Interviewed as part of our month long focus on Modern Musicals.
Reviewed by Lesley Coffin
When the horror anthology V/H/S premiered in 2012, one of the standout segments was Amateur Night, a cheeky short about Lily, a monster in the form of a woman, able to seduce her prey, young men. Four years later, Fierman (now a veteran performer in the horror genre) returns to screens once again as Lily, in SiREN. This time however Lily is a singing siren, who lures a future groomsman (Chase Williamson, John Dies at the End, The Guest) away from his bachelor party. I spoke with Hannah about returning to her break-out character, using her musical abilities, and the joys and pleasures of scary movies.
Did you make any changes to the character when you started work on the feature?
I actually wanted to change as little about her as possible. There’s a reason they wanted to make a feature film based on the character from Amateur Night, and I wanted to stay true to her. But one of the big changes we made was to make her into the Siren, rather than the succubus she was in Amateur Night. And that allowed me to do my own singing, although it isn’t in the credits.
Was singing in character really important to you?
It was, because I am a singer as well, and I can always tell when someone’s lip syncing on film. The breath and movement’s so different, it can seem very unnatural. And originally they had me lip singing, and that felt very awkward and made it harder for me to get into character and the scene. So I asked if I could just sing on stage. And they ended up liking it so much, they asked me to sing on the score as well. Which was great.
Speaking of movement, the character has to very animistic in the way she seduces and then brutalizes the men. Did you base her movement on any animals?
Thank you for noticing, because that was a huge influence on creating the character. Early on we talked about her almost being feline in nature. And the director sent me a picture of this beautiful, sweet looking white cat and said “she’s like this.” And I watched a lot of cat videos online and you notice how they can be very sweet and affectionate at one moment and nip or hiss at you in a second. That was something which kind of influenced me on Amateur Night, when she turns in a second and hissed at a man. But in general, movement is a big part of getting into character. I spent a lot of time with my double on both Amateur Night and this, which helped me get back into the role.
Do you always try to collaborate with a stunt double and work together on developing the character’s body language?
I’m sure this isn’t true with everyone, but for me, it’s a necessary part of the job. On Amateur Night Elizabeth Davidovich was our coordinator and my stunt double, and she really drilled the importance of working together into my psyche. She’s a contortionist, so she could do incredible things that would have been outside my physical abilities, but she also wanted to know what I could do and how to work with me to make those transitions seamless. And I took the same approach on this film, as well as working with the little girl who plays a younger version of Lily. We work-shopped the character together.
I remember taking notice of Chase of John Dies at the End, and your careers have followed a similar trajectory becoming names in the genre indies. What was it like working with him on this?
Chase is amazing. He’s such a thoughtful, introspective character actor, he’s a great partner to have on set because he’s always present. I won’t go into detail about it, but doing the rape scene, he played the dark reality of the situation. So I started to feel like I had almost violated him and it was absolutely disturbing to be in that position. None of that’s real of course, but when you’re in character the day of filming, the mood was tense.
Lily’s one of the horror antagonists who is a threat to men with sexual desires, kind of a flip on the classic final girl or scream queen trope. All those films play into a certain, rational or irrational, paranoia about sex. What real life threat does Lily represent to the audience.
She’s kind feeds on the fear a lot of guys, often bro-types, by presenting herself as this empowered, sexually liberated woman. Women who will express what they want and take control of their bodies and desires still threatens some men. I think Lily’s sort of in the same tradition as that movie Teeth. Not completely, but I think Lily feeds on those same irrational fears that some men have. Not all men, but some, that a sexual woman will become too powerful and use that power to brutalize or control them.
Of course, the guys in this aren’t as bad as the men in Amateur Night on the Bro-scale. Did they want the tone of the film to be more comedic and surreal than the short?
I think they had to take that approach. In the short, the film’s so aggressive so quickly, an extended version of that would have become grueling to watch. The comic tone and slower introduction is more tolerable and allows audiences to get to know the guys before my character shows up from the first film.
How do you feel about horror films and scary movies as a viewer? Would you watch this type of movie if you weren’t in it?
Probably not. I’m scared of most of them and hate putting myself through the experience. But I don’t think horror films as a whole are bad, I’m just too scared to watch most. I love the movie The Sixth Sense, and I know a lot of people don’t even count that as a horror film, but it scared me to death. But I think the genre can create some great art, and I love acting in horror films because it’s one of the few genres where you don’t feel limited.
Did Gregg Bishop (the director of SiREN) suggest watching any horror films to get a sