Cult Projections: According to imdb your second movie acting experience was a horror feature – Menace. Had you watched much horror before, have you watched much since?
Najarra: As a child my mom introduced me to Rosemary’s Baby, and The Shining and classic horror films. But I don’t know if I was ever a horror movie lover, it was just part of life. And [Menace] as a first feature experience was amazing because I got to see all the horror films’ secrets, and it made horror films not as scary, but more interesting to me, for some reason, so it was really, really fun, and since then I’m obsessed with horror films, I love them. I can’t get scared enough.
CP: Off the top of your head what are some of your favourite horror movies?
N: Um, I’m so bad with favourites. I love The Sixth Sense, it messes with your head, it’s so good. The Conjuring is really good. I also like the classics that I grew up on; I love Rosemary’s Baby, I love The Shining. I love A Nightmare on Elm Street. All these movies were mind-messers, y’know?
CP: Yeah, yeah. The first Nightmare definitely, but they get kinda cheesy after while, those ones.
N: Yeah, they kinda all do; Friday the 13th goes on for, like, ever.
CP: You’re been a bit of a darling of the indie short film scene. Your resume of short films is quite extensive. Are you likely to continue acting in shorts now that your feature career is expanding, even though shorts films have less of an audience because they only get seen in festivals?
N: I’ve been doing shorts forever. I started in shorts as a learning experience. I did a lot of student films, so I was working with a lot of college students, so I got to learn what they learned, all the behind the scenes stuff, and it was really educational. But I’ve been doing features consistently for the past ten years now; so independent feature films are my heart and soul. I just love them. And I don’t know if I’d ever stop doing them. Of course I would love to have a TV show or be in bigger films, but that doesn’t mean I’d ever stop doing the independents. I love guerilla filmmaking. I love the families that are formed ‘cos it’s such a smaller, intimate set.
CP: What creative characteristics do you look for in a director, or is the screenplay always paramount?
N: Most of the time I’m working with directors for the first time. I like to see their previous work to get an idea of what kind of filmmaker they are, and if I connect with it, but also if I connect with them as a person. I’ve been on films before where I’ve had directors where we don’t communicate the same, we don’t see things the same, and it’s really difficult. It’s a good learning process … but it’s hard. So I usually have a meeting with the director before I sign on to a film, just to make sure we both like each other, and are going to be okay working long days with each other for while.
CP: How did you get cast in Contracted? Had Eric [England, the director] seen you on stage, or in a short? Did you do many auditions?
N: I actually worked with the co-producer, and he played Riley in the film, his name is Matt Mercer. I had worked with him on a short about two or three years prior. He Facebooked me and asked me if I wanted to come in for a film he was producing, and I read the synopsis, and I looked up Eric England, and I was, like, sure, I’ll come in for this. So I had an audition, and I had a call back, and that was Eric and the other producers, and then that was it, I agreed to do it.
CP: It’s a great performance.
N: Thank you.
CP: Have you seen a film called Thanatomorphose?
N: No. I’ve been reading about it.
CP: There are weird similarities between it and Contracted. The body horror.
N: I watched the trailer; it looked terrifying.
CP: [laughs] You must look at the poster for Contracted and think, I look great there.
N: I did not expect them to use that at all! It was jarring. My dad called me actually, minutes after it was posted, almost in tears, saying “I’m so traumatized right now, I never thought I’d see you looking like that.”, and I was, like, “Dad, it’s hair, it’s make-up!”
CP: So, what was it about the screenplay of Contracted that interested you, excited you even?
N: I just really liked this take on something that we see a lot. You see this genre a lot, and this was just a way about it that I’d never seen before. And it was a quick read, and I was really grossed out, and I reacted so much, just by reading it, that I wanted to see it as a movie! I wanted to be a part of it. I really liked “Sam”.
CP: She is a very likable character. You really empathise with what she’s going through. It can weigh heavily on an actor, especially since you’re in almost every scene, but you did such a great job.
N: Thank you.
CP: What’s your approach to screen performance, as opposed to stage? Do you like improvisation?
N: I grew up with doing theatre, but I haven’t been on a stage in almost ten years, it’s been a while. Which is kind of sad, now that I’m thinking about it, because I loved it.
