Interview: Sarah Bolger talks FrightFest Presents’ Emelie
Matthew Turner | On 13, Mar 2016
The Thompsons are the very definition of a normal family. But on the eve of their 13th wedding anniversary, their usual babysitter has to cancel, leaving Dan and Joyce to call upon a new girl who seems like a dream come true: Emelie. As the night creeps on, though, the kids slowly realize something is very wrong and this woman is not who she claims to be.
That’s the simple premise behind Emelie, the latest title to be released by FrightFest Presents (see our review here). We sit down with the babysitter from hell herself, Agent Carter’s Sarah Bolger, to talk bad babysitting, horror and what’s in her Netflix queue.
What attracted you to the part and how did you get involved?
I spoke with Lizzie Friedman, the producer, who contacted me early on, and had a bunch of Skype messages with the director. I landed in Buffalo, New York, having met no one and just had the script – I realise now that was quite unique, but that’s how this project worked out, it was just offered to me.
How did you prepare for the film? What kind of research did you do?
We just went through what we believed had happened [to Emelie] – there were so many drafts of the script – but she has been torn apart as a human. She’s so incomplete and lost and angry and I think she feels so much more comfortable in someone else’s skin, and we were making that sort of psychotic, and creating that person who feels disdain for herself and finding that she can wear the skin of others more comfortably. That was sort of an interesting thing to watch, and her becoming a character every time is sort of a great thing for an actress.
Did Michael ask you to watch any particular movies beforehand?
Actually, Rosemary’s Baby is something he mentioned quite frequently, I think because of the ambiguity of it all. You’re watching and waiting for something huge to happen and sort of waiting patiently and feeling uneasy and being scared but not really knowing why. And that’s what we were trying to create, I guess. It was great working with Michael at the beginning – we had three weeks working together in Buffalo, mapping out her mind and working out where she was at at different points in the story.
You said you were just offered the part. Did you get a sense of what Michael had seen you in that made him think you’d be right for this?
No, I didn’t! That’s a really good question. I mean, I never look a gift horse in the mouth, like, “Why do you like me?” [laughs] So I don’t think I asked that question, actually.
You’ve just touched on this a little, but one of the things we really liked about the film is how little explanation it gives you for Emelie’s behaviour. How much of it did you have clear in your mind? Who was the guy that helped her, for example?
So what we’ve created, anyway – and I sat in that hotel room in Buffalo trying to figure this out – I think this girl is someone who’s done this many times. It’s not maybe in a baby-sitting format, it’s not necessarily in this town, but she’s no stranger to death and he’s her whipping boy, this man that she has in her life is not the first and not the last of these sort of disposable things to help Emelie get what she wants and manoeuvre around the way she wants to. She’s really isolated herself in this sort of locked, tight-sealed box of sadness and anger and frustration and I think loneliness.
A part like this is quite intense. How easy did you find it to switch off at the end of the day?
Actually, really difficult. Really, really difficult. There’s a lot of that girl and it was hard because the three kids were so lovely and happy and out-going and cool and all I wanted to do was hang out with them and their parents when I was on set, because I was alone, there was no one with me. And I couldn’t – and it was a great idea by Michael – but I couldn’t befriend them because we needed them to not know me as Sarah, not know me as the friend, I needed to sort of still remain a stranger to them. So it was a really isolating film set. I’d just go to set, do the horrific things that Anna does, and then I would go back to my trailer and stop myself from crying. It was pretty crazy! [Laughs]
Do you find that some parts stay with you more than others?
Well, yeah, and it was interesting, because I’d walked around this house many times prior to filming, but before the costume was all set up. And I think the idea with Emelie was she’s entering someone’s home because she’s fascinated with happiness, it’s like this thing inside of her that hates it and loves it so much, it’s very human, jealousy and these things. It was actually walking around someone else’s home – and at the time, it was, it was someone else’s home we’d rented – and invading their space and that’s so interesting to me, because what we’re trying to do, like, mini-metaphor, is how we let people into our lives so easily, you know, our Uber drivers drive us around and it’s our life in a stranger’s hands and it’s house-keepers who come in and keep our home and we hardly know them and baby-sitting too – our lives are so easily put into the hands of strangers. And sometimes, strangers, case in point, the movie, are not the greatest people.
Are you much of a horror fan yourself?
A little bit, yes! I really do enjoy horror. Recently, one of the last horror films I saw was The Babadook. I’m so fascinated and obsessed with that movie, it’s so good. The subtleties, you know?
Do you have a favourite horror movie overall?
I love The Shining. I just think that’s such a great movie. But overall… you know, I only saw The Blair Witch Project like last year for the first time ever. It’s just so smart – I know I’m very late to the game, but it’s such a smart movie. It really stands up – just because you’re watching the kids and they’re sort of in denim, in a forest, it’s never going to age, that movie. You don’t really see the camera equipment, because it’s being filmed on it, so it’s just sort of ageless and timeless, it’s quite, quite brilliant.
The film is released straight to VOD in the UK. Do you watch anything on-demand?
Yes! On Netflix, I’ve been watching Q.I. like it’s going out of fashion, because I am somewhat of an obsessive with that show. I love House of Cards, I think it’s a really brilliant show, and then I’ve also been watching Narcos, which I thought was really great.
What do you typically look for in a script?
For it to surprise me. You know, I read a lot of scripts and things tend to follow a pattern sometimes and I guess it always catches my eye when something a little different is down on my lap. It makes me so excited, it’s like you’re reading it and you can’t stop, it’s like reading a great novel. And then the best part is you get to go and play with it in a couple of months.
You’re in the second season of Agent Carter – how’s that been going so far?
I watched Agent Carter prior to starting in it. It’s such a fun film set – they’re all the best of friends, the coolest people. It was like a family I was walking into, it was so cool and unique, and Hayley Atwell is just, like… I mean, she is the best lead for that show, just the coolest woman. I watched her with awe. She’s amazing, the way she just commands the set and the screen, you know, she IS Agent Carter, she’s all-powerful with no superhuman powers. It’s quite brilliant. I’m really a big fan, actually and it was great doing things with her.
Are you in the whole season?
No! Sadly, because of Into the Badlands, you’re only permitted to do a certain amount of episodes on any other TV show, because that one’s still going. [Into the Badlands is available on Amazon Prime Video in the UK.]
What was it that made you decide to become an actor? Was there a particular film or play that you saw and something clicked?
I started acting when I was five! I would love to be able to recall when I was five and when I started acting, but I think whatever it was that I was drawn to, I did it in school and I randomly got a movie when I was six years old and the love grew every year that I happened to be on a film set. It was sort of organic.
Did you have any particular acting role models?
At six? [Laughs] For me, I didn’t really see acting as a job, it was this brilliant thing that I got to be a part of outside of school hours. I was on Jim Sheridan’s movie, In America, and I remember being so fascinated by Jim Sheridan, as a director, directing actors – just his love for movies was contagious and I think it was that more than an actor who I wanted to follow, it was more falling in love with someone’s love of filmmaking.
Although, [In America co-star] Paddy Considine’s a pretty great acting role model to have, if you’re going to have one…
Oh, my God. I mean, Paddy’s amazing. Paddy’s brilliant. And now he’s directing and everything, he’s sort of the whole thing, the whole package.
What’s your next project?
Probably Season 2 of Into the Badlands.
Emelie is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.