Home Drama Orphan – Co-producer Susan Downey

Orphan – Co-producer Susan Downey

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Vera Farmiga and Isabelle Fuhrman © Warner Bros

Susan Downey once held the dual posts of co-president of Dark Castle Entertainment and executive vice president of production at (Joel) Silver Pictures, which she joined in 1999. Now co-producing the Horror film Orphan with Silver, she is enthusiastic about the story of a dysfunctional family headed by John Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard) and Kate (Vera Farmiga), who are desperately trying to carry on after the stillborn birth of their baby, who adopt 9-year-old Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), the child from hell!


What was interesting is the casting of this, because Peter and Vera are respected actors because of the independent work that they’ve done and yet they are just perfect for these roles. So it’s more the story that’s the center of everything.

Vera Farmiga and Isabelle Fuhrman © Warner Bros
Vera Farmiga and Isabelle Fuhrman © Warner Bros

You kind of nailed it, which is we felt that the script that we bought, or become a part of, was really solid, and the characters are great and all the interesting, layered back stories existed from the beginning. We worked and developed it and changed some of the details and worked around with the plot, but we were fortunate that we had a really good starting point, and when Jaume [Collet-Serra, the director] came on board, he, in developing it with us further, continued to make the characters and their relationships feel very real.

So when it came to casting we did feel that the idea of the movie didn’t require someone to try and sell it on. Vera had somehow got hold of the script even before we started really talking about who would be in the movie and making our list and all that process we go through, and she sought us out. She had such an interesting take on Kate and the way she performs, the stuff we’ve seen her in, felt very natural, which was what Jaume was going for in the look of the movie and the tone. She and Peter knew each other, they’d worked together in Flightplan, and it just went right to him and it came together very naturally, which is always nice.

Isabelle must have been hard to find, she’s amazing.

Isabelle Fuhrman © Warner Bros
Isabelle Fuhrman © Warner Bros

She is amazing, we got very fortunate with all three kids. With the casting of Esther we did a very traditional route, got casting people to put a bunch of kids on tape, and it went up on the site and we looked at them and she just popped out. It was a no-brainer. She absolutely did not fit the description of the little girl in the script and it didn’t matter, because she just nailed it.

She was very natural. A lot of times with kids we see them pushing the performance. You see them trying really hard, and she felt incredibly natural, she came in so prepared, she had a little outfit on like it was described in the script. She had the accent already, it was pretty remarkable, but more than anything, much like what Vera and Peter brought, she had a natural quality to her that you really noticed.

Was it weird getting away from CG monsters, because this is scarier than anything Dark Castle has done.

With Dark Castle we’re always looking for all kinds of genre or Horror movies and I think we like to mix it up. We’re always looking for that sophisticated one, and you hope you don’t sophisticate yourself into something that’s neither a Horror movie nor a drama. You can run the risk of trying too hard, but this one, as I said, the original material and the idea were solid enough that we got lucky.

I think the weather is important in a movie, how did you manage to get the snow to fall in this one?

Actually, we didn’t, we improv-ed really well. What happened was, it was set to take place in the fall, and there was even a scene at Hallowe’en, and we had this whole grand production scheme where we were going to shoot before Christmas in Toronto, where there was going to be no snow, and then we were going to be moving to Montreal and doing all the interiors on stages there. We were going to have this great fall movie.

Well, there was the biggest snow storm in history, in like the last few decades, in Toronto, it just poured snow, and it was such a wonderful serendipitous event because it created this incredible sterile, cold environment, and we went for it. We were so fortunate that we had the weather go against us.