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  • Rev Horror

AnnaClare Hicks Interview: (Actress, Screwdriver)


The Horror Revolution: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us! Your performance in Screwdriver was phenomenal! First off, what's your favorite horror movie? What movie scared you the most?


AnnaClare Hicks: I am a total scaredy cat (or as my friends like to call me “Anna-Claredy Cat”), so I can’t hang with the true horror fans that often, but I’m definitely a fan of “psychological thrillers” (one of the things that perhaps enticed me most about Screwdriver). I would say my favorite among them would be Se7en for the performances (still Brad Pitt’s best work IMHO), tone, and the personal lifelong commitment to never ever commit one of the seven deadly sins ever. Ever. Ever.


THR: Your performance was truly incredible, and I don't say that lightly. What led you to taking the lead in Screwdriver?


ACH: Thank you so much, Emily was a role that falls under “marathon, not a sprint” category… ha. Very similar to the film itself! I feel like I was divinely guided to Screwdriver. I had been in Los Angeles (from my home state of Texas) for a couple of years with little success. I saw a post on social media about a feature directorial debut - the lead of which, Emily, sounded exactly in my wheelhouse, but postings on social media seem to be quite hit or miss professionalism-wise…so I held back. I was going to a lot of agency meetings with the always-fun-to-hear feedback of “get the lead in an exciting indie feature film and we’ll consider representing you…” and then I saw the same posting for Emily on an official casting website, which led me to emailing the casting team…maybe even a couple of times, because once I decide to go for something, I typically go all-in. I think I went back and found their social media posting just to make sure I hit all available emails for the producers/casting. 

 

In this case, it worked. I believe someone else was already favored and when I walked into the initial audition, all of the other names on the sign-in sheet included the very representatives who were giving me the runaround…which then just activated my competitive nature. So I went all in. I isolated every descriptor of Emily within the script: those voiced by Emily’s character, other characters, or from the action lines of the script itself. I stole a page from Emily Watson’s handbook during her audition for Breaking the Waves (a similar character in some ways to Screwdriver’s Emily) and went into the room barefoot. The script introduced Emily as “a woman at the end of her rope” so I braided my hair and tied it with twine “rope” that fell out somewhere in the audition room…

 

And then I got “the call.” I remember the final audition with Milly and Charlie and we all walked out going “surely its us, right? I hope it’s the three of us!” We felt the magic from that day on that I think translates so beautifully onscreen. 


THR: What inspired you to want to become an actress? Were there any particular movies or roles that you saw that made you know this is what you wanted to do?


ACH: I was nine and discovered Lindsay Lohan is, in fact, not a twin…ha! I think as a child seeing that someone your age could be “working…” and that work was “simply playing pretend,” hooked me initially. My mom did what most parents would do and tested my willingness with a couple of community theater productions. And I have some amazing memories “learning the craft” from such a young age. 


However, I think the power and magic of cinema crept into my bones more deeply than a desire to “act anywhere" (onstage included). In high school, I discovered the “special features” and “include director's commentary” options on the DVDs of all of my favorite films growing up. I realized I would do anything on set - I’d hold the boom, mop the extras’ sweat off their brow, or go get coffee, “just to be on set” to witness that effervescent movie magic. The same feeling did not exactly apply to the stage (though I do believe the theatre holds its own sort of magic). So I went to film school at the University of Texas at Austin and studied screenwriting and producing, where I got my first agent and a full film education. THAT opened me up to the art of film acting - of being so close to the “viewer” and quite literally larger than life most of the time…it’s like up-close magic where you absolutely cannot bullshit someone or they will know…so my haughty film-school answer (second only to Nancy Meyers’ Parent Trap ha) to your question would be: Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence, Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, and  Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s…to name a few. 


And also the classics that Cairo had us re-watch for Screwdriver: the lovely and horrific Rosemary’s Baby, The Gaslight, and Dogtooth - Yorgos is a director both Cairo and I love and took great inspiration for this film. 

 

THR: Screwdriver is one of my favorite indie films of the year, and I think so much of that boiled down to your performance. How difficult was it for you to get into the mind of someone recovering from the trauma that your character had undergone?


ACH: I am both flattered and humbled. I had an acting teacher once who really harped on her students (especially after the tragic death of Heath Ledger) that “it’s easy getting into a mind/perspective, but much harder - sometimes impossible - getting out.” And I have found that to be true. Screwdriver is such an intentional and well-written script because it is so incredibly present. Sure, characters mention their past or even future, but so much of the trauma happening to Emily is happening in real-time. So the key for me was getting myself to a place that would allow me to simply be present between the words “action and cut,” but also setting up what I needed after “cut” to bring me back to reality.  


This is going to be ironic considering the topic and main themes of Screwdriver, but I find controlling for the physical being allows for the emotional and psychological life to more organically breathe into what those circumstances create. So, to find me way “in” to Emily, I took about six weeks (I think that’s what I had before we started rehearsals - maybe a little less time) and went word-by-word for everything that happens in the physical world. I lined the top and bottom of each script page with a color signifying Emily’s physical state - based on sleep, food, drink, drugs, sunlight exposure, etc. To be honest, this is the hardest part to “act!” Because you are an actor who has a full stomach, your hydrated, you’re getting outside, hopefully no one has been dosing you…not to mention you are usually filming out of order. (I remember filming the end scene and forgetting my hand was injured, even though it obviously was bandaged and blood-stained… these are the things method actors control for when they don’t want to “drop the character.”) 

