Sara Paxton Interview, Last House on the Left

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

Masters of horror Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham revisit their landmark film that launched Craven's directing career and influenced decades of horror films to follow: “The Last House on the Left.” Bringing one of the most notorious thrillers of all time to a new generation, they produce the story that explores how far two ordinary people will go to exact revenge on the sociopaths who harmed their child.
The night she arrives at the remote Collingwood lakehouse, Mari (Sara Paxton) and her friend are kidnapped by a prison escapee and his crew. Terrified and left for dead, Mari's only hope is to make it back to parents John and Emma (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter). Unfortunately, her attackers unknowingly seek shelter at the one place she could be safe. And when her family learns the horrifying story, they will make three strangers curse the day they came to The Last House on the Left.

MoviesOnline sat down with Sara Paxton to talk about her new film. Paxton is an accomplished young actress who has shown her impressive versatility in features, on television and in music. Director Dennis Iliadis felt she was the perfect casting choice because she had the depth needed to provide the roller-coaster range of emotions required for the pivotal role of champion young swimmer, Mari Collingwood.

Paxton is best known for the title role in the comedy “Aquamarine,” in which she played a mermaid looking for love…on land. Aquamarine co-starred Emma Roberts and was filmed on location in Australia. She co-starred with Drake Bell and Leslie Nielsen in the comedy spoof “Superhero Movie,” and with Amanda Bynes and Matt Long in the comedy “Sydney White,” a modern retelling of the classic fairy tale. Her feature film credits also include “Liar Liar,” “Soldier,” “Music From Another Room,” “Haunted Lighthouse” and “Sleepover.”

On television, Paxton can next be seen in a guest appearance on the new Disney Channel original series JONAS, starring the Jonas Brothers. Her television credits also include a starring role in the Disney Channel movie “Hounded,” as well as in the Lifetime Original Movie “The Party Never Stops: Diary of a Binge Drinker,” about a college freshman’s struggle with binge drinking. She also starred as Marnie, a young witch in the popular Disney Channel Original Movie “Return to Halloweentown.”

Paxton earned an Emmy Award nomination for her portrayal of Darcy Fields in “Darcy’s Wild Life,” on Discovery Kids and NBC, playing the jet-setting daughter of a superstar actress, whose life is abruptly changed when her family moves from Malibu to a beautiful but distinctly rural ranch. Paxton also performed in the music video “Take a Walk” from the Darcy’s Wild Life soundtrack. In addition to guest-starring in a variety of roles on such hit series as Malcolm in the Middle, Will & Grace, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and CSI: Miami, Paxton was a series regular on the WB coming-of-age series Greetings From Tucson and had a recurring role as Jesse McCartney’s troubled girlfriend, Sarah Borden, on the WB drama Summerland. Her television roles also included appearances on State of Grace, Lizzie McGuire and Frasier, and recurring roles on the cult FOX series Action and the daytime drama Passions.

Sara Paxton is a fabulous person and we really appreciated her time. Here’s what she had to tell us:

Q: You and Garret have worked together before, did that help knowing what scenes you would have to do on this together?

SARA PAXTON: Definitely. Garret and I met a couple of years ago. I was about 15 and I was doing a pilot called “Mr. Ed,” a remake of the original television show. I got along really well with Garret on that set, so when I heard that he was going to be playing Krug, I was honestly so relieved because all I could keep thinking was, “Who’s going to be playing Krug?” You know, some actors don’t want to form a relationship. If they have to hate you on screen, they want to not get to know you in real life. So, I was nervous about that and trusting the person. When I knew it was Garret, he’s so unlike Krug, he’s so gentle and sweet and thoughtful and so I knew we weren’t going to have a problem communicating and really going full force on that scene. I didn’t want us to hold anything back. You can’t. Otherwise it’s not realistic.

Q: What are the actor discussions you have when you’re staging a graphic scene like that?

SARA PAXTON: Dennis (Iliadis) was really great because he really cared about the actors. We had this lengthy rehearsal process for two weeks before actually stepping foot on the set for the first time and that was just mainly to sit around as a team and go over the script, figure out your character, and go scene by scene. We played out the physicality of the scene so that on the day I didn’t need to think about it. I already knew what I was going to be doing. All I had to worry about was my head space and the emotional aspect that day.

