When we last left Sara Paxton, she
was taking a huge chance in her career. After working most of her
young career in light, comic roles, Paxton had taken a film very
unlike any she had ever tried before – a remake of the horror
classic The Last House on the Left. In that film, she had to
take the very adult and extremely serious role of a young woman who
was violently raped, shot and left for dead.
That was just over two years ago.
In just that little amount of time, the pretty young actress’ career
has pretty much taken a 360 turn. Paxton followed up Last House
with another genre film, Shark Night 3D. Now she is getting
serious buzz for her third horror film in just
over two years, a small independent ghost
story called The Innkeepers. The spooky movie about two
slacker twenty-somethings investigating a legendary ghost in an old
hotel is opening to major critical acclaim.
Not only that, Paxton has a few
more scary movies coming up. Suddenly, going back and doing light
comic work seems like the stretch. However, Paxton is enjoying the
ride and will go wherever the roles take her. She had to admit to me
at a recent meeting about The Innkeepers in the New York
offices of Magnolia Pictures that even she is a bit surprised by how
it all turned out.
“I definitely am,” Paxton says,
“but that’s how it goes. I get that and I think it’s all good.
Everything worked out for the best. I wouldn't have been able to do
this movie if I didn’t do Last House of the Left. I would be
working another movie, so I think I'm lucky.”
Still, she is always open to going
back to some more lightweight comic performance. Or she’d be happy
to take it in a whole new direction. Like the sharks she was evading
in last year’s film, her career above all has to keep on moving
“I want to do all kinds of stuff,”
Paxton says. “I don't mind that it has been down the horror track
for the past couple of years because it’s fun in a different way.
It’s challenging. It’s really hard for girls my age to get those
roles where you can act… you know what I mean? Stretch out and try
stuff. A lot of the roles I get sent are ‘cheerleader’ [or] ‘mean
girl.’ I mean, that’s fine. That’s fun to play sometimes, too, but
these are great opportunities for me. I don’t always get to do stuff
like that in a film.”
Paxton has had a long career – the
23-year-old actress has been working since she was six – trying to
“do stuff” that would be interesting. That has led her down some
very intriguing roads over the years. Paxton was able to be the star
of a popular kid’s series in Darcy’s Wild Life. She
got to be
a mermaid in Aquamarine. “It’s every little girl’s dream,”
she exclaims. “Every little girl plays mermaid in the pool growing
up. I was so happy that I got to be in the same realm of The
Little Mermaid and Daryl Hannah in Splash.”
in the same realm – that is, an undersea realm – little Sara did a series of
voices in the cartoon series Spongebob Squarepants. “I did
the theme song. Any random kid voice you hear is me,” Paxton
recalls. “I'd go to Nickelodeon studios and I loved it because I
could come in after school with my gross school shirt uniform and
they'd give me candy and popcorn and toys and stuff... I haven't
done it in awhile. Since I've grown up, my voice has changed.”
Years later, the change continues
as Paxton settles into the new path her career is taking. Yet, with
The Innkeepers, Paxton is able to look backwards a bit too.
The film, directed by Ti West, who turned heads a couple of years
ago with The House of the Devil, is an interesting take on
the traditional ghost story – mixing laughs with scares and then
slowly ratcheting up the tension.
“It’s funny because when I read
the script, I guess I didn't notice so much of the comedy. It was
when we started doing it and we were playing around with it that it
became this whole other thing. A lot of it was on the page, but it
was also that our chemistry was so great. Me and Pat [Healy],
we just got along really well right off the bat. A lot of it was
that. It was hard to describe the movie to friends because
they're like ‘it's funny?’ I'm like, yeah it's funny! But it's
scary… They're like 'I don't get it'. I'm so happy that people
are talking about it and they really like it. I feel really lucky
that I get to be [in the movie]. It's corny to say that, but I feel
cool,” Paxton laughs.
Part of that coolness just came
from working with West – a hip new name on the directing scene.
However, she has to admit she was not really up on his work before
getting involved with the film.
“At the time: not at all. I didn’t
know him. I had never heard his name before. I like scary movies but
I don't seek them out,” Paxton chuckles, “because I get really
scared easily from the movies. I'm just a big baby. Especially
anything with ‘devil’ in the title really scares me, because I
was traumatized as a kid. When I did [see The House of the Devil],
I was really impressed. Then I felt embarrassed that I didn't know
who he was, that I hadn't seen his movies. I was really embarrassed.
Even now, I don't like to do interviews with him because he makes me
nervous still, because I don't feel cool enough to be in the movie.
He knows so much by being in the film world and I'm still so new to
it. But I’m really glad that we got along and that he wanted me for
the role. I'm happy about it.”
In The Innkeepers, Paxton
plays Claire, a bored college student who is working the final
weekend at a spooky old hotel which is closing after centuries in
business. The place is called The Yankee Pedlar Inn. (It is a real
hotel in Torrington, Connecticut; however the subplot of the
shutting down is made up for the movie – the Pedlar still very much
only co-worker is Luke (Pat Healy), a slacker who is pushing 30,
living at home and bored with his dead-end job – yet not sure what
he will do next. It’s not like the hotel is keeping them busy, there
are only four guests in the whole place – a former TV star turned
psychic (played by Kelly McGillis), another woman hiding herself and
her son from her estranged husband and an elderly man who is
nostalgic for the room in which he spent his honeymoon.
