The cast and crew of the new thriller speak out!
What if you were stuck in a house alone, babysitting, the noises, the creepy forest, the rustling of the trees? Oh, and did I mention a homicidal maniac calling on the phone trying to kill you. Well, that's basically what happens to Camilla Belle in the new thriller When a Stranger Calls, directed by Simon West; it's the re-make of the 1979 film, of the same name.
Camilla plays Jill Johnson, a high school girl, who's asked to babysit two kids in a very remote house by the lake. What she doesn't know is there's a killer on the loose and he's after her. To freak her out, he makes a few prank calls, not really saying too much, just heavy breathing. But then, the stranger asks ‘Have you checked the children?' And from then on, the fun begins.
Jill must figure out what's going on, protecting herself as well as the children. Camilla, coming off an amazing performance in The Chumscrubber, stars in 99% of the movie. Not having the experience of carrying an entire movie before, Camilla had to think twice when accepting the role. ‘I was worried, not so much worried, but more nervous, and that's kind of what made me want to do it as well. There aren't too many scripts like this, and wanted to see if I could pull it off.'
So when she finally accepted, she had no idea what to expect. She worked all the time ‘I went home every night emotionally and physically drained. I looked forward to every weekend just to sleep and relax my body; I really didn't have any breaks. It was hard, but it was a good experience; I don't think I'll be able to do another film like this.
Since it is a re-make, director Simon West had to decide on how to not make this the exact same movie from 1979. He decided to use the first 20 minutes and expand on that idea. In the original film, the kids are killed; Simon didn't want to do that. ‘But at the beginning, we kind of did that with the family; you see the small body bags, and you don't know if those are the children or body parts. You know this guy is a evil guy, but you're not emotionally attached to the film yet. It felt better to have them up there, because in the back of your mind, you're hoping people are thinking they are dead. You want to make them scary, but enjoyable.'
The house is another character all to itself, in fact, Simon talked about more than 10 minutes of our 20 minute interview. I'll get to that in a bit, but for Camilla shooting in the house for about a month was a great experience. ‘It was incredible. I was going to the studio every day and seeing the process of the house and the house being built. Then they started painting and I've never been able to see that before. That was really fun and I was in awe. I was so obsessed with it; everyone wanted to keep that house.'
Unfortunately, no one will be moving in anytime soon – it's not a real house. Simon was extremely involved in the process of the design of the house. After he was approached to direct Phone Booth, this film came along and he jumped at the chance to do this. ‘A lot of these films that come out, it's all about the house and felt I have to get away from that. This is different; it's a modern house and I wanted to make it scary. I knew I could make these scenes dark, and that's what you need to do with these films – make it dark. A big research went into the house.'
When it came down to crunch time, about eight weeks before shooting began, Simon had a thought about building a house and not using a real house. ‘We were going to shoot at this house in Brentwood, but it would have been so expensive and so much trouble for one angle of the house. We were going to have to flood out this woman's yard, buy out the neighbors, and I decided to build the house. And it basically cost the same, if not less money to do that.'
So he found a spot in Franklin Canyon in California and started building away. ‘We got it done just in time; the paint was still wet when we showed up to shoot on the first day.'
But, it was more important to find what would make the house actually work for the movie. You almost have to go see this film just to see this amazing house they built. There is a bird house and fish pond inside the house and automatic misters inside the bird house. There are also automatic lights throughout the rooms; when anyone walks into a room, the lights automatically turn on.
This was key for Simon's idea of the story building to a climax. ‘It's the element of where is the guy. I didn't want to make a movie with all the lights on and I didn't want to turn the power off.' He got the idea for those lights from his own office which has motion detectors for the lights.
To think, Camilla never babysat when she was younger; ‘I had to ask my friends what their experiences were, and it was only about unruly kids. I'm also comfortable in my own house, and that's another reason why I didn't want to babysit and be alone with the kids, not knowing what to do if something goes wrong.'
Camilla also did most of her own stunts, which is very different from what she's used to. ‘We did a lot of training before and choreographing the fight scenes and all the stairs, and all that stuff, and I did all that stuff myself. And I've never had so many welts and bruises in my life, especially being dragged down the stairs a million times. It hurt a lot and I definitely got more bruises than Tommy because he was just the one pushing me around. But we had a really good time; I wore the bruises with pride. I really enjoyed it actually, but it was fun, really, really fun.'
And those physical scenes were something Camilla was really ecstatic about. ‘I think was just excited about the fight scenes because I had never done anything like that before and I wanted to give it a try. And the water, that wasn't in the original script, that was added and new, and so I wasn't really aware of that when I read the script.'
Daughter of former Partridge Family actor, David Cassidy, Katie Cassidy has a small role in this film as one of Jill's friends. She stops by the house to keep Jill company, only she may not make it out. Katie joked about the fact if she really died; ‘We shot it a few different ways, one with the cell phone in my mouth, one with it by my side, and the other one with these white contacts in my eyes. I've seen that part and it's just weird to think that's me.'
Katie's actually going off to shoot Black Christmas, another re-make. Her character is one of the sorority girls being stalked by a crazy killer. But there is a twist – she possibly is involved in helping to kill the other girls. She kind of gave away a little bit too much while she was talking to us. ‘I do live in that film. It starts off in a flashback, with this boy, Billy. His mom treats him really bad, his mother has an affair and kills the father, and puts him in the attic for 10 years. She has this other family, and the little girl questions what's up in the attic, but the mother tells her it's reindeers. He ends up getting out, killing his mom and dad (step dad) and 20 years later, the sorority moves into that house, and you don't know what happens with the little girl.'
Ah ha. We'll have to wait to see what happens with the little girl. But, you can check out Camilla and Katie in When a Stranger Calls. It opens in theaters February 3rd; it's rated PG-13.