Director Breck Eisner’s shocker The Crazies is set to debut in theatres on February 26. In the last few days, I’ve gotten the chance to speak with some of the people that brought this reboot to life. Most recently, I talked with one of the film’s stars, Danielle Panabaker. Hit the jump for her thoughts on The Crazies and what we can expect to see from her in the future.
Tell us about your character in the film, Becca Darling.
DP: She’s a high school student living in the town of Ogden Marsh. She’s just a really good-natured, sweet young woman, and she also had an after-school job working with Radha Mitchell’s character, Judy Dutton.
What drew you to this project in the first place?
DP: I had read the script and went in and read with Breck (Eisner), and I thought the script was really interesting; I think it’s really scary. The film moves so quickly, which I think is also a testament to Breck and his abilities and skill as a director. But I read the script first, and I have great respect for Breck and I think he’s done an incredible job with this film, so it was a combination of factors, I guess.
This film takes place in the small town of Ogden Marsh. And you actually shot in two small towns in Iowa and Georgia. Can you talk about that experience? Was that helpful as an actor?
DP: It was, absolutely. It was certainly very isolated in both locations we shot at. I mean, the town we shot at in Iowa was only 1200 people. In Georgia, I think there was already a fairly established crew, but in Iowa, again, we had to have increased the population of the town by at least ten percent, and we’d rented out every hotel room for something like a 60-mile radius. So, I think it was actually really great because it gave me a clearer sense of the small town people, the characters we were playing. It was funny; we were shooting at a local high school, and one of the high school students was talking about how he knew everybody in his class’ middle name; not only first and last name, but middle name. And I went to high school with a class of 1000 people, so I certainly didn’t know everyone’s middle name. I think it was really great to be able to shoot there, in both locations.
Would you say this film has a message?
DP: Certainly. I think there’s actually a really important message in the film. I think it’s really easy to forget that our country is at war. And the idea of a biological chemical being released into the water is something that could certainly happen. It’s not that far-fetched, and I think that’s what makes the film so scary; this is something that could happen in any place in the United States-water being contaminated, particularly with all the chemicals; you know, I still remember back through the anthrax scare and that sort of thing. So I think it’s a really contemporary and terrifying film.
DP: With The Crazies, it’s a much darker, and, in my opinion, more terrifying film because with something like Friday the 13th, you know Jason is coming to kill the stupid teenagers, so there’s no getting around that. But with this film, there’s no telling where “the crazies” are, how crazy they are, and if they’re after you or what they’re after. They’re very different films and I think Breck did a really great job of capturing the terror and the creepiness of this film.
I’ve heard one of the tougher tasks in a horror movie is to scream convincingly for the length of a film. You’ve got a couple of horror films under your belt, now. What’s been your experience with that?
DP: Drink lots of tea. Certainly, a lot of screaming happens; it’s really scary. But I think it’s important for actors to sort of go for it.
Have you found it difficult to put yourself in that mindset of screaming and not feeling a little silly, or is it something that you can do very naturally.
DP: I don’t know if it’s something that comes naturally. But trying to stay in the moment as an actor and being really [present in] what you’re doing and the scene that’s going on and where the characters have come from, it wasn’t difficult, per se, to really embody and embrace.
In that same vein, I’ve heard that you’re not necessarily a big fan of horror movies and that you can scare kind of easily.
DP: (laughs) I do scare very easily.
Were there moments on-set where you were like “Ok, I’m not acting anymore; I’m actually terrified for my life”? Or can you separate yourself from it?
DP: Hopefully, there are quite a few moments. I mean, shooting the carwash was a particularly intense experience. The actors playing “the crazies” have been put in such wardrobe and many of them were given contacts, so they’re not their usual congenial selves. So it was certainly terrifying; we did a lot of night shoots, which were very scary, so it was easy to put myself in that mentality. But I don’t know if I was truly terrified. I think that’s one of the great things about this film; I really felt that the producers and the director, Breck, were concerned for our safety and really looking out for us, looking out for us as people as well as [getting us to give] the best performance possible.
Can you talk a little bit about working with your co-stars, Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, and Joe Anderson?
DP: I actually had a great experience working with everyone. I think Joe is immensely talented; he has such potential and such great skill, so I really enjoyed working with him. And he’s also really fun; he’s a really sweet, sweet guy. And then Radha is so cool. She’s Australian and my sister had actually worked with her many, many years prior, so it was great to see her. And I think she’s just such a wonderful spirit, so I really enjoyed working with Radha, as well. And Tim! I am so excited because I think the film is going to be really great for him. He has such strength, especially on camera, and I think he does a wonderful job in the film. Because we were in such remote locations for so long, everybody’s significant other would come visit and Tim has three beautiful children and he and his wife have been together for many, many years. So, it was a really great experience.
Can you talk about some of your future projects?
DP: I shot a little independent film (director Michael Melamedoff’s dramedy Weakness) in New York last summer that I’m really proud of. And I think it’s going to hopefully make the festival circuit and get some exposure that way. And I shot a movie with John Carpenter last fall (The Ward), which was a really wonderful experience, and hopefully that will be released later this year.
What kind of films are you looking to involve yourself with in the future?
DP: I would love a little bit of a change. I feel so fortunate to have been able to work so much, particularly in the horror-thriller genre, but I would love to be able to do something perhaps a little more dramatic or even a romantic comedy. So I haven’t shut any doors and I’m really open to anything, so I think it’s just about the material and what is going to get made.