You hear about it all the time when it comes to horror films. On the set of a scary movie actors, directors and various members of the crew will find themselves witnessing strange, creepy events. Whether it’s real, in their head, or a prank being pulled by a third party is unknown, but it happens often enough to be called a common occurrence, and it was no different on the set of The Innkeepers according to star Sara Paxton.
I recently had the chance to sit down one-on-one with the young actress and talk about the eerie events at the Yankee Peddler Inn, what it was like working with director Ti West, and why it was easy to access fear while acting in the film. Check it out and go see The Innkeepers, which is on VOD and in theaters today!
You’ve done a good number of horror films in your career. What keeps drawing you back to the genre?
I did a movie called The Last House on the Left because I wanted to escape teen comedy, and now I’ve escaped it. I can’t get back in [laughs]. So ever since then I just keep getting sent horror movie scripts, and that’s fine and that’s cool. I’ve had a good couple of years, it’s been a lot of fun playing around with the genre. I can do all kinds of stuff, so I’d like to do other stuff. But it’s been good!
Can you talk a bit about working with Ti West? What was he like as a director and how did he compare to some of the other filmmakers that you’ve worked with?
Ti is the best director that I’ve ever worked with. He’s amazing. When I first got involved with the project I wasn’t familiar with his work or him at all, and when I did become familiar with him I was so impressed. He’s so talented and he’s so young to be that talented. I really loved working with him because so many times – and I’ve been fortunate to always have a great experience, genuinely – but Ti, he really knows what he wants, he’s so specific and like a perfectionist. And that makes my job so much easier because sometimes I’ll be working with somebody and we’ll do 50,000 million takes because they don’t really know what they want. They have to do an angle from everywhere because they’re going to figure out later what they want once they have it all in the can. This, he knows what he’s doing, he knows what he wants, and it wasn’t like beating a dead horse. Done, we finished it, and move on once we got the shot. We were just so efficient. We finished about four hours early every day ahead of schedule. It was crazy.
This being a horror film obviously you’re expected to act scared a lot, but you’re being scared by something that’s in the script and has been fully planned out. How do you bring about fear in your performance?
It’s hard because it’s really exhausting to be afraid of something that you’re not afraid of. [pointing to a cup] It’s like, “That cup is scary. Be scared of it.” You know? So luckily with this we were filming in this really creepy ass basement, which is naturally scary, and the ghost lady really scared me. It scared the shit out of me because she was always in character. So she couldn’t see through her contact lenses – she wore those milky white contact lenses. She would be led into the room and she would just do this [demonstrates an intense, wide-eyed stare], just look at me, and I was like, “What is she looking at? You’re looking at me!” and I was really scared. So that helped. I don’t like working on things that I don’t feel connected to, because then it’s not real. But I felt so connected to this, plus the scary lady and the scary hotel, that made it easier.
All of it. Claire is the closest to myself that I’ve ever played. Normally I have to hype myself up and be like, “You’re about to be a confident person,” and then I’d go out and get my swagger. With this… and I think it also helped because I’m wearing like no makeup, and it’s just me in the scene everyday with no hair and no makeup. And that, all I could do was bring myself, that was all that was there. I wasn’t hiding behind a costume or something like that. Basically, Claire is so relatable that when I read the script I could really see myself in this, so I kind of did myself, turned the volume a little bit on the goofiness in certain places.
You have a great rapport with your co-star, Pat Healy, on this project. Did you first meet while doing the film?
Yeah. I flew up on a Saturday to Connecticut and we started filming the next morning. So it was just like, “Nice to meet you! Let’s do this!”
So you didn’t have much preparation time.
Nope, that was it. We just got there and started shooting. But I think it’s really a testament to Ti that he put together this group that he knew would not only be the best at doing their jobs, but would be really pleasant to be around all the time and generally mesh. So that’s what it was. I just think that our senses of humor are the same. We just get along really well.
Just to talk more about the hotel, the entire movie is basically set in this one location, with the exception of when she leaves to go get coffee. How does that affect your performance and your time on set?
You mean living there?
Were you living there during the shoot?
We lived in the Yankee Peddler. If you were to go to Torrington, Connecticut right now, walk in there, and it feels like you’re walking right into the movie. Nothing has been changed. It’s incredible. We didn’t leave because we filmed in this town that literally had a movie theater, a church, and a Burger King. That it. Like, that’s it. We never left the hotel ever. What we did was we ate every single meal together. My day consisted of waking up, I’d go downstairs in my pajamas, I’d eat breakfast with the crew – we’d all eat together from one long table – and then we’d go to work and I’d go get dressed and get ready and then we’d start shooting and then we’d wrap early, because we always got done early because we were awesome, and then we’d just walk to the bar in the hotel and hang out.
You always hear about weird, kind of paranormal events that happen on set during movies like this, and you also happened to be living in the same hotel that you were shooting in. Did you have any experiences like that?
Yeah, it’s definitely a weird place. Everyone had the same experience. It was just very…the vibe was creepy because it was just so old. And in the middle of the night my door would just violently fly open. Not even do like “errrr” [imitating door creaking open], it would just be like “doosh” [imitating door slamming open].
Could it have just been someone playing a prank on you?
Not that I know of, unless Ti was really trying to freak me out. But he had the same thing happen to him! The lights would flicker on and off, the phones would ring and then nobody would be there. And the calls would have to go through the front desk, but nobody was there. So it was just weird stuff like that.