Earlier this summer at San Diego Comic-Con, I had a chance to sit down with some of the creative team responsible for the new horror exercise THE POSSESSION, which opens this Friday. I posted my interview with one of the film's stars, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, right after the con ended. But I have two more fun interviews for you, including this one with relative newcomer (to films at least) Natasha Calis, who plays Emily, the possessed person in question.
THE POSSESSION, the story of a young girl (Calis) from a broken marriage (between Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick) who purchases an antique box, opens it and is possessed by the ancient spirit inside. The warring parents much come together to save their daughter. The film is directed by visionary Danish filmmaker Ole Bornedal (with whom I have an interview coming up soon), and it's damn scary, with emphasis on prolonged creepiness throughout.
The Canadian-born Calis is probably best known in the states for playing Josh Lucas' daughter in the NBC series "The Firm," and she had done a fair amount of television work before that. But THE POSSESSION pretty much fails or succeeds based on her extraordinary performance, in which she changes her voice (no audio tricks), contorts her body, and otherwise acts like there's a flesh-and-blood demon inside her small body. I can't wait to see what she does next. Please enjoy my brief talk with Natasha Callis. Photos come thanks to Gavin "Malone" Stokes.
Capone: It’s great to meet you. So Jeffrey gave me the scoop on how substantial you are in this film. Possession movies, especially ones about young girls, are a fairly common thing. Can you tell me what’s a little bit different about the way you approached it? Have you seen any of those other movies?
Natasha Callis: I tried to make my way through THE EXORCIST when I was about nine, without my mom’s permission. I didn’t make it all the way through. I was too scared and I was scarred for life; it's a terrifying movie. After we filmed this movie, I watched it and I made it all the way through, and it was awesome. But what sets THE POSSESSION aside from movies like THE EXORCIST--they are similar in some ways--but with this movie, we have a Danish director, a Danish director of photography, and it really has a great feel to it. The scenery is amazing, and it’s a beautiful film, and there’s a family story behind it. It’s about a family, and the audience will really be able to connect with the family and feel for them.
Capone: I’m assuming this is your first time at Comic Con?
NC: It is.
Capone: Have you had a chance to walk around at all?
NC: I haven’t yet. I just arrived yesterday.
Capone: But that’s the plan, you’re going to go down there.
NC: Yeah, I totally want to go down to the floor. It's going to be pretty crazy.
Capone: Can you talk a little bit about your audition process? Jeffrey said he saw your audition tape, and it was almost like a workshop into acting possessed.
NC: Yeah, I first got sent the script and loved it. I really connected with the characters in the script and I was really in love with it. When I first became aware that I had to be possessed, it was almost like a switch went of in my brain, and I started creating my character and building up how I was going to act possessed, and it required a lot of me studying myself in the mirror and experimenting with my possessed look and how I’m going to scare people.
So I went out for the audition and I felt great, got a call back, and this was a director’s session with Ole Bornedal, and I had prepared lines, but he sat right next to me and he took me on this amazing journey. He had me close my eyes and really use my imagination and he told me a story and then he asked me to tell him stuff back, like “Okay, you jump over a stream. What part of you gets wet?” Then I would reply, and it was really cool. At one point, he asked me, “I know you now. I would like to talk to Emily and I would like to talk to your character.” So we talked, and I really just became the character. It was a phenomenal experience, and I actually came out of that call back and I told my mom, “Mom, I would be privileged and honored to be able to work with this director.” And I was very fortunate.
Capone: So were you able to use and of the things you had practiced before the audition, or did you have to throw all of that out once you kind of sat down with him?
NC: It was kind of a mix. Emotionally, I was there in the call back; he had me be emotional at some points that just came out. But for my first audition yeah I prepared everything and it was awesome.
Capone: In the movie, do you change your voice? Did you move your body a certain way to appear possessed?
NC: In the movie, I did all of my stunts. We had an amazing stunt coordinator and a stunt double, and they would demonstrate before each scene, and I would do them and I had a blast, because I loved doing my stunts. For a few scenes, I did have to change my voice. I made it scary and I did my possessed look [laughs].
Capone: I know you said you took a shot at THE EXORCIST when you were younger, but were you a fan of scary movies at all before this?
NC: Yeah, for sure. I have to say I used to get more scared watching a movie before I shot THE POSSESSION, and now after we’ve finished, I was not as scared. I loved the rush of getting a good-ol' scare some times.
Capone: Do you think that’s because you can picture what it was like shooting the movie you’re watching? "They went through the same thing I did, and it wasn’t that scary.”
NC: For sure, yeah. Because the environment on set is so friendly, and we had an amazing cast and crew. Me and Jeff would joke around between takes, and we just all got along really well, so it really lifted the mood of the set.
Capone: I know that a big emphasis in this film is on this family that's falling apart. Can you talk about doing the straight dramatic scenes? How did you prepare for that with the family breaking up?
NC: Those are hard scenes too, because it is emotionally sad, but we all just went through it together, and the director gave us freedom as actors, and we could improv. Whether he used it or not, it was the freedom of being able to experiment with everything.
[From a table nearby doing another interview, Jeffrey Dean Morgan calls over to Natasha to ask how old she was when they shot the film.]
Capone: Can I ask how old you are now?
NC: I’m 13 now. Yeah, so anyway, we got along really well, and it really helped us look like a happy family, even though they were going through some hard times. But we're usually with our dad, and the parents share us kids.
Capone: You’re from Vancouver. That’s where they shot this, right?
Capone: Was that kind of helpful that you weren’t away from home?
NC: Yeah, because I would go home every day. My mom would be on set with me, and I would go home to my dad, and we would all be fortunate that we're a family not going through this stuff. [Laughs].
Capone: That’s good to know. How much acting have you done up to this point?
NC: I just finished a television series a few months ago, and I hope to do many more because the experience was awesome.
Capone: But this isn't your first film, correct?
NC: No, I have done other films, but this is my first like big production. We did this with Lionsgate.
Capone: Okay, so your first studio movie.
NC: Yeah, but I have done other films.
Capone: Working with people like Jeffrey and Kyra, what did you learn from them both about acting and just how to be a person?
NC: Honestly, I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from them just watching them. They don’t need to talk to me and give me advice, its just watching them as actors and how they handle each scene, how they handle the feedback from the director. Everything was just unbelievable, and I appreciated it and I look back on the experience so much, and I take what I’ve learned as an everyday person, and I take that into my everyday life and also as an actor.
Capone: Do you know what you’re doing next?
NC: I have auditioned for a few things, so I’m waiting on those, but I hope to just go back to normal school and hang out with my friends and play soccer and be a kid again.
Capone: I was going to ask if you prefer going to school, or do you enjoy the tutoring thing?
NC: It’s really hard, because I have gone to normal school and I did online schooling last year, and honestly I hated it, because I’m not with my friends. But either way, you get one on one time with your tutor. I like normal school better, because it’s the environment where you’re with your friends and you have different teachers.
Capone: Sure, you might as well be a kid while you still can.
Capone: It was really great to meet you. Thank you so much.