Q&A with Alexandra Essoe, star of Starry Eyes

Cult Projections: How did you get the part of Sarah in Starry Eyes? Did you audition, and if so, was it anything like your character’s in the movie?! 

Alex: I did audition for Starry Eyes, and it was a very pedestrian process, not super-exciting, haha! I went in for my first addition, and then a call back, and then Dennis Widmeyer wanted to meet me for coffee because it was between myself and one other girl. So I just busted out all the film trivia I knew and hoped for the best.

CP: Are you much of a fan of horror movies? If so, what kind do you like?

A: I am a diehard fan of horror movies. I love anything in the supernatural realm. I love psychological horror. Anything from David Lynch to Clive Barker to Tobe Hooper. Sci-fi horror is another favorite. Anything that has serious style and atmosphere. I mean good storytelling is good storytelling, but horror as a genre is so limitless and requires so much imagination to be executed effectively. I just love it.

Alex with co-director Dennis Widmeyer

Alex with co-director Dennis Widmeyer

CP: Describe how Dennis and Kevin Kolsch directed Starry Eyes?

A: Kevin and Dennis would take turns helming different aspects of the shoot. Usually Kevin would work with the crew and Dennis would work with the actors, but for every decision they made they were on the same page. They would check in with each other on everything, and I really admire that. They both had such a clear vision of what they wanted; they were like a well-oiled machine. I didn't see them have a disagreement about anything, not even once.

CP: The movie has a kind of rambling, organic feel to it, was there any improvisation? How strict was the screenplay enforced by the directors?

A: Its funny, because I wouldn't say that they were strict about what was on the page, they were just so clear about what they wanted that everyone as a result was clear on what they had to do. There were moments that they would allow us to improvise dialogue only as much as it would help the reality of the scene. But they were still certain things that had to be conveyed, lines that needed to be said. Almost nothing was extraneous.

CP: There’s a distinct retro vibe to the whole atmosphere of the movie. How deliberate was this, and how did Kevin and Dennis convey the movie’s feel to you and the other actors?

A: Actually, the retro spirit of the film was one of the first things Dennis and Kevin wanted to convey to me. Right off the bat they said they wanted the style to be an homage to the era of late seventies early eighties horror, complete with theme music for Sarah. Movies like Rosemary's Baby, Carrie and, one of my favorites, Possession [Ed: one of mine too] were examples they cited. With a little John Carpenter thrown in.

CP: On imdb Starry Eyes is listed as being a co-production with Belgium. Was it always Kevin and Dennis’s intention to seek foreign funding or was it simply a case of finding the necessary budget by whatever means?

A: Well it started off as a kickstarter campaign, so really the top priority was to get it funded as well as possible, although we were overjoyed to receive funding from Belgium.

CP: It’s the kind of unusual, idiosyncratic, provocative, polarising horror movie that immediately generates a cult appeal. How aware were you at the beginning and during the shooting that you’d become involved with something quite special?

A: I felt that this project was special from the outset. I loved the script and the character immediately. I felt that the directors had a great feel for imagery and storytelling, and I was impressed by how specific they were about the kind of movie they wanted to make. Which is not to say that I expected the level of attention it garnered - which was an incredible bonus - but no matter what happened or how it was received, this is a project I was proud and, honestly, giddy to be a part of from the start.

CP: The international indie scene has exploded over the past ten years, partly due to the technology becoming more readily available, partly due to the number of film festivals popping up all over the world, and definitely due to the remarkable possibilities of crowdsourcing. But it also means there is a glut of independent movies. As an actor looking for good scripts, how do you sort through the rubbish from the potential gems? What was it about Sarah and the screenplay to Starry Eyes and/or the directors that piqued your interest?

A: I guess when choosing a script the first thing is to decide if I think the story is interesting. If so, then there are certain questions I have to ask myself when reading said script. Do I care about the character(s)? Do I want to know what happens to them? Am I curious about what happens next? Is this a movie I would watch? If I can answer yes to those, I'm interested. Huge bonus if the dialogue is on point. With Starry Eyes I could easily check those boxes, so for me it was a no-brainer.

Alex with co-star Amanda Fuller

Alex with co-star Amanda Fuller

CP: The role of Sarah is demanding, to say the least, but what parts of the whole movie were the most fun to shoot, and what parts were the most difficult? Was it a long shoot? Did Kevin and Dennis shoot a lot of stuff that didn’t end up in the movie?

A: Hands down, the climax of the movie was the most fun to shoot. That might be the most fun I've had shooting anything. That and the chrysalis stuff, even though it was freezing cold. So cold, my god! And the audition scenes were a blast. The stuff with the producer was tough, it feels awful to play a character you care about in a position like that, just as I'm sure it would feel awful to actually be in that situation. Luckily, Lou Dezeran was a total gentleman and professional. The mealworm in my mouth was traumatic, too. It's funny, we only had an eighteen-day shoot but we easily shot an extra forty-minute to an hour's worth of footage. I don't know how we did that, but most of those extra scenes are on the DVD.

CP: So how much do you believe in the dark truths that Starry Eyes presents in terms of the fictional Astraeus Pictures, and the real Hollywood elite and their motivations and exploitation? Is Starry Eyes just a blackly comic-edged horror movie or is it a much more disturbing mirror to the industry it is inherently part of?

A: I find most often it's the cynicism of Hollywood that's represented in film; the reputation it has for corrupting the innocent. That is, I think, the predominant theme in movies about Hollywood. What I like particularly about Starry Eyes is that while that theme is present it is not accompanied by the usual representation of the lifestyle and the rewards. It is completely from the viewpoint of an outsider. I personally don't have any experiences that even come close to what Sarah endures. I've heard stories, and I'm sure that at one point these casting couch "agreements" happened quite frequently, especially before there was a union for actors. I hope that young girls are not put in positions like that any more, though I'm sure that they are. Coercion is a very insidious thing, to promise someone everything they've ever wanted if only they would compromise themselves for a moment. What these hopefuls don't realise, is that one moment in their life has the ability to haunt them for the rest of their lives. NO ONE is in the business of making dreams come true. I would hope that anyone faced with a decision like that would remind himself or herself that it's not necessary to trade your self-respect for instant gratification, and I think Starry Eyes almost pleads with the viewer to remember that.

CP: Finally, do you have any more twisted horror movies on the horizon?

A: I actually have a few things coming out in the fall. A horror anthology, and two thriller/horror flicks. The anthology is called Tales of Halloween, and Axelle Carolyn, who directed a great movie called Soulmate, directs the short I’m in. Then there's Maternal Bonds, directed by Chris Sivertson, who co-directed All Cheerleaders Die with Lucky McKee, and then there's a movie I just shot called Faceless by Marcel Sarmiento, who co-directed Deadgirl, which I love. I also got to work with Brendan Sexton III, which was exciting; he's such a gifted actor.

CP: Thank you for your time Alex!


Starry Eyes is distributed on DVD/BD by Monster Pictures.