Interview: Alexandra Daddario

With her strikingly colourful blue eyes and pleasant, candid personality, one wouldn’t immediately associate actress Alexandra Daddario as an immediate candidate to become one of the new faces of one of horror’s most iconic and lucrative franchises. Yet, that’s exactly where the genuinely cheerful and down to earth 26 year old finds herself heading into the revivalist story of Texas Chainsaw 3D, opening this weekend.

The Percy Jackson and television veteran takes on the role of Heather Miller, a young woman who was unknowingly adopted at a young age by a pair of vigilantes that rescued her as a baby from her original mother, a member of the Cannibalistic Sawyer clan. Heather has been asked in classical horror movie fashion to take over the Sawyer estate seeing as she’s become the last remaining blood relative outside of the childlike killer, Leatherface who no one has seen for decades. Foregoing anything and everything that came after landmark 1974 original, this entry seeks to pick up as a direct descendant to a classic rather than  one of the franchise’s numerous and tonally different sequels or the re-boot… or the prequel to the re-boot.

It’s the refreshing back to basics approach with a modern 3D twist that intrigued Daddario and that serves the movie quite well. Dork Shelf got a chance to talk to Daddario about her return to the horror genre, the physical demands of her role, what her toughest acting challenges were, and a little bit about the upcoming sequel to Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.

This is a super physical role that you have to do here and it must be quite a bit of a challenge to keep up the stamina needed to keep running around all day and pulling off some of these action sequences – since it’s not a movie where you necessarily have to act scared throughout. What do you do to get into the right kind of mindspace to make a character like this work?

Alexandra Daddario: I had done Percy Jackson and that was really physical, as well, and I think you get into this sort of adrenaline thing that you get when you have to keep going. It was almost like the second that I got back from doing this film here that I got sick. Your body kind of goes into survival mode at a certain point, and the adrenaline is going and you know you have to do things over and over again, and I think it’s also just a matter of knowing what you’re getting into. I made sure I was in the best shape possible before going down there, and I was on just such a roll after a while, which we kind of had to be because it wasn’t a long shoot. We were only there for a month and a half versus the Percy Jackson films which were extremely long shoots where it can be harder to keep up that same kind of momentum for that long. Keeping it up for three months or four months is a lot more difficult than a month and a half. But it’s an adrenaline thing, really, and I’m just really passionate about what I do and excited, and somehow my body just finds a way to make it through, I guess. (laughs)

It also has to be the kind of set where the tension on screen and the tension on set might have had to match at times to keep you guys on task. Was there anything that was really scary while you were on set and did you ever really draw from that?

AD: I find it can be scary, but I find that I draw a lot more from other people and from my co-actors. For example, there’s a scene where Tania Raymonde – who is just a wonderful actress and person – and I were in really tight quarters and we had to panic and freak out and act like we were being chased by Leatherface with a chainsaw and we’re screaming and crying and you just feed off of each other and you start to get really frightened and you start to worry about the other person. It’s all so very instinctual in a weird way, and I think it leads to better performances and scarier scenes. I think that scene is still really scary to watch and I remember looking at it and remembering how terrified I was during it. I think it really helped the scene.

It’s really interesting because in my scenes with Dan Yeager, who plays Leatherface, some of them showcase his intensity and how that helped my performance as well because I would actually be scared by what he was doing. It was a lot about the intensity of everyone around us.

We’re there any pranks to cut the tension or any real scares?

AD: No pranks, really, but when we were shooting… You know how when you’re shooting, you’ll do coverage where the camera focuses on one person while the other person reads lines behind camera? I was doing my coverage and I had Trey Songz who plays my boyfriend reading off camera to me, and I just had this look on my face. He was making faces at me and trying to make me laugh, and that was actually really funny and nice to have that sort of cut things a bit, because it was a really serious and really hot day. It was nice to have a laugh. That’s one of the things that was great, because so many of the cast members were so lighthearted and so kind and generous, but also so serious about what they were ultimately doing that it made the experience a lot better.

Dan Yeager to some degree as a lot of horror villains do, sort of distanced himself from the cast to sort of maintain an air of mystery and suspense in scenes with the actors, but at certain points of the film you have to display a sort of family bond with him. What’s it like going from being chased by someone to having to somewhat identify with this same character?

AD: It’s definitely interesting. I had a previous experience similar to that in another horror film that I did where the guy who played the bad guy was really trying to act like how a serial killer would. I had no idea who this person really was. He didn’t talk to us and I had no relationship to him, and that was done completely on purpose.