 

Through Screwdriver, I learned first-hand how hard it is to leave a mindset than dive into one. So I made sure after “cut,” I had all of the physical talismans that make me, AnnaClare, me - from the taste of my preferred coffee creamer (Emily didn’t drink coffee) to utilizing the much louder inside-voice that AnnaClare has, but Emily does not. These are things I had available to me immediately after a scene….they helped me differentiate the story from reality, especially after the more emotionally taxing scenes where my present state would genuinely feel so unhinged. On that note, it would actually take my body a little longer to catch up (trembling/crying) than my mind. It’s all connected, man!

 

Then there were the thirteen-minute takes of that therapy session (you know the one) where Cairo’s “cut” would quite literally startle me out of the scene and everyone would clap or laugh or something that would so intensely contrast what was happening while the camera was just rolling… we had such a lovely cast and crew who supported one another as well as the story - the importance of which, as an actor in a role like this, can truly make you or break you. 


THR: If you could work with anyone in the industry, alive or dead, who would it be and why?


ACH: I have grown to really love the independent artists - the ones with something a little different to say who are still figuring out their way to say it - this is the pinnacle of collaboration and typically someone’s very first few films have more of that collaborative spirit about them. So I would actually say I would love to go back and work on one of the first films of a lot of today’s “greats” from Scorsese and Spielberg to Lanthimos and Nolan. I’m watching with bated breath, the new FX show created by Brit Marling and Zal Batimanglij because I have loved their stories from their very first AFI short film to the ingenious first season of The OA

 

And honestly, I can’t wait to work with Cairo again. We would look at each other after a great day on set (all of them) and go “sci-fi or period piece…what’s next?” and that became our running “joke” (soon to become a reality, if we have anything to say about it). 


THR: The emotional range displayed in the role of Emily was shockingly deep for an indie horror. Do you feel that this is the role in your career that has pushed you the farthest or are there other roles that you found harder to pull off?


ACH: Oh, without a doubt, Emily in Screwdriver is the most complex role I’ve been asked to play in my career so far. I actually feel privileged that I didn’t have any other projects at the time, because this one took it all (as good art typically does :). I genuinely look forward to booking a role that will give this one a run for its money… albeit with a little bead of sweat running down the side of my temple.


THR: How far into the process are you able to get a feel for your character? Is it something that comes across purely from the script or is it something that developed at a certain point during production?


ACH: This is a bit of a loaded question because you book the job based on your audition - which is ironic because this is the LEAST amount of time you will ever get with the material and character before working on a project. So there’s definitely something - an “essence” most people call it - that an actor brings to the character no matter what words are coming out of their mouth. But great writing makes that so much easier. “When in doubt, go back to the page,” is something said a lot when you feel creatively stuck on set, because there is usually some kind of divine guidance that gets your script to production in the first place. It all starts there. Once you detour too much from what is originally written, you now have a different movie than what everyone signed onto, which is a pretty big gamble to ask everyone to take. I appreciate that Screwdriver is fully scripted. I don’t think we changed a word.

 

That being said, I just wrapped a comedy with tons of ad-libs and last-minute script changes, and it seemed to really elevate the story because most changes were due to the interplay of the cast members and their different humors once we actually hit production. Unless its a very specific humor (Yorgos or Cairo), this seems to be the norm of comedies, whereas dramas nowadays are more about “the message” which definitely comes down to the words chosen to convey that message.

 

So, in short: it depends! ;)


THR: I'm telling everyone I can go check out Screwdriver, but what's next for you? Are there any other exciting roles that you can talk about?


ACH: I have a really wonderful light-hearted independent comedy coming up with Thomas Haden Church, Bruce Dern, and Carrie-Anne Moss called Chocolate Lizards. It is currently making the festival rounds and I hope you get the chance to see it, because I am incredibly honored to have played a supporting role in it. I play a West Texas oil-rig roughneck named Shay Tatum…and Shay would kick Emily’s ass! Haha I love having such opposing characters out there at relatively the same time. So keep an eye out - you won’t be disappointed. Consider it a nice palate cleanser after the crazy ride of Screwdriver :)


THR: Finally, is cereal a soup?


ACH: Only when eaten from a soup bowl, with a soup spoon. Obviously, cereal should only be eaten out of those 1990s plastic straw-bowls. If you don’t have em, then you don’t deserve the breakfast delight called cereal - you deserve your breakfast soup. ;) haha


THR: Thanks again so much for taking the time! I think Screwdriver is going to wind up right near the top of my indie Top 10 for the year, and I was so happy to be able to check it out. Consider me a fan!


ACH: You know indies - every fan counts, so thank you so much for your support. I can’t tell you how grateful we all are to receive the recognition. Every single member of this cast and crew deserves it, at the very least for being stellar human beings, not to mention fabulous collaborators .

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