In the brilliant Emelie Sarah Bolger plays the titular character who terrorises three children. They are left in her care when she lies her way into their family home as the stand in babysitter.
Far more than the sum of its parts, this immensely tense horror is both chilling and challenging mainly due to the superb performance from Bolger who has lit up the screen in ever one of her recent horror movie roles. I was lucky enough to to chat to her about Emelie and getting inside the head of such a troubled and disturbed character as well as discussing her childhood fears, future roles and why she hates watching herself on screen.
The interview may contain some spoilers so go watch the film first – it’s well worth it!
Love Horror: Hello
Sarah Bolger: Hey Alex, how are you doing?
Love Horror: I’m good but it’s very odd the hold music is the Rocky theme!
Sarah Bolger: I know, I know!
Love Horror: It was strange I wasn’t sure if we were getting ready to fight or…
Sarah Bolger: (Laughs) That’s my theme did you not know. It’s my pre-interview theme tune. If I walk into any room in fact that’s just what plays on someone’s iPhone prior to my arrival.
Love Horror: Let me guess did you say ‘I’ll do the interviews but I want the Rocky theme playing before each one to psych them out!’
Sarah Bolger: Yeah pretty much (Laughs)
Love Horror: Well it worked! Back to the reason why we are talking Emelie I have to say I loved the film, it was really good, really challenging which I wasn’t expecting but in a good way.
Sarah Bolger: That’s good. Do you have children?
Love Horror: Yes I just had a son he’s 15 months old now so it did affect me deeper than I thought it would. I think I viewed it very differently than I would have 2 years ago most definitely. It really pushed the audiences buttons especially if you are a parent but in a very clever way not gratuitously.
Sarah Bolger: Yes what we wanted to do was make the audience feel as uneasy as possible I guess while living in sort of reality. While looking at a scene that is perfectly normal potentially and then something being incredibly off at the same time.
Love Horror: Emelie most certainly had that power. I think many films try to achieve the same concept but fail because they go for a shock value that has no depth but there is a real emotional impact to Emelie mainly due to your performance.
Sarah Bolger: Thank you what was great about it for me to sign on to this specific project was even reading the script for the first time I was like ‘Is she a witch, what is she? I mean she has so much emotional trauma in her life, who is she or what is she’ and I think that’s the thing, she’s so unhappy with what she is that she absorbs these other lives and facades and pretty much just wears a constant layer of masks.
It’s sort of great just as an actor to be able to do that especially to start the movie off with you never meeting the real her and only for you to watch this fake her and be like well wait it’s all fine but you still don’t feel good about it.
Love Horror: It was a great opening watching the real babysitter being snatched up in that voyeuristic long shot. Again many other films in a similar vein would have revealed you as an imposter half way through as a twist but knowing you’re not who the family think you are adds so much more tension and terror.
Sarah Bolger: Yeah your like ‘it’s just a teenager what, that’s the baby sitter, what!’ I really enjoyed filming it and the kids where great. A lot of the more emotional charged or aggressive scenes I ended up filming those with no one just the Assistant Director standing in for the kids.
Love Horror: I was going to ask how you handled some of the more uncomfortable and violent scenes featuring the three children, did you just not have them there at all?
Sarah Bolger: Yeah and I think it’s best because some of them where you know aggressive… here’s the thing I didn’t want to scare them, I say as me Sarah, I didn’t want to scare the crap out of the kids so it only seemed fair that to play with the range of where the character could go it felt better to do those scenes when the kids weren’t there so I wasn’t afraid to go for it, to be scary I guess.
Love Horror: Did you get on with the kids off set?
Sarah Bolger: I did but it was sort of hard when you don’t want them to know you like I didn’t want them to know me as Sarah. It sounds terrible but I wanted them on set to be warry of me, to not know me, to feel like I was a stranger. So it was hard because it was a decision myself and Michael (Thelin) the director made that we couldn’t really be friends which was so cruel and awful and it made me really sad because it made me really isolated on set.
Love Horror: You must have been able to talk to them properly once the filming was done though.
Sarah Bolger: Oh god there where so many hugs and kisses but yeah during the time and also for the character as an isolated person herself it felt right to sort of bundle myself up in a cloud of that.
Love Horror: It’s a quite controversial movie given its subject matter and some of the content, did it worry you at all when you read the script how people would view it and your character?
Sarah Bolger: It was more how it would end up looking on the editing room floor because there is the possibility of it being somewhat a cliché. Michael our director was really smart on how it ended up so none of my fears while I was talking to him came about.
Love Horror: Emelie is a complex and troubled character how did you prepare for the role and get into her mind set?
Sarah Bolger: It is hard. We decided that from the death of her child she definitely suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and has an array of other things going on in that brain for hers so getting into that really awful place in yourself is a really sad lonely existence. We filmed in Buffalo New York and it was just me in my hotel room reading these lines and writing Emelie’s diary (laughs) it was not the happiest time.
Love Horror: Well it sounds terrible but it led to a great performance so it was worth it.
Sarah Bolger: I guess yeah but it’s a shame because Buffalo is so lovely like there are so many cool things to do and fun restaurants so it’s such a shame I couldn’t’ t really enjoy any of them.