With film … [pause] … Every time I get a new character I find the back-story. I’m me playing somebody. I always need to find something relatable. I love talking to the director, the writer - if possible – and then finding fun characteristics. Wardrobe always helps, hair and makeup, everything that goes into it totally brings the character together. It’s just all of it.
CP: Did you find the role of Samantha any more or less challenging?
N: I definitely think it was my most challenging role to date, just with everything she’s dealing with, and trying to hide it all, and trying to figure out the whole body stuff. She’s essentially dying from the inside out. So to try and put yourself there, it was a lot to do, and then with makeup on top of it, I would spend about three or four hours in makeup. And makeup always makes me feel super-relaxed, so my energy gets low, and then I have to bring myself to a different place. There were a lot of elements. So it was definitely challenging, but it was also the most fun I’ve ever had.
CP: Well, that’s important. You’ve gotta have fun at the end of the day.
N: Totally [laughs]
CP: How important is gender in a horror movie, from your point of view? Is a horror movie more effective if the lead is a female?
N: You know, that’s a hard question ‘cos I’m a female, so of course girl characters are more relatable.
CP: How different do you think Contracted would’ve been if the lead character had been male?
N: I think it would’ve been really different. I do actually.
CP: I don’t think it would’ve been as interesting.
N: There’s something so personal about sex, and everything that’s happening to her body. I mean, I’m sure if it was a man it would be awful too, of course, but there’s something intimate about it. Oooh, I dunno! Oh! I never thought about that! Huh. You’ll have to ask Eric; why didn’t you choose a guy? Huh! [pause] It would’ve been really, really different, because the whole way she gets it. Because technically she’s roofied, but then people have been saying that it was date rape. But now, of course, to Sam – to me – it wasn’t, so I don’t know how it would’ve played out with a guy. That’s interesting.
CP: What aspects of stage acting do you love, and what aspects of screen acting do you love?
N: I really love stage. The whole process of learning the whole thing, rehearsing the whole thing, performing the whole thing, night after night, is a very alive feeling. It’s so powerful with an audience. Each audience, you get their energy, so each performance, each night would be different, depending on how the audience reacts. That’s a feeling you definitely don’t get with film. But I was always more attracted to movies. I like being small and natural and really feeling what I’m feeling. And on stage you have to play, you have to project. Film is like therapy to me. I really, desperately need it! So I’ve always been more attracted to it.
CP: You love the indie scene, would you jump at the opportunity to act in a big-budget commercial Hollywood production, even if it meant leaving behind the indie scene for while? Or does that not appeal to you?
N: I mean, leaving it for how long?
CP: Therein lies the Rub.
N: I love acting. I don’t know what I would do without it. I couldn’t do anything else. So if I were lucky enough to be successful enough that I can do big movies then of course I will, but that doesn’t mean that I would ever stop doing indie film. I can’t not work. If I’m not doing anything I lose my mind. So I know I’ll always stay busy. But if I’m doing big movies, or a TV show, I’m gonna want to take the time out to do that independent film. It just gives you a different feeling. Because I’ve been on bigger sets and it’s awesome, and the food’s amazing, and the money’s great, but it’s just a different feeling. It’s almost like a more lonely feeling. But with an indie you are family, you don’t hang out in a trailer, you hang out with each other, and I think it’s just a better experience.
CP: What are you looking forward to? Are there any other directors you’d like to work with? Have you got something lined up with Eric again?
N: No, not with Eric. He’s working on some stuff. We kinda bounced some stuff back and forth, but nothing’s set up. The whole shooting experience of Contracted was amazing, and I want to work with everybody all over again. Forever if possible.
CP: That’s good.
N: Yeah, it’s awesome. But as of right now, I shot two features last year, so they’ll come out this year, and I start shooting on a film next week. That’s another weird thing with indies; you don’t ever know what’s going to happen to them.
CP: It’s so much easier to make a feature now, but so much harder for that feature to be seen, once it’s been completed. It’s a kinda weird Catch-22. It’s great that the works there, and it keeps you happy, because you love the process.
N: But I don’t have any control with the finished product, I only have control over what I do, it’s always weird. It’s always fun to see the finished product, because who knows if it’s going to be anything like you thought it would be, as an actor.