After graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and making a name for herself on the London stage, Juliet Rylance moved to New York City to pursue the theater. Now transitioning into film, Rylance stars in the horror flick "Sinister" as the wife of a true crime novelist, played by Ethan Hawke, who unravels the menacing history surrounding their haunted new home.
Rylance chatted with Backstage about the experience filming on a creepy set, her own fear of horror films, and why doing what you love is the most important thing.
What was the audition process like for "Sinister"?
Juliet Rylance: I actually got a call from Ethan Hawke, saying he had the script for a horror film, and he knew it may not be my thing, but I should read it anyway. It took me about two weeks to read the script because it was so scary I kept putting it down. Once I finished, I thought it was fantastic. It was really due to Ethan being excited about it that I got involved.
What drew you into the script?
Rylance: I liked that it was a suspenseful thriller. Reading the script really had me on the edge of my seat. It was a very tense experience reading it. I also loved the dynamic of the relationship between Ethan’s character, Ellison, and my character, Tracy. I really loved that their relationship felt very real. There is a deep subplot about their marriage.
How did you prepare for the role of Tracy?
Rylance: I find I have to respond to a character or a story to choose a job. It was about really trying to look at the script and working through it as much as I could. Ethan is a really hard worker and we rehearsed a lot. We talked a lot and walked through the scenes. We did a lot of night shoots for the scary stuff, but we also did a lot of family scenes. It was strange because it was almost like filming two movies.
Your background is primarily in classical theater. How was it being on the set of a horror film?
Rylance: I have a really embarrassing reaction to horror films. I break out in a fever. I watched the first five minutes of "The Shining," and I got a temperature of 103 and had to be rushed to the hospital. I was quite intrigued about how it would feel on set. A lot of the time, it was scary. There was one scene in particular, where I was lying in bed and Ethan had to get up and walk through the house. I remember even now that feeling of lying in bed in the dark, and it’s terrifying. We were also filming at a scary house. There were moments when we would all be standing around in the dark and someone would say, “Wow, this is really quite creepy.” It was a lot of fun. There was always someone running around and doing some sort of prank somewhere.
Since you've done a lot of work in theater, do you think stage training is essential for an actor?
Rylance: It’s different in every case, but I think there are so many wonderful plays and playwrights and artists working in theater. It’s a fantastic foundation for any actor. But I guess you reach a level of comfort in theater. Film is a different art form, and there is this feeling of needing to conquer that medium as well. It really is individual for everyone, but for me, theater is where I learn and grow, and that is always a good thing.
Do you have any advice for young actors?
Rylance: I think more than anything, you should do what you love. If you love classical playwrights, seek out companies or places that are doing that. If you love modern playwrights, try to find groups who are writing new plays or working on new plays. If you love television, watch as much theater and film as you can. We work so hard as young artists to further our careers or improve our technique, sometimes it gets so easy to not actually go and see things like a play or a film. I think the best way to get better is to see other actors do what they do well. My stepfather (Mark Rylance) has always said, “Seek out what you love. If you respond to the character, do it. You will never regret it.”
You just finished producing your first feature film, currently untitled, with your husband Christian Camargo. What was that experience like?
Rylance: I basically called up my agent and said, “My husband has this script and people are responding to it and we’d like to get it made.” And my agent said, “Well you like producing, why don’t you produce it?” It was a moment of fight or flight, but I decided to give it a go. We went into production in spring and we are now editing the film. It was an amazing experience. You get to see everything firsthand. You hire people and put the whole thing together, and you really learn what each person does on a film and why they’re so important. My husband directed it, and I played one of the characters in it. My stepfather is in it as well, and a lot of our friends. It was a real family experience. I would definitely do it again. It’s been wonderful to make my own work.
Do you want to stay exclusively in film from now on, or will the stage always appeal to you?
Rylance: I really love doing theater. I am starting to really enjoy doing film as well. Theater has definitely been my love up to this point. I grew up with Shakespeare, and there are so many wonderful teachings in those plays. The stories are all so unique and timeless. There is just so much learning in that body of work, and that is something I will always go back to. I think I like the balance right now of just looking at a script and saying, “Yeah I want to do this.” Film is a very interesting medium and I want to keep learning about it.