Dan I started talking to a little more as the film went on, but I didn’t really get to know him at all even then. I didn’t know what he was like, and I don’t think we ever had a full conversation for a good while. Yeah, it helps to make you more frightened if it’s someone that you can’t joke around with and you don’t have any inside jokes or any sort of relationship. It makes it easier to be frightened and work off of them.

Seeing this is a direct sequel to the original movie that sort of throws everything away that comes after the first film was there a bit more pressure for you guys to stay true to the spirit of the most iconic film in the franchise?

AD: I was definitely nervous and excited to do the film on my end, because you are stepping into something that’s pretty iconic. I had never seen any of the original Texas Chainsaw films until I had booked this movie, but I was still really clear with what it was and what a big deal it was. (When you hear the title) everyone knows what it is regardless if they’ve seen the film, so that’s a definite form of pressure.

For people who I think are fans of the original film, we have so many nods to the original film in here and Marilyn Burns and Gunnar Hansen and Bill Moseley all get cameos in here and it was such an honour for us to have them say they wanted to be a part of it, and I think that it’s something that stands on its own. It’s a fun, scary movie, and that’s what you always have to try to achieve regardless of the starting point. I think that people will really enjoy it.

Would you ever want to take on a darker role in a film like this and be a killer instead of a heroine?

AD: (laughs) Yeah, definitely! I think it’s cool and one of the things in this one that you see as the movie goes on was that I got to play a darker character at all. It’s someone who is related to one of the most iconic horror characters of all time, and that’s a crazy thing to think about that you can’t help but have it rub off on you. It’s cool to explore that side of yourself and I am definitely not opposed to it.

If you didn’t have to use a chainsaw as a weapon, what you would go for?

AD: (laughs) But there are so many weapons to choose from! I would probably say something like a machete, because I have worked with swords before and I felt so empowered and badass and totally not myself. Something like that, but there’s something cool about playing that kind of tough character with that sort of power to them. It’s not like real life and that’s really exciting to me.

And you just finished up work on another franchise film with the Percy Jackson sequel recently, correct?

AD: Yeah! I have that  coming out in August, and I’m about to go off and do some re-shoots on that soon, but I’m really excited about that one because I’ve heard some really great things about how it’s coming together. I had a great time making it and there were some really great people involved.

Now that you have had a hand in two franchises with a certain degree of recognition, what has it been like having to interact with fans of these series?

AD: One thing with the Percy Jackson audiences is that they’re young and it’s a family film, which is great because a lot of them are already such fans of the books that they’re so inspired by you and the films and the characters that you really don’t have to do very much to impress them if you stay close to what they know and love about the books. Being able to be able to be in a position to inspire kids like that is super cool. I do remember mostly the biggest complaints to be had with that were that my hair colour wasn’t the same as my character, but in this movie I’m blonde, whereas in the first film I was brunette, to be a bit more like the character. I appreciated that, actually, and that they can feel that strongly that their characters are coming out the way they pictured them. The hard thing is that when you adapt a film from a book, structurally they’re completely different and you can’t make it completely perfect, but I think we have such a loving audience with them being so young that it’s a wonderful experience.

For this one here, I did do Comic-con in New York and I had a really positive experience and people seemed really excited. That was great, and as far as the fans, it’s something that’s clearly really beloved, too, and you have people who might… Well, nothing will ever have positive feedback 100% of the time, but I’m really happy to be a part of the series and I really do think that fans, particularly of the original, will really like it and enjoy it.

Now that you’ve done a few really labour intensive roles in your career, what has been the hardest thing you have ever had to do as an actress yet?

AD: Ohhhh, the hardest thing ever… I would actually say that some of the hardest things to do were earlier on in my career. I think that as I’ve been getting bigger roles, it’s different than having a role in something like a horror film. I was in a film called The Attic, and you know that you’re just paying your dues and whatnot, and I had to fake a seizure in the mud in the middle of December in New Jersey, and it was just a small thing. And they weren’t mean to me or anything like that, but sometimes when you have smaller roles, you tend to get cheated a little bit. (laughs) You never get treated like anything close to a princess and you don’t have time to really prepare at all, so you’re there faking a seizure, lying there in the cold with no bra on under this flimsy dress and it’s this bizarre type of thing. I was freezing cold and no one seemed to care, but at the same time you keep thinking “This is totally awesome because I’m in a movie!” I would say that some of the tougher scenes were in those days.

But there’s plenty of tough things in everything I do. I think one misconception is that it’s extremely glamorous, and while it can be, it’s also really really hard work. There’s a lot of sweating, and gross things, and corn syrup blood that cakes all over you, and having things taped all over your body, and that kind of stuff.