Director Aneesh Chaganty hit it big with his feature directorial debut Searching this year, and now he’s hard at work trying to keep that momentum going with this follow-up film, Run. Just as he was deservedly ushered into the public eye with his first feature, now he has the opportunity to do the same for someone else – Kiera Allen, the young actor starring opposite Sarah Paulson in Run.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the set of the film which is being described as “an elevated” thriller. Allen stars as a teenager simply referred to as “Daughter” in the script. She uses a wheelchair and has been raised in total isolation by Mother (Paulson). However, as the film’s official logline explains, her “life begins to unravel as she discovers her mother’s sinister secret.” It looks as though this could be an especially meaty role to kick off Allen’s feature film career, and going toe-to-toe with a seasoned star like Paulson ups the potential tenfold.
And you know what else is a nice bonus when it comes to Allen? She is an utter delight. While visiting the set I got the chance to sit down with the Columbia University Creative Writing student and she’s truly a joy, brimming with passion and enthusiasm for the project. We’ll have more information on Run coming your way real soon but right now the spotlight is on Allen, and I’m thrilled to introduce you to her through our on-set interview.
Check out what she told me about her whirlwind audition process, the wild evolution of her character, finding out she was starring alongside Paulson, how Daughter is a character who’s not defined by her disability an so much more.
This is your first feature film, right?
KIERA ALLEN: This is. This is my first feature film.
And you’re studying Creative Writing at Columbia?
ALLEN: I am.
Is that with any hopes of writing screenplays? And did you know you also wanted to act when you entered that program?
ALLEN: I haven’t really done so much screenwriting at college, though it’s something I’m definitely interested in. I mostly write prose. Been writing a lot of short stories at college. My dream is to write novels. I’m hoping that there will be some crossover someday between my writing and my acting, but so far I’ve kind of been pursuing them separately.
So how did Run happen? Were you auditioning for a bunch of things and then this one just hit?
ALLEN: Yeah, yeah. It started in July of this year. It was actually the first day after I finished a six week acting intensive, so it was like the perfect timing. My manager submitted me for this role and I was asked to do a self-tape audition. So they sent me two scenes and I filmed them on an iPhone, read them with my mom [laughs], and after that I had a Skype call with the director and they had me do a second round of self-tapes and then I was flown out to LA for an in-person audition and then my last round, I was flown out to LA to read with Sarah, who is playing my mom, for a chemistry read. And so, all in all, four rounds of auditions.
I have so many follow ups …
ALLEN: [Laughs] Sure, yeah!
First, what kind of acting were you doing before you even submitted for this? Were you doing short films or anything like that?
ALLEN: I was doing mostly theater. I’m in New York so I was working in the theater scene. I’d just done a reading of a new play at the Cape Cod Theater Project, actually right after my first audition. It was crazy timing. I had the acting intensive Saturday, submitted my self-tape, and then I think Monday I went out to Cape Cod for this reading, which was amazing because those two things, the class and the reading, I learned so much from and it was just a period of tremendous growth for me, so the fact that it overlapped with this audition process I think is a big part of why I got this part because I was just learning so much and incorporating it into my auditioning. But yeah, I had mostly done theater before this.
Okay, so auditioning. You said you got two scenes. They haven’t told me everything about the story and definitely will not, so I know there’s a lot of mystery here. How different was the final full version of the script that you got to see after having done just those two scenes?
ALLEN: I was given two scenes with some context. It was just like, ‘Here’s what your mindset is like in this and here’s what you think and do it.’ And then after my first round of auditions, my first self-tape, I got the full script and was able to read it and that was really helpful to get more context because, really, the evolution that this character goes through, the journey she goes on, is pretty wild. To be able to track where I was at which point in the script was really helpful for me and it was just an amazing script. I immediately felt so connected with the character and so engrossed and excited. When I got the script, I was like, ‘Oh, I really want this.’
At what point in the audition process did you find out that you would be starring opposite Sarah Paulson? I admire her to no end, so that would blow my mind!
ALLEN: Me, too. I know. This is kind of crazy … within one week, I had the audition and I had to go back to school. So for five days, I was like, ‘Am I going back to school or am I going to be doing this movie?’ And didn’t hear anything, so for the whole month of September, I was kind of in touch with them via email, via text, not really sure if things were going to go forward or not. They would ask me really specific questions and be like, ‘By the way, how wide is your chair?’ I’d be like, ‘Twenty-two and a half inches,’ and they would be like, ‘Cool.’ And I just wouldn’t hear from them! [Laughs] I did not know what was going on. And then out of nowhere, I was, believe it or not, in the middle of the latest season of American Horror Story. I watched the new episode that came out on Wednesday and on Thursday, my manager texted me, ‘By the way, the woman playing the mom is Sarah Paulson and you’re reading with her on Sunday.’ I was like, ‘Okay.’
