Takes a Sharp Left Turn to the Last House
by Jay S. Jacobs
It’s never easy for a child star to make the jump to serious adult roles. For every Jodie Foster or Elijah Wood there are dozens of actors who can’t seem to get work once they hit puberty.
Sara Paxton has it a little easier than many, because although she has been acting regularly since she was six, she did not truly break out until she was in her mid-teens. Therefore, it is not quite as big a leap for people to see her as an adult.
Still, it takes a bit for one to make the leap from seeing her as a shy, pretty mermaid or a cute city girl adapting to life in the country to watching her playing a student who is kidnapped by a gang of killers, tortured, raped, shot and left for dead.
This is a jump that Paxton has taken in co-starring in a remake of the classic 70s cult horror film The Last House on the Left. Even Paxton realized it was a huge gamble – but it was one she felt ready to make.
“I’ve really been wanting to stretch out and try something a little bit more challenging for a long time,” Paxton says. “But people know me so much as a comedic actress; it’s really hard to convince people otherwise when they’ve got you in this box. So I went and auditioned for The Last House on the Left. I read the script. You know, with scripts like that, with movies like that it could go either way. It could go really bad or maybe, possibly really good. When I met the director and I saw Dennis [Iliadis]’ movie Hardcore, I knew right away that it was something really special. I just really just wanted to challenge myself and show people that I can do something more dramatic.”
It certainly was a dramatic change for the young actress, who will turn 21 about a month after the movie’s release. With the downbeat tone and often-disturbing violence of her latest film, Paxton is swimming in much rougher waters than she is used to. Sara Paxton has been acting as long as she can remember but she is mostly known for making youth-oriented comedies.
“I first started getting into [acting] when I was around six,” Paxton recalls. “My aunt owned a children’s clothing store out here in LA. My cousins and I used to model the clothes and do catalogues and stuff – [just] for fun. It wasn’t anything professional. My aunt just wanted to use her daughter and her nieces. I was so young, so it’s hard to remember, but I guess some guy gave my mom a card – for acting classes or something with acting. My mom was like, ‘Yeah, right…” and she threw away the card. I was like noooo! I’d seen TV shows and I had an interest in that. I didn’t do sports or anything else. I wasn’t good at that, so I thought maybe this would be cool. A year later, when I was finally six and a half, I convinced my mom and we went to an acting class. It all just kind of snowballed from there. I’m still here doing it.”
However, despite spending a childhood in the glamorous acting world, Paxton has her head together. She never let the show biz aspects go to her head. She’s just a normal California girl.
“I think that people would be surprised to know that I have lived in LA my whole life, but I went to public school. And I’m half-Mexican.”
Paxton has put together a pretty impressive body of work over the years – appearing in such movies as Sleepover, Return to Halloweentown, Liar Liar, The Haunted Lighthouse and Superhero Movie as well as appearing on TV series like Lizzie McGuire, Will & Grace, Malcolm in the Middle, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Action and Summerland. She also does voices for the popular animated series SpongeBob Squarepants.
After years of guest roles, Paxton really got noticed with two seasons as the star of the Discovery Kids series Darcy’s Wild Life. In the series, Paxton played the title character – the pampered young daughter of an eccentric actress who decided to move the family from their Malibu home to a little house in the country.
“That was a good experience,” Paxton says. “I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of good experiences. We filmed on a farm in Canada during the summertime for about eight months. That was great. It was amazing because the whole crew and the cast… it literally felt like we were having summer camp, because we were on a real farm with real animals and a lake. Every day we would explore and run around. During lunch breaks, the crew had their music trailer and they would jam out with their guitars. It was just really fun.”
Paxton’s breakout role was when she landed the title role of the popular family comedy Aquamarine with Emma Roberts and pop star JoJo Levesque. In the movie, Paxton plays a mermaid who washes up onshore in a bad storm and befriends two local girls in a little beach community, eventually learning about friendship and love.
