With “Darling” available now in theaters and on VOD, the film creates a dark and visually stunning world. Lauren Ashley Carter has been a part of some of the most diverse and distinctive storytelling over the last five years in films like “Jugface”, “The Woman”, “The Mind’s Eye” and “POD”. With eyes as deep and moving as the clouds above, a master’s method that embodies each role and a wit and intelligence that you can’t help but respect, we are honored to speak with Ms. Carter here at Nightmarish Conjurings.
Jay Kay: Thank you so much Lauren for taking some time out as well as speaking again with me on the events, films and insight into your world. For me “Darling” was my favorite film of last years “Ithaca Fantastik”. Mickey Keating’s work is such an homage to classic psychological horror with layered characters, lasting visuals and raw tension that pulls the viewer over that ledge. This was the second time you collaborated with Keating. First, with alien thrilled “POD” and now on “Darling.” Both characters have depth to them in very different, dark, and emotional situations. What was the initial meetings and character discussions about with Keating surrounding the character and concept of “Darling”?
Lauren Ashley Carter: Mickey and I remained in touch afterPOD and we were both incredibly anxious to start working on another film. I told him that I really wanted to play a villain and I kept begging him to come out to NYC to make a film. The first thought that came to mind for us was to make an apartment film, as I supposed you’d call it. Mickey sent me a list of films that were on his mind: Ms. 45, That Cold Day in the Park,Repulsion were among them. We both knew it had to be in black and white and we were unmoving on that when it came to suggestions to the contrary. Because there isn’t much dialogue in Darling, the action beats were what we discussed most, whether it was exploring the house, the outside, or discovering new information; revelations. And of course, the fun bloody stuff! It was important to capture when Darling was completely shut off or shut down, and when she was exposed: like a bundle of nerves exquisitely tangled together.
JK: I can only imagine how personal this role was for you. What personal experiences and inspirations did you pull to help shape Darling in all of her stages?
LAC: I’d tell you, but then I’d have nothing left to tell my therapist.
JK: Very cute Lauren… Keating talked about Darlings connection to the house and disconnect to the world outside of the door as she walked through the city. Talk about the house and the city as characters within “Darling”? How much did they enhance your performance?
LAC: The house was a huge character in the film that none of us could have possibly realized until we started filming. I actually had the odd pleasure of living in the house. It wasn’t so much a creative choice to start as it was that someone had to sleep with the gear for insurance purposes! And since it was my friend’s house, I decided to be the one to stay there. It ended up being one of the best things I did. I knew the house incredibly well from working all day there and then spending my nights there, sometimes alone except for the family’s pet rat! The feelings and thoughts that come over me with a character linger well after the day is done, even without staying on set for days on end, so you an imagine the madness of having all of those feelings and thoughts while having to stay in the physical space that helped create those emotions in the first place.
The city, on the other hand, was a much different feeling. I have many memories of New York since I’ve been here 8 years. And I knew that The Girl knew this city well, too. Whereas for me, it brings me energy and hopefulness, for The Girl she is drawn to and repulsed by the darkness and brutality. She absolutely has been traumatized, and the city mirrors the chaos that is inside of her. The city exacerbates all of her darkest fears and racing thoughts, but she can’t stay away.
JK: There is a very brutal sequence that happens more than half way through that really changes the way the viewer sees Darling. It has a lot to do with practical FX and makeup. In a really dark psychological film like this, this event cuts the tension and shocks the viewer. What was it like to do the meat work and have a scene of very powerful violence and horror?
LAC: The editing in this film is incredible. Valerie Krulfeifer is Mickey’s editor, and she’s just brilliant. She had a lot to do with what you’re talking about. When we were actually filming the “meat work” as you put it, it was my favorite part! It’s the role I’ve been waiting to do, and dreaming of doing for a long time. What can I say? It was fantastic and I had a hell of a good time doing it. And I was ready for it.
JK: “Darling” is a film that you carry on your own. It is pretty much unlike anything we have seen you be a part of before. In your previous film work such as “The Woman” with Pollyanna McIntosh and Angela Bettis as well as with Sean Young in “Darling” and “Jugface”, these women are talented and powerful actresses. I would think they are teachers and muses possibly for you. Discuss how much you have learned and drawn from them as performers.