I don’t know where in the season you were, but that could have made it even more intimidating!
ALLEN: Yeah, it was incredibly intimidating! I’m such a fan or her work. She’s done such amazing work for so long. I had watched American Horror Story and 12 Years A Slave, and a movie called Blue Jay that she did, and Martha Marcy May Marlene. It was just incredible after having seen her on screen for so long to be like, ‘Wow, I get to – even just for the day of the audition, I get to work opposite her.’ That was the most exciting thing in the world for me.
Between her being so experienced and also Aneesh having had so much success with his first feature and now jumping into a much bigger project, did either of them have any advice for you? I was looking at the IMDb page for this film and you’re not on there yet.
ALLEN: I’m not. I know. It’s a secret! [Laughs]
But it’s gonna be a big thing when they get to introduce you to everyone in the industry.
ALLEN: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. Aneesh and Sarah have been really, really great about – and Sev [Ohanian] and Natalie [Qasabian], too, who are co-writer-producer and producer respectively – have been really great about just guiding me through the process, but giving me the space to kind of do my own thing as well. They’ve really welcomed me right in. Sarah sent me these really lovely emails with things that inspire her and will talk about things that we both struggle with as actors, which is the most encouraging thing for me was, ‘Wow, Sarah Paulson, this amazing actor, struggles with some of the same things I struggle with as an actor.’ And to kind of talk through that with her and what she’s used to get through it was really helpful.
Aneesh, we had a long pre-production period where we just went through the script and went through it beat by beat and talked about what I wanted and why I wanted it and we wrote biographies for the character together and we talked about what would be in her room and why she would react like this. We worked together so closely on that and he was really supportive of me kind of making independent choices and building the character using my own perspective. So it’s been pretty amazing to work with them.
Can you tell me much about the character? Do you call her “Daughter” or by her real name?
ALLEN: It’s funny. I do both. It’s funny, with the character name being ‘Daughter’ it leads to a lot of funny little things. When they were auditioning me, they were like, ‘You know, if you end up being our Daughter,’ and I’m like, ‘Ahh.’ [Laughs] But I do use both except for sometimes when it is weird to use Daughter, but I think it’s really – calling the character’s Mother and Daughter is really interesting because that’s the way they operate in this story is, it’s all about who they are to each other and to her, I’m Daughter and to me, she’s Mother.
But yes, the character. Her actual name is Chloe. But she’s just the coolest girl. Just reading the script, I connected with her so much. She’s smart and cool and nerdy, just amazingly determined and ambitious and kind. All of these things that you don’t really get to play often as a young woman, especially in conjunction with each other. A girl being smart and cool at the same time is just not something that you often get to see in a movie. It’s generally dichotomized where it’s one or the either, but to have a young female character who’s so dimensional and so interesting, and to be able to build even more and more layers into her through working with Aneesh, it’s been a really, really amazing journey.
I was also hoping to get your thoughts on playing this character who uses a wheelchair.
ALLEN: To see a character in a wheelchair who is, not to give too much away, but who is really kind of a hero and is her own person, and has her own mind and her own journey independent of her disability, and to see a character whose journey is really not defined by her disability; it’s defined by who she is as a person is a really cool thing because I’m an actor, I’m a person first. I don’t come in to play a disability, I come in to play a person and to have that opportunity is really cool.
Before we have to wrap up, is there anything you can tease about these crazy things that she starts to realize, or maybe just how she processes them?
ALLEN: I have to be careful because, of course, I want people to see the movie and be surprised like I was reading the script. I even had a little extra context from reading the sides, but I was constantly surprised on every page at the way things unfolded. But the relationship between Mother and Daughter, which is at the crux of the film, evolves in a really interesting way. There is a lot of suspicion and mistrust and secrecy and you never quite know what reality is. It’s kind of hard to get your footing in this movie and know what’s true or not and so that’s really interesting for me to play from the perspective of my character of not knowing quite what’s real and how much I can trust and what’s at stake. So, you’ll have to see it. [Laughs] I hope I gave you enough information.