Exclusive Interview with Sophie Curtis about ‘Innocence’

Innocence movie poster

She has played supporting roles in “The English Teacher,” “At Any Price” and “Arbitrage,” but now Sophie Curtis finally gets her first leading role in the horror film “Innocence.” Based on the book of the same name by Jane Mendelsohn, Curtis plays Beckett Warner, a young woman who has just moved with her father to New York City after the tragic death of her mother. Once there she is enrolled in a super elite Manhattan prep school where she makes the acquaintance of the school’s nurse Pamela Hamilton (Kelly Reilly) who helps her settle in to her new environment. But as Pamela begins to insinuate herself into Beckett’s life even more, Beckett comes to discover that the school harbors a deep, dark secret that may end up claiming her life.

It was a lot of fun talking with Curtis back in 2014 on the phone as she was about to start college at UC Berkeley. We talked about how she got cast in “Innocence,” how the movie “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” was a big inspiration for her in playing Beckett, and of what it was like working with established actors like Kelly Reilly and Linus Roache.

 

Ben Kenber: Congratulations on this being your first lead role in a movie.

Sophie Curtis: Thank you. I’m very excited.

BK: You’re welcome. This is one of the few horror movies I’ve seen recently where a teenager having sex can actually save their life instead of end it because it’s usually the other way around (Sophie laughs). How do you feel about that?

SC: I felt like it was empowering. I think it’s good for kids to see both sides, and I really enjoyed playing a character who wants to overcome all the things that are thrown at her. My experience and my courage for it to be my first film, because I was very nervous about that while I was filming, I think that kind of adds to the veneer throughout the film and I hope people pick up on that one while they’re watching it.

BK: How did you get cast in “Innocence?”

SC: I went through the normal audition process, and then Hilary Brougher, the director, had it down to me and I think two other girls, and she met with all of us separately through lunch. We weren’t really auditioned or reading lines. We were just talking about our perspective of who Beckett is and what she’s struggling with and what that means to us. I think we really connected on our views of Beckett and I think we had an understanding. Hillary is awesome. She actually wrote my college recommendation for me so we were very close on set, and I think that we had an immediate connection and that probably helped with me in getting the role for Beckett. She helped me a lot in getting this character.

BK: Kelly Reilly plays a very enigmatic character, and I loved watching how she was able to say things without speaking a word. You look into her eyes and you know she is trouble. What was it like rehearsing with her? Did she surprise you when it came to certain scenes in the movie?

SC: Yes. It’s really funny because she’s actually super, super sweet when she’s not playing a bloodsucking witch and she gives a very raw performance. I think that really helped me with my character because her and Linus Roache who played my dad are very established actors and it was my first leading role, and I think they knew that everybody has to start somewhere so they were very accepting of that and just helped me to do the best that I could do with my performance.

BK: How long of a schedule did you all have to make “Innocence” in?

SC: I think it took us a month and a half, and we were filming really, really long days. Going in at four or five a.m. and finishing once it was dark out was really intense for me, but it was one of the best summers of my life so I’m absolutely grateful for that.

BK: You said “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” was a big inspiration for you in playing Beckett. What was it specifically about that movie that inspired you so deeply?

SC: I think it’s just the idea of going back to the source of horror. I think that “Dracula” and films like “Frankenstein” are films that have been drawn from so much to create today’s horror films and today’s horror novels. It’s kind of like the grandfather of horror and I think it’s the idea of supernatural love story with a normal girl, Winona Ryder who is one of my favorite actresses, just being trapped in a hyper reality and being misunderstood. I liked the simplicity of it and I like seeing how it’s transformed throughout in trying to create new movies like “Innocence.” That was the inspiration for Beckett.

BK: Are there any movies out right now that you feel are as good as “Bram Stoker’s Dracula?”

SC: Honestly, I really like old horror movies. To me, “Innocence” is not as much of a horror movie. It’s just more of a thriller and a coming-of-age story.

BK: What’s great about Beckett is that she is one of the more down to earth teenagers that we’ve seen in movies recently. Did you add a lot to this character that wasn’t in the script, or did you mostly stick to the script?

SC: She is really down to earth and I think she just has a very innocent demeanor. Hilary had adapted the script from the book as written by Jane Mendelsohn, and Jane was a producer on the film so she was very involved with how she wanted her story to be portrayed in the movie. I think Hilary kind of changed it from the book and she really involved me in that she starts off solemn and at other time she’s very happy. I kind of gave her my opinions on the script and how I felt Beckett should be represented after reading it and studying the character and just having an insight of being a teenager and how I felt Beckett should come off. So I think I did help or least I hoped I helped. I think I tried to make Beckett as much as my own character because she’s just a really awesome character and I had a really fun time playing her. She definitely taught me a lot while I was filming.

BK: Your character goes through a wide range of emotions throughout this movie. What was it like juggling all those different emotions while playing this role?

SC: It was really intense, but I think that me being nervous and excited and scared and happy and all of those things in real life as Sophie for being my first film and just being in this really intense working environment that I wasn’t used to. I think that really added to Beckett’s character and it helped me. I was going through similar emotions to what she was going through just in different circumstances, so you just try to draw from that and apply it to her situation.

BK: I understand that you are now starting college at UC Berkeley. How is that going for you?

SC: I’m here right now in my dorm, so if you hear other people it’s just my roommates. I’m in a triple so it’s really very crowded.

BK: What do you have planned next other than school?

