In Celebration with International Women's Day, an Interview with Lauren Ashley Carter
With expressive, big brown eyes and an incredibly diverse range, Lauren Ashley Carter is the darling of independent horror. She even starred in the black and white, blood-spattered noir Darling (2015), directed by Mickey Keating. If you love independent horror as much as I do you’ve seen her in films like Lucky McKee’s The Woman (2011), Jug Face (2013), and Pod (2015). In 2017 she played two very different characters in the stunning film Imitation Girl, directed by Natasha Kermani. She’s also a producer and a director who grew up loving musical theater and horror movies. If she wants to do something, she does it and she does it extremely well. Recently I had the pleasure of spending the morning chatting with Lauren from her home in England. We talked about her favorite horror movies, her dedication to independent film, and it turns out she’s got a wicked sense of humor as well.
GG: Why did you want to become an actress and how old were you when you made that decision?
Carter: Very early on. I tried my hand at many things and my parents let me quit anything I didn’t want to do, which was a lot (laughs). If I couldn’t do something great the first time, it just infuriated me and I would give up. I wish they would have pushed me, because I think that I would have made better life choices, other than acting (laughs). I started writing stories and that’s kind of how I got started. I was doing a lot of creative writing, and by creative writing I mean I was about four years old writing about snakes and frogs eating each other and throwing each other up (laughs). I was really interested in scripts and movie making.
I would just go to the book store and get books out on movies I’d seen. I remember begging my mother for the Wizard of Oz script and I would read it and try and force my classmates to do scenes with me. The same with Shakespeare. I’d go to the library with my friends and we had no idea what we were saying because we were probably like seven years old (laughs) and I just thought it was fabulous. I just kept going with it and I was doing well in choir and things like that. I did community theater and I was also studying, but there was really nothing that was that interesting to me in my studies. I really liked the arts and doing those kinds of things. Then when it came time to go to college, I decided I would only go if I could get into a conservatory or performing arts college, and if not, then there was not point in me going because I didn’t know what else I wanted to do. So, I auditioned for those and I got into one, so that kind of made my decision for me. I enjoyed doing it and it was really fun, so it was the one really happy thing in my life. I just found a lot of joy in it. Obviously, when you go to a conservatory, much of that joy is extracted (laughs), but I was still able to find joy in the things that we did and that’s what kept me going through all the bullshit.
Then when I moved to New York I knew even though it’s a thing that I’m good at, it’s such a lottery, right? You can grab a handful of really talented people, hardworking people, and still all of those people are put into a lottery and someone might get it and most of them won’t. I was very aware of that. So, it wasn’t scary, it was just sad, I guess? So, I partied a lot and didn’t really think anything would ever come of it at all. When I moved to New York and I started getting offered some things, it was really surprising to me. So, I guess the answer to your question is that it just happened and I was growing and changing and it was just something that I enjoyed doing.
GG: I personally consider you to be an indie horror queen. What do you enjoy most about working in the horror genre and independent film?
Carter: Well, horror is something that I really liked. I would see my dad on weekends and that was kind of our thing. We would watch horror movies. We would go to the video store and I loved looking at the covers of the horror movies (laughs). I understood that it was fake. I thought horror movies were exciting and wonderful, but I was never scared. I told him, “None of this is scary.” So, he got me a copy of Faces of Death and I think I screamed and cried and then we started watching Rocky and Bullwinkle or something (laughs). So, I grew up watching horror movies with my dad and it was just a bonding experience and I really enjoyed them. I liked being scared, but I loved more scaring people. I loved to scare my friends and freak them out. Looking back at it, I was really not the best friend (laughs). At the time, I just thought I was hilarious.
When Bruce Campbell wrote “If Chins Could Kill,” that was a really big book for me. When that came out my dad and I both read it. We were both like, “Wow! He’s so cool!” And just seeing the work that goes into it and being part of the experience. Especially with Evil Dead, how much the audience was a part of the legacy of that film and of making it what it was, and that it’s such an experience between the film and the audience. I think that’s so much of a horror thing more than any other genre, except for musical theater. And I think that’s oddly why musical theater and horror were probably my favorites growing up. You know that when you make a horror movie, there is already an audience. Even if the film isn’t amazing, you know that people are going to watch it and you’re going to connect with people. I really appreciate the conversation Graham Skipper keeps having on Twitter, which is, can we please not talk about the things we didn’t or didn’t like about a film or films that you don’t like and celebrate more the things that you do like. I think that’s, especially in independent film, so important.
There’s just so much to appreciate about independent film, mainly that you can make the film that you want to make, even though you won’t have the budget you would love to have. But, the more money that gets put into something, the more people are in control of that thing and the less likely it is to be what you intended it to be. You know that the whole time you’re making independent film, people are going to be excited to see it and it makes it worth it. That’s why I keep coming back to it. Because even though it’s independent movie money and you go through hell to make the movie, I’m always really proud of the work that everyone does and of the audience’s reaction. I can really look back fondly on everything that I’ve done.
GG: One of my favorite films of yours is Imitation Girl, directed by Natasha Kermani. I think you gave phenomenal performances of two very different characters. What was that like?
Carter: I didn’t have to switch between the characters until much later, so when I shot the alien in New Mexico that was months before I did Julianna in New York. I actually had the benefit of shooting them separately and with space in between them, so that was great. Only at the very end when we see them together, that’s when I had to switch back and forth and there’s only one scene between them, so it wasn’t too bad. I think that had I had to switch back and forth it would have been absolutely mental (laughs). It was really weird using a body double because we had the exact same measurements and it looked like I was following myself. That was pretty surreal. I’m really happy with that film and it was a really long time in the making from conception to actually doing it. Natasha had written a short testing some ideas and we went though a lot of drafts of the script. She really worked to make sure she wasn’t compromising the message of her film and that she was still making the movie she wanted to make. I was really happy to shoot the alien first because she does find a lot of joy in everything and she’s curious. She takes her time. Julianna is very much the opposite. She’s not curious. She’s jaded, but she does still have hope. It’s a glimmer, a sad little sparkle, but it’s still there.
GG: I know you directed a short film called Introducing Parker Dowd. Do you have any plans to direct in the future? I’d really love to see you direct a horror film.
Carter: Oh, thank you! I would absolutely do that. I find the most joy in doing comedy and horror comedy is probably one of my favorites, so that would be something that I would want to do. I had a really great time doing the short. It’s so much about the team behind you. I had no camera experience whatsoever, so for me it’s the story-telling and picking my crew that can help me. I had just been dying to have the atmosphere that I would want on a production. What I really love about directing and producing is creating a joy-filled atmosphere where people are being taken care of and feel like they are being heard and they can be creative. It’s something that needs to come from the top down. It was nice being in control and being able to snuff out any bad attitudes or things that start getting out of hand. It was really nice to be heard and listened to. And it was really great at the end to have everyone tell me they had a good time and that they were happy and proud of the film. Obviously, pre-production is hellish no matter what attitude you have and it almost killed me. I was working full-time while I was doing it, but that was just a short film (laughs)! So, if I do a feature, time is something that makes everything work so much better. That was something Natasha Kermani did so well, was budgeting time and making sure that we had enough on the front end and the back end. For example, we actually had rehearsals, which was crazy because a lot of the time in independent film you don’t have rehearsals and it makes such a huge difference. When people would say to me about Imitation Girl, “Oh, you were amazing!” A lot of people think it’s one of my best films, or my best and it’s because we had rehearsal time. That’s why you do rehearsals in theater. I can’t stress that enough. It’s insane the people don’t budget the time for rehearsals. I can’t stress enough the importance of rehearsals.
GG: Do you have a favorite female filmmaker?
Carter: I have many. I’m so bad at these favorites. I would say Issa López. Last year I saw her movie Tigers Are Not Afraid and that was absolutely phenomenal. We see the performances of the children, but that was such a credit to her. The way those kids worked together and felt safe and how it was shot. That was a credit to her, so I would definitely say she’s on my radar. I can’t believe that was her first film. I am dying to see what she does next. Also, Lynne Ramsay who did You Were Never Really Here.
GG: You’ve worked with Larry Fessenden on several films like Jug Face, Pod, The Mind’s Eye, and Darling. I interviewed him last year and he’s such a great guy and incredibly talented. What do you enjoy most about working with him, both as an actor and a producer?
Carter: The reason we ended up working on so many things together is a combination of things, like we were both East Coast based. The horror world is really, really small and the horror world in New York is teeny tiny, so it was only a matter of time before we worked together, I think. Mickey Keating had seen me in Jug Face, so he hired me for Pod and I was reunited with Larry on that. Then when Mickey wanted to do Darling, Larry was like, “Oh, you know Lauren’s in it.” So, he stepped in for that. Mickey had been an intern for Larry as well at some point. So, we know each other well. He’s just the sweetest guy and really down to earth. He’s so, so funny (laughs). That’s one of the hardest things about working with Larry is that he just cracks me up the whole time and I love that. I’ve never done anything where I had to or wanted to stay in character while I’m filming, so being with Larry is so nice and so refreshing. When he’s on set, there’s just a different vibe and I feel a lot more relaxed. When things get stressful he’s able to take the situation down a notch and he’s just a pro. He’s been doing this for a really long time. On one film we worked together on there was an issue and he came to me and asked me what happened. I just felt so heard and taken care of when I thought it would be a boy’s club kind of situation. And it wasn’t like that whatsoever and I think that’s because of him. I just have nothing but lovely, wonderful things to say about him.
GG: Do you watch a lot of horror movies and do you have a favorite?
Carter: Anna and the Apocalypse, obviously. Oh my God! When that came out I was like, “This is perfect for me!” The cast was just stunning and the music. That was fabulous. And the short films this year were all just amazing! I didn’t see one that I didn’t like. I was really, really impressed with the short films. Now my son’s getting to the age where I’m like, “Is this screaming going to terrorize him? Does he know what blood is? Is this making him uncomfortable?” So, I think I’m going to have to take a little break (laughs), but I really do like watching horror movies. There are special movies from my childhood that I always enjoy talking about like Sleepaway Camp and Hellraiser. I really liked anything really over the top. Death Becomes Her was my favorite movie of all time for years and years. Frankenhooker is also one of my favorites. I really do enjoy a horror comedy. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is so, so scary. That was something that was difficult for me to watch. The family is the scariest thing about it. Drag Me To Hell is one of my favorites. Obviously, I like the Evil Dead movies. The Shining is something that was really special to me because I was just obsessed with Jack Nicholson. I went through this whole phase where I wanted to be Jack Nicholson and I would just recreate every moment from The Shining and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
The funniest thing about The Shining is that I had only seen it when it was on TV and we had a sleepover and my friend’s mom asked if she could get us a movie. I said, “Oh yeah, can you get us The Shining?” And she goes, “The Shining? Isn’t that really scary? Are you allowed to watch it?” We were probably ten years old. I said, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen it so many times.” So she said she would rent it. Well, obviously on TV the part with the old lady had been cut out. So, when he went into the room, my friend and I thought it was odd because we didn’t remember him going into the room. Meanwhile, there were five other ten year old girls watching it who had never seen it before. When she turns into the decaying old lady all of us just started screaming bloody murder, so my friend’s mom runs in and turns it off. She goes, “I thought you had seen this movie?” And we were like, “We don’t remember this part!”
GG: Can you tell me about some of your upcoming projects?
Carter: Gags should be available on VOD soon. I know our director is talking to someone right now about that. I don’t know what’s happening yet with Artik, so we’ll have to keep our eyes peeled for that one. I also made a short film called Hail Maria! that is on my Twitter page right now. That’s about a sex worker in England and we are going to make a feature film of that probably next year. And I’ve got lots of other kettles boiling.