By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Sarah Bolger arrives for an interview looking like a princess in a vintage off-white sleeveless dress with a full tea-length skirt decorated with golden filigree.
Just days away from her 24th birthday, the Irish actress confides that she is looking forward to returning home for the big day to spend with family and friends, having been busy lately promoting her new movie, a horror flick called “The Lazarus Effect.”
The film is produced by horrormeister Jason Blum, known for making high-quality, micro-budget films including “Paranormal Activity,” “The Purge,” “Insidious,” and “Sinister” franchises, which have grossed more than $1.2 billion worldwide. Like Gelb’s previous scary movies, “The Lazarus Effect” was made on a shoestring budget, and it is just as likely to lure horror fans into theaters.
To direct it, Blum chose David Gelb, whose previous film was the critically acclaimed documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” (One of the characters in “Lazarus Effect” dines on sushi at one point in a nod to that previous film.)
Bolger plays Ava, a college student who convinces a team of scientific researchers experimenting with ways of bringing the dead back to life to allow her to document their investigation on film. Led by Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde), the small research team (Evan Peters, Donald Glover) is secretly conducting trials of their experimental procedure on cadaver dogs in the basement lab of a university. When one of the experiments goes horribly wrong, Frank convinces the group to continue, even though what they are doing may be morally and scientifically unethical. Their experiment on a human test subject seems to work, initially, but then things go awry. Ava mysteriously ends up in Zoe’s nightmare memory, and must find a way out before she is killed.
Gelb says of Bolger and the rest of the small cast, “I was incredibly lucky to get an awesome group together. They were so good. All of my favorite horror movies have awesome performances in it and these guys make it real. I’m really happy that everybody was my first choice and they were awesome.”
Bolger started out her film career at age 11 in Jim Sheridan’s Oscar-nominated “In America,” and has enjoyed a successful career in both film and TV. She currently plays Princess Aurora/Sleeping Beauty on ABC’s “Once Upon a Time.”
Q: What attracted you to this? This is your first horror movie, right?
Bolger: Yeah, it’s my first horror movie. I’ve had a lovely amount of fantasy work, so I understand working with CGI and having to use your imagination on set. But this was so present; everything was so real. There was nothing that wasn’t there. And Olivia (Wilde) was present. She was the real deal standing in front of us, scaring the crap out of us. I thought it was beautifully written; it wasn’t a cliché horror movie, in any sense. I thought I was going down one path and then we’d come down another. I think David is the coolest choice for this movie that I’ve ever experienced. He’s brilliant and different and unique. He has a really fresh outlook on everything. So it was just a nice mix with Jason Blum.
Q: How was it being terrorized by Olivia?
Bolger: She didn’t fall into any (conventional horror movie) traps and she had the most work. She had to wear these contact lenses where she couldn’t see anything. Our set was dark enough as it is and she had to wear these spheres in her eyes. She didn’t complain once even though she couldn’t see.
Q: What was it like working with Jason, your producer?
Bolger: He’s super-talented. He’s been doing the horror genre forever, and with David, it was a nice amalgamation.
Q: Did you have a language coach because you can’t hear your Irish accent in the film at all?
Bolger: No. When I have David Gelb beside me and Jason Blum on the other side, and everyone on set with their American accents, I find it hard not to mimic or adapt. I was in Austin this summer, and I said “y’all” so much. Way too much for an Irish girl, I think.
Q: What were you doing in Austin?
Bolger: I did a film there called “My All American,” with Aaron Eckhart.
Q: Is that coming out this year?
Bolger: Yes, I believe so. We finished it last summer, so I believe so.
Q: Is it very sad?
Bolger: Yes, it is. It’s a beautifully sad movie. I just saw it last week. It is terribly sad but, if possible, as uplifting as a true story can be.
Q: Do you like horror films? I don’t like watching scary movies at night.
Bolger: Me too. I can’t watch them either at night.
Q: This film’s premise about a scientific experiment gone wrong actually could happen as opposed to a werewolf or vampire or some other fictional creature.
