Now in select theaters and available on VOD is Eric England’s Contracted. The viral body-horror film follows a young woman, Samantha (Najarra Townsend), after she wakes up from a drunken night of unprotected sex infected with the STD from hell. Contracted also stars Caroline Williams, Matt Mercer, Katie Stegeman, and Simon Barrett. At a recent LA press day for the film I sat down for an exclusive interview with Townsend. She talked about what attracted her to the film, working with effects makeup, the scenes she was most nervous to tackle, shooting a film in fifteen days, her next film The Toy Soldiers and a lot more. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
NAJARRA TOWNSEND: Contracted is about a young twenty something who has a one night stand and contracts what she thinks is an STD, but is actually something much, much worse. It’s just a really entertaining film with a lot of gross out moments. So if you want to be disgusted you should definitely see this movie.
What was the desire for you as an actress to be a part of this film? Why did you want to make a gross out film?
TOWNSEND: When I read the script I really couldn’t put it down and all the disgusting moments just made me want to keep reading. I was so grossed out just by reading- what was on the page affected me so much that I felt like it would make a really good film. And I was really excited just to do it, because I haven’t done a film that had this kind of special effects and I just wanted to experience it.
What was the experience of working with the effects like for you? Was it hard? Was it fun? A little of both?
TOWNSEND: Looking back I just think it was so much fun. I’m sure at the time- I mean, we had our challenges. Certain things were uncomfortable. The contacts would be uncomfortable at times, but I was having so much fun doing it that all of that just didn’t even matter. It was just fun.
Did you take lots of selfies?
TOWNSEND: I wish! But you know I really didn’t because one, we were always in such a rush I felt like because makeup would take so long and we would have to get a certain shot off. So we were always rushing, rushing, rushing. Also, I knew that if I took any pictures I couldn’t use them. So I was kind of going crazy. Our Co-Producer and actor, Matt Mercer, was taking behind the scenes photos the whole time and I was like, “Oh, send me some. Send me some.” And he was like, “Eh, I can’t. I can once the movie is released.” And even now he’s like, “I don’t think I can.” So I just didn’t really take many photos because I knew I couldn’t use them. But I wish I would have, because then I would still have them.
Right, just for yourself.
TOWNSEND: Yeah, but I probably would have been tempted.
Maybe next time.
TOWNSEND: Oh, for sure, like crazy.
You mentioned that there are a lot of gross out scenes, there are also a few scenes beyond the bodily graphic parts that seem to me, as an actress signing on, might make you a little nervous. Was there one that stood out above the rest that you were worried about going into?
TOWNSEND: Well, it was my first sex scene in a film and it was quite a sex scene at that. Not the sexiest of sex scenes, so I was a little concerned about it. Especially since I haven’t worked with Eric before so I wasn’t- as an actor you sign on to a film and you never know what exactly it’s going to be like. I just didn’t know. But luckily Eric was very- there was a lot of communication. We had a lot of sit down talks and I completely trusted him. And when we got to that scene it was so logistical. We had to listen for Eric the whole time, he was giving us cues like, “Najarra put your head back. Matt say this.” Like, I didn’t even think about what we were doing so it just ended up being fun. That was my biggest fear. I guess my other one- I didn’t want to do it and I kind of fought him on it, was when I’m putting the moisturizer on between my legs and then she smells her hand. I was so personally disgusted by that. I was like, “I don’t want to do this. Please don’t make me do this.” And he was like, “No. I would do that. I would smell my hand so you have to smell your hand.” I’m like, “No! I don’t want to do that.” But I did it and it works. It’s gross.
Since you work in an industry that’s so concerned with looks were you ever concerned about doing a film like this where they just completely fuck up your face.
TOWNSEND: Yeah, really bad.
And then that’s the poster.
TOWNSEND: Well, I wasn’t aware that was going to be the poster, [laughs] of course. Going into it I just didn’t think about it that much and then once we were doing it, it was just- it’s what I signed on for. I don’t really care. Looking bad was fun, really. I think I just didn’t really mind, because I can look decent so I can look ugly, you know, whatever. It’s all the same to me [laughs] It’s fun.
I think Eric said you guys shot in fifteen days.
Can you talk a little bit about what that was like and how you guys got through it all in a fifteen day shoot?
