Our admiration for the films of Ti West is no secret. We think he's not only the most interesting horror director working these days, but one of the most interesting directors working in any genre. Last fall we brought you an extensive chat with the House of the Devil director about his distinct filmmaking process and now that his latest film, the superb haunted hotel film The Innkeepers, is available on VOD, we've been given the opportunity to look at his process from a different perspective.
We recently chatted with Sara Paxton, who stars in The Innkeepers as Claire, one of two hotel workers who search the grounds for ghosts during their bored downtime. We spoke with Paxton, no stranger to the genre, about what it's like working with a perfectionist like West, how much of her is in Claire, and more.
Movies.com: Having spoken with him at length about the way he works last year, it's very clear that Ti West is a perfectionist with a very specific way of making movies and I'm curious how you react to that as an actress.
Sara Paxton: Working with Ti was amazing. He's one of the best directors I've ever worked with. Like you said, he is a perfectionist and he's so specific and he knows exactly what he wants, so that makes my job so much easier. We're not coming in doing fifty million takes from every angle, because we don't know what we're doing. He knows what he wants, we get in there, we do it. If he doesn't like something, we change it, and it's just boom-boom-boom.
He's so talented and for somebody who is so young I really wasn't expecting that. He really blew me away.
Movies.com: I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I assume you've never had a day job where you're isolated, just sitting around with another person all day long.
Paxton: No, I haven't. I've never had a real job because I've been acting since I was six.
Movies.com: Well, acting is a real job. There's no shame in it, and it's a lot more work than people realize.
Paxton: That is the thing. People are like, "How can you relate to this, you've been acting your whole life?" And I'm like...well, first of all, my job isn't that glamorous. I'm not like an actor from Twilight where it's like I get whatever I want. But not only that, I don't care who you are, everyone can relate to that feeling of, "God, what is this sh*t that I'm doing?" Should I go back to school? Should I quit this acting thing? This is not going the way I wanted it to." And I think that dead-end, meh feeling is something everyone's had in life. And that's where Claire is and that's why she's so relatable and I don't think you have to have had that sitting-behind-a-desk type job to relate to that.
Movies.com: I agree completely, and what I was building to was wondering what, if at all, was the process like building that co-worker relationship?
Paxton: There was zero rehearsal time. I literally got the job then flew in on a Saturday night and Pat and I shook hands and were like, "Let's do this." And I think that really is a testament to Ti that he brought together people who were not only really good at their jobs, but who were really pleasant and really easy to be around. I think that's where our chemistry was sort of formed. Pat and I are just similar and we like each other and our relationship formed from the get-go.
As for the character of Claire, as I said, I think she's just very relatable. And I've still had those feelings of being stuck in a dead-end job where I'm like whatever about what I'm doing and what I should do. Claire is probably the closest to myself I've ever played in any role. Claire is just a piece of me with the goofiness amplified. I just turn up the volume on it a little bit. But she's definitely the closest to myself I've ever played.
Movies.com: It's in more subtle ways here, but you often do play a sort of object of desire where not only other characters fall for you, but the entire story gravitates around you. Does playing that kind of girl affect you as an actress, if at all?
Paxton: No, not really. I never even thought about it until you brought it up, I guess. Speaking specifically for Innkeepers, Claire's not supposed to notice it. She's supposed to be naive in scenes where Luke's like, "I have an idea..." and she's like "Me too! Let's go catch a ghost!" So it's not something I even needed to be aware of, I guess. It's flattering, but I didn't notice it.
Movies.com: Well I think it's more subtle in The Innkeepers versus something like Last House or Shark Night, which I am a huge fan of, by the way. I think it's a very misunderstood movie.
Paxton: It is a misunderstood movie! People don't realize it's supposed to just be fun.
Movies.com: How do roles like that work for you as an actress? Do you pay attention to the audience reception after you're done with a movie? Because something like Shark Night has a very immediate reaction, whereas something like The Innkeepers will boil over time and spread through word of mouth.
Paxton: I'm not really that kind of person. As an actor, I kind of just do my job and then I'm out of it because it's just not something I can control. Who sees it and when and how is just way out of my reach, so once I'm done, I just walk away from it. And if people don't like the movie or me in it, so be it. I'm not one of those actors who is like,"Oh, it's my art, blahblahbla." For me, what I get out of it is I love meeting people and I love being in this camp environment where everyone gets along. And that really is what it was like on The Innkeepers. We all lived together and felt like a team. We'd walk together down to the lobby and just get to work, and I love that. It makes it so worthwhile to me.
The other thing I love is being in the theater and hearing the reaction, hearing people scream and laugh. I love in The Innkeepers when... like at SXSW at the world premiere, which was the first time I'd ever seen it, and hearing every single joke hit.
Movies.com: I happened to be there for that and it was amazing how there were no misses or moments where something clearly was falling flat. It's a tremendous crowd movie.
Paxton: It is. That's so rewarding. With Innkeepers specifically, it's probably the proudest I've ever been of something I'm in. I never tell anyone to see anything I'm in. I'm normally like I wipe my hands clean and think I did the best I could so whatever happens happens. But with this, I'm like, "Please, please see it you guys. I'm so proud of it. Please go out and pay for it." And that's definitely different for me.
Movies.com: I think it will definitely have the type of life where it keeps spreading from word of mouth, and I think a lot of that has to do with this being a Ti West film. Was he a filmmaker that was on your radar before this project? And if not, how did you come to it?
Paxton: I didn't know it until I started doing all these interviews, but my agent submitted me for the movie. From my side of it, though, what happened was I was working on another movie and became friends with the actress in it. It turns out she's a mutual friend, so one day we were out running errands and she was on her phone and says, "Do you know Ti West? He's asking about you and wants to know if you're fun to work with because he wants to send you a script. You've got to work with him!" But I didn't know who Ti West was. I'd never heard of him before because I'm just not that familiar with the genre. I was just getting into it.
So I spoke to him on the phone and then read the script and we hit it off right away. I really understood the vibe of the script and we just got each other. That was in Los Angeles and we just clicked, so that's sort of how I got into it.
Movies.com: So what are you working on next?
Paxton: I was busy in 2011. I did a lot of indies. There's actually another ghost story-ish one called Static with Milo Ventimiglia from Heroes. Then I did another movie, a sort of murder-mystery called Liars All. Then another film called The Boys of Abu Ghraib that I have a small part in. I guess they come out in 2012, but like I said, once I'm done working on them I never know what's going on with them.
Movies.com: That's just kind of the way filmmaking works these days. Movies will regularly go unheard of for 2 or 3 years then just seemingly come out of nowhere.
Paxton: Exactly. That's why I just keep doing my thing and moving onto whatever is next.
The Innkeepers is currently on VOD and will receive a limited theatrical run starting February 3rd.