Jennifer Carpenter delivers an accomplished and brutally physical performance as the title character in the new horror flick, The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Jennifer Carpenter is not a household name, but certainly has the stuff to be a good film actress. She delivers an accomplished and brutally physical performance as the title character. Jennifer was recommended for the role by co-star Laura Linney. The pair had previously worked together on stage in The Crucible.
We heard your audition was pretty amazing.
JC: Oh, thanks. I guess I know it looks really crazy and out of control at times, but there really was a method to the madness. I did as much homework as I could, and then, on the day forget it all and hoped all the dots would connect.
How did you prepare for this role?
JC: I tried to come to it at a really neutral place, so I could stay on the fence along with the audience as long as possible. And as far as the physical stuff goes, I watched a rough cut not long ago and saw my body bending all sorts of ways and thought, I didn't know I could do that! So I think a lot of times I was just running on adrenaline and that took me wherever I needed to go. It was a hard thing to figure out where to start, so I tried to look at the prosecution and the defense and make sure I could provide really strong cases for both of them. I looked at tapes on epilepsies and seizures so that I could play that truthfully, and then the physicalities that came out of people who were going through seizures and stuff were so amazing and unique, things I hadn't seen, so I tried to thread some of those into the possessed state so they might mirror each other.
Have you seen The Exorcist? Did you draw any inspiration from that film?
JC: I've never seen the Exorcist, and that might have worked to my advantage. I know apparently there's a head spinning around and stuff like that, but this movie's not saturated with special effects; which makes it even scarier, because there's that part of you that thinks, this could really happen.
Do you believe in demonic possession?
JC: I think it's kind of irrelevant, where I stand, because I think it's about people who are courageous enough to watch the film. How willing they are to take inventory of their beliefs and see how much new information and possibilities they're willing to take in.
Is your performance similar to what you did in The Crucible?
JC: I played Mary Warren in The Crucible, and she's acting affected. Emily rose truly believes that she's under attack. And what does someone look like when their will is not there own? I'm not even sure. In the scenes in the barn, the exorcism, is Emily Rose even around? Is she even sure of what's happening? Or what her body has done?
You must be very grateful to Laura Linney. We heard that she recommended you for the part.
JC: I never would have seen the script had it not been for Laura. And in fact, I was late in the game, they'd already been auditioning people. So it was a really quick decision to decide if I was even going to be able to come back to LA to try to have a shot at it. And of course, as soon as I read it I was on a plane. I really wanted it.
JC: It's such a solid script, and such an amazing opportunity. You're reading stuff where you're asked to be the bubble gum girl next door, and I really wanted to be a part of making this. Scott [Derrickson, the director] said very early on if something doesn't look new, it's not going to be in the movie. And I thought that could hinder some people, make them scared to jump in. But I heard permission to play, and I like to play, so…
Scott told us that when Tom Wilkinson rehearsed with you for the first time, he turned around and said, this is gonna be good!
JC: Oh good! It's amazing, I hope it's true. Tom and Laura are so good that you can't look at their work and say they do A, B, and C, and that's what makes that a good choice and if I do that it will apply to my work too. I think they've put a lot of work and a lot of heart into their process. When I couldn't find the next place to go, all I had to do was look to Tom and suddenly it was there. And I leaned on him a lot. And Laura as well, too. And since I didn't have any scenes with Laura, on my days off I would go watch her work and try to steal from her, but she's too good…(laughs)
What do you learn from someone like Tom?
JC: Sometimes he would teach me just to listen. Sometimes his choice is to be so still, you couldn't choose anything more powerful. He's so present, and I'm doing all of these crazy loud things, and to see him stay so still. You can't move him. It was something I was always trying to do, make him a little uncomfortable, which was almost impossible. So it kept me working harder.
Was it odd that you didn't have a scene with the lead actress?
JC: It was kind of great. It was kind of like shooting two movies. I got to watch her work. And I had the honor of working with her before, so I feel like I got the best of both worlds.
Are more doors opening for you now?
JC: I feel like I'm getting in more doors, people are willing to audition me a little bit more. But I'm still earning my way, earning every audition.
Where did you study acting?
JC: Julliard. At eighteen, right out of high school.
And Laura went there too right?
JC: Yeah, she did. And I remember a couple of times saying to Scott that there was no way I could have played this part had I not trained. No way.
You do amazing things with your voice. How did you train for that?
JC: I'm so glad you asked that, because I actually talked to one of my voice teachers from school before I started. I need to know to stay healthy. Cause I didn't lose my voice the entire time. And there were certain things we would do on the day, and I would think, please don't let them touch that, please don't let them try to loop that. There was one scene in the bed where I have my wrists tied, and I start the cackle, and I'll do it anytime to prove it. That was my cackle. You can't see my throat move, but it was really important to me. I wanted that sound to come all the way from my feet. I think Scott was really brave in not putting tons of CGI over it. It was scary. You hear a noise outside and you think, what could that be?
Can you do it now?
JC: Sure. Just a second. (Cackles.) (Giggles.)
The writers seemed a bit defensive about the "true story" aspect.
JC: Maybe protective is the better word. A lot of people stamp that on their movies, say its based on a true story, but this is based on true events and at the end of the day the script was so solid I focused on that and the character.
What are you working on now?
JC: I just booked a show for Showtime, it's called "Dexter", it's with Michael C. Hall, from "Six Feet Under". I'm really thrilled, again, it's a part I'm really excited about. We're shooting the pilot next month. I play his sister who is a uniform cop who is desperately trying to get into the homicide division. Her brother has this amazing way of solving crimes, there's questions of whether she's capable of being on homicide.
Would you stay on a series?
Do you want to do more theater?
JC: Absolutely. I will always do theater. I think they're two totally different games, gratifying for two totally different reasons, two totally different challenges. I love New York, and I love being a part of something where you get to come in every night and do something from start to finish, ride the ride with a bunch of people watching. I love it.
What's more frightening for you to watch? Emily Rose or White Chicks?
JC: (Laughs). Probably White Chicks. I loved doing White Chicks. I feel just as comfortable in comedy as I do in drama, and you know, I learned a lot doing that movie, made some of my best friends in the whole world too. I'm really proud of it.
Would you do White Chicks 2?
JC: I think they might go undercover as someone else next time. Or something else.
Linda Blair got an Oscar nomination for The Exorcist. Have you thought about Oscar nominations for this role?
JC: I'm not even thinking about that. I just wanted to tell the story as well as I possibly could. You guys are the first to mention it. Winning the role is the award. Getting to play the part is the award. I still wake up so happy that I got to do this, and so happy that I was invited to get involved in a script like this. One of my favorite days is when I was sitting at home, doing all the work and trying to imagine how it was going to look, and I had this idea. I called Scott, and he was like, we should try it. And it ended up in the movie. I just can't believe that I get to be a part of it. The rest of it is just gravy.
What do you do when you aren't working?
JC: When I wasn't working on this I was sleeping. I just bought a bike. I like to go on bike rides, like to hang out with my friends, like to travel.
How old are you?
JC: Thanks for asking. I'm 25. (laughs).
Dont't forget to also check out: The Exorcism of Emily Rose