The new horror movie Lights Out began as a short feature written and directed in Sweden by David F. Sandberg. When it received over 100 million hits on the internet, it was noticed by Hollywood, particularly horror guru James Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious). With a screenplay by Eric Heisserer (Final Destination 5), Sandberg was brought to California to direct the motion picture, which was produced by James Wan and Lawrence Grey.
When Rebecca (Australian actress Teresa Palmer, Warm Bodies, I Am Number Four) was a child she was plagued by an entity who appeared only when the lights in the house were out. Now her little brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman, Annabelle) is facing the same scary scenario. The entity seems to have an attachment to their mother, Sophie (Maria Bello, Prisoners, A History of Violence), and Rebecca, along with her boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia, Forever, Good Girls Revolt), are drawn into the frightening situation to save Rebecca’s family.
I spoke with the actors at the press day for the movie, which cleverly uses light sources to escape from the entity known as Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey).
Maria, what attracted you to this project?
Maria: I read the script and felt if you took the horror out of it, it’s a standalone movie as a drama of this family, and these complicated relationships in this family due to mental illness,
Sophie is a wonderful character to play, a mother who is suffering from depression, off of her medication, on the verge of a psychotic breakdown, who also has this shadow that you don’t know if it’s real – she doesn’t even know if it’s real. I thought that would be a really complicated, great thing to play.
How did you prepare for the role?
Maria: I don’t know if you read my book last year where I talk about having the gift of bipolar disorder. I was able to use my experience from that and put it on screen for the first time, remembering what it was to be that person who couldn’t get out of bed for three months, to really trying to understand what it would be like to have my child at a time when I was in that space of not understanding what reality was. So that was a real gift.
Teresa and Alexander, before taking on the project, did you get to see the short film it was based on?
Teresa: I started watching it the same night I met with Lawrence, and the director, David. I sat in bed, my husband was out, my baby son was asleep next to me and I started watching it. I got a minute in and I’m like, ‘Nope, I will not be watching it tonight.’
The next morning, my husband was right next to me and I was like, ‘You’re watching this with me.’ We finished it and he turned to me and said, ‘You have got to do this movie.’
Alexander: I had a similar experience, you get that first scare, and you’re like, ‘I’m not going to watch it right now.’ But I made my way through it, I was staying with friends, and they watched it (with me) and took the laptop and literally threw it across the room. They were like, ‘Nope, love you but we’re not going to see it.’
Can you talk about working with Maria?
Teresa: When I heard it was Maria Bello I thought, ‘This is the best thing that could have happened to this movie.’ Then I saw her on day one, and what she did with it. I was so moved by it, because I was instantly thrown into the scene and I was present with her just watching the way she moved her fingers and the little nuanced behavior she injected into the movie. It was like she was doing a performance that you would see someone be nominated for at the Academy Awards.
Alexander: I think allegorically you could say that Diana could be an expression of depression. It made it more realistic, it wasn’t just this ghost that came and haunted this family, it went much deeper than that, and having Maria portray that and then having it trickle down into Teresa’s character, who obviously brought some of that from her family life when she was young, made the story cohesive. I think it made it easier for us as actors to get into the story and relate to it.
Maria, what was it like working with Teresa?
Maria: I really dig Teresa. She’s just a cool woman. As soon as we met in the trailer, it was about five minutes before a scene, we were like, ‘Hi Mom,’ ‘Hi Daughter.’ In a second she puts on this American accent and just does the work, she’s really good.
Teresa, I’m sure you had a stunt double, but did you get hurt because you really get thrown around a lot in this?
Teresa: I had a stunt double. Years ago, when I was doing I Am Number Four, I was like, ‘I’m doing all my stunts.’ I was so confident about doing everything myself. I loved it and I trained for most movies, and I became just like a stunt woman. So I knew that I could do it if I wanted to, but now being a mom I’m like, ‘I’m not so invincible, I still want to have more babies.’
What was your reaction when you saw the film for the first time?
Alexander: It was a whole different thing. I didn’t know what to expect. There were times throughout the shooting where we were like, ‘This moment is a little bit (comedic), does it work?’ And when I saw the finished product I (realized) it works because you get these comic moments that soften you up, that make you feel okay, and a second later it’s like, BOOM, you’re jumping out of your seat, spilling your popcorn.
Teresa: For me, I was really shocked because I was in the (theatre) and I thought, ‘This will be fine, I’ve read the script, I was there.’ I was staring at my big head on the screen, yet I was so invested in the story, my feet were up on the chair, I was wearing a scarf that day and I had it around my face, and I was getting laughed at by my friends. Truly, it affected me in way that I was not expecting. I ended up being transported to this world and it was terrifying.
Maria: That first sequence in the warehouse, where the main actors aren’t in it, I had no idea (what was going to happen). I was screaming so loud, ‘Oh my god.’
I never sit through a movie at a premiere, but I’m going to sit through it this time, because I can’t wait to see this with an audience.