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In FANGORIA FrightFest’s HUNGER (now available on DVD from Phase 4 Films and via video-on-demand; check local listings), about a group of people unwillingly forced into a sinister experiment in which they’re deprived of food and sustenance, actress Lori Heuring immersed herself deeper in a role than ever before: She and the rest of the cast underwent a crash diet on an already psychologically exhausting and claustrophobic set. Fango spoke to Heuring (whose previous genre films include PROM NIGHT, WICKED LITTLE THINGS, MULHOLLAND DR. and THE IN CROWD) about making the film and the toll her latest role took.
FANGORIA: In our first piece on the film (read it here), director Steven Hentges spoke of the cast’s collective dieting and intense approach. How did that change your normal acting habits and performance?
LORI HEURING: I kind of go by the tenet of being in the moment, experiencing something new and different each time. But with this film, the circumstances were a bit more harsh, a bit more varied and we were shooting in sequence, which is incredibly rare. Since we were shooting in one location, we could’ve shot in any order we wanted, but in sequence was obviously the first choice. So we had talked beforehand about how that would be handled. In THE MACHINIST, Christian Bale had to severely lose weight because it was part of the storyline, just like ours is—but with us, no one ever really took off their clothes, so you never would’ve really seen what it had done to emaciate our bodies—it was more in our faces, which obviously makeup could handle quite efficiently.
But we decided, for the strength of the film and the strength of camaraderie, that we would all kind of go on this crazy crash diet. None of us were used to eating like that. The portions were just so tiny, and even the portions we had were so bare. All day long, all we could think about was what a cheeseburger would taste like. When someone would finish—I believe Linden [Ashby] was the first to wrap—he sent an e-mail to me that said, ‘I just sat down, had two beers, cheeseburger and fries—how does that feel?’ And I was like, ‘You’re an ass!’
I know one of the actors gained weight beforehand, because he thought his loss would be more visible. For me, I think I lost like 10 pounds, and remember just waking up and being so faint I was afraid to stand up fast. It put you in a mindset—obviously not exactly what it would feel like, because we didn’t truly starve ourselves—but we were all pretty miserable. It definitely created problems for sound, because all of our stomachs were constantly growling.
FANG: But eating so little, was there more of a challenge being in the moment and remembering lines and just generally being all there?
HEURING: Yeah, it definitely tweaked your concentration and your focus and your memory and everything, because you weren’t putting those calories in your body. I felt my mind wandering a whole lot. I really had to put my own valiant effort forward to concentrate more fully, because I was always thinking about something else. But if you blew a line, you’d just do it again. We had the luxury of digital filmmaking, but I haven’t ever had that problem before.
FANG: The film changed a good deal from the initial script and concept. How early did you sign on, and were you involved in those developments?
HEURING: I read one of the very first drafts that Steven had read, and it did evolve into a different movie. A lot of directors obviously want to put the script on and walk around in it, and feel like they’re going to do their best job on it, so he definitely made it more of a vision that he would be able to direct. And then, even after Steven’s final draft, the actors take their own take on it. Sometimes, just as a human being, your mouth doesn’t work the way some lines come out. I know you’ve seen movies where you think, “That does not sound like how people talk.” Some people thrive on that, and then other actors and directors really want it to sound more how they would talk on a normal basis. It evolved in a great direction that could handle the actual shooting, because ideas can be beautiful and vast and all these things, but when you get to shooting, you have to lose some of them.
FANG: You’re no stranger to genre cinema, so what was it about HUNGER that attracted you? Was it the challenges presented?
HEURING: Definitely. I had never worked on a film that was this contained or this paced, in a sense of, to keep it interesting for the audience, the climaxes had to come differently than they do in a film that has 72 locations. There’s a film out right now, THE AMERICAN, that you can watch and almost turn down the volume, it’s so beautifully shot and has a vista that’s just gorgeous. That’s not what we have with HUNGER. Steven always harks back to LIFEBOAT. This was the first time I ever shot a film like this, where you really are in a situation where you’re only with these four other actors in these two rooms, and as an actor, I wanted to challenge myself. I was curious about the journey, to see what I could pull from that. It was a lot like a play: We were on the same set every day, doing the same run of the show every night, and it was all about what we could garner from that and how it challenged us physically and mentally.
I’m definitely not new to the genre, but all the other films I’ve shot have been numerous locations, foreign countries, a plethora of actors, everywhere from sheer fear to sheer torture, mental anguish, all of the above. So for me, it was just that it was all, except for the ending and one sequence in the beginning, literally shot on one stage, in one area.
FANG: You weren’t only suffering from hunger, but immersed in darkness. What was it like doing the opening sequence, where all the characters are shrouded in black?
HEURING: It was bizarre. They wanted to create the experience for the actors. I’m kind of a firm believer that if you’re supposed to be in blackness, you’re in blackness; you don’t necessarily need it to be like that, but that’s how Steven wanted it. He wanted everyone to have the same experience at the same time. That way, we’d all have our own singular reactions to the same thing. It was interesting; they turned off all the lights, and we couldn’t see anything. He was great about explaining what it was we were reacting to, and leaving it to us to react how we would. You’re waking up in complete darkness, having no idea where you are, everyone’s in pain from either being drugged or knocked out or in a state of fear or complete disarray from where you were taken. Underneath you and the walls are stone; it’s pretty scary. It was definitely an experience putting myself through that mentally, and I thought Steven did a great job making the elements come close to the real deal.
FANG: What was the experience coming out of such a shoot? Does it take a long time to shake everything you’ve let into your head?
HEURING: Honestly, I probably had the most adverse reaction post-filming that I’ve ever had, in the sense that I was done and had this notion of completing something, but I was going back to Los Angeles, land of excess, and seeing all my friends and I had lost weight, and everyone was like, “Are you OK?” “Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s for a film, don’t get excited.” They had those questions, and I wanted to bring those people who were asking into my experience. Coming out of that, I was definitely in a different land for a while. I came home, I didn’t want to see anybody, I didn’t want to reconnect at all; I just wanted to slowly climb out of the grave of it and get back to normal life.
Other films I’ve done, you put yourself through these horrible experiences of losing a child or being kidnapped, people being eaten in front of you, killed in front of you, dismembered in front of you—all these things you’ve experienced through filming, but it wasn’t as concentrated for the length of time that this was. Even day one, no one was comfortable. I personally didn’t know any of the actors, so I was putting myself through a situation where we were all kind of doing our jobs differently, but yet you had to come back and do it tomorrow so you were with these people. It was definitely something that stuck with me longer than anything else had.
FANG: Can we expect to keep seeing you in horror, thrillers and such?
HEURING: I just finished doing an arc on THE GATES, so we’re just waiting now to find out if we got picked up for another order. I guess I just find the genre no matter where I go!
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