On Friday afternoon, on the side of a very busy interstate in North Carolina, I had the pleasure of speaking with Kathryn Newton who stars as Alex in Paramount Pictures Paranormal Activity 4 (released 1/29/13 on Blu-ray). I was on the side of the road due to a winter storm that had slowed traffic to a crawl and, unable to make it home in time, I sat in my car with sleet and freezing rain hitting the window.
Kathryn Newton may be more familiar to audiences from her time on the sitcom Gary Unmarried, but her likeable screen presence and solid performance in the latest Paranormal Activity film indicates that she has a potentially bright future ahead of her.
HTF: Do you scare easily?
Kathryn: Oh yes. I’ve seen all the other Paranormal Activity films, my friends and I go every year and I thought they were real movies with real footage. But I love being scared though it's so much fun.
HTF: So have your friends seen Paranormal Activity 4 and seen you in it, and if so, what did they think?
Kathryn: The same group went to a midnight showing of the fourth one and they were so scared. I was laughing at them so hard and then that night they were texting me how they couldn’t get to sleep (laughs).
HTF: One of the differences between the Paranormal Activity series compared to say the Saw or the Nightmare on Elm Street films is that it feels very natural. It feels very “everyday life”. How are you set up for those scenes? Are you given a script and then hold to the script exactly or are you just given a set of parameters and able to just act out as you would naturally in a situation like that?
Kathryn: I think that's what makes these movies so scary is that when you see like it can happen to you. There was a lot of improv. There was a script but it was more of an outline of what we were supposed to do. There weren’t lines that I had to memorize so there was a lot of creative freedom to make it as real as possible because. It makes it fresher, realer. We’ve all felt like we’re being watched or we’re not alone somewhere, so it’s just a matter of tapping into that feeling.
HTF: So talk a little bit about working with Matt Shively, your costar who played Ben in the film. You had a very good dynamic.
Kathryn: Oh Matt is so much fun. He's funny and everything, all the improv we did it would get funnier and funnier every time. He had so many jokes and was certainly the comedic relief. So it was whenever Matt came in (on set), you knew you were going to have some fun, but then you were gonna get scared ten seconds later because you let your guard down.
HTF: So, and spoiler alert for those reading, I want to talk about Matt's ultimate end. Was that the only end you shot for him or were there other ways for his demise?
Kathryn: We did so many different endings and there's other endings that didn't make the final cut but in the recovered files on the Blu-ray those are some of our favorite scenes that didn't make the final cut. There's one scene in particular that we really wish could of made it in; it gives you a lot of extra things, little hints for what's gonna happen or maybe what you missed during the actual movie.
HTF: Something else that helped the overall realism this time around is the actors playing your parents were husband and wife, and I know that Steven Dunham who played your dad, Doug, passed away before the film was released, talk a little bit about working him.
Kathryn: Steven Dunham was so fantastic. Every time we did a scene he was always so nice and like afterwards he would tell my mom that he thought I was really, really brave and really sweet. He was just always so kind and so happy on set. And he wanted to be there so bad. He was so happy to get to work with his wife every day in the summer. It was like a dream job because they got to work together. We had a scene that didn't make it into the movie but it was such an intense scene. And it was wonderful to be able to work with somebody who helped make it a great experience. He made me better. Working with him made me better.
HTF: So are you looking forward to the inevitable Paranormal Activity 5 and do you know if you'll have any part in it?
Kathryn: I can't wait to see what happens in part 5. But I couldn't tell you anything (laughs). The only thing I know is that they're really good at keeping secrets. When I auditioned for this role, I had no idea it was for Paranormal Activity. So when I got the role I could not tell anyone. I couldn't even tell my dad and then when the trailer came out and I’m in the trailer, people in school would ask if that was me and I had to act like I didn’t know what they were talking about (laughs).
HTF: So how was it working with the two young lads who played Wyatt and Robbie. How was it interacting with kids acting creepy? Did you find yourself getting creeped out on set?
Kathryn: Well Aiden and Brady were great little boys. They were like my little brother and when we did scenes it was typically just me holding the camera. We really felt comfortable. There were no line they had to memorize. So it was easy for them to be real and believable because they didn't have to think about it. Sometimes I wanted to laugh in scenes when they would make a funny face but then when I watched the film, it’s like Oh my gosh, that’s really scary.
HTF: It must be fun to see it up on screen for the first time in the full final cut.
Kathryn: Oh yes. And when I got to see it at the special screening I didn't realize how much the fans really love it. To hear them all screaming and laughing and shouting ‘get out of there, don't go in there, Alex don't go in there’, it was great.
HTF: How does acting in a scary film compare to your time on, Gary Unmarried for example.
Kathryn: Well on Gary Unmarried it was filmed in front of a live audience so I kind of got the hang of riding the wave, of keep going on that joke and you make it better. So that was similar to working on Paranormal Activity, you improvise and feel what works and you keep going and adding on to that. Gary Unmarried did help me in that, recognizing the atmosphere to keep going and to learn what works and hold on to that and make it better.
HTF: So what was the best film you saw last year?
Kathryn: There were so many, I watched Beasts of the Southern Wild over Christmas and that was an amazing movie.
HTF: Good choice. Good Choice.
Kathryn: Amazing movie.
HTF: So, in the third and fourth Paranormal films the writers have tried to inject a mythology behind the strange happenings. The witchcraft angle and the ending of the third film was scary and then the ending of the fourth expanded upon that. How do you feel about that mythology and is that the kind of mythology that scares you more than say just regular hauntings?
Kathryn: Yeah, it definitely adds another level because in one and two it was just a spirit or a demon or something, and then in three and four there's a cult or a tribe that wants sacrifice and there are more people. What are they all here? That has to be answered in the future films or the fans are gonna be mad (laughs).
HTF: Maybe we'll get some answers in Part 5.
HTF: Well Kathryn, thank you very much for speaking with Home Theater Forum today. We look forward to whatever it is you've got coming down the pipe next.
Kathryn: All right thank you so much. This was really fun.