Bolger: Yeah, it’s almost too real. The possibility of it is not so out there or outlandish that it’s not possible, and that’s terrifying.
Q: How did this work with your TV schedule on “Once Upon a Time?”
Bolger: This was made during Season Three, and so I got to go back and forth between the sets. And it was shot over the summer too, so I don’t think it conflicted. It was almost two years ago that we filmed it.
Q: Where did you film?
Bolger: Here in L.A. They built the set in this big warehouse in the (San Fernando) Valley.
Q: The movie definitely has a claustrophobic feel since it is all set in this little basement bunker that the characters are in. Did it feel claustrophobic to you on set?
Bolger: Yeah. That’s where we hung out. That’s where we ate lunch. That’s where we worked. It was a scary being in this little small space.
Q: Does it feel more like doing a play rather than doing a movie?
Bolger: Kind of because you’re in such a small, confined space. We had a really small set but I loved the confined space. It made it scary for us (as actors), using the space as smartly as we possibly could.
It’s also about being scared in the space because you were there a minute ago. David would take me aside and say, “This moment is important, Sarah.” It’s hard because you were already in that space 15 minutes ago and nothing bad was happening then and nothing was popping out of corners. And then Olivia Wilde was being terrifying.
Q: You’re playing a videographer/documentarian in this. Did you have to learn how to use the camera so it seemed natural for your character?
Bolger: She’s a student who’s fascinated with the afterlife. I’m a little bit of a gadget freak. When I was a younger, I always wanted electronics for my birthday. I got a Palm Pilot when I was 7. So, for this film, no one had to teach me how to use the camera equipment; I just taught myself. It was nice because I was studying the scientists in the role and recording this experiment come to life in front of me. I really did film stuff on set.
Q: I was reading this article about myths of redheads.
Bolger: I just went back to dark (hair). What are the myths?
Q: The usual: They’re fiery. They’re sexy.
Bolger: So I’m at a loss already. No sexy, no fire here. (She laughs.) I was very red for the film, though. Actually, an hour before they told me I was cast, they called and asked me if I would shave my head into a buzz cut and dye it blond. And I was like, “Yeah!” Then, when I arrived on set, they were like, “No, we’re just going to dye it red.” I already had worked myself up for this new look and then they decided not to do it.
Q: But you were ready to do it?
Bolger: Yeah. My character was very brave, far braver than I would be in that scenario.
Q: Did Olivia pull any pranks on you?
Bolger: No, she’s a consummate professional. She’s super-interesting and lighthearted but she didn’t pull any pranks. I think the subject matter was far too serious. I had a lot of scenes where I’m just stuck in a corner crying. I got sucked into the other (nightmarish) world. So she was respectful of all that.
Q: What was the hardest thing for you to do?
Bolger: It was about making everything feel organic. I’d never done a horror movie before and had such a fear of things not sounding honest and truthful, because it’s so crazy. It’s things you have yet to deal with as a person, and I like to bring my own experiences into every job I do. But there was just no way of doing that on this.
Q: Have you had any weird otherworldly encounters?
Bolger: No, but my mother did. She told me that she had a neighbor who had died, and she didn’t know she had died, but she says she saw her two days afterwards with her knitting needles in the garden. That’s where she used to sit. My mom swore that she saw her, and spoke to her, and apparently she was dead. That’s my only close by potentially truthful story.
Q: Is your mom generally a storyteller?
Bolger: No. But she was super-young when it happened so…
Q: What’s next for you?
Bolger: I did a film called “Emily,” which we filmed in Buffalo (N.Y.) in December. I go into a show on AMC called “Badlands” soon.
Q: What’s going on with that?
Bolger: I can’t say anything about it. We start shooting next month in New Orleans. We’ll be there for five months. I play a girl called Jade. There’s like a martial arts fusion into this world. It’s not guns. It’s like the taking of people’s land; that’s the currency. The world we’ve created in the future that’s what’s required to survive.
Q: Any more episodes of “Once Upon a Time” coming up for you?
Bolger: Oh yeah. Good ol’ Sleeping Beauty.[/private]