SC: I’m just seeing what happens with “Innocence” right now. It’s just a really exciting time so I’m just reviewing a few possibilities, and there’s some really great opportunities. I just have to figure out which ones are the right ones for me. You have to be really, really dedicated to the project you take on because it’s really long hours and you have to really invest yourself in the character and become the character. It’s hard to wake up every single day and play somebody for hours on end that you don’t enjoy playing. I loved playing Beckett and I’d love to play her again if there’s a possibility of doing an “Innocence 2.”

BK: Well thank you for your time Sophie and good luck at school. It will definitely be a fun time for you for sure.

SC: Thank you, I’m very excited and happy to be here. It’s far from home so it’s been a little bit of an adjustment, but I like it a lot.

Innocence” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

 

Advertisements

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘Dracula’ (1931)

Dracula 1931 poster

While at a party celebrating the DVD, Blu-ray and Digital release of “Ouija,” I was one of several people who won the DVD box set of “Universal Classic Monsters,” a complete 30-film collection of all the movies from Universal Pictures’ Monster Universe which played in theaters from 1931 to 1956. These movies included such iconic characters as Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Phantom of the Opera, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. With the occasion of Halloween rapidly approaching, I decided to sit down and watch the 1931 English-language version of “Dracula.” While I am familiar about Count Dracula and how he says “I want to suck your blood” on what seems like a regular basis, this marks the first time I have taken the time to sit down and watch this particular movie.

Having grown in a time of horror movies like “Jaws,” Halloween,” “Friday the 13th,” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” I wondered how this would affect my enjoyment of this horror classic which was first released back in 1931. Watching “Dracula” today made me wonder if I would react to it in disdain, and I came out of it wondering how I would have reacted to it were I alive and watched it when it first came out. Nevertheless, I can see why this version of “Dracula” remains such an unforgettable cinematic classic. While certain aspects of its production seem cheap by today’s standards (we all know it took a fishing pole to make the bat fly), time has been kinder to this version than I expected.

“Dracula” begins with a group of people riding in a stagecoach to a local village, and among them is Renfield (Dwight Frye), a solicitor on his way to Transylvania to visit Count Dracula for business purposes. The mention of Dracula’s name, however, has everyone reacting with wide-eyed expressions (and we are talking really wide) as his reputation for sucking blood is never in doubt, and the townspeople beg Renfield to reconsider going to his residence. But unlike some stupid kid in an 80’s horror flick eager to tempt fate because he thinks he is invincible, Renfield has actual business to do with Dracula, so it’s understandable how the man will not be deterred from meeting with the man everyone rightfully believes is a vampire. Of course, by the time Renfield discovers this, it is too late.

The first thing I want to talk about in regards to this particular version of “Dracula” is the man who plays Bram Stoker’s iconic character, Bela Lugosi. Before watching this movie, I was more familiar with what happened to Lugosi’s career after he played Dracula than what came before it. A victim of typecasting, he would later descend into oblivion to where he appeared in Ed Wood’s infamous films, “Plan 9 From Outer Space” being the most memorable, and people in Hollywood had long since assumed he had died. Lugosi would be memorialized years later by the late Martin Landau who played him in Tim Burton’s delightful and thoughtful biopic “Ed Wood.”

But seeing him here made me realized just how perfectly cast Lugosi was why he remained forever typecast as a result. From his first appearance, Lugosi is an insidiously frightening presence as all he has to do is stare in the distance to give you an idea of how threatening he can be if you dare cross him. When he claims his first onscreen victim, he simply waves his arm to let his three undead wives know this one is his to turn. When it comes to movies, this is an example of showing power as the character doesn’t need words to show how commanding they are.

Lugosi is wonderfully mesmerizing throughout “Dracula” as he just needs to give off a look with his eyes to let you know what is going on in his obsessive mind. Every physical step he takes is tinged with a sheer menace, and the actor also benefits from the wonderful cinematography by Karl Freund, whom many consider an uncredited director on this film. When he tells a character to “come here,” the power in his voice more than suggests you should take his order very, very seriously as he doesn’t need any additional dialogue from David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin.

It should be noted how when this film was made, Hollywood had just emerged from the era of silent movies.  As a result, the acting is more emotive than the kind we often see in movies today. The transition from silent films to talkies was not without its bumps, so the actors we see here are still used to a process of trying to get things across to an audience by acting out emotions instead of inhabiting their characters. Still, I did get a kick out of Dwight Frye’s performance as Renfield as he is clearly having a blast playing an infinitely possessed human being whose suffering, caused by a vampire’s bite, comes close to equaling Nicolas Cage’s present-day theatrics.

“Dracula” was directed by Tod Browning, a filmmaker who these days is better known for his 1932 cult classic, “Freaks,” one of the movies which is impossible to erase from the mind once you have seen it. I really liked how he used silence to the film’s advantage instead of giving us a music score. The tension is still taut as he follows Dracula’s every step, and this is a vampire who moves ever so gracefully because he doesn’t have to move quickly for anybody.

There was a score composed for the film by Philip Glass in 1998 and performed by Kronos Quartet, and you can tell it’s a Philip Glass score right from the start. It suits “Dracula” well, but I enjoyed the film more without it.

If there is anything disappointing for me about “Dracula,” it was the ending. Now this is largely the result of me being spoiled by countless slasher movies from the 80’s, but I think things could have been handled in a far more spectacular fashion than just driving a stake into a character’s heart and the happy couple running off together. It seems such like am abrupt ending to a classic motion picture, but then again, I am watching it close to a hundred years after its release.

There are many other versions of “Dracula” I need to watch now as I am eager to see how this character has evolved cinematically from one generation to the next. Browning’s 1931 version is a good one to start with, and lord knows there are also many other classic horror movies I need to watch. In order to better understand and appreciate the present, we at times have to go back to the past to discover how things got started.

* * * ½ out of * * * *