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Q&A: Kristen Connolly Talks ABC’s Paranormal Series “THE WHISPERS”

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In ABC’s new series THE WHISPERS (airing Monday nights at 10/9 Central), loosely based by show creator Soo Hugh on Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Zero Hour,” assorted adults must deal with the sinister influence exerted over children by a mysterious presence named Drill. As Drill’s circle of young “friends” expands, it becomes clear he has a special interest in the offspring of people who are highly placed in the government, scientists and those who work with nuclear-power sources.

Kristen Connolly, known to horror fans as the resilient Dana in 2012’s THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, plays THE WHISPERS’ Lena Lawrence, wife of U.S. official Wes Lawrence (Barry Sloane), who has been summoned to West Africa to investigate a mysterious incident at the same time that the couple’s young daughter Minx (Kylie Rogers) begins whispering back and forth with you-know-who. The actress talked to Fango at the recent Television Critics Association event in Pasadena, CA.

With her strong background in genre films (her other credits in this area include THE BAY, THE HAPPENING and CBS’ upcoming series ZOO), Connolly is no stranger to extreme onscreen physicality. While THE WHISPERS didn’t require the level of exertion called for in, say, CABIN IN THE WOODS, she notes that Lena doesn’t just sit around talking at the breakfast table. “I’m not covered in blood and lying on a dock being beaten half to death [as in CABIN],” she laughs, “but I do get out of the house a little bit. I jump in there with everybody else and get a little dirty, which is a lot of fun.”

There is also plenty of interpersonal drama on the show. Lena’s husband Ben has had an affair with FBI agent Claire Bennigan (played by AMERICAN HORROR STORY’s Lily Rabe), whose little boy Henry (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) has his hearing restored by Drill in the opening episode—and she’s not happy about it, Connolly says: “On a scale of one to 10, I would say an 11.” It’s not that she wants to be angry, the actress adds. “I think people, when they have that much anger, they don’t want to hold onto it. I don’t believe she wants to feel this much anger, because it’s her husband—the father of her child—but it’s a challenge to let go of it, and I don’t think they’ve really fully resolved anything or done the work to try and resolve it, in a way. It’s still kind of an open wound when we meet these characters.”

WHISPERSCONNOLLY

Playing a parent is a “very interesting” new experience for Connolly. “I’m not a parent. I have a dog, a King Charles spaniel, that feels like a baby to me, but I know that’s not the same thing.” Fortunately, the actress has real-life family to help her with research. “My cousin, who’s like my sister, just had a baby very recently. It’s a really profound thing, and it was a challenge to imagine what it would be like, and to feel like I was doing a good job.”

Given that a significant part of THE WHISPERS deals with young kids being influenced by a malevolent entity, it seems like the show might give prospective parents a whole new set of worries. While Connolly doesn’t think real-life mothers and fathers should be too concerned about that, “The amount of worry over another person is something I believe only parents can truly understand. I don’t know that I would love that part of it, but I do definitely want to be a parent, for sure.”

In the first episode, Lena learns that Minx knows all about Ben’s affair, claiming that Drill has told her. “It was interesting for me to try and gauge how much Lena believes and understands from episode to episode,” Connolly says. “We didn’t want to go with full terror to begin with; it’s like, ‘Well, that’s weird,’ and then as the story progresses and the things Minx is saying and doing become a bit more alarming, it’s sort of a slow burn in terms of the fear and the anxiety.”

Connolly’s previous series gig was on the Netflix hit HOUSE OF CARDS. The actress says there are some differences between working for a streaming provider and a traditional network, but then, “Every job is a little bit different, and then there are certain things that are always the same. There are always script changes that you have to roll with at the last second, but that’s also sort of the great thing about TV. It does happen fast, and you have to make a decision and commit to it. For me, the goal is always just to work with good people who I can learn something from, and I’ve been very lucky in that regard.”

Last summer, Connolly played Desdemona in Shakespeare’s OTHELLO at the Old Globe in San Diego, California, and says that work was invaluable when it came to taking part in THE WHISPERS. “Doing Shakespeare informs everything. I’ve never worked on a Shakespeare play where I haven’t learned a ton that I applied to other work, about language and commitment and just human experience. It’s such a gift to get to do something like that, and then to go on to something like this—it’s wonderful.”

She also has very positive memories of her time on CABIN IN THE WOODS. “Oh God, CABIN IN THE WOODS was the best,” she says. “I saw some pictures recently of Fran [Kranz, who played Marty] and I against a greenscreen in the elevator [set], just covered in blood and laughing, because we did so many scenes in this little tiny room, and we had to act like it was shaking and we couldn’t keep straight faces. Every time, [director] Drew Goddard would be like, ‘And…stop shaking,’ and we would look at each other and start losing our minds laughing. It took forever to get a decent take, because we were cracking up so much.” CABIN IN THE WOODS concluded with a literally world-changing event; as for whether THE WHISPERS might build to something similar, Connolly laughs, “I can’t tell you.”

What Connolly can say in conclusion about THE WHISPERS is, “It’s the kind of show that has a little bit of something for everyone, and it’s a series that pays off from sticking with it. It’s a slow burn; it’s not the kind of thing where there’s a cliffhanger every commercial break. It delivers in a slower way, and I’m very proud of it. I’m proud of the work everyone has done, and I believe it’s a great experience for tbe people watching as well.”

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