Horror fans know what an amazing actress Danielle Harris is, but did you realize that she’s been acting for almost 30 years now? Her career started way back in 1987 on the soap opera, One Life to Live, no less. She first got a taste of horror in the 1988 sequel, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers as little Jamie Lloyd, the niece of the boogeyman Michael Myers, and she’s never looked back. Since then, Harris has racked up a film and TV resume of 85 projects to date and has worked alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood such as Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and more. But it was the horror genre that Harris kept returning to more than anything.
Since Halloween 4, she has been in over 30 genre films including Urban Legend, Rob Zombie’s Halloween 1 & 2, Hatchet II & III, and Stake Land just to name a few. Last year, she made her directing debut in the slasher comedy Among Friends. The film was received well by critics and fans alike. Harris has become a bona fide scream queen, horror hottie and is loved and revered by fans worldwide as the darling of horror.
I caught up with Harris as she was in Vancouver for pre-production on her biggest film in years, See No Evil 2, being directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska. Join me as I chat with Danielle about See No Evil 2, being a first time director, the Hatchet films and getting married.
Horror Society: It’s a pleasure to speak with you and thank you for talking with me. Congratulations on being cast in See No Evil 2. That’s a big role for you.
Danielle Harris: Yeah I know, it’s nice to get back in the theaters again, without having it pulled anyway (referring to Hatchet II unrated which was pulled after opening weekend due to violence).
HS: Is there any character information you can give on your role at this time?
DH: I’m the female lead actually, but other than that, I can’t say much.
DH: I actually sought them out to do the part. I knew they were working in Canada and had heard they were just hiring local actors. I was a big fan of the first one and I’m a big fan of theirs. I had never met them even though we did the same festival circuit all year last year with different movies, with my Among Friends that I directed and American Mary they directed. We were never in the same place at the same time. My assistant said they were doing this movie and went “Oh My God! I want to do it, I want to meet them, and I want to be part of this”. I called my manager and she made a kabillion phone calls and set up a lunch for me and I took them to lunch and fought for who was going to pay the bill and we totally bonded and the next thing I knew we managed to make it work somehow and I was able to come out here (Vancouver) and do the movie.
HS: That’s really cool. So when does filming begin on See No Evil 2?
DH: Monday (September 23rd), I’m here right now for pre-production. I’m doing the rehearsal thing plus readings, fittings, medicals and all that fun stuff and then we start shooting Monday.
HS: Great, that’s awesome!
HS: You recently directed your first feature film Among Friends. As far as directing goes compared to acting, do you enjoy directing and is that something you want to do more of?
DH: I enjoy it more actually. I’ve been acting for so many years, being the final girl and doing a lot of genre films. There’s really only so much you can do before you’re like “OK”. Now I can move on, I’m not quite the mom yet because usually in these movies the mother has a daughter that’s playing my age so I’m not quite there yet but there’s going to be a time when I know I’m not going to be the final girl and I’m not going to be the mom, so then what?
I started thinking about that years ago and I’d always been the kind of actress not to be in her trailer between takes and I really wanted to be on set and learn about setups and cameras and I’ve always been interested in that stuff. I’ve learned from some of the best and I’ve learned from some of the worst. I’ve always wanted to do it, so a couple of years ago I directed a short during the shooting of Stake Land and I directed another short for them, a prequel to one of the characters storylines. I get so excited to be part of that creative process. It’s much more hands on than being an actor and I like to know what’s going on at all times in all different departments and having a say at the end of the day on what the outcome of the movie is. As an actor you don’t have any say. Even your performance, they can cut it in a way that you didn’t do it. I definitely prefer directing.
DH: Yeah, it was a lot of learning as far as the politics behind it which I don’t really care for, but it’s interesting to know for the first time what goes on behind the scenes. It was easy for me; I knew what to do because I’d been on set my whole life. I know how to run a good set because I’ve seen it done before many times and it’s really about working with the actors. If you have a great DP, you can communicate with him what you want the film to look like. Especially in a movie that’s low budget where we have 10 days to shoot and we’ve got so many characters and so much dialogue, it really is about communication and pushing them and making them feel comfortable and safe and encouraging them to really go for it. You really want them to bring it and they did for me. I think of their performances as really what makes the movie.
HS: Very true. Was it difficult for you to both act and direct yourself at the same time?
DH: Yeah, I actually forgot the days I was supposed to be in it, it was like “Oh my God, I have to get into the Jamie costume”. I definitely am not the actress right now anyway that would write a script and direct and make myself the lead, I just am much happier behind the camera giving all my attention to my other actors. I’ve never worked with an actor on set where they’ve also directed so I don’t know what that would be like to be a supporting actor and having the director have to flip him or herself so that would be kind of interesting to see how it is done. I’ll definitely always put myself a little bit in the movie because I can’t really be on set and not want to do something. The actor in me is still a little competitive and wants to get in on the game so I’ll always put myself in a little part. Also, considering that a lot of the fans that come to see the movies are supporting me and are fans of mine, I would like to give them a little something back and have me in the movie as well.
HS: Well maybe you need to be cast in Clint Eastwood’s next movie and then you can see how he does it.
