I caught up with actress Isabelle Fuhrman whom you may know as Esther from the 2009 horror flick Orphan (with Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard), Clove from the original Hunger Games, and Tessa Johnson from Showtime's Masters of Sex. Isabelle sat down with me for a conversation on acting, film, character-building and more as it relates to her new film, the Gothic chiller directed by Rodrigo Cortés and based on the novel by Lois Duncan (who penned I Know What You Did Last Summer) titled Down a Dark Hall.

In Down a Dark Hall, Kit (AnnaSophia Robb), a difficult young girl, is sent to the mysterious Blackwood Boarding School when her heated temper becomes too much for her mother to handle. Once she arrives at Blackwood, Kit encounters eccentric headmistress Madame Duret (Uma Thurman) and meets the school’s only other students, four young women also headed down a troubled path. While exploring the labyrinthine corridors of the school, Kit and her classmates discover that Blackwood Manor hides an age-old secret rooted in the paranormal.

Despite its original genesis as a young adult novel, Down a Dark Hall proved to be capable, surprisingly mature horror with a quintessentially Gothic flair – and great entertainment to boot. Superbly acted, and beautifully shot by Cortés, there's also a fundamentally Spanish vibe to it as a piece of art – the chiaroscuro of how he shot Blackwood almost reminds one of the portraiture of Velázquez – holding a sensibility and aesthetic that is mystical, quintessentially Gothic in most senses of the word, and also more then a little metaphysical, especially considering how Isabelle developed her character.

I recommend catching Down a Dark Hall in theaters, On-Demand, and iTunes now, and enjoy the interview below.

Hello Isabelle and welcome to The 405! Starting off, I wanted to ask a question I put a variant of to most everyone: which films and performances have really stuck with you and influenced you as an actress?

Oh Gosh. I really love Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? that was such a cool thing to see. Sunset Boulevard was a movie that really stuck with me.

Me too on Sunset.

I just saw Vertigo like recently and I haven't been able to stop thinking about that one. I like older movies...

Me too. Love Vertigo, that was such a foundational film to some of my other favorites like Mulholland Dr.

I remember seeing those as a kid and feeling so connected to and so inspired by those older movies. The first movie that really made me want to be an actress was The Wizard of Oz because I only watched animated movies when I was a kid, and my dad was so upset – he's like "watch a real movie" and I'm adamant that animated movies are the only"real movies"... [Laughs]

[Laughs] yeah.

So he sat me down and made me watch The Wizard of Oz, and I remember that transition from black and white to color, my jaw hit the floor. I was like 'I wanna do that! I wanna be in movies!', so that's kind of what did it for me. That movie is still so close to me and so influential on me...

There ya go. I enjoy all those, and Baby Jane not just for the feudJoan Crawford / Bette Davis dynamic that's of course legendary in its infamy long before Ryan Murphy's show – it's just a good movie. Although being a film noir nerd, my favorite from Jane's director Robert Aldrich is '55's Kiss Me Deadly.

And Gloria Swanson in Sunset, just amazing.

Glenn Close too in Dangerous Liasions. I was just like 'woah!'


So many movies, so many great actresses and performances.

Absolutely. Getting into Down a Dark Hall, what was it about the project that initially attracted you to the project?

I remember when I read the script that I had never really read a movie like that. It was weird, with my audition – well, not my audition but my chemistry with the other girls, even though we didn't know we'd gotten the job, but still with the people that were reading.

We had a really strong chemistry in the net – that is, together – and I got the call that I got the job with AnnaSophia Robb and the others and was just like we have such great chemistry. I just felt so connected to them and to the story. I really enjoyed reading the movie and was very excited.

It's such a cast of women and men that I had met who are incredible and also exceptionally talented

That's a great dynamic, and I think it shows in the final cut. What was it like getting into Izzy's head-space?

It was really, really stunning. I remember the biggest thing that I wanted to do was kind of figure out who she was because I read the book and kind of used that as a guide, but the writers were very adamant that the book was different from the movie – so I used the book to kind of understand the character better, but we should kind of shy away from that and just focus on the script.

So, we did a lot of work together. But the big thing for me was figuring out where she came from and why she was at Blackwood [Boarding School] – what did she do to get there? When I think about my character, I like to think of where the movie would've started for her and the movie would've probably started for her with whatever she did to get to Blackwood. That was so much of who she is, where did she come from? Why was she in trouble? What did she feel?

From that I can create this whole backstory for her... That was a lot of fun, working with Rodrigo to get exactly what we wanted from her specifically and developing those specific parts of her, those specific stories and her specific motivations.

What was most important there what that she felt like accepted. She never felt accepted in her life but she felt accepted at Blackwood, with the other girls, in this situation she was in. Which was something that hadn't happened in her life before, you know?

Veronica (Victoria Moroles), Kit (AnnaSophia Robb), Sierra (Rosie Day), Ashley (Taylor Russell) and Izzy (Isabelle Fuhrman) in DOWN A DARK HALL. Photo Credit: Lionsgate Premiere.

Aryana Engineer as Max Coleman (foreground) with Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther (background) in this still from ORPHAN.