LAC: I have been so fortunate to have worked with such talented women. I grew up watching Sean Young films with my father, we’ve always been huge fans of hers. A surprising fact is that she loves to work on comedies. Which was great for me to hear, because then I could ask her a million questions aboutFatal Instinct, which was a VHS I wore out from the video store. I also love to do comedy. She’s a doting and wacky lady – we have a lot in common! Angela Bettis – I can’t say enough about her. She is just an incredible presence. She is very petite and soft while she still has this power that floats around her. I was very intimidated by her in our scenes, her charisma is palpable and she has so much focus. It was working with her that made me realize what true focus was, how much energy it required, and how absolutely paramount it was that you never lost it not for one moment. Pollyanna is a tornado! A hurricane! A tidal wave! I just think of actual forces of nature when I think of her. Not only because she towers over me, but also her intensity is frightening and impossible to mimic. Watching her work is a great time, she’s entertaining and vivacious. She made my job easy because it’s impossible not to be in the moment with her when you’re in a scene: she won’t let you go. Another actress I worked with for the second time in my life is Catherine Mary Stewart. We worked together on my first live action film, and most recently Imitation Girl. Catherine is a pro. She’s as kind as any person can be, and smart as a whip. She’s taught me a lot about this business and how to stay sane and grounded in the work, and outside of it. Those things are just as valuable to me as the work itself. Because if I couldn’t stay sane and grounded, I wouldn’t be here right now. A little bit of neurosis is ok as a performer, but untethered, it can tear one apart.
JK: You have a vulnerability in facial features, gentleness in your movements and are able to convey so much through those big eyes of yours. This is a mark of not only a talented actress but a performer who understands her craft and how to speak without words. Talk about those eyes and expressions which are so key in many of your roles including Darling?
LAC: There’s not much I can say on that subject. There are a handful of actors who can just stare into the distance and make audiences feel so deeply and so moved. I’m not saying I’m a Paul Newman or Ellen Burstyn, but sometimes it’s something that’s not always 100% in one’s control. I am very deliberate about a lot of my expressions. That’s due to having watched my films and thought, “Oh God! Is that what my face looks like?! I thought I was doing so much more!” So I definitely spent some time in the mirror and figuring out my face. Which is something I did so much as a child, making faces and speeches in the mirror. I lost a lot of my sense of play after going through traumas in my life, I’ve been lucky to find it again.
JK: How amazing is Sean Bridgers as an actor whether it is in “The Woman” or “Jugface”? What have you learned in your time working together and as a friend?
LAC: I always say this, and I truly mean it, if it weren’t for Sean Bridgers, my performance in Jug Face would not have been half of what it was. Sean was so generous helping me on set and before, and after. I was so fearful because it was my first lead in a film, and after watching Pollyanna in The Woman, I knew what that entailed and how much people are going to see just you! We went through the script every day and took it one scene at a time, one day at a time. He didn’t have to do that. But he cared about the film and he believed in me. I owe so much to him, and I can’t wait to cast him in a film of my own! I’d work with him in every single project if I could.
JK: “The Mentors” is one of your latest projects which talks about mentorship and the comedy that ensues. Lewis Black is so smart and the crew involved put forth an intelligent humor, dialogue and a harsh reality in each episode. Talk about the show and how as an actress humor and horror are a thin line.
LAC: The Mentors is Lewis and my baby, ha ha ha. Well, I guess Joe Grifasi also has a lot to do with the conception. Joe started an alumni mentoring program with Yale. I bumped into our friend Mark Linn-Baker at a cafe one day meeting Lizabeth MacKay (all Yallies), and he said “What are you doing here?!” I told him I was meeting LIz and he said how funny because he was there mentoring someone for Joe’s program. At the time, I didn’t know anything about it. But if you know Mark and Joe, the idea of them sitting down for an hour or so and mentoring someone is really fucking funny. It’s their personalities and their quirks: Lewis, Joe, Mark, and Liz are all great friends. To give you an example: close your eyes and imagine Lewis Black mentoring someone. Hysterical, right?! Later that week, I ask Lewis, “Are you a mentor?” He looks at me cold, “No.” I respond, “Did Joe ask you?” Lewis, “Fuck no! He knows better.” I immediately had the concept for the show. Lewis and I began ping-pong-ing ideas, more for fun than anything else. I had a lot of other projects on the table with my company Warwick Street Productions (Bereavement, Shakers and Stirrers, The Mentors) and our sister company, Illium Pictures (Pod, Imitation Girl), so The Mentors was a dream project, but nothing we thought we’d get to for quite a while. Well, the more we told people about it, the more excited everyone was and no one could shut up about it. It really started falling together quickly. The stories that people told about their own failed mentorships, their crushed expectations, and the hopelessness surrounding having a career in this business made us all laugh! It was a catharsis to talk about it, to exaggerate it, and to realize the lunacy that we’re involved with BY CHOICE every day. I believe that that is the horror that you speak of. Some days, it can feel worse than a horror movie, or at least on par with one. I also realize that it can’t be a choice, not any more than falling in love is a choice in the sense that most of the time it makes very little sense if it makes sense at all! The ironic thing about all of this is that I realized that Lewis was indeed my mentor, and a great one. And so is Joe, Mark, Liz, Julie Halston, Kevin O’Rourke, and the list goes on and on. There are awful things that happen, dreams get crushed, you build yourself back up again, and then there are, hopefully, incredible partners in misery that say, “Let me help you, I’ve been there before.”