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All kinds of sick things happen to the characters in the
multipart horror feature V/H/S (out on DVD and Blu-ray today on Magnolia Home
Entertainment’s Magnet label), but perhaps the worst is “The Sick Thing That
Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” in Joe Swanberg’s segment. Fango spoke
to Emily herself, actress Helen Rogers, about the experience.
“Sick Thing” consists of a series of Skype conversations
between Emily, who believes there’s something haunting her house, and her
boyfriend James (Daniel Kaufman). As her fears grow despite James’ best efforts
to calm her down, glimpses of strange figures in the background lead to a very
disturbing revelation about what happened to Emily in her childhood—and what’s
happening to her now. Rogers talked to us on the set of JACK ATTACK, a
Halloween-themed short film directed by Bryan Norton and Antonio Padovan that
she lensed recently in Brooklyn.
FANGORIA: Because of the way “The Sick Thing” is presented,
the camera is right on you the entire time. Did that take some getting used to?
HELEN ROGERS: Well, one thing I really appreciated about the
process was that we actually used Skype, and were speaking to each other live
on computers. That really helped me, because there are so many weird snags on
Skype—like sometimes, you freeze up on the other person’s screen, and you can
never really know if you’re looking totally fluid to them. Also, the
eye-contact thing is really weird, because if you look into the camera, it appears,
to the other person, like you’re looking at them, but if you do that to create
that effect for them, you’re not looking at a person. It’s a strange disconnect
that was really helpful in building that relationship with the character.
FANG: One of the most challenging parts must have been
working with the makeup FX live, as it were; there are no cutaways, for
example, when you’re digging into the wound on your arm.
ROGERS: Lino Stavole was the makeup designer, and he blew me
away with how impressively talented he was. He made it really easy for me; he
made me a little skin pocket out of liquid latex, so it wasn’t any problem for
me to go in there and dig around. I was thinking about how much I was willing
to scratch at my arm, and thinking about how I was going to do that with no
makeup, and then I showed up and there was this genius makeup guy there. He
also built a mold of his wife’s back that we used in certain moments.
FANG: When it came to the specters that appear throughout
the segment, did you always know when they were going to pop up? Or did part of
the process involve them emerging at times you weren’t expecting them?
ROGERS: It was somewhere in between, because it was somewhat
choreographed. But, for example, that first moment when the actor ran in and
shut the door, I wasn’t facing the door; so there was always an element of
surprise, because I couldn’t see him coming and it always did startle me a
little bit. Of course, I knew that I was going to be surprised, but…
FANG: In terms of your relationship with your co-star,
Daniel Kaufman, did you work with him at all beforehand, or just let everything
happen live while you were shooting?
ROGERS: That’s a really interesting question. I didn’t work
with him beforehand, because he lives in LA and I live in New York. I met him,
like, the day before we were supposed to shoot, and we all went out to get
drinks. Then, every day we filmed, Joe would text me, “Are you ready? Can you
be ready in an hour?” And he’d drive over and pick me up and we’d go get Daniel,
and then we’d have a long lunch somewhere, drink beer and have good food and
just hang out. Then we’d go to the apartment, hang out more while it was set
up, wait for the light to change and shoot something, then wait for the light
to change again and shoot something else. It was hardly any shooting time,
really, but at the end of the day, I always felt like I had worked an
eight-hour day. And a really essential part of the preparation was to be able
to… I’m looking for a better word, but what’s coming to mind is “vibe.” To find
a vibe between us that was genuine.
FANG: How many days overall did you shoot?
ROGERS: Just four.
FANG: How many overall takes did you do? Were they all shot
as we see them, or are there invisible cut points in some of them?
ROGERS: There were some invisible edits, but we didn’t do
that many takes. We’d shoot a few, and Joe would get one he liked and say,
“Great, moving on.” The DP would say, “Joe, do you wanna watch the footage?”
And Joe would go, “Oh yeah, oh yeah!” But he works in a way that’s very fast. I
had a really pleasant experience working on V/H/S; it took a lot of energy, but
none of it was wasted.
FANG: Was it a different kind of energy, being that you
couldn’t move around as much, since you had to stay in this frame you’re sort
of trapped in?
ROGERS: You know, I never thought about that, because I was
speaking to Daniel as my boyfriend—so he was my focus, and I was trying to get
things out of him.
FANG: You had to get into some very vulnerable emotions
while playing Emily. Were those difficult to conjure up?
ROGERS: It’s hard for me to articulate exactly what my
technique is. I went to acting school, and then I wasn’t in acting school, and
it’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what it is that triggers those emotions. I
guess I think of it as a space—a mental space or an emotional space. I was
thinking about how it might feel to break up with someone I loved, which put me
into that space. One thing that helped me was the really long takes, and the
fluidity that gave me. A lot of times in film, you do 30 seconds of this, this
and that, and then the director essentially sculpts your performance. But Joe
allowed those takes to just be long and simple, which let me build up
FANG: How did you feel when you saw the whole movie put
together? I’m assuming you were unaware of what the other filmmakers were
ROGERS: I knew they had done other things, but I didn’t know
what they were going to look like. And it was a really wild ride! I had a lot
of fun watching it.
FANG: Tell us about your part in JACK ATTACK (pictured
ROGERS: I play Elizabeth, a babysitter. It’s Halloween, I
wish I could be out with my boyfriend—I’m angry at him for not showing up—and
then it goes horribly, horribly wrong. A babysitter’s worst nightmare is what
I’d call it.
FANG: JACK ATTACK is another short project; is it a
challenge in general to develop a character in a brief amount of screen time?
ROGERS: Well, in V/H/S I felt like I had a lot of screen
time, and also, since I graduated from college, the films I’d been making were
all shorts. So that was the medium I understood the best; actually, it’s
probably easier for me.
FANG: Are you a horror fan yourself?
ROGERS: Not yet, but I’m curious! I’m trying to think of my
favorite… I remember seeing THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT when it came out, and being
really scared. Actually, this past year I saw ROSEMARY’S BABY for the first
time, which totally knocked my socks off. It was just like, “I can’t believe I
haven’t seen this yet!”
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