DH: That would be amazing. From your mouth to God’s ears. He’s definitely one I would do anything to work with.
DH: You know, they’re both great. I’ve been friends with both of them for actually about the same amount of time. Adam is like family, he’s wonderful and we’ve been very close for years. BJ is as well. BJ was head camera operator and very much part of the creative processes of both the Halloweens that I did and the first Hatchet. It wasn’t like I was working with someone that I didn’t know or feel comfortable with because the relationship had already started. He was really the one that everybody felt like got it and he did. Thematically, he’s been a part of so many huge movies as well as indie films and really kills it behind the camera and knows visually what’s needed.
The time frame we had to shoot that movie in and the conditions we shot, the amount of set ups and camera work, stunts and all the stuff that BJ had to tackle, aside from tackling Mother Nature, I don’t envy him being a first time director on that production. I think they’re both great and I heard a lot of people talk about how the third one is their favorite and they’re also very sad when I tell them I don’t think there’s going to be another. Never say never, but as far I’m concerned and everybody else, I think this is kind of a great ending to a great story and I think it’s best to leave well enough alone.
HS: I agree. Did you and BJ compare notes at all both of you being first time directors at the same time?
DH: BJ and I had a different kind of relationship. I had just come off of directing so I knew what he was going through and honestly as a first time director, the best thing I could do for him is to just show up, do my job, have it be seamless and have it be as easy on him as possible. We didn’t need to talk shop about any of that stuff on set because he already had his hands full. I learned a lot from being a director what to bring as an actor. At that eleventh hour when you’re chasing the clock, all you really need is for your actor to show up and shut up. That’s really what I tried to do. I never understand these actors that try to battle the director for some kind of power, I see it a lot on set. We’re on the same team and I never really understood that and that’s not how I like to work.
HS: It’s pretty obvious that you and Adam Green are great friends, especially with your appearance on his Holliston TV show for FEARnet. That had to of been a great experience for you. Is it as much fun to work on as it is to watch the show?
DH: Yes, it really is. Adam always says if he could do that job every day for the rest of his life, he’d be very happy, and I get it. When he told me that he was going to write the part of me being a pill stealing thief, I was like wait a minute. I was worried that the fans might think that he was inspired by something true. He assured me that it was so farfetched, that’s why he went to that extreme because anyone that’s met me knows. I’ve been doing conventions for many years so people know the real me. It was fun and someone would come up to me and say the scene with you and Kane in bed with Adam is die out loud laughing. That’s what we wanted.
HS: You’re part in that was so over the top; I don’t think you have any worries about anybody believing that about you.
DH: Good, good.
HS: At this point in your career, are you comfortable still with working within the horror genre as far as being typecast at all?
DH: I don’t really see it as typecast as much because it’s not like companies are coming after me because that’s all I can do. They’re coming to me to do these movies because it’s what fans want to see. As long as the characters change and are different from one another and it’s not the same thing over and over again, even though it’s within the same world, then I’m ok doing it. It does get a little bit exhausting physically and emotionally to have to work every day, especially with as many as I do, which is why I haven’t done as many in the last two years. I’ve taken a little bit of a break. I’m getting older, I’m 36. It’s a lot in a row with crying, screaming and having to be scared. All of that can take a toll on you after a while. People watch for only 90 minutes and they don’t realize that we have to do it for a minimum of four weeks, sometimes longer. I pick and choose now, I’ve turned down a lot of things in the past year and that’s ok because I have a lot of stuff coming out that hasn’t come out yet. I got to take a little bit of a break and work on some other things that were important to me like getting married and planning my wedding. Now I’m back and I definitely wanted to be a part of See No Evil 2.
DH: I actually get recognized out in public more for believe it or not, by girls usually from a movie I did called Wish Upon a Star for Disney. For the last year, I’ve been getting that all the time. I think it’s when I go shopping or something and I go to the mall and they’re in their twenties and at the end after I buy clothes they’re like “Oh my God, I just want you to know that I loved you in that movie!”. It’s usually more of that, but I don’t really put myself in an environment where someone would go “Oh my God, I loved you in Halloween“, maybe every once in a while. If I go where more guys are I think because guys are really more into the horror even though women love it too, I feel like I get recognized more by men.
HS: What else do you have in the pipeline that you’d like to talk about?
DH: Really all that we’re trying to get off the ground is Fear Clinic the movie. That’s on the slate as of right now, ideally before the end of the fall. When I get back from this we’re going to try to start to do that. That will be great; it’s kind of another franchise essentially that would be pretty damn awesome to be a part of with Robert Englund and Kane Hodder. Considering that Halloween for me is done, Friday the 13th is done for Kane and Nightmare on Elm Street is done for Robert. It’s kind of like taking the three biggest movie franchises and taking all of the stars of them and putting them into a new world. That would be pretty rad, so were hoping that gets done before the end of the year.
HS: That’s great! Thank you so much for taking time out to talk with me. Good luck with your marriage and your career and I’ll look forward to seeing you in some great films real soon.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my interview with Danielle Harris tomorrow as we discuss her newest DVD release of Shiver and the challenges of working on that film as well as the Food Network and what that has to do with horror.
Watch the trailer for Danielle Harris’ feature film directing debut Among Friends here: