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‘Don’t Breathe’ star Jane Levy shares the true horrors of shooting horror

Actress Jane Levy has emerged as one of the leading scream queens in Hollywood today, thanks in part to her trust in director Fede Alvarez.

The 26-year-old has worked twice with the red-hot filmmaker, who followed up his work with Sam Raimi on the 2013 Evil Dead reboot with the intense psychological thriller Don’t Breathe. Shot for under $10 million, the movie made over $152 million at the box office and is now on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Levy will also appear in David Lynch’s long-anticipated new season of Twin Peaks. In an exclusive interview with Digital Trends, the actress talks about moving from ABC’s family oriented sit-com Suburgatory to the blood and gore of horror thrillers, why Rose Mary’s Baby is awesome, and her role in the new Twin Peaks.

Don’t Breathe is a very intense film. What was it like shooting?

It was a hard movie to shoot because horror thrillers are very emotionally and physically exhausting. It was all very rehearsed and we had a very small space to work around and we had to know exactly what every move was going to be, how this direction would make it so that we couldn’t get out that window or that door. That’s what makes this movie so exciting to watch, and it’s like a chess game, too.

When I watched the movie I was like, “Oh my god.” Like every single piece of this house we’ve seen before and it makes sense that they’re actually trapped. So I guess crawling through an air vent you get authentic reactions. I think acting, if you are playing for real, it’s all real.

Director Fede Alvarez said that he thought that maybe five minutes into filming you realized you might have been rethinking your choice to do this movie.

“When you spend most of your days crying or screaming or being chased it affects you psyche.”

Yes. I signed on very last minute. I think I was on a plane within a week of saying yes, and then a week after that we were on camera. And I had a very hard time shooting Evil Dead. You talk to any actor in any horror movie and they’re like, “Oh, yeah. That was hard.” When you spend most of your days crying or screaming or being chased it affects you psyche, at least for me and I think a lot of people. So after I did Evil Dead I said out loud and very clear to everybody, “I’m never going to do anything like this ever again.” But then the movie was good and I’m really proud of the work, and Fede is a great director. So when he asked me to do Don’t Breathe I hopped on the chance. And then I did have a few moments where I was like, “Uh-uh, I can’t do this.” But we made it through.

There’s a really intense scene between you and a dog in a car in this film. Can you explain how a stuffed animal made that scene work?

Yeah. There’s a picture somewhere that it was a stuffed animal shoved into my face. That’s an example of how people are often asking me if it was actually scary to shoot.  Movies have to be so technical that they’re not scary. And sometimes when it looks like I’m working with a Rottweiler I’m actually working with a stuffed animal. But that scene to me is an example of the genius of (co-writer) Rodo (Sayagues) and Fede’s minds. I don’t know how they thought of that whole car situation, getting the dog to jump into the truck and pop in. Yeah, that’s a really cool scene. I love it.

These are both very different films, but how did this experience with Don’t Breathe compare to what you had to endure in Evil Dead, which obviously had a lot more blood and a really evil tree?

Yeah, that was much more physically demanding and emotionally demanding too, but I think that in a way that this was more of a psychological thriller and that was more horror. I feel like my experiences were totally reflective of that. In Don’t Breathe having someone tell you that they’re going to force you to have their child and lock you in their basement is really hard to wrap your brain around, but in Evil Dead it was more being covered in blood in the freezing cold, getting buried alive and running through hills. I guess I would say that Evil Dead was harder. It was also a longer shoot.

Having done this twice now with Fede, would you be open to a third outing?

Yeah. I would be open to it. I just read on the internet that they are making Don’t Breathe 2 and I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s going to be very different than the first. Maybe Rocky will be involved, maybe she won’t. But, yeah, if they ask me to put that costume back on I’d put it on and go to work.

“Having someone tell you they’re going to force you to have their child and lock you in their basement is hard to wrap your brain around”

There are a lot of fans out there that watched you on Suburgatory for many years. What was it like going from that family friendly show to becoming a scream queen of sorts with these types of films?

I am really just an actor going to work, as funny as it sounds. So it’s like job to job. You just show up day to day and do your scenes and go home and one tone is different. I don’t really think about the outsideness of all that, the career, how other people see me. I feel very fortunate to be a working actress and to work on things such as Suburgatory. That was a really fun group of people and a really great show, but I’m just going to work every day.

What horror movies stuck with you when you were growing up?

I really didn’t watch horror movies and if I did I really didn’t remember them that well. I was actually really easily frightened, as you can see with my huge whitened face in all these movies. But I really liked Halloween, It Follows — I loved that movie, The Exorcist Rosemary’s Baby. I like horror movies that have real stories, real characters, in real stuff — not necessarily fantasy.

Rosemary’s Baby starts off like a straight-up independent movie and you have no idea that it’s about to go where it does. I mean you do just because it’s a very famous movie, but it’s about this couple moving in together and that happens for such a long time and then suddenly she’s raped by the devil and you’re so involved with the characters. I felt that way about It Follow too.  You really believe in the premise and then supernatural stuff happens and I like those kinds of movies.

The other thing about horror, traditionally, is that those films often have really strong female protagonists.  What are your thoughts about the role that genre plays out there for actresses today?

Yeah, I think about this a lot. I think that horror movies do often represent women who don’t run away from danger, they step forward and they fight and a lot of powerful actresses have come out of horror movies. I think about this a lot because I had trouble with the (spoiler alert) rape scene in Don’t Breathe because I felt like it was one of the cheap shots of sexually punishing women for their crimes. And it’s just something that we’ve seen before. After making this movie and struggling through that scene I do actually believe that there can be those types of scenes and it still represents strength and resilience in women.

Often times you see in these movies mothers like Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist or Rocky is like a pseudo-mother to her sister, really fighting for someone else. That shows a lot of strength. Rocky is a complex woman. You could argue that she’s sort of like a post-feminist woman, she’s not the most stand-up-perfect woman because she steals, but she’s also not just a one-dimensional hot girl that loves having men around her giving her attention. She’s a fully rounded person. I think that there are amazingly strong multi-dimensional female figures in horror movies and there are interesting roles for them in the genre, and I’m proud to have represented two of those.

Twin Peaks is my favorite, favorite thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

And speaking of interesting roles, what was it like for you to step into the world of Twin Peaks?

Twin Peaks is so cool. It’s my favorite, favorite thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s like that world is very sacred and when I watch it I feel like I’m there. And the fact that I got to actually be there for one episode is really awesome. But that’s all I can say. I’m not allowed to talk about it.

What’s next for you?

I just started shooting a movie (Office Uprising) in Alabama, which is like an action comedy sort of like Office Space meets Shaun of the Dead. And I have a movie coming out on Netflix next year that I’m really excited about that Macon Blair directed called I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore. I’m also in a kid’s movie coming out in January called Monster Truck.

That one looks interesting. What was it like working with the CGI and everything?

It’s hard because you are often not talking to a person, you’re talking to a green screen. But I saw it with a group of kids, actually, and they loved it. So if you have kids, or a niece or a nephew, that are into cars take them to see it in January. They’ll have a fun time.