When Guillermo del Toro decided to remake the TV movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, replacing the young lead, played by Kim Darby in the original, with a 9-year-old child, he found it to be his greatest casting challenge. But, through the recommendation of actress Natalie Portman, he found Bailee Madison.
Madison plays Sally, the young daughter of architect Alex Hurst (Guy Pearce), who has just moved into Blackwood Manor with his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes). Ignored by her father, who is busy with his career, Sally is left to wander around the estate. When she hears rasping voices calling her from the basement, promising her new friendships, she give into her curiosity, with devastating results.
When you went into audition for this, what scenes did you have to do?
I did the scene where they are accusing me of ripping up Kim’s clothes. I did the scene where I tell Katie, who plays Kim, not to leave me. It was definitely a cool auditioning experience, because I had the script and I was really excited to see how they were going to take this classic film, and redo it hopefully into another classic.
Did you see the first film?
I saw it before I read the script. The script was on my table and my next door neighbor was there that night, and she said, ‘I’ve got the movie upstairs. Let’s watch it.’
But your character wasn’t in it.
No, but it was basically the same concept, so I watched it and I read the script and it has a twist to it. They turned the older girl in the original into the younger kid, which I play. So it was really exciting for me to read the new one and compared it to the old one.
Natalie Portman recommended you for this role, how do you feel about that?
I heard that too, and it means a lot. We had such a nice relationship when we were working together. Working with her on Brothers was an amazing experience. I learned so much from watching her, and the class that she carries onto that set; she’s such a talented actress. So it was nice to hear that, I love her very much.
Do you like scary films yourself?
Yes, I like being scared. I liked Hide and Seek and The Shining.
Is this the first film where you’ve acted against something that’s not there?
Yes. I didn’t see pictures of the creatures [before we started shooting it]. A few weeks before we were done filming it I saw what they looked like. I thought, ‘Darn it.’ They looked so amazing, but the good news was all the big scenes were during that week, so I was able to have an idea of what they looked like.
What did you think they were going to look like, because you must have been imagining something?
They told me they were very hairy and had wrinkles and claws and glowing eyes, so I tried to put that in my mind. Guillermo and Troy (Nixey, the movie’s director) really helped me get that visual. In fact, before I began [each scene] Guillermo gave me the opportunity to get myself in the moment, and then I would turn to him and I would nod my head, and Troy would go, ‘Action.’ So it was this big joint effort.
Was there any scene in this film that you were afraid to shoot?
I don’t really think so. Bailee is not afraid, but they wanted Sally to be afraid, because I wanted the audience to feel exactly what the character is going through, which is crazy. So I was excited to shoot the scenes that I’ve never been able to shoot before. To be able to portray someone who I’ve never gotten to portray before was a real honor.
As the movie goes on it gets more action oriented. How did it feel kicking butt?
I liked it. It was fun. There was a little ‘girl power’ there! I felt like it was a really important moment to see my character totally desperate, she has so much terror going on around her and there are so many layers of emotion that she has [to go through]. She has to give it her all, she has to save herself.
What was it like working with Katie?
When I first met her she was just so motherly to me, and she definitely took care of me on set and made sure I was okay, she really was so sweet and so kind and I had a great time with her on and off set.
Did you play with Katie’s daughter Suri?
Of course, I loved her. She was so sweet. We had some dance parties and bowling parties.
What do you have coming up next?
I’m going to Chicago to start shooting a Marvel comic book pilot (for F/X) called Powers. I play Calista, who after her mom gets killed joins Christian Walker, one of the main superhero detectives. She’s a character that I’ve never gotten to play before, she’s spunky and yet she’s very like, ‘I’ll talk to you when I want to talk to you.’ She’s a fun character.
Do you have a power in it?
I don’t know (she says knowingly).