Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on February 7, 2011, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.
When the inevitable news of a follow-up to the sleeper smash Paranormal Activity broke last year, it seemed equally inevitable that original stars Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat wouldn’t be returning, considering what happened to their characters at the end of the first movie. Yet one of the notable qualities of Paranormal Activity 2 is the way it brings “Katie” and “Micah” back and manages to plausibly and cleverly work them into the prequel’s storyline, centering on Katie’s sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and her family. Speaking to Fango about her Paranormal experiences, Featherston begins by noting that she also wasn’t sure she’d be taking a second whirl through a haunted suburban home.
When did you find out that you’d be coming back in Paranormal Activity 2?
I guess around last March or April; it wasn’t right after the first one [came out]. I didn’t know I would be doing the second one for a long time. Everyone speculated, but I hadn’t heard anything and it didn’t occur to me that it would actually happen.
Was it fun to revisit the role and look at it from another angle?
Yeah, on a lot of different levels. It was wonderful that they were invested in the first movie and wanted to continue. It was fun, because the [creative] family grew; the first one was just Oren Peli, Micah and myself, and some other people who helped. Once the new producers and Paramount got involved in this one, the family got bigger—a new director [Tod Williams], a bigger cast. I was really excited to come back on board and trusted the people involved, and they really got it and wanted to make a good quality film, not just throw some money at it and call it a day.
Had you heard about any plotlines for the sequel other than the one they went with?
I think there were variations of this one, and it sort of evolved over time. It definitely evolved as we were developing it, and then as we were shooting it. It was a very improvisational environment, so sometimes things worked, sometimes they didn’t, but Kip [Williams] was great at letting us voice our opinions and work things out.
Did you work with [original director] Kevin Greutert at all, before he was taken off the film?
No. I followed the drama in the press—you know, him getting pulled off because of Saw 3D and whatnot—but I never even got to meet him. That was a pretty crazy little time, though.
Since this is a bigger movie, was the experience of shooting it different than the first one?
Oh, yes. The first one was Oren, Micah and myself holed up in a house for a week. There was no studio, no crew, really, except for maybe one or two nights. On this one there was a crew, there was a schedule and there was a control room where we could watch monitors and things like that. But it was also similar in that Oren was always around, [producers] Jason [Blum] and Steven [Schneider] were always around.
Was Paranormal 2 any more or less improvisational than the original?
The first one had an outline and Oren was clear about what he wanted, but it was 100 percent improvisational. But it was easier to do that because there were only two actors, so there was only one other person you had to worry about working off of. When there’s a larger cast, that sort of improvisational nature—when it’s not a comedy and specific information needs to get out in a certain way—becomes more difficult. I believe we did a good job of keeping that feeling, and Kip was really good at working with us if something felt off. I would say it was comparable in the improvisation, but there was more structure the second time around. I think it’s hard for a studio to say, “Ah, just go create something,” you know? They wanted to know what was gonna happen.
Since this movie has cameras set up all over the house, instead of just one, was it easier in the sense that you were freer in your movements, since there would always be a camera somewhere to capture what you were doing?
Yeah, and there was more freedom in that you didn’t need a reason to be holding a camera, because why would you be doing that if you were cooking breakfast or something? It also makes the movie a little more dynamic when you’re watching it; that’s a new aspect you didn’t have in the first. It’s not just the same stuff regurgitated, you know? It was improved upon and amped up a bit.
How was it reteaming with Micah? Had you been in touch since the first movie?
Yeah; we might go a month or two without talking, but when we catch up, it’s like we just pick up where we left off. It was great. I had no idea that we would ever be in those roles again, so it was like, “Aw, I remember you, this is awesome!”
You got to redefine the characters’ relationships. They’re a little less antagonistic in this one.
Yeah, they’re not having as tough a time. They’re not going through weird stuff and they’re not at odds; they’re just a happy couple in love, and it was nice to enjoy the lighter side.