Q: Were you concerned who was going to play Krug because of the script or because of the source material?

SARA PAXTON: Because I’d read the script and I knew the scene. I just feel to really get the full performance and for me to really let go, I needed to trust the people I was working with and feel protected and that’s what happened. I think I ended up being able to open up more and do things I hadn’t even planned on being able to do because I had really bonded with the cast so much.

Q: Did you ever tease Garret on the set about being Jesus and how he’s fallen from grace?

SARA PAXTON: No, I’ve called him Sharpie eyebrows because…

Q: You called him what?

SARA PAXTON: Sharpie eyebrows because they would dye his eyebrows and it just looked so funny. You’re like Sharpie eyebrows. (Laughs)

Q: Oh, it looks like they’re drawn on by a Sharpie. I get it.

SARA PAXTON: Yeah. Because he’s blonde. He’s so fair. When we started filming, he had the beard, he had the hair that he’d been growing out but it wasn’t black, and then Dennis made the decision, let’s go black, let’s make him scary. So, the first day after they’d dyed it, it just looked like “Eerk! Eerk!” (sounds of eyebrows being drawn on by a Sharpie) I definitely made fun of him for that. Oh my gosh! It’s so funny because that day of the assault scene, it’s such a touchy subject because it was so emotional and of course, so horrific, but at the same time as I’m looking back on it, there are moments when I just had to laugh because we had to wear these little nude patches on our private parts and I’m just envisioning Garret getting glued on and I’m standing there and the make-up woman is gluing it on to his groin and I’m like if anyone knew and saw this right now, they’d be like “Oh gosh!”

Q: It’s called acting!

SARA PAXTON: Acting. Yeah. It’s so glamorous.

Q: How challenging is it to go from the light-hearted comedic roles you’ve played in the past to something like this that’s so physically and emotionally draining?

SARA PAXTON: It was definitely a challenge but when I read the script, I was looking for a challenge at that time. I’d just finished doing Aquamarine and Sydney White and those were really fluffy, light-hearted comedies and so I really wanted to challenge myself and show people that I can do different things. I never wanted to be put in any kind of box because that’s really depressing to me to always be playing the same thing. I was definitely ready. It was crazy really. As much as I had imagined in my head reading the script, I had no idea it was going to be that much more in real life actually doing it.

Q: Did you do a lot of the swimming yourself?

SARA PAXTON: I did. Oh my gosh! In the audition, Dennis was like, “So how’s your swimming ability?” And I was like, “I played a mermaid. I’m an amazing swimmer. You have no idea. I’m great.” And they were like, “Oh wow, she’s a great… Hey, she’s a good swimmer, you know!” And then I actually got on set and I just remember submerging (emerging?) from the water and hearing cut, “Oh my God, she is drowning! She is drowning right now. Somebody get her some floaties, something!” And I was like, (laughs), I guess I wasn’t that good. I was more talk.

Q: Was that their misconception of it or were you really in trouble?

SARA PAXTON: Oh no, no, I mean, in the movie she’s supposed to be this intense swimmer and I guess I felt I was better than I actually was because I was like, ‘Yeah!” Because in the original script she’s supposed to butterfly. So I’m doing these lessons and I’m like, “Five lessons in the shallow pool and they want to be fully able to butterfly? It’s not going to happen. I’m sorry.”

Q: Was that water cold?

SARA PAXTON: Freezing. We had a medic on set 24/7. Of course, you have to have a medic on set but Dennis wanted all of the actors’ injuries to be as realistic as possible so we had the medic on set to constantly be telling us “Oh, that doesn’t look real. That would never happen in real life.” We actually had the hypothermia truck because it was so cold. He would test how long the body could be in the cold without reaching hypothermia and once it hit that minute, he was like, “She’s out. She needs to come out.” And he would drag me out of the water and I’d be like “Uggg” and be shaking and he’d put space blankets on me and heaters and check my temperature.

Q: How do you deal with crawling through mud in your underwear when it’s cold and it’s 4am in the morning?

