The Stepfather - Sela Ward
Susan Harding (Sela Ward) © Screen Gems

Sela Ward shot to fame with her TV series Sisters which premiered in 1991 and ran for five years. In the new movie The Stepfather she takes on the role of Susan Harding, a divorced parent with three children, including a troubled teenage son named Michael (Penn Badgley). When she meets David Harris (Dylan Walsh), she feels he is the man of her dreams – but it doesn’t take long for those dreams to turn into nightmares, when Harris’ real personality is revealed and her entire family is in danger of being annihilated.

What was it about this project that attracted you to it?

The Stepfather - Sela Ward
Susan Harding (Sela Ward) © Screen Gems

I read the script and I thought I can’t get hurt, I don’t think I can look too stupid in this movie, so I’ll do it and try something different. I think if I were in one of the slasher movies I couldn’t do that, but this is so grounded in something that could truly happen that there was enough truth there for me that I could play it.  Dylan’s so great, I love him in Nip/Tuck and I’ve been watching Gossip Girl with my ‘son’ just to try to censor it. Penn is so adorable I was going, ‘This will be fun, why not?’ It was something different.

Can you talk a little about your role and why your character is attracted to David Harris?

He’s… so perfect, all those things that women get hooked into, and she falls for him…

Have you looked at Dylan Walsh? It’s those blue eyes. She’s recently divorced and had an ass for a husband and it’s been awhile, and he’s somebody who comes off so perfect, you couldn’t make a list of what you’d want in a guy any better than he’s behaving in the beginning. Great about the family and the kids and wants everybody to be together, all those things that women get hooked into, and she falls for him, she’s lonely. And also for her to raise those kids by herself is difficult. It’s fascination to me how many women do get seduced and how frightening that is because they really know nothing about the man.

The Stepfather - Dylan Walsh and Sela Ward
The Stepfather/David Harris (Dylan Walsh) and Susan Harding (Sela Ward) © Screen Gems

How do you make her grounded and sympathetic, and not maker her stupid and naïve?

Dylan and I talked about that a lot, to make sure that there was enough non-verbal stuff between the two of them. Also to see what it is about him that she’s falling for, so that she doesn’t look stupid. I also decided I need to be really busy, that I’m not noticing what’s going on that everybody else is.  And that’s a tricky fine line always, it’s not necessarily on the page, we’re trying really hard to finesse that.

Is it hard to keep a genre picture like this real?

It’s all based in truth, it’s based on a true story. It’s loosely based on a real guy who killed his own family, it’s not a slasher movie, a guy with a chainsaw hacking everybody up. It’s based in truth, and you play it truthfully because it could happen to anyone, I think that’s why it’s going to be so unnerving. Someone lonely or divorced, single parents are so desperate for attention and help you can easily see why this charming man sweeps her off her feet, it’s very believable I think.


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.