Lauren Ashley Carter | DARLING

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Following on from memorable genre roles in THE WOMAN (2011), JUG FACE (aka THE PIT, 2013) and POD (2015), LAUREN ASHLEY CARTER now stars as the title character in DARLING, a darkly stylish chamber horror from director Mickey Keating. Set in a large and deserted New York mansion and paying liberal homage to the classic 1960s films of Roman Polanski, it is built around a tour-de-force performance from Carter, who appears in every scene. With the movie coming to DVD on October 24th, we caught up with her to find about the role that’s cemented her status as one of horror cinema’s rising stars.

STARBURST: You’re on record as being a card-carrying fan of horror movies…

Lauren Ashley Carter: Oh yes absolutely!

Are you the cosplaying kind of fan or more cool and reserved?

I did attend a convention with the production company behind The Woman and Jug Face and I loved it and thought I have to come back as they are so much fun! But those tickets are really expensive and you’re buying merchandise and you want autographed pictures with people so it’s kind of like Disney World. I haven’t been to the big Comic-Con in San Diego as I’m a really small person - I’m just five-foot tall and a hundred pounds so I get very overwhelmed in these crazy crowded places. That’s why can’t do outdoor concerts because it’s like being outside listening to really loud speakers! If I ever get the chance for VIP passes at a convention that’s the way to go because you get a little cart everywhere and you don’t have to wait in line!

With movies like The Woman, Jug Face and now Darling, you’ve chosen some decidedly dark material.

They are the kind of movies I like to watch. I also get a lot of comedy scripts and I wish that I could do more of that too. But I would like to be able to feel confident to pick things I would want to see so if I read something that’s just OK, I’m not going to pick it even though I desperately need to pay my rent and everything else. If I can’t feel good about it I wouldn’t be able to do these interviews and say confidently that I picked a project I was really into from the moment I started to read it. 

Mickey Keating, the director of Darling, has spoken about how influential Roman Polanski’s ‘60s output like Repulsion and The Tenant were on the movie. Did you check out any of Polanski’s work beforehand?

Oh yes, I saw all of them. Mickey is like an encyclopaedia; any time you do a movie with him he will give you a list of things that he wants you to watch either to take a particular feeling or attitude or the music or whatever. Some of [Polanski’s films] I had already seen but I definitely don’t have the catalogue that Mickey has in my mind’s eye. So it was really fun working with him because you are forced to expand your horror collection!

In all of your horror roles to date, your directors have really put you through the ringer!

Yes, they all do! I remember on Jug Face working with Chad Crawford Kinkle, who is as sweet as they come, he told me someone had given him advice that if you’re making a drama you basically need to put your main protagonist through living hell in every scene and then you’ll have a successful film. He laughed it off until watching me every day! He had tried to schedule the scenes out of order because he was attempting to make it easier on me, but it was all in vain because we realised that throughout the movie there’s just always something terrible happening to me!

You give a mesmerising performance in Darling; there’s very little dialogue and the camera is on you most of the time.

I think that it’s almost a relief that the camera is always there and just becomes like another crew member. You’re surrounded by people the entire time, which is no less like having a camera on you. Then there are technicians on set that have to do ridiculous things and try and not get hit by the camera and a lot of other nonsense that’s going on while I’m still being  ‘in the moment’. So it’s kind of nice that from the time we started to the time we ended on Darling the camera was on me and you just forget it.

The house is really your co-star in the film…

Yes, it is a major character, spot-on. I was actually living there during filming.

All on your own?

Yeah, I was on my own just like in the movie. We were there shooting twelve-hour days and I would stay there for the remainder. The house belongs to a friend of mine, she just recently sold it, actually. She was doing renovations and that’s when I came over to visit with her and told her we were looking for a location. It was originally going to be set in just a one or two bedroom apartment but then she offered to give us her home for shooting so I called Mickey Keating and said ‘hey would you mind doing a major rewrite so we can do it in this house?!’ He didn’t see the house until we started because we shot it so quickly. I worried the audience would be quite bored watching me walk all through it, but when you watch the movie you realise how beautiful and magnificent it is.

Without giving away any spoilers, there is a really spectacular gore sequence in the movie that you are heavily involved in. Did you enjoy all that dismemberment?

Yes, of course! I just really appreciate the work that goes into it. Those guys spend hours and hours making sure the limbs are true to life and the veins and arteries are filling up with the blood. It’s just fascinating, especially the times when you know they can only do things once. I mean, if blood doesn’t come out then you can stop and reset a scene but if you are going to saw something up, that needs to be right first time. I’ve always said if you’re comparing movies to music, then horror would be the black metal of the categories. So in that moment, doing something like that, I feel about as close to being a rock star as I’m ever going to get. It makes me happy just being covered in blood with a half-naked dead person in the bath there with me!

This is your second film with actress Sean Young who plays the role of ‘Madame’ and who previously played your Mother in Jug Face. She’s a real cult figure who always attracts a lot of attention. What was it like working with her?

She’s great, she knows her shit. She’s been in so many films and is very conscious of all of the variables. She comes in and she knows where to stand, she knows how to look and she does not waste any time. She’s also a mother of two boys; she was always taking care of me but was never condescending or anything like that. I think that perhaps back when she first started out she was a young girl and she was very much on her own without many women around to protect her so there was definitely a maternal bond between us, even when she was playing such a wretched mother to me in Jug Face!

Your character in Darling is an enigma, we get very little sense of who she really is or where she comes from. Did you give her a backstory of your own to help you play her?

Oh absolutely, I think if I didn’t do that I’d feel very lost and trapped in a role like this. With any job it’s about doing your research, doing your homework, however that pertains to you. Unless you happen to be a certain Presidential nominee, you should do your homework!

How does it feel to be something of a horror icon?

Fantastic! It was something that I never knew how to break into, there’s no handbook for any of this, especially now with all the content and everything that is available to stream online, it’s oversaturated. So to have work you do rise to the top and be enjoyed by this group of people really is a dream come true. It’s kind of wild for me any time anybody says ‘I love this movie with Lauren Ashley Carter, I’m going to watch all her other movies’ because that’s exactly the way I feel as a fan of other actors.

As well as acting, you’ve been involved in production in a number of other capacities including directing a short film and producing your own web series. Will you be making the move to directing features?

I have some friends in LA who grew up with me back in Ohio and they have a feature project called Love Shy, which is a drama so I’m planning on directing that. I directed my first short [Introducing Parker Dowd] a couple of years ago and had a great time - everyone listened to me and did everything I said! So we really want to get this feature off the ground, obviously raising money and financing and doing all that fun stuff needs to happen. I’m really psyched to do it.

Have you found that the way movies are distributed now, with the availability of streaming services and video on demand services, makes it easier to get these sorts of movies made?

Oh yeah, but I really think we should see these films more in theatres. Everyone is talking about Don’t Breathe and It Follows coming to theatres and they just proved we can get butts on seats. The horror community are the most loyal fans and so many great stories are coming from all over the world. South Korea is probably my favourite country for horror over the last ten years or so, I love everything they put out. Video on Demand is amazing in that we can get access to a lot of people’s work that we otherwise wouldn’t see. I don’t know who’s in charge of all this shit but they need to start putting more of these VOD movies into movie theatres. As a genre, horror has proven time and time again that people want to see it.

DARLING is released on DVD on October 24th and reviewed here.

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