Interview: Danielle Harris Talks ‘Stake Land’

Now in limited theaters from Dark Sky Films is Stake Land, a quasi-vampire film that critics have been eating up (see BC’s review).

Gearing up for the apocalypse, BC caught up with star Danielle Harris who talked about starring in this post-apocalyptic genre film, and much, much more.

Also starring Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Kelly McGillis, Sean Nelson, and Michael Cerveris, “Martin was a normal teenage boy before the country collapsed in an empty pit of economic and political disaster. A vampire epidemic has swept across what is left of the nation’s abandoned towns and cities, and it’s up to Mister, a death dealing, rogue vampire hunter, to get Martin safely north to Canada, the continent’s New Eden.

Interview inside.

Danielle Harris

Was this the first time you sang or played pregnant in a movie?

Definitely the first time I’ve sung in a movie! It was very scary for me. Jim [Mickle] wanted me to sing and play guitar too, and I tried to learn that but it just wasn’t gonna happen. I had a month to do it and… nuh uh, not gonna work. So I went to Jim and said, “Why don’t you guys play with me, and I’ll just sing.” And if I wasn’t traumatized enough, of course I got sick 2 days before and had this horrible head cold, so I sounded like shit, which just added to my nervousness and paranoia. Like, I’ve only done karaoke once, and it takes a whole lot of whiskey and me being coerced by AJ Bowen to get up there. Other than that, it’s not really my bag. And… have I been pregnant? I had a baby when I did this movie called Poor White Trash for Comedy Central way back in the day, I had like a 2 year old. But other than that, I have not been a mom, and that was kind of one of the things that made me want to the movie, like “Oh cool, I get to be a mother.” You know, I’m 33, so I’m kind of in that place right now anyway, the clock’s ticking! So it just seemed like a role that was a little bit more like I really am. I mean, listen, I got that badass sassy girl inside me too, but the reality is I have a softer side which I’ve never gotten to show on film before, so this was kind of and opportunity to show that side.

And the singing’s pretty much the only thing you say for the first 15 minutes or so that you’re on screen…

I don’t have much dialogue in the whole movie! When I read the script I was like “What am I gonna do? Am I a glorified extra? Why do they want me to do this? Am I just going to be standing there freezing my ass off upstate New York for the month of November?” But it was the story that sort of touched me, and you know, most actors feel like they have to be DOING something to be good, and this was an opportunity to sort of leave myself alone. And I’ve been getting a lot of comments, like “This is my favorite thing you’ve done”, and it’s shocking to me, because I didn’t really do anything. I would think something like Hatchet or some other stuff, where I have these monologues and crying and running and these brutal scenes, you’d think that’s what makes it good. But I think that the subtlety and simplicity of this character… it’s actually been reading really well, and I’m stoked. That’s kind of a big deal, you know?

It must be rewarding, after doing so many horror films, to do one that on one hand is still in the genre, but is also still very much unlike the other things you’ve done.

Yeah, for sure. Except for the end scene, I didn’t have to be running or screaming or beating somebody up, it was kind of nice! For once! It’s great to still be able to find stuff that excites me. You know, I read so much shit, and I’m always like “Why do they keep wanting me to play the high school girl that gets killed? Aren’t you tired of this shit?” I know I pop in your head when you think of these roles, but I kind of don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to play those girls – if I’m bored, you guys have to be bored! The stuff I’ve done, at least in the last year or so, the stuff that’s going to be coming out later this year, are all characters I’ve never played before. And maybe someone will see it outside of the genre, and say “This girl can do other things besides be the victim”, so I can branch into those other areas.

I talked to Jim last week, he said he cast you because of your sitcom work, he didn’t even know you from the Halloweens or other horror stuff.

It was kind of a trip! We did the Fangoria radio together when I was promoting Halloween II, and I didn’t know who they were. And then later on I got the script, and I was like wait a minute, Jim Mickle, I know that name, why do I know that name? And then it was like “Oh, he’s the guy I was chatting with on Fangoria radio”! So I asked to see Mulberry Street, and I really liked that movie, and knowing that Ryan Samul was going to be the DP again, I was like, “If they can make that movie for 50k, imagine what they can do with this movie.” And I loved how it was written – vampires were scary again. Finally!

Let’s talk about that one take shot, which basically starts on you coming out of the store wearing the new dress – have you ever had to something with that sort of epic complexity before?

There’s been a couple things I’ve done, I can’t recall them off hand, anytime there’s Steadicam it’s gotta be choreographed, but nothing to this extent, that’s for sure. Jim was getting cut back on money and time, the schedule was getting tight, and they were telling him “We gotta cut down on the number of shots”. So his idea was “Let’s do the whole thing as a one-r! So it was like “WHAT?”, and it was probably one of the coldest days of the year, probably 10 below zero. Then you have all these extras, that are just boozed up trying to keep warm, we’re in the middle of nowhere… so we’re freezing our ass off, all this stuff has to be choreographed. It just so cool that he was able to pull it off, and that’s a testament to Jim and Ryan; that is such an awesome shot, and then you guys see it and say “Oh wow, there are no cuts!” So I’ve never done anything to that extent before, and I just love it. The way it looks, with the vamps coming down from the helicopters… I think it’s the coolest scene in the movie.