Did you enjoy working with the other actors, the newcomers to the family?
That was great. They were eager and excited and fun, and it was nice to open up the family and have more people to play off of.
One would imagine you had to shoot this movie under a veil of secrecy…
Yeah, a huge one. People were like, “Hey, are you doing a second movie?!” “No…” [Laughs] I hated that, but it was more fun for the audience to be surprised to see Micah and I, and how the second movie meshes with the first one in different ways. It’s more fun to discover that than to know it going in—why see a movie if you’re already aware of what’s going to happen? So I was happy to [keep the secret], though I was super-excited, so of course I wanted to share it. And I was thrilled that people liked [Paranormal 2] and responded to it. That’s always very satisfying for an actor.
On both movies, was it fun to see them with large audiences and watch their reactions?
It was interesting; the first film I had seen countless times before I saw it with an audience, so I knew exactly what was going to happen, and was just watching the crowd to see what they thought of it. The sequel, I didn’t see until I was with an audience, so I was, like, watching it, and then going, “Wait, are they—oh, OK, they seem scared—good, good!” It was scarier for me, because I like to know what I’m getting into, and I was seeing myself up there for the first time with a huge crowd, so it was nerve-wracking—but still fun.
What’s the best audience reaction you’ve seen to either of the two films?
Well, there’s a story from the first one that I don’t think will ever be beat. I wasn’t actually there for it; my mom went to a midnight screening. As she was leaving, she went to the bathroom, and there was a girl sobbing in there. This girl thought that I was missing, that Micah was dead—she thought it was real. My mom was like, “No, no, honey, it’s not real,” and she was like, “Yes it is! She’s out there, she’s dead!”—just losing it. And my mom said, “No, she’s my daughter. Look…“—she pulled out her wallet—“Here’s a picture of her, she’s fine, she’s in LA, she’s totally cool. Don’t worry.” Thank goodness my mom was there to console that poor girl, so she didn’t go home being that disturbed.
It must have been a rollercoaster ride for you after you made the first one—thinking it was going to be released, then it wasn’t, then it was going to be remade… There was a long period where it was uncertain what was going to happen.
It was about three years, if I remember correctly. We shot it in 2006, there was something like a year of editing; Oren would come up with a version and we’d all watch it and discuss it again—he worked hard on that for a long time. Then there were some festivals, and “It’s gonna get remade,” “No, it’s not,” “Maybe it’ll go out in theaters…” It was always kind of one step at a time, but it was never “Oh, yeah, it’s gonna happen!” It was always like, “Ehhh, maybe it will…”. Then it all kind of blew up right at the end.
And you were thrust into the limelight all of a sudden.
Just thrown out there, yeah. I’d had zero press in my entire life, not a lick of it. It was good that Micah was there, since we had each other to play off of over our full week of press. It was exciting, but also very much, “Oh, wow! This is a whole other ballgame.”
You got a part in the upcoming horror film Psychic Experiment (a.k.a. Walking Distance) before that all exploded.
Way before, yeah. I did a short film with [producer/co-star] James LaMarr years ago, and we got along really well and kept in touch—I’m from Texas and he’s from Texas. So when he did that movie, he was like, “Hey, you wanna be a part of it?” They had a small role for me to play and I was like, “Yeah, totally,” so I went out and filmed for a day and came back. That was after I filmed Paranormal, but before it was being seen or was getting attention. It was literally 24 hours at best, but it was a great crew and everyone was really nice. I knew Denton [Blane Everett] before and he was fun, and James was great, so it was a fun day.
What’s your role in the film?
I play Denton’s character’s girlfriend, so I’m not in any of the scary stuff. I’m just in the beginning and then at the end, before he leaves to go to the town and then after he comes back.
And yet the movie was retitled Experimental Activity for international sales, based on your presence in it.
[Laughs] I heard that! It’s pretty crazy; I was going, “I’m not even in it that much! How are they gonna…?” But you know, that kind of strange stuff happens sometimes.