“I absolutely loved making Aquamarine. It was one of the best experiences ever. Obviously, it was my childhood dream to play a mermaid,” Paxton says, laughing. “I just came in and auditioned. I read the script and I loved it. I fell in love with it. They wanted me to come in and read for the part of the mean girl. I was like no way, I’ve got to be the mermaid.” She laughs again. “They were like, ‘No, no, we don’t think she’s right for the mermaid part, blah, blah, blah….’ I was like: just let me audition. So I went and auditioned and I met the director, Elizabeth Allen, and I absolutely loved her. We kind of connected and I got the part.”
At the time, Paxton was also finding to work as a singer. She had always loved music and wanted to balance music and acting in her life. She got songs placed on a few soundtrack albums – including Aquamarine – and additional compilations. She even had a minor hit with the song “Here We Go Again.” However, she never finished her planned debut album – which was to be called The Ups and Downs.
“I was about sixteen and I was presented with the opportunity to sing on some soundtracks and I was offered a music deal,” Paxton says. “I absolutely love singing. I love music. When I was growing up and getting into acting music was right there along with acting. Acting just kind of took off sooner. Right now I really want to focus on just acting and doing good movies. If the opportunity comes around again, I would totally be down for it. I absolutely love doing stuff like that, but right now I’m just focusing on acting.”
After Aquamarine, in a continued attempt to stretch out her acting, Paxton took a role as the campus rich bitch in the Amanda Bynes comedy Sydney White. It was fun to get to play the bad girl, but it did have a bit of an unexpected outcome.
“Ever since I did Sydney White, people seem to think that I’m really mean,” Paxton laughs. “I’m not! I absolutely promise that I’m not mean. I’m the complete opposite of that character, which I think was why I wanted to play that character so badly. I don’t ever get to be mean. I’m not one of those girls. I’m not like that.”
That stretch was nothing compared to the chance she is taking with The Last House on the Left, though. Paxton realizes after filming so many family-friendly comedies, it can be hard for people to see her tortured and raped on screen. However, as an actress, she knows she has to stretch out from what people expect.
“It was really hard to even get this role,” Paxton admits. “People have these ideas of who you are, what you do and what you can’t do. I don’t care what they think. No matter what, I’m going to keep trying to do good work and do what makes me happy.”
It was a doubly daunting task because the film is a remake of a 1972 cult-classic film by horror legends Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream) and Sean S. Cunningham (the Friday the 13th series). The movie – about a group of insane criminals who rape and torture two girls and then face retribution when by chance they end up having to stay at the home of the parents of one of the girls – has gotten a rabid following over the years following its low-budget drive-in debut. Craven and Cunningham are back along the ride as producers of the new film, but Craven has handed off the responsibilities of screenwriter and director to a new generation of filmmakers – screenwriters Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth and director Dennis Iliadis were allowed to give the old story a new millennium vibe.
“I have seen the original,” Paxton says. “I didn’t watch the original when I was filming my stuff because I didn’t want to have some kind of preconceived notion in my head of how I should be playing it. We really wanted to make to make our own version of the movie. We didn’t want to copy the original, because obviously nothing can ever be [the same]… you know, you can’t copy things. So I watched it after my filming was done. I think we made some things completely different and special – but still similar.”
Similar to the old film, perhaps, but this was mostly uncharted territory for the young actress. The heavily dramatic aspect of the role was a new experience for the actress who is best known for lighter work, but she liked having the chance to try new things.
“I enjoy both [comedy and drama],” Paxton says. “I really hope that someday I get the chance to flip-flop back and forth. That’s what makes me happy – being able to change. You get that itch to do something different and being able to go and just do it. I love them both equally. For me, I’m learning still so much about the whole drama world and all that, so of course it’s a little more challenging. Comedy, I’ve been doing for so long, it kind of feels second nature to me. It’s fun, you know, it’s a lot more fun. But for me, after I completed The Last House on the Left, I have this feeling of… you know, it was the best reward ever, just completing it, getting through it. I really love that feeling. I would love to do some more stuff like that.”
Another huge test for Paxton was the fact that she had to play most of the second half of the film as badly wounded. Therefore, much of the work she did was essentially mime – Paxton had to silently convey horror, pain and sadness, all without dialogue.