TOWNSEND: Yeah, it was a lot. It was a lot of stuff to shoot in fifteen days. We had an awesome AD so that really helped us, but it was just a lot every day and we would power through it. What was so lucky was the cast and crew, it was such a small film that we all just became like family. When we would wrap at night I wouldn’t even want to go home. I would just be like, “Can we have a slumber party until we keep filming?” So it was okay. It was okay being on such a time restriction. I’m sure Eric would have liked double that amount, but it is what it is and it was fun.
TOWNSEND: I feel like they probably scheduled it according to locations, I would think. So it wasn’t chronological whatsoever. I think the opening scene we shot in the last few days, so it was very- our poor makeup artist had this book of each day what I looked like, which stage, and which scene. It was very planned out, but it was not even close to chronological. It would have been nice, but you never get to do it like that.
You’re very young, but you have like 64 credits on IMDB, 55 according to my press kit. That’s very impressive.
I mean, you started young, but that’s still a lot. Can you talk a little bit about what it’s been like building that kind of a resume? Are you just constantly working?
TOWNSEND: Yeah, well I kind of have to be, because I go crazy when I’m not working. I just fell in love with acting when I was very young and it’s all I wanted to do. I would just go from project to project. I was homeschooled from second grade to high school graduation and I just worked, worked, worked. And I love it. It’s how I met all my friends. It’s how these people became my family members. I just love acting. It’s a crazy deep passion I have.
Likewise, your director is very young and accomplished.
TOWNSEND: Yeah [laughs].
I mean, he’s like fresh out of film school with three completed features. It’s crazy. So since you’ve worked on so many projects with so many directors, and now having worked with Eric, did you notice any qualities in him or his approach to filmmaking that stood out to you as why he’s been so successful thus far.
TOWNSEND: He’s kind of like an actor’s dream director because he was very- we clicked instantly, which always helps. We have the same humor and we talked really easily, and I trusted him. He gave me some movies to watch beforehand and he kind of explained to me the style he wanted and I was into it. I was like, “Cool. This is awesome.” Then on set he was just very patient and if there was- there were a few days where I had just been in makeup for so long, and I had so much emotional stuff going on every scene that we would get to scene where I wouldn’t quite be there, and he just had a way of getting me there. Like, instantly he would just come over, say a few words, and he was so understanding of me as a person. He was just very easy to work with and very fun. If I ever needed to take a minute, that was fine. He’s just a great director. And he treats his crew awesome, you know? It’s so many things that make him successful and so talented.
TOWNSEND: Yeah, we actually did. We did a table read and then I had rehearsals with Caroline Williams, who plays my mom. Besides that…that was the only rehearsal we had. We had conversations about the character and the script, but a lot of it was pretty much fresh the day of, just do it [laughs].
As an actor who kind of grew up in film as opposed to theater do you generally crave rehearsal or is that something you’re kind of used to forgoing?
TOWNSEND: I do prefer a little rehearsal. I mean especially if it’s a film where like with this rehearsing with my mom was so important because we needed to develop some kind of relationship and you can do it in your head and you can make things up but there’s just a flow that comes with it when you know the person, when you get to actually spend time with them. So I’m all for rehearsal. If we don’t have time for rehearsals I’ll at least try to get coffee or hang out with actors beforehand just so there’s some sort of connection between us. So yeah, I prefer some rehearsal. You can over rehearse and then I’ll go crazy, but everybody’s different so you just have to go with it.
You mentioned the scenes with your mother. It’s always fun to see Caroline Williams pop up in a horror film and when I interviewed her before she was just the sweetest, nicest lady.
TOWNSEND: Oh my god, she’s so cool.
What was it like working with her, especially since your characters have this contentious relationship?
TOWNSEND: It was great. She’s such a riot to be around. She’s such a loud, positive personality. We had a lot of fun. We would rehearse in makeup, we were always talking, she was so cool. We went to the Feartastic Palm Springs film festival last week and I spent hours in her room just talking to her because she’s so fascinating. So working with her was just so cool.
She’s so exuberant, was it hard for you to constantly play mad at her?
TOWNSEND: I mean, we all have moms. We’ve all been there, right? [laughs] She was so nice and Sam’s just like, so not having it.
I have to wrap with you, but before we go is there anything else coming up for you that you’re excited for or want people to know about?
TOWNSEND: Well, I just wrapped a film called The Toy Soldiers and it’s a drama set in the 80’s. It’s set in a roller rink so I had to learn how to roller skate, I was on roller skates the whole time. It was a lot of fun. You’ll probably hear about it next year. The directors name is Eric Peter Carlson and he had some success with a movie called Transatlantic Coffee so yeah, I think you’ll hear about it. It’s a different character that’s for sure, which is fun.