And speaking of directing, you yourself did one of the shorts for the website.

Yeah, I think it’s gonna be on today or tomorrow, I should ask them. Two of them are already up online, and there’s 3-4 more to go. The short Prank that I did a few years ago was training wheels for me, it was all about character and performance because that’s what I knew, I didn’t know anything else five years ago. But over the years I realized, this is kind of what I want to do, so I started watching directors and asking millions of questions, like “What lens are you using?” “How are you going to set this up?” “What was your idea behind this?” Just kind of getting into everyone’s head. And they came with this idea – mind you, I had one day off, so I was getting up at 4 in the morning after going to bed just a couple hours before from working as an actor, to get up to shoot for 12 hours because I wanted to set up. I could have done a night shoot but I wanted to shoot in the day light, when the sun was up. It was most important to me to stay true to style of Stake Land, that was my goal. So there’s no dialogue in my short, we’re just THERE, just like in the movie, and in the movie there’s voiceover, but I didn’t want voiceover, I wanted it to be about the journey, I wanted it to be about solitude. It’s Willie’s story, our Iraq vet. I went to Iraq a year and a half ago in real life, a 15 day tour to visit the troops, so I really wanted to tell his story. But I didn’t want it to be spoon-fed, the movie doesn’t do that, it just throws you in middle, and for me it was all about having it look like the feature looks, and staying true to that. I think its gonna be cool; I haven’t seen any of the other shorts, because I was the one who was most closely involved with making it, being in it and being on set and really feeling it out. It’s very simple, it’s not a big grand four minute short film, I wanted it to be sort of “left alone”, like the tone of the movie is.

Were they already written? Did they show you a bunch of scripts and let you pick?

They just said to me “You’re gonna do Willie’s story, do whatever you want.” And I was like “Oh my god, are you kidding? What does that mean???” I’m not a writer, what the hell am I gonna do I do? So I had 24 hours to think about it, and so I cam back and said “OK, it’s Willie’s journey, and this is what I want.” And it was more about what I saw in my mind versus what I wanted to write on paper, so I just wrote this full page description, like, “Here’s where it starts, and here’s where it ends, and this is what I want.” Dark Sky brought up the equipment for us and assembled a team of 6-7 crew members, and I had 3 hours to find where I wanted to shoot, which was really hard. I don’t know the roads back there and I wasn’t going to shoot on a set, there was no set, no insides, all exterior, and it had to be specific. So we drove around and around trying to find a spot, and it’s not like I had a location manager or someone scouting while I was filming! So I finally found a spot, and unfortunately it was hunting season, so I came across quite a few hunters in the back areas. And they were pissed off, they were setting up to shoot deer, and then we come barreling down the street trying to find a perfect area to shoot a movie. Sorry! (laughs) But I was excited because I got to save some deer! So we found the spot, and all got up in the morning to shoot. It was cool, I got to direct Sean Nelson – here I am playing off him for a month and then I get to tell him what do to and have him trust me, and that’s the biggest compliment. He showed up and said “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it.” That’s one thing I love about directing, is an actor having that total trust in your vision.

So will you direct more?

I applied to AFI women’s directing program and I made it through the first round of people. I think there’s like a thousand women and I made it to the top 30. I really want to go to this program, there’s a lot of stuff for me to learn. I’ve learned more from bad directors than the good directors! There’s a lot I have to learn, and I want to go to school, been I’m getting kind of a hard time because of a lot of actors who think they can direct, but I know what I’m doing! I don’t have a style yet; I will find my way, but I’m not there yet, I’m working on it. And if people keep giving me opportunities like these guys did, then that’s awesome for me. It’s a huge compliment for them to say “We want you do to this.” I was like “Oh my god, are you kidding? I would PAY someone to let me do this! Whatever you want I’m there!”

So what is next for you as far as acting roles?

I just signed on to do a movie called Unbroken, and that’s with Tony Todd. It’s an independent feature, a ghost story. Tony brought me into it; he worked on it last year and he was like “There’s this small part, you’re perfect for it.” They wanted to hire local, because it’s only for 2 days, so they didn’t consider me at first. People think that you don’t want to work, or that they don’t have the money, and I’ve never worked like that. I do things for free, for hundred dollars a day, all the time. I’m always like “Send it to me!” I’m not in this to be rich, so send it my way and we’ll see. And I loved the script and loved the character, and it’s another one I haven’t done before. So I get to go to Virginia from Germany; I’m going to do Weekend of Horrors in Germany, and then I get in at 9 o clock on Monday night and then I work the next morning, but I’m stoked. And I love that my friends look out for me; that’s so rad that Tony pushed for me. And then I got an offer for something, not sure if I’m doing it yet, but it’s an amazing script, and that one’s with Bill Moseley, he’s involved in producing, so hopefully if that goes through it’ll be next. I love that these guys think of me for this stuff; it means a lot to me. And then, hopefully, Hatchet 3! All I ask is that they don’t kill me in the first act!

Danielle Harris

 
Source: Bloody Disgusting