“This is an entirely new experience for me,” Paxton says. “So, yeah, it was pretty tough – wanting to say something and having to use just your face and be scared. I’d never had to be scared and breathing and running and all those different things. It was good. I like to challenge myself. I’m still really young and I don’t think I have all the answers. I watch the movie and I think I definitely still have a lot to learn, but I’m definitely proud of myself for accepting the challenge.
“I wanted a challenge and I got a challenge,” Paxton laughs. “It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done – mentally, emotionally and physically – in my entire life. We seriously all got beat up every day. The stunt coordinator was like, ‘I’ve never worked with actors that have done so much of the real stunts.’ That was pretty great. I liked that. Everything is really real. Yeah, it was just really hard, but luckily the producers and the actors were so amazing. I trust and respect them so much. It makes it a lot easier when you’re working with people that you feel safe with.”
Part of that sense of safety came from the fact that she already knew and was friendly with Garret Dillahunt – the actor who plays the convict who torments her in the film.
“Garret and I had worked together a couple of years ago on a pilot called Mr. Ed,” Paxton says. “It was a Mr. Ed remake. On the pilot we became good friends. I thought he was a really nice guy. I hadn’t really seen or heard from him and all of the sudden – after I got cast in Last House – they said, ‘We’ve got Garret Dillahunt to play Krug.’ I was like – oh my gosh! It was so amazing because I was so worried. Oh, God, it’s such a difficult scene… and to meet the person, so much of it is [influenced by] your feelings [about] the person in real life. With Garret – he’s so not like Krug. He’s so gentle and calm and trustworthy. So I was really relieved when I found out that he was playing the part because now I could just relax. I already trusted the guy. I knew him. We could just go to Africa and get it over with.”
Now that the filming of The Last House on the Left is, indeed, over with, Paxton is settling back into life as an actress, searching out the next interesting role. However, despite rumors, she is not going to be in a horror film called Emma of Lulworth Cove.
“That is not legit,” she laughs. “I’m sorry to inform you. It’s weird. I had read that script, but… IMDb is so strange. I don’t understand how people can just pop in and write weird things about you. I’ve been on auditions where they are like, ‘so, you live in Connecticut.’ And I’m like no I don’t live there. Where did you hear that? I’ll go to IMDb and it says, ‘Sara Paxton, from Connecticut.’ I’ve never even been to Connecticut.”
She has recently finished doing a guest appearance on the upcoming Jonas Brothers situation comedy – where Paxton was able to flex her comic muscles again.
“My friend is a producer on the show,” Paxton explains. “He said, ‘We’ve written this part and we really want you to come do it.’ It was just a fun little thing. I went and I played kind of a crazy fan. It was pretty funny. I was really surprised; the Jonas Brothers are super, super, super nice. Genuinely nice. It was a good couple of days.”
In the meantime, Paxton is working hard to promote the release of her horror debut. While she finishes handling her press duties, she is looking forward to her next role.
“Right now, I’m pretty busy and stressed out just doing everything for the movie coming out,” Paxton says. “But I’m possibly doing a movie with Winona Ryder called Gravy. Jena Malone is also in it. It’s not confirmed, but everything is getting set up for that, so I hope that pulls through. I would love to work with Winona Ryder.”
Whether that film comes to be or not, Paxton is certain that her acting will lead her in new and creative directions. The only limitations that she wants to put upon herself is the idea of no limits. The sky’s the limit for this young talent and she looks forward to a long run of interesting and varied parts.
“I just really hope that there aren’t any boundaries,” Paxton concludes. “I really hope that after this movie comes out people see that I can do more dramatic roles. I really hope I get the opportunity to do both. I really don’t ever want to be stuck in a box. For me, that’s the worst thing ever that could happen.”
|#1 © 2009. Courtesy of LAN-BNC. All rights reserved.|
|#2 © 2009 Lacey Terrell. Courtesy of Rogue Pictures. All rights reserved.|
|#3 © 2009 Lacey Terrell. Courtesy of Rogue Pictures. All rights reserved.|
|#4 © 2009 Lacey Terrell. Courtesy of Rogue Pictures. All rights reserved.|
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 13, 2009.