Jocelin Donahue

The House of the Devil is director Ti West’s note-perfect recreation of 80’s cinema, and unlike many retro movies, the film is without any of the self-referentialism or self-awareness that plagues those types of films. Instead, the movie plays out like a film lost to time before being unearthed and unleashed on an unsuspecting public, and I do mean unleashed! The House of the Devil is an unrelenting, unforgettable journey into the darkest realms of fear, and for me is easily the best satanic-themed movie since Race With the Devil and has already earned it’s status as a classic of the genre.

Key to the success of the film is actress Jocelin Donahue, who, in her first leading role as our heroine Samantha, carries the film from start to finish. I was recently lucky enough to get a chance to speak to Jocelin to discuss The House of the Devil, and her future plans…

How did you get the part of Samantha, and what drew you to the role?

Just through the usual auditioning process, I met Ti (West, director of The House of the Devil) probably four or five times before I knew I had the part. Which I totally understand, because he really had to trust me because the whole movie is about this one character. As soon as I read the script I knew that it was something special because I do read a lot of horror movie [scripts] and none of them are this nuanced and I really appreciate the classic throwback style too. Talking to Ti I knew how sincere he was about making something really authentic and for me it was a breath of fresh air to read it and to get it, I know how lucky I am.

For me, in what feels like a sea of remakes, House of the Devil really stands out. Is that something you look for in a script? Something original?

Yes definitely. A lot of the productions that are made [in L.A] are remakes that are creep/kill and are just about the violence, or self-referential funny horror movies where characters know who’s gonna die first; and you know those things aren’t interesting anymore and that’s why it’s almost ironic that you have to make something in the style of thirty years ago to open up people’s eyes again . For a lot of younger viewers I can see why [House of the Devil] is polarising, or why some people think it’s quote/unquote “boring,” because they’re not used to that type of storytelling, but I think it’s more effective when you spend time with characters first, and you get to know them and care about them, and then when the violence happens it’s all the more scary.

Did you have to do much preparation for the film – did you have to familiarise yourself with the 80s again, etc?

I have to admit I didn’t know a lot about classic horror movies, so Ti really put me through the ringer and I watched all of the early Polanski movies and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the original Black Christmas and Suspiria, Don’t Look Now,  – all these movies that he was drawing from – The Changeling with George C. Scott and all these really great films with European sensibility that I didn’t know about. It changed my idea of what horror really is, which was fun, it’s fun to do that kind of research for a role. I also got to do all of the 80′s research watching Teen Wolf and Karate Kid… so it was great fun.

So I’m guessing after watching all those movies you’ve become converted as a horror fan? Or were you a fan already?

Now I am! I have to admit I wasn’t before because I didn’t know too much, whereas Ti, he’s like you he’s a real film nerd for the classics. He really introduced me to a lot of stuff I didn’t even know about.

How hard was it re-creating the 80s? As an actress how hard was it to put yourself in that time period?

It was interesting because it was before cell phones, before the MTV generation, so I really tried to imagine what it would be like to be quiet and to have time by myself, and to be lonely and angsty in a different way than kids are now. I tried not to use my cellphone and my iPod, but I did anyway (laughs), but it was interesting to put yourself back in that time period when you could actually be trapped in a house and couldn’t just pick up the cell phone and call for help. Of course getting into costume, and the hair and make-up, that all really helped, because it makes you feel like your in the 80′s – especially the high-waisted jeans (laughs)

When you were making the film did you think that it would be so well received? Or were you a little worried with it being such a throwback to the 80s?

Y’know, honestly, the first time I met Ti he said to me “some people are gonna love this, and some people are gonna hate it, and I know who’s going to be who” and I think he caught flack for Trigger Man and his previous films because he does make these kind of languid, really slow, atmospheric movies – but that was something I was attracted to, I like films like that. But as you say, you never really know… you don’t know exactly how it’s going to be received and so it was a great pleasure to watch everyone’s reaction. It seemed like it was something that the [horror] community wanted and appreciated and at the same time it was something that critics could really write about too because it’s also says something about the trajectory of horror films – how we got to where we are today, how things have changed and how things haven’t, how things have got better and how things have got worse, so it’s an interesting film to look at in the general scheme of horror.

I have to ask, Tom Noonan – he’s an icon, he and Mary Wornov, what was it like working with those two?

It was great fun. I met Tom on the day that we shot together, so the awkward realism we had [in our scenes] was real (laughs). They’re both such characters and when I was on-set just chatting with them, they were super-sweet and had great stories to tell and then when you’re in a scene with them, they can just turn it on – so they would turn into these real creeps. They are so good at what they do it really helped me, with this being my first lead performance… When we got to that really psychedelic, trippy, scary stuff at the end it was a real about-face for performance for everyone on set and for me it really helped to have them, because they were so scary.

You also had a really good on-screen chemistry with Greta Gerwig. Had you met her beforehand?

Ti knew here beforehand and I think he knew we would really get along. We immediately had this really good connection and we spent time together before we started shooting… I love those scenes [with Greta] because it feels like you’re a fly on the wall watching two friends, it feels like that’s how girls speak to each other and I think Ti did a really good job with creating naturalistic dialogue.Greta’s character was such an 80′s character, she did such a good job of being that quirky care free girl; and then you have Sam, who’s kind of struggling and melancholy and worried about money. It’s interesting, everyone has friends like that – friends that don’t have a care in the world while you sit there brooding (laughs). It’s something that people can relate to.

Whats next on the horizon? Any genre films in the pipeline?

I’m doing a genre film, but it’s not the horror genre. Right now I’m working on a mafia movie, but it’s a comedy. It has Harvey Keitel in it, and it’s really exciting to work with him. It also has a couple of other really great Italian actors, Jon Pulito and Michael Rispoli. It’s a different adventure for me, but it’s been really fun so far.

Is that something that looks like it’s going to be another original film?

Yeah, in fact I don’t really know how to describe it. I’ve never really read anything like it. It’s a mafia gangster movie about two Italian families, but at the same it’s a slapstick comedy. I think it’s going to be pretty wacky…

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