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Elizabeth Lail Interview Main


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Interview conducted by Ryan Holloway

Elizabeth Lail is probably best known for her role as Guinevere Beck, the object of a stalker’s obsession, in the 2018 runaway Netflix hit – You.

Her CV also boasts such TV shows as The Black List, The Good Fight and, on a lighter note, Once Upon a Time where she had a recurring role as Princess Anna.

The 25th October saw the release of her latest film Countdown, where she plays Quinn, a young nurse who downloads an app that claims to predict exactly when a person is going to die. As time ticks away she finds herself haunted by a sinister figure and must find a way to save her life before her time literally runs out.

Written and directed by Justin Dec, the film also stars Talitha Bateman, who horror fans will remember from Annabelle: Creation and Peter Facinelli (The Twilight Saga).

Countdown is further proof that Lail is a huge talent and HorrorDNA were lucky enough to chat to the actor about horror (obviously), the Me Too movement and the very real horror of an instagram takeover, something she did whilst promoting You. We also delve deep into the psychology of what makes Countdown work.

We’ll rate this interview M for mild spoilers.

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Ryan Holloway: I saw the film last night and loved it, I’m a big fan of horror, obviously as I’m writing for a horror site.

Elizabeth Lail: (laughs) Yeah, that’s lucky!

RH: First off, I feel I have to ask you this, are you a fan of horror?

EL: You know what, I would say that I’m easily moved by horror in that I’m easily scared. I do go and see horror films but usually afterwards I can’t quite tell how I feel about it because I’m having nightmares! I just take everything really personally and seriously, (laughs) I can’t un-see those images! So, as an actor I do like to feel all of those feelings, fear is the scariest one so I’m conflicted about it.

RH: Ok, well hopefully the reactions to this movie will make it all worth it. Was it part of your plan to make a horror or was it just a question of timing?

EL: It was definitely a case of the right script at the right time because I’m pretty open, I read the script and it was just so enjoyable, so much fun and I just really love the relationships inside of the horror story.

RH: Yeah it was a great bunch of characters and there seemed to be a great chemistry on screen, and Quinn must be a great prospect for an actor because she does go through a range of emotions and reactions, even with a, dare I say, Sarah Connor moment in the final third of the film. The way we see Quinn on the screen, was that as written or did the director allow you to explore the character more?

EL: I would say it’s always a collaboration, when you take on a character, its kind of like meeting them as you would meet a new acquaintance, so you’re creating a relationship between you and that character, but half of it is always part of you coming through, it’s always your essence through the lens of that character, if that makes sense?

RH: It does.

EL: I would say our director, Justin, he really encouraged me to tap into her inner badass, at the end there and in the fight scenes and wotnot.

RH: Absolutely…

EL: Which I, as a woman, do in my day-to-day life…

RH: This film does follow the good horror tradition of having culturally relevant things happening beneath the surface of a high-concept.

EL: Definitely.

RH: And it touches on Time's Up and the Me Too movement. Do you think it’s important to have those messages in a mainstream film, especially if it’s going to be seen by, mainly, a younger audience?

EL: I think so, I think the younger generation is very lucky that they are growing up in a time where it’s almost becoming more and more common to call out microsexism and those kind of events and I know that when a test audience watched it, when Dr. Sullivan (Peter Facinelli’s character) barely touches her back, and that was just kind of a very small thing in an elevator and Quinn kind of cringes afterwards, I think every woman in the theatre has a very visceral reaction to that because for a long time we have just kind of been like letting that roll off our backs, and I think now that’s not really the case, women are starting to no longer placate men in that way.

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RH: Completely, and there are similarities between that instance with Quinn and also your character in ‘You’?

EL: Definitely and they handle it quite similarly, except the great thing about Quinn is that she gets to say something in the end, which felt so good! This is a good catharsis for me! (laughs)

RH: Also catharsis with a crowbar at one point!

EL: Yes! I also got to kick him in the balls over and over again when we were filming so…yeah that was definitely half me, half Quinn!

RH: Fair enough, fair enough. That might already have answered my next question but I wonder if there was a particularly memorable day for you on set?

EL: Oh, you know every day was just so much fun. I was so grateful to be there. I was there all day every day and it really felt like a family. I would say the scenes with P.J Byrne (who plays Father John) were my favourite.

RH: Ah yes, I was going to ask about him, he was great!

EL: Yes, he elevates every scene he’s in and he’s like an improv genius and so it makes it really fun to watch, he’s just really incredible to watch.

RH: I imagine there’s going to be quite a blooper reel.

EL: I hope so. There’s definitely me… I fell over twice in one day, for no good reason (laughs) so hopefully that makes it in.

RH: So how long is it for you now that you finished on set?

EL: I think we finished in May so it was a really quick turn around.

RH: And have you found yourself looking in dark corners or finding it hard to look in mirrors?

EL: (Laughs) Thankfully no, but I have to say when I saw the movie all the trauma came rushing back to me.

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RH: I bet, and were there any scenes that you knew were going to be difficult and kept you up at night?

EL: I think one of the things I thought about a lot was when Matt and Quinn are talking about their childhood traumas in the bedroom. Just because you could do that scene ten different ways and as an actor you start to percolate inside of you the truth of your mother having died in a car accident, so it's usually the more emotional scenes that keep you up at night because the scary scenes, I’m just really genuinely scared. They do a good job of freaking you out. The makeup department and the special effects department did a really incredible job on our demon.

RH: Yeah, the demon looked amazing.

EL: It was genuinely terrifying.

RH: Yeah it was, it was a great design. In your career so far which of the characters you’ve played do you think represents you the most? Do you think it’s Quinn, Guinevere, or perhaps it’s even Princess Anna?

EL: Yeah, I think there’s a part of me in each of them and also none of them really represent me to my full complexity, but I relate to almost every character I play and that’s a part of the job but I’ve been very lucky that with the people I’ve played I’ve been able to find an in quite easily so I like to think I’m a bit of each of them. I would be honoured to be a bit of each of them.

RH: Well they are all very good characters and it must be great to look back and to have played them. Obviously ‘You’ on Netflix was a huge success, how do you think that show has changed your life, or your career?

EL: Everyone asks me if my life has changed that much and I’m like, no not really except some people recognise me on the street. Everyone’s really kind, they’re like ‘hello, you look a lot like that girl’ and I’m like oh, I get that all the time (laughs)

RH: There is a striking similarity.

EL: And the great thing about You is I got to play, especially at the end, I don’t know if you’ve seen the whole thing but at the end it gets very intense so I got to play like a lot of different colours and I feel the same way about Countdown you know because Quinn goes through such extremes, you see her in her job, stressed out and then fighting for her life and I got to do that in both these jobs and hopefully in my career that’s a good thing to be seen in multiple different ways.

RH: Like a lot of great horror films, Countdown is scary but it also deals with loss and regret at its core and I’m sure that you and maybe the director have different thoughts but what do you think the message of the movie is?

EL: I think that we are all, and this is a grand realisation about human society as well, that we really are all dictated by our childhood trauma and it comes in all shapes and sizes for almost every single one of us and its always the fear that lives inside of us that we’re not always conscious of but its actually dictating a lot of decisions in our life. And I think the movie really speaks to that, kind of like when you don’t want to confront the trauma then you tend to live at its mercy.

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RH: Yeah, I certainly took that from it. Part of why I love horror is that there is always a real-life story kind of bubbling under the surface which I always appreciate.

Are you a huge mobile phone user? What’s your app of choice?

EL: (laughing) My app of choice is Google maps.

RH: Ok.

EL: I don’t know, I think comparatively I’m not a huge mobile phone user but I think in this day and age almost all of us are unless you have a flip phone. We’re very much tied to our phones.

RH: Yeah I have to admit I am. I need to give it up a bit.

EL: Yes!

RH: And finally, would you be interested in a sequel? I hope that’s not a spoiler.. I don’t think so…

EL: (laughs) No I don’t think so either. I would be interested in what that would be, I mean horror movies are really known for their sequels, a lot of them have done many movies so I don’t know, I would definitely be interested in reading that script if it ever comes around.

RH: Let’s hope so, it felt like it could be the start of something. What do you think is more scary, Demons, or is doing an instagram takeover more scary? (Elizabeth did an instagram takeover whilst promoting ‘You.’)

EL: (laughs…a lot) Well, I’m pretty socially awkward, especially on instagram, and honestly its hard to say, I think that demons should be more scary but a lot of times, in this day of age, if we want to get metaphorical, a lot of our demons are on our phone whether that be actual bullies of some sort or just comparison, I think instagram is the king of comparative thinking that can really rob us of happiness. I think there are a lot of good parts of instagram as well, there’s the good and the bad but they’re both pretty scary.

RH: I think I’ve got time for one more question. Do you ever have a time on set where you think to yourself, I’ve really nailed this? When you realise that it’s all just clicked? Or do you ever feel that way as an actor?

EL: Every once in a while I think there’s a moment when it’s like, lightning strikes and its not so much a feeling of nailing it but that I was really lost in the now, like being in the zone, but that is, more often than not, it doesn’t feel like that for me and I always watch my work and think I could have done it this way, and this way and this way I think I’m my own worst critic, for better or worse.

RH: I imagine that’s what keeps you on your toes and that’s what keeps it exciting?

EL: Yeah, I mean, my dream is to just, I want to continue to grow as an actor so you can’t get too content with your work, you’re always kind of like demanding the truth from yourself and that makes you have to keep opening your heart again and again.

RH: And what is next for you?

EL: Oh nothing I can say quite yet..

RH: Ok, interesting, well we will leave it ambiguous. Thank you so much for talking to me today it’s been an absolute pleasure, good luck with the film and good luck with everything that comes after.

EL: Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed the movie. Take care.

COUNTDOWN, from STX International, comes to UK cinemas Friday 25th October.

About The Author
Ryan Holloway
Staff Reviewer
As far back as he can remember Ryan has always had an obsession with films, and horror in particular. 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' and ‘Alien’ were the first films that really stuck in the psyche and rather than scarring his tiny mind and running up a huge therapy bill, those films created a fascination with the dark side of life and art. Brought up by Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers (not literally), horror will always fascinate him no matter how absurd, dark, twisted, barmy or just plain wrong. Horror DNA gives him the opportunity, and excuse, to legitimise his macabre tastes and watch whatever strangeness comes his way.
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