Love Horror: You’ll have to go back for a holiday.
Sarah Bolger: Yeah I really will!
Love Horror: Did you get any other advice from Michael Thelin on the character?
Sarah Bolger: I spoke to the Michael and Lizzie (Friedman) the executive producer who is great and they were really helpful and I actually didn’t meet them till we all landed in Buffalo which was kind of interesting and a new thing for me too as I didn’t know anyone but again it all worked for the character. I landed on uncertain ground not knowing anyone just being there but it all worked out for the best.
Love Horror: Although it is explained in the film with that imaginative story book flashback why do you think Emelie does what she does?
Sarah Bolger: I think entering the house she is an observer, a voyeur if you will and walking round the parents’ house I think she has a fascination with a happy existence as it’s not something she can really compute or understand. She wanders round that house and I did that myself prior to filming I was looking at pictures of happy families and building up this layer of envy in my head, it’s really sad.
Love Horror: You really do get the feeling she has invaded other people’s homes and lives multiple times before.
Sarah Bolger: Yes I think she has done similar. She’s a survivor, no matter what scenario she gets thrown into I think she will survive herself but I think she’s winging it. Every scenario she gets herself into has been quite different not exactly the same not exactly a babysitter but in terms of steeling someone’s life I don’t think she is a newbie to this.
Love Horror: It must have been hard making a character like that sympathetic which you manage to do because a lot of the things she does are terrible and her end game is horrible when you realise what’s actually going on.
Sarah Bolger: Yes it is. You’re trying to humanise her while showing her intentions and it’s a really fine line.
Love Horror: Was it a difficult line to balance, making sure she didn’t fall into a caricature?
Sarah Bolger: It is because you’re right you don’t want to fall into any sort of twisty moustachey sort of evilness and I think that’s the thing she’s not evil, she doesn’t think she’s evil but she hates herself and I think that’s a very human characteristic not liking who you are. She has taken that to a whole other extreme by taking someone else’s life, we as humans don’t usually do that. (Laughs) She’s just moved it a little bit over to the extreme!
Love Horror: The most frightening thing about the film is the unpredictability and unknowability of Emelie and the potential she has of doing anything at all with and to the children.
Sarah Bolger: Absolutely and especially since I was sort of owning this 16, 17 year old girl that I was trying to be and that’s not threatening and yet you have to bring an edge that’s not overpowering or silly whilst maintaining a youthfulness. Again that was much discussion prior on how to show the audience a relatively normal seeming girl and yet know in their hearts that something is wrong by a flick of the eye or a strange look or just a difference in her demeanor.
Love Horror: Did you ever babysit when you were younger or did you hear any crazy stories obviously not on the level of Emelie?
Sarah Bolger: No Jesus I’ve been acting since I was 5 so no (Laughs)
Love Horror: No I guess you didn’t have the time. What was your biggest fear as a child?
Sarah Bolger: I don’t know my report card freaking out because I was terrible at Irish. One thing I wish I was so much better at is Gaeilge not that I did terribly but I guess my childhood fear was ‘my god what if I get a C and not a B.’ Report cards in general, parents and report cards I think that was the biggest fear which is totally proving the fact that I really had no big fears as a child.
Love Horror: That’s the way it should be, I would want my son to answer the same way.
Sarah Bolger: No there’s nothing mad that’s what I mean there was no big outlandish craziness it was very simple I think generic childhood things.
Love Horror: Have you been to any screenings of Emelie and how have the audiences reacted to it?
Sarah Bolger: Yeah I saw it for the first time I think at Tribeca with a crowd of people and there was just this intake of sharp breath all the time because people expected the worst all of the time and we were able to continuously thread the needle of it could happen but it’s not and it just keeps everyone on their toes. It was quite fun actually to watch that. I can’t watch myself anyway so I was watching the audience.
Love Horror: Do you not watch any of your own films then?
Sarah Bolger: I mean I was there it was on in the background but I find it really hard to watch myself and not be like ‘oh for god sakes Sarah why that why!’ I think we’re all very self-critical.
Love Horror: You have made a few horror movies now including The Moth Diaries, The Lazarus Effect and now Emelie all with very different subject matters, do you enjoy making horror?
Sarah Bolger: I guess I have made a few. The Moth Diaries was intentionally ambiguous too, this girl going insane and Mary Harron who made it made American Psycho, she is an incredible director. It’s sort of fun you know that year I made Emelie I came straight from Vancouver doing Aurora Sleeping Beauty (for TV Series Once Upon a Time) so the juxtaposition there is mad! I’ve been so fortunate to have this nice amount of variety that it’s great for me I get to use completely different parts of myself in completely different characters and that’s the dream, constantly changing it up.
Love Horror: What’s next for you?
Sarah Bolger: Well the show Into the Badlands that I did for AMC I think it’s coming out in England close to the summer I think they are looking at doing a Season 2 of that could be possibly next I think we are figuring it out. It all depends on the script I never expected Emelie to land on my door and it did and it was such an amazing thing that I am so proud of so I am always ready to be surprised.
Love Horror: Well we look forward to being surprised too and thank you for talking to us.
Sarah Bolger: Thank you so much bye.
Emelie is out on Digital HD and DVD now