The true story of a real spirit causing a death hits the big screen
When you watch a horror movie, you normally want the actors to be frightened as well on screen. Well, in the case of James D'Arcy, he's scared on and off screen; the British actor went from Exorcist: The Beginning to another horror film, An American Haunting.
The film is based on the true story in Adams, Tennessee, a small town in the outskirts of Nashville. It's the only reported case of a murder based on a spirit. An American Haunting is written, directed, and produced by Courtney Solomon - yes, the same man who brought us the big screen adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons.
When Courtney was first casting the film, James' name came up, only coincidentally because of his involvement in The Exorcist; at first he really didn't want to do another horror flick. "I think Courtney sent me the script about 8 months before we started shooting it and I had just finished The Exorcist and before I even opened the script, I thought I didn't want to do another horror film. I'm not a fan of this genre, and I do exactly what I'm supposed to do - I scream, I leap 10 feet in the air, and I don't sleep for four days, so I never go and watch horror movies."
However, as he was reading, he realized there was something different about this script. "I left it alone for a while, and in that time Courtney was going around attaching Donald (Sutherland) and Sissy (Spacek). Three or four months, he came back to me and told me he had Donald and Sissy and it was too good of a thing to pass up."
For the role of John Bell, the father, he first sought out Donald Sutherland; from there, the rest of the cast came on board. "We cast Donald first because we knew John Bell would be the hardest person to find; it's a difficult part to play. And it's just a character, but it's the nature of the character and people get weird about the nature of it. Donald seemed like a pretty open guy to me, just based on his body of work. I sent the script to his agency, he read it, we had a meeting and we got along very well. He liked what I said about the film, about how I wanted to handle it. He came on board and then coincidentally, his agency reps Sissy Spacek; I never thought with my great track record, she'd come on board. She read it and had a similar response; she liked that it was a classy story. She worked on the script with me a lot before we shot, and then her and Donald worked on the script with me while we were in Romania; I really got their opinion."
Newcomer, Rachel Hurd-Wood takes on the lead of Betsy Bell; Rachel starred in the updated film version of Peter Pan, so she wasn't new to the film business but this would be her first starring role. Courtney auditioned many girls, but Rachel was always at the top of his list. "Rachel was actually the first person I saw; they tried to convince me to go with someone in her 20's, but I knew I wanted someone the age of Betsy. Once you've lost your innocence, there's no way to fake it; there's just something in your eyes cause you know better. Rachel had that. We had a bunch of meetings with her and we went over a couple scenes. She kept working and got better; she became Betsy, physically she was Betsy. Without a good Betsy, you don't have a film, no matter how good Donald and Sissy are, how important they are. She (Betsy) carries the film at the end of the day - you don't have her, you don't have anything."
Something different took place with this film; Courtney finished shooting the film, he finished editing the film, and took it to certain local Los Angeles festivals. After that, he had the time and the money to read people's opinions, and change the film's direction and the feel. And as Courtney puts it, "Very few filmmakers have the chance to finish their film, get a few opinions, then, step away from it for two months and then be able to re-cut the film, re-edit the film, change the sound and re-do the color design as well. What I realized when I got all these opinions, there were people who liked it, but there were people who came back with the same comments. Everyone can't be wrong and I'm right; I'd like to think that, everyone would like to think that. I just thought I needed to move away from it. Then I went back to it and looked at the comments and realized they're right and how can I fix it. And I had material to fix it, I had footage to fix it; I changed the voice over, I re-did a lot of the movie. I changed it substantially, not just a little re-edit of the movie, substantial re-edit. I had to bring Sissy back for all that voice over and to do all that extra work; she was even in the editing room with me - talk about brave. And she came up with some awesome ideas which also helped a lot."
And so, the result is two separate films - one that's already released in Britain, and the one being released in the States; the reasoning behind that is pretty simple. "Lionsgate UK had a release date, which was before the US release. I didn't have the print finished so they had their date and I couldn't get them the film in time; it's done alright over there, so it's a non-issue, but I think it would have done better. I took everything down a notch; the music isn't this big thing anymore. I took away a bit of the repetition and gave you more of the family at the beginning of the film. I was trying to create more suspense and I had shot it that way."
When James watched the film for the first time, he had Courtney watching his every move; even though James knew what was coming, he still jumped. But his main issue was the size of his character's sideburns. "If you look very closely, my sideburns start very long, and by the end of the film, they're these two 'L's down the side of my face. I looked at it at the end of the film and thought this was such a continuity disaster. But, it wasn't my idea, it was one of the make-up artists who came up with it. And they're so hard to maintain; I don't know how all these musicians have these wispy, thin lines of hair on their face. I'd be afraid I would shave them off."
Courtney is not only the writer, director, and producer of An American Haunting, as was mentioned earlier, but his company After Dark Films is the distributor. He has his hand in everything associated with the film and is hoping to make After Dark a smaller studio for other independent films to be seen.
James' next film is another horror-type film, the supernatural thriller Rise. Written by Sebastian Gutierrez, the story is about a female reporter wakes up a vampire and seeks revenge on the group who made her who she is.
You can catch him in An American Haunting, along with Sissy Spacek, Donald Sutherland, and Rachel Hurd-Wood. It will spook theaters May 5th; it's rated PG-13.