Yeah. Absolutely. What was it like getting into Esther's when you did Orphan? While both Dark Hall and Orphan are technically horror, they really couldn't be more different with the gothic sensibilities of Dark Hall and the more straight visceral horror of Orphan.

That was really different because I remember – I was ten when I did the movie, so a big part of getting into Esther's head-space that was different was that I had so much to go from with the script. With the original script, we went through so many different drafts during filming that I was constantly learning knew things about my character, that even as things were taken out and added with different scenes that I was constantly getting more information about where she came from and who she was.

It's also important to remember that Esther was an adult. She wasn't a kid.


So, I was a 10 year-old playing a 33 year-old who was passing herself off as a child, so that's really different then playing someone that's your own age.

Very true.

With Down a Dark Hall, I looked back to remember what it was like to be in high school, and I didn't feel like an outsider in my school. I was always very academically-inclined. So, in that way, I do remember what it was like to be a student at that age, which I was taking classes that went beyond what my age group did.

But, so I was able to look back on that with Izzy. For Esther, it was more looking ahead and trying to figure out what it would be like to grow up and not have anything – to not have enough money and have to sell yourself on the street.

I had to kind of educate myself...

And at such a young age too.

I worked a lot with my acting teacher. Like, I worked with him on Esther specifically, in developing who she was, her at 33 after she passed herself off as a child two or three times before she met Kate and John [Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard].

So, that was a whole different kind of like dynamic. I remember worrying... but of course everyone was conscious of the fact that I was a kid and didn't want me to grow up too fast. But I had to understand what it was like to be sexually rejected; I had to understand what it was like to want love so badly that you would do something like that: 10 year-olds just don't think about those sorts of things.

With Izzy it was different because my big kind of core motivation with Izzy was that she had never felt accepted in her life. She came from a very broken family, and probably stole things, and got in a lot of trouble just because she wanted attention and nobody wanted to give it to her.

In the opening scene she's not dropped off by her family. Somebody helped her out of the car but, you know, it's a very different sort of feeling for her to be at Blackwood where everybody's eyes are on her and so that's a very big moment for her as a character where she is like 'wow! Everybody's paying attention to me!This is amazing!'

She really kind of starts to become a part of the group but it's not through who she is as a person – it's because she understands these weird things that are happening to all of them. And then when push comes to shove, when the spirits kind of come – that is where she really feels that she's been accepted – where the mathematician has essentially taken over everything inside of her, telling her that this is where she belongs and that's why she ultimately decides to stay at Blackwood even as it all falls apart.

Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther in ORPHAN.

Jules (Noah Silver) and Kit (AnnaSophia Robb) in DOWN A DARK HALL. Photo Credit: Lionsgate Premiere.

What do you hope audiences will take with them from it?

I think that first of all it is meant to be entertaining because it is a suspenseful movie. I also hope that people take away from Down a Dark Hall, like they have this awesome female-empowered cast... like, we all dressed up as the Spice Girls for Halloween... [Laughs]

[Laughs] Nice.

We have this awesome female-centric cast.

We have a movie about young women coming into their own and finding themselves. AnnaSophia plays this badass girl who realizes what's going on, and going all out and trying to save people at the end, or, you know, whoever she could save.

Definitely. I thought the film had some interesting things to say on the nature of creativity too which I found compelling.

Yes. I think that this idea of creativity in the movie can... Rodrigo our director was incredible and knew exactly what he wanted from the film. He was very sure on like what he wanted sets to look like, what he wanted our characters to be like, what he wanted them to wear.

I've worked with a lot of directors, everybody has a different process, but he had an incredible level of purpose – like I could tell seeing the movie how he was going to edit it, as we were working on it.

I've learned that myself, getting to pick a lot of directors minds here.

It was incredible to watch because he had a very specific idea of what he wanted for a scene and something would surprise him and he would be like 'wow! That was amazing, let's lead in with that.'

So, he was not only very collaborative but very specific too. I think his creativity kind of spilled into the film and how he wanted us to talk about creativity and how creativity is addressed in the movie itself.

I think you can see that, it definitely has that Gothic horror, thriller kind of esque vibe. I think he did an incredible job.

I agree. I was thinking that I watched. There's a definite Spanish artistic sensibility there... kind of metaphysical and mystical in its ambiance.


Another question I like to ask most everybody, what makes a great film?

I think a movie has to leave an audience with something. I think that's what makes a great film. It's always subjective for the person.

Of course.

I enjoy movies that some people my age don't like. [Laughs]

[Laughs] I know that feeling.

I think if a movie makes a person or makes an audience walk away with something, it's done its job. If it's an interesting story, it's done its job.

What makes a movie popular is if a lot of people walk away with the same thing. Then they'll all talk about it.

I've never had a person I've talked to really get into the "popular" part of that the way you did. That's a great summation Isabelle.

Yay! [Laughs]


The last question I have is what's next for you?

I have a movie called Good Girls Get High which I'm totally excited about. It's a comedy and I play a Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids-esque kind of character, something I've never played before... It's pretty funny, a comedy with Abby Quinn and Stefanie Scott.

It was so much fun filming this movie and I can't wait for people to see it.