With lots of time and not much to
do, Luke has decided it will be fun to look into the hotel’s ghost
legend. And if Claire feels like she needs protecting… all the
better. After all, he figures, she’s really cute.
“I think that she thinks that they
are friends,” Paxton says. “She's kind of naïve, obviously, about
everything. So she doesn't even see that that he’s [interested]…
She's like 'I know what we gotta do!' He's like (romantically)
'Yeah, what do you wanna do?' And she's like 'Get the ghosts!'
He's like 'oh…' (dejected). She doesn't even notice. She
thinks they're friends.”
Paxton also enjoyed the
opportunity to work with McGillis, who pretty much walked away from
Hollywood after starring in two of the biggest hit films of the 80s
– Witness and Top Gun.
“She was great. She came in the
second week of filming so it all worked out. We were already all so
close and she was supposed to be this famous person that comes in
randomly, and then she was the famous person that came in randomly.
She made me a little nervous because she's famous, so that kind of
all played in. She's definitely an intense lady but nice. I brought
my dog on the set with me and she had her dog, so we would love our
dogs and hang out, whatever. It just all worked out.”
Paxton isn’t even sure if her
character really believed in ghosts until she had no choice but to
believe. Claire may very well have been looking for ghosts just as
something to amuse herself.
“You're supposed to be able to
have two opinions on it,” Paxton says. “There
was definitely an argument for each. You can definitely say it was
just her paranoia, it was an asthma attack and she didn't have her
inhaler and she got caught up in her own… freaking out. Or you can
say it was meant to be the pendulum. Did you hear what Kelly McGillis said? She said that there were three lost souls. She was
the third soul.”
So we’re not sure if the character
believed in ghosts. Does the actress?
“I don't know,” Paxton says,
thoughtfully. “I don't not believe in ghosts. I just have
never seen a ghost. I want the ghosts to be like, ‘Hey, we’re here.’
Then I'd be like, I do [believe]. I've seen a ghost.” She laughs.
“But I've never seen one.”
has she? The movie was shot on location at the Yankee Pedlar – and
while she never actually saw any spirits, she does have to admit
that some odd things took place there. Director West had first
experienced the Pedlar when he and his crew stayed there while filming
The House of the Devil. Upon learning of the hotel’s history, he
wrote The Innkeepers about the place. When Paxton was hired
and they moved in, West was sure to let his stars know that the
place was really haunted.
“People were getting so scared,”
Paxton says. “A lot of weird stuff did happen. I don't know, maybe
it was that the place was so old. The whole building was just weird.
It's all askew. You'll walk into one room and than all of a sudden
it’s like 'creakk.' Weird stuff like the door would like
wildly fly open at midnight randomly. I'd be like: it's the wind, you
know? Lights flickering and the phone would ring, but nobody would
“It’s funny, because the room that
we filmed the big climax in, with the old man, they picked that room
only because it's the biggest room. So they could get the camera and
the dolly in. It turns out that’s the most haunted room in the whole
place – which is a coincidence. The second floor is supposedly where
the real stuff goes down. But I stayed on the third floor.”
Of course, safety is a relative
term for Paxton at this point in her career. After all, in just the
past two years she has had to – through her characters – try to deal
with killer escaped convicts, vicious man-eating sharks and now a
vengeful spirit. So… truth to tell… which one scares Paxton the
“I've always been afraid of
sharks. I definitely think I'm more scared of ghosts than killers,”
Paxton laughs. “Oh my God, it’s so bad! My parents think I'm crazy.
I'm scared of stupid ghosts. But I don't know what will be next.”
One of the things coming next is
horrifying in an entirely different spectrum. Paxton has taken a
role in the historical drama The Boys of Abu Ghraib, about
the infamous Iraqi war scandal.
about a soldier that goes to Iraq and he’s in Abu Ghraib,” Paxton
explains. “It’s about the whole thing [that] happened, with
the release of the pictures of them torturing [prisoners]. I play
the girl from back home of the soldier who's involved in the whole
thing. All my stuff is happy stuff. It's him before he goes away.
Him in the middle of these horrible situations looking back at happy
moments with her. Then he comes back home and he's not the same
On the more traditional horror
track, Paxton has three new films on the way, Enter Nowhere,
Liars All and Static. She is also set to do a film
reboot of the 1960s western TV series The Big Valley which
will co-star Jessica Lange, Aidan Quinn, Richard Dreyfuss, Bruce
Dern and the original series star Lee Majors.
“We haven’t done it [yet],” Paxton
explains. “I got involved in that last year. It’s hard because there
are so many famous people in it on television shows so all the
schedules need to like, go. I'm just waiting for them to make it.”
And if another light comedy comes
around? Paxton is up for that, too. The movies are a wildly varied
world and Sara Paxton is enjoying learning about all of the aspects
– both as an actress and as a fan.
“Growing up, I really liked the
classics. I was raised on Gone with the Wind and Jimmy
Stewart. That’s the kind of stuff, because my mom was a total huge
classic film buff. Rear Window and all
Alfred Hitchcock. That’s what I liked.
“Now I can't just keep watching
those movies,” Paxton laughs. ”Now that I'm in this movie I'm
definitely seeing what else is out there. There is obviously so much
that I'm not hearing about and not seeing in the whole indie film
world. I think it's so great. Great, but it's kind of crazy that
there are so many great people that make so many great movies and
nobody's ever heard of. Like me. I didn't know who Ti was. He’s so
talented it's crazy. He's honestly probably the best director I've
ever worked with.”
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