SARA PAXTON: I don’t know why when I was reading this script it didn’t quite hit me, you know, mud, cold, rain, wind machines, underwear. It didn’t really all fit together until on the day and I was like what can I do now? It was like I’ve just got to go for it. I’ve just got to do it. The swimming scenes in the pool, that was actually the worst for me. I actually enjoyed the mud more than the pool because it was so freezing and it was like 5 in the morning and the water was so cold and the first AD actually pushed me in the pool because I was too scared to go in so
he pushed me in.

Q: Was it challenging to have to act when you’re already freezing?

SARA PAXTON: Oh yeah. Definitely. We all hated the rain machine and we were all like, “We’re doing the rain machine today! Yup. It’s not going to be a good day.” Definitely it was the most physically challenging thing I have ever done. Ever, ever, ever! We got bruised and beaten up every day. I have so many scars still from getting so injured. I remember there was this one scene where in the car we have a huge fight sequence which was actually my favorite scene to film. We had to take the entire back of the car, like the back seat, and take it out and move it back and there were a couple nails sticking up and I’m fighting with Riki (Lindhome) and she’s pulling my hair and it got so intense and real that I landed on one of the nails and it went under my knee cap and I screamed out and Dennis was like, “Cut! Print that! That was the best one! It was so real! How did you do that?” I was like, “Ahhhhh! (in pain) It was real, it was real!”

Q: Were you familiar with the original movie?

SARA PAXTON: I had not seen the original and it was a conscious decision for me not to see the original while we were filming because I didn’t want to have any kind of preconceived notions of the character or the film or anything because we are not trying to copy the movie, you know, remake page by page. We’re just trying to breathe new life into this story and so I watched the movie after we finished filming most of my stuff. I can definitely see how it influenced the entire genre.

Q: What do you think?

SARA PAXTON: It’s very powerful. Obviously it was something completely different for its time. I can totally see how it could become a cult classic to some people.

Q: Can you talk a little about working with Dennis Iliadis?

SARA PAXTON: Dennis is so amazing. I love Dennis because he knows how to have the right balance of getting the actors focused but not tense. He knew how to loosen it up. I thought the rehearsal process was great. I loved that because we were able to form a natural chemistry and really bond and, like I said, get the physicalities out of the way of every scene. Dennis is very protective of his actors. I love working with people like that. If we’re all happy, then you get a better movie so it’s better that way.

Q: How long was your rehearsal period?

SARA PAXTON: All of us were in Cape Town at the beginning except for Monica and Tony.

Q: And you were there earlier just to rehearse?

SARA PAXTON: Yes. Two weeks of rehearsal and then we started filming.

Q: Did you shoot in order?

SARA PAXTON: We filmed all of my difficult stuff first and then we did the parent revenge part second. I think all the stuff in the woods was Week 4 of me being in Africa.

Q: Can you talk about working with Tony and Monica? Did you shoot those opening scenes with them and then they came back to do the second half of the movie?

SARA PAXTON: No. Tony and Monica were the last to arrive. We had already filmed everything in the forest by the time they arrived.

Q: So you had to go back to the beginning when everything was fine?

SARA PAXTON: Yeah. They used so much make-up every day to cover up all of our injuries. Every single one of us had something bad that happened to us injury-wise and so make-up had to cover it up. So, if you look really carefully in the movie, when everything is fine and normal, if you look at my legs, they’re purple but nobody seemed to notice that.

Q: How did you connect with them? You seemed to have a really good relationship.

SARA PAXTON: Yeah. We had already bonded so much. We felt bad that Tony and Monica were coming in and didn’t get a chance to be a part of that so we all took them out. I immediately bonded with Monica because we were both like the goofballs with the corny jokes that nobody laughs at. And Tony is really cool. I mean, he was really easy to bond with. He’s a father. He has a daughter my age. It was really easy for me to get along with them.

Q: Can you talk a little about working with Spencer?

SARA PAXTON: He was in “Unbreakable,” “Double Jeopardy,” “Gladiator.” He was the kid in “Gladiator.” Oh my God, I’d always come up to him and say [imitating his character] “Are you the one they call Spaniard?” because that was his line in “Gladiator.” (Laughs) And he’s like, “Shut Up! Stop it!” In “Unbreakable,” he’s holding the gun on Bruce Willis.

Q: You guys have a weird relationship in this. Did you ever discuss it?

SARA PAXTON: We did. We discussed every character’s connection with each other. We decided that Justin and Mari, had this tragedy not happened, would have probably become good friends and really bonded because they both have had hard lives and deaths in the family and so we always says that’s what would have happened. Spencer’s hilarious though. He’s such a college boy. He gets excited about everything. “Dude, we’re going rock climbing! Dude, we’re going windsurfing!”

Actually, I’ve never told anyone this story about what happened to us on the second day of filming. We promised not to say anything because I was so terrified that the make-up artist would get mad at me. I injured him. It was our first day at the cottage hotel and I was like, “Oh, do you see a trampoline? Let’s go play on the trampoline.” And Spencer was like, “No, Sara. It’s only one person at a time on the trampoline.” And I was like, “Oh, who cares?!” So we both jump on the trampoline and little do we know, my tooth collides with his head, splits his whole forehead open. I’m like, “Oh, I taste blood.” I’m freaking out. I’m a bad influence on Spencer. I’m telling him to lie, “You’ve got to lie, Spencer. You don’t say you were with me. Say you fell and slipped in the shower.” He was like, “Wouldn’t it look weird if we said we were in the shower together?” I was like, “No, not together!” I’m like, “No, you say you were alone! You weren’t wearing your glasses.” So that was the whole story. He still has a scar. He’s like, “Sara, when I’m 80 years old, I’m gonna tell my children that you bit my face.”

Q: What did he tell the bosses then? That he just hurt himself?

SARA PAXTON: He really needs his glasses and his contacts, he’s completely blind without them, so I told him to tell everyone that he slipped and fell in the shower.

Q: So then, the decision to have him wear a hoodie was because of that?

SARA PAXTON: I’m not kidding. That’s why his hair is in front of his eyes the entire time.

Q: Were you guys way out in the boonies where you couldn’t go into town to blow off some steam or did you get to hang out in Cape Town?

SARA PAXTON: It was strange because when we first got there, they put us in these lavish condos on the marina and I’m like, “Yeah, this is going to be great.” And then they’re like, “No, no, no. When we’re filming, we’re going to go way out into the forest and you’re going to be living there.” And I was like, “What happened to this condo?” “Well you can stay there on the weekend.” And I was like, “Alright.” Until we get there and we were literally staying in these 18th century wooden cabins with bugs. It was beautiful historically, but it was really crazy actually staying there with the cast. We definitely had to blow off some steam. We had to. After a day of filming like that, we would all call each other and just be like let’s go to the one restaurant in town. Literally one restaurant. (laughs) And we would just go to the same restaurant every night and just relax and just talk about the day because I think we’d all go insane if we didn’t have each other to talk to.

Q: Is it hard to play opposite actors who play despicable characters and then go out together and have a good time?

SARA PAXTON: I think it definitely became harder for the bad guys because I think they started to feel bad about what they were doing (laughs) because we were all really good friends. I know that they felt protective of me and I totally respected them. We all had mutual respect and trust and it was great. I think that it brought out the best in everyone and we all had a real chemistry.

Q: While you were in South Africa, did you go on any safaris?

SARA PAXTON: Yeah, we did. We went on safari. It’s too bad that it was cold because it was freezing and we’re on the safari and at that point I didn’t even care about the animals. I was like, “Rhinos, lions, we’ve got them all. Let’s go back!” I was just freezing. I didn’t go on the first safari. Jonathan, Cody and Riki, they went on the first safari and their truck got attacked by a lion. We lost the footage though. The lion was leaping into the car and everyone was screaming and Aaron (Paul) lost all the footage. I was really mad at him. We would go out. I was of legal age, not here, but there I was, so we would go dancing. We went dancing all the time. We were dancing fools. We had to blow off steam. We were so tense and stressed during the work week.

Q: When you think about Wes Craven, what do you think? Is he a genius?

SARA PAXTON: Of course, some of his movies have come out before I was alive. When I think Wes Craven, my whole life I’ve always thought icon. I mean, he’s this legend of horror. I think he’s a complete master of what he does and he’s so amazing to talk to. He has so much information about the genre and it’s great hearing his old stories about filming the original. I actually get really nervous around him. I start getting really shy and tongue-tied when he starts talking to me and asking me questions. I just sound like an idiot. I can’t get anything out because it’s just… He’s so calm and he has this presence. It’s really cool. He’s definitely an American icon.

Q: Was he there when you tried out for the part?

SARA PAXTON:  Sean Cunningham was there a lot. They’re a team. I met Wes just a couple months ago. He was never there physically while we were working but he was of course manning the controls. He was the captain on the boat that we just never really saw. I didn’t actually meet him until last year in December.

Q: Did you work with his son a lot on set?

SARA PAXTON: Yes. Jonathan was amazing. I cannot stress how welcoming he was and he wanted to make us all feel so comfortable at all times. We were all really passionate about it but Jonathan especially worked so hard on this, staying up until all hours of the night and still being so kind and warm. It was so funny. I was scared to go into the water and so Jonathan and Cody (Zwieg) were like “If we go in the water first, will you go in the water?” And I was like, “Okay,” and so the first day they stripped down to their underwear and jumped in the water for me and I was like, “Wow!” I’d never worked with producers who would ever do that. (laughs) We would go out to dinners and we were all just having a great time together. There was no…you know, I didn’t feel uncomfortable because they were producers. They’re just my friends.

Q: Do you think Mari will be okay in the future? Will she recover from this?

SARA PAXTON: I thought about that. Watching the movie, I was like gosh, what happens? I mean, after all that, where does she end up and where does Justin end up? What happens to everyone? I really don’t know. I don’t think they’ll ever be coming back to the last house on the left. That’s for sure. I don’t think they’ll ever go there for a family vacation ever again. They’ll probably just stay inside their home and lock their doors for the rest of their life and be traumatized and crawl into a ball on the floor and cry.

Q: What do you think of the horror genre? We’ve seen a transition from regular horror to torture porn and now the horror flick as it used to be with movies like this and Friday the 13th. Where do you think it’s going?

SARA PAXTON: Well, for me, I consider this movie to be a suspense thriller, not a horror movie. I’m not a big fan of those torture porn movies as you call them. I don’t like being grossed out. You know what I mean? I like this movie because even while filming it, I would just be standing there in the woods like 6 in the morning getting ready for the scene. It’s so creepy. All I could think to myself was this has really happened to someone and we just don’t know about it. Someone has died here alone in these woods and that just sent shivers down my spine. I was thinking that every day being on that set. I think that’s what’s really scary. You know, the kind of scary that disturbs you for a long time.

Q: More psychological than supernatural?

SARA PAXTON: More psychological. Exactly.

Q: You talked about trying to choose different projects to plan your career. What’s your experience been so far in terms of doing auditions and being a young actor?

SARA PAXTON: It’s really hard auditioning because once people get an idea of who you are, they think they know you and they only want to see you in that way. When I auditioned for “The Last House on the Left,” I didn’t even think I had a chance in hell of getting this part. I only went in as an acting exercise. My manager was like, “Just go in for fun.” And I was like, “They’re never going to give me this part. They only see me as Aquamarine and Sydney White. They’re never going to.” And they did and I was just flabbergasted. I was shocked and of course ecstatic. That’s why it’s hard. I hope when this movie comes out, more people can see that I really do want to do these types of roles. I like doing it all. I don’t just want to be stuck in one box.

Q: Do you live in L.A.?

SARA PAXTON: I do. I was born here. My parents live out in the Calabasas/Thousand Oaks area and that’s where I grew up.

Q: What’s next for you?

SARA PAXTON: I’m possibly doing a movie called “Gravy.” It’s kind of a horror movie too, but not really. There’s comedy in it. I guess I don’t know what genre that would be. Possibly doing that. But, you know what, I don’t want to be stuck doing one thing. I don’t care what I do as long as it’s a good role, a good character, and it’s something different because I don’t ever want to be that girl that does that one thing. So that’s basically it.

“The Last House on the Left” opens in theaters on March 13th.

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