel amongst the hundreds of girls who auditioned; funny enough, Rachel was the first actress he saw.
After a world-wind week, Rachel arrived in New York from her home in London, England. I spoke with her towards the end of the day; after interview after interview, she was still in very high spirits and still very active.
My first question to her was 'are you completely exhausted yet?' Her response was definitely not what I was expecting. "Not at all, I'm absolutely good. It's fun; it's all good."
Here's what else we talked about:
Courtney had to make two films; have you seen both?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: Yes, and I like the American version much better.
What did you think when you saw that one?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: It was very different; at first, I didn't know how to take it. Looking back, it's a lot sharper and it's a lot better.
How did you get involved in this film?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: I got the script sent to me by my agent and then just fell in love with it; I thought it was an awesome story, a really wonderful part, and I really wanted to play the character. From then, I auditioned several times and went through a very grueling process; eventually, I got it and felt so happy when I did.
Did Courtney tell you that you were the first person he saw?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: Well, yeah, he never let on until the very last day, so by then, who cares.
So the waiting process was probably the hardest?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: Um, well I thought so, but then we started filming and I thought, 'uh, no.'
The stunt work was all you, correct?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: Yes, sir.
How was doing the stunts with Courtney?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: I trust the stunt people completely, because that's their job. But when it was with Courtney, something just felt - of course, they were very protective and they needed to make sure my safety was protected. But with Courtney, I trust him completely as well and he wasn't afraid to make things very, very horrific.
What would you say was your hardest stunt to do?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: Being dragged up the stairs, that was painful, and it took all day, and it was tiring. Not only did I have to make sure I did the physical stuff, I had to cry and scream.
How did you break the tension and have fun on set?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: Have fun (laughs). Well, I did my best to keep my spirits up, but of course the rest of the cast, they're all wonderful and funny people. People were going around telling jokes and messing around; the crew was great as well, the Romanian and the British, really amusing people and they always had stories to tell. It was just good fun; people were able to keep their spirits light by just having fun and messing around.
Were you able to check out any of Dracula's castles?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: We did, actually; we went to both castles. It was really interesting to go see. It was great cause the atmosphere was really creepy.
Have you been to Tennessee?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: No, not yet, not on this trip. But I do want to go down there at some point.
How did take on this role, being this is your first lead?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: There wasn't much I could do; I knew from day one it was going to be really difficult. Courtney was telling me this was no walk in the park and this was a very a really difficult experience, but I was willing to take on that challenge because I was so keen on the project. So, really I knew it was going to be tough, and just did my best.
What would you say is your favorite scene?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: All the stuff on horseback because it was so much fun to do; we were with this really wonderful Spanish horse crew and everything was really, really good fun.
Are you a fan of horror films?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: I am, actually; the horror genre is my favorite type of movie.
Did you know James is not a big fan of horror films?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: I know, he's such a little girl when it comes to that. He's such an absolute girl; I've been lecturing him on this. But he keeps telling me, 'I can't see The Exorcist; I'm so scared.' 'Oh my gosh, grow up.' It's hilarious.
Did you tease him while you were shooting?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: Oh, I made sure to embarrass him as often as possible.
Have you heard how the British people have responded to this film yet?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: Yeah, tons of my friends went to go see it and they said they liked it - but, maybe that's because I'm in it.
What is it about the first film, the British version, that you really like?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: I liked it, but I'm definitely a bigger fan of the second; it's just a lot better. It's just a shame that it wasn't released in the UK, but whatever.
Courtney described you as a young Ingrid Bergman.
Rachel Hurd-Wood: Oh, wow, that's quite a compliment.
Who have you looked upon as some of your mentors?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: No one in particular; it's just about doing the best I can do and following the advice given to me by my agents and my parents.
How have your parents reacted so far?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: My parents are really wonderful and really supportive; they're really, really lovely people and they're definitely helping me through some of the difficult times.
Do you believe in the supernatural?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: No, not particularly. I don't believe in ghosts.
Do you like comedy as well?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: I love comedy, but it has to be hysterical and really amusing; I'm not really a big fan of romantic comedies, in fact I can't stand them. I'm really more of a fan of Team America and Dodgeball. I love all the Scary Movies; I've seen 1, 2, 3, but I haven't seen 4 yet. They're all fantastic and I'm looking forward to seeing 4.
Do you want to continue acting?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: Definitely, I'd love to continue acting for as long as possible; it'd be a shame if it stops now, but at the same time, I've had an amazing time with what I've been doing. I really want to focus on school and passing my exams and then going onto college.
You're in Perfume next; what's that about?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: Yes, sir. That's about a guy with extraordinary smell; it's a really bizarre story. It's based on the novel by Patrick Suskind. That's coming out in September and that's something you should definitely see.
Who do you play in that?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: I play a character called Laure Richis, she's really vivacious and a wonderful character and just really interesting to play.
What do want people to know about this film ?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: It's entertainment in a crazy kind of way; it's a horror film, but it's not gory, but it's definitely one to go see. It's fantastic, and it's very real.
Have you seen the posters in London?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: Yeah, it's crazy; they're on the side of busses and stuff.
What's that like to see yourself on the side of a bus?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: It's a bit cool, it's quite the thrill.
Have people been walking by and have to do a double take when they see you?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: Oh, of course not; I don't look anything like I do in that shot. When you're walking down the street in London, you're not particularly looking for people like that; I'm just one of the crowd.
Would you ever move over here to the States?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: No, I like it here.
Do you have anything after Perfume?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: I'm not sure; I'm open minded about the whole thing, but if there's nothing I'll just focus on school. I'll take it as it comes.
Is there a role you would want to play?
Rachel Hurd-Wood: I'd like to something a little more contemporary; that would be interesting because I haven't really done period pieces. But it would definitely be good to do a modern thing. It really depends on the role, but I'd be happy to play anything.
An American Haunting opens in theaters May 5th; it's rated PG-13.