Going her own way

Clare Foley on the appeal of dark roles and starring in The Changed

by Jennie Kermode

Clare Foley on the set of The Changed
Clare Foley on the set of The Changed

She’s one of the most exciting actresses of her generation, having burst onto the screen in 2012 as the little girl in Sinister and gone on to play Ivy Pepper in Gotham, as well as making appearances in Mistress America, Southpaw, Every Secret Thing and Orange Is The New Black. Now she’s starring in Michael Mongillo’s sinister tale of a group of people holding out against an existential threat, The Changed. In the run-up to its screening at Frightfest, I caught up with Clare Foley to find out how she managed to dodge the usual child actor trajectory and do so much interesting work.

The changed wait outside the house
The changed wait outside the house

“When I was in fourth grade, I got the role in Sinister, and after that I just had such a love for doing horror movies,” she says with a bright smile. “I had so much fun on that movie, and it had such an impact on my life and continues to have such a large impact in my life even many years later. And I think after that, I got into the genre of horror and started loving to – as I got older – watch horror, and I really have loved doing it.”

When I talk to actresses her age, they usually tell me that 80% of what they're offered is love interest roles for boring male characters. How has she avoided falling into that trap?

She laughs. “Yeah, I think, based on the stuff that I've done when I was younger, like Sinister and playing Ivy Pepper in Gotham, it's given me somewhat of a rep of being kind of that tough person, and kind of doing more gritty, serious horror stuff. So I'm lucky that I made that clear for myself, I guess.”

Does that fit with how she sees herself?

“No, really, which is very interesting. I think it’s definitely the opposite of how I am in person, which is maybe why I'm so good lit. Because in person, I'm like, such a like bright and bubbly person. It's funny because I always gravitate towards these very dark characters, which is very fun. And I think it makes it almost more fun for me, because it's so not like my life.”

Watching the adults argue
Watching the adults argue

So what drew her to the role of Kim in The Changed?

“I think that the suspense that The Changed had was really interesting to me,” she says. “Because it kind of has the audience on the edge of their seat the whole time. And I really feel that, like the nerves and the paranoia of the characters. And I really thought that that was something that I've never really done as an actor. I wanted to be able to do that, I think also my character, Kim, her maturity, and her independence was something that really stood out to me. Usually a young girl in the movies, especially this one, where she's, by far the youngest in this group of people - but she really doesn't seem like the youngest, she really takes charge and stands up herself and is able to make her own decisions and even stay strong as even as the adults around her are falling apart, which is really cool.”

It's interesting, because she is ignored so much and sidelined in everything that they're trying to do, but Clare still communicates her presence very strongly when she's there in the background.

“Yeah, definitely, especially in a lot of scenes in the middle of the movie, I'm just kind of in the background. And that was definitely very interesting to film, those scenes. A lot of them are very long scenes where I won't say anything, or I'll have like a long time in between lines. So I think that was also definitely a challenge in itself.”

Watching from the windows
Watching from the windows

She always seems very present in her characters, I note, when other actors might recede into the background when they're not speaking. I wonder how that relates to her process and how she gets into a character.

“I think it has to do with my personality in real life,” she says, “because I personally am a very present person. I'm always very engaged and I’m a very big listener, and I also love to engage in conversation. So I think that that helps me with those types of characters. Because I think that when I'm in the scene, I'm very engaged in the character, and very present there.”

This film has a distinct Invasion Of The Body Snatchers thing going on. I ask if she had read the book or seen the films beforehand.

“I had not. When I booked the movie and when I read the script and everything, I had never actually heard of it. And now, after the movie’s done, I'm hearing a lot about it. So I definitely have to look for that now.”

Generally that story is told from a much wider point of view on a much bigger scale, and this is such an internal film, because it's in that small space. Was that something that was particularly attractive to her, because it's so focused on the actual performances?

A conflicted character
A conflicted character

“Yeah, definitely. I think that something that this movie also has because it’s in such a small space, is you really get to become much closer to the characters. I think because of that it has so much more than just like the thrill of the horror and the sci fi. You really get the stories of like, love and friendship and family between this group of people, and you really feel like the emotion and the tension in the room.”

And there's an internal struggle for her character over whether or not she wants to give in, to fit in with other people. How did she get into that aspect of the character?

“I definitely think everyone can relate to that at some point in their life,” she says. “And I think that the biggest thing for that part of movie is it made me think a lot about kind of, like, top parts in life. And I think that's another really interesting thing and the message in the movie is how beautiful life can be even in those tough times, you know? And so I think that for that character, I think that she definitely is struggling between the beautiful parts of life and the tough times.”

Balancing out the tough character work was the atmosphere on set.

“It was so much fun! I had a really great time. Obviously, it's a pretty small cast. So we definitely spent a lot of time together. And it's in that one location, that house, so we definitely got to know each other really well and I really loved working with all of them. We had the best time.”

Reflecting on what's worth fighting for
Reflecting on what's worth fighting for

I tell her that Michael, the director, told me she was lots of fun to work with and that there was a lot of humour there.

“Yeah, definitely. I love to make a lot of jokes, and some downtime. He tried to keep everyone entertained. So we had honestly a lot of fun. It was really fun actually being the youngest person on set

“The scenes where the changed [people] are outside the house were really fun. And all the scenes where we are like, shut up inside of the house. So that was honestly really fun, like, looking out the windows and seeing the people. One of my favourite scenes is towards the end, when we're all just kind of sitting there and appreciating life. And honestly, I'm thinking a lot about my own life, you know, the things that I appreciate, because there's a few scenes where Kim is kind of looking back and thinking of all the things in life that she loves the most. And the night before, Michael, the director had asked me to come up like with a full list of them, kind of from the character's point of view. Before I did that I actually did it with myself and thought of all the things that like, if I was doing that, personally that I would miss. So it made me think a lot about it. It was definitely emotional for me.”

It was a pretty straightforward shoot, she says, except when the weather failed to cooperate.

Venturing outside
Venturing outside

“One day we were actually supposed to be filming a scene outside, and it was snowing. And we were like, ‘Oh, no!’ The funny thing is, we woke up one morning and it was completely white with snow outside. And we'd already filmed exteriors and it’s supposed to take place in one day. So it was kind of like a fun little hiccup in the shoot. But other than that, honestly, it was really great.”

How does she feel about it being at Frightfest?

“I think it's really cool. I really wish I could have gone to London, but because of Covid, obviously, I couldn’t. But I think it's really cool. It's also awesome that it’s doing an international première. I'm really excited. And I'm hoping that it does well.”

So what about the future now? What kind of work is she looking to do?

“I actually just filmed another horror movie [She Came From The Woods] this past summer with someone who I met on The Changed, who directed it, Erik Bloomquist. And that's kind of like a camp horror movie that takes place in 1987. So that was really fun, to do another horror movie. I definitely love doing horror so I would be glad to do something like that, but coming up. I definitely think I would want to do something different. Maybe like a comedy or even a dark comedy. I feel like that would be a cool thing to do.”

The Changed screens at Frightfest this evening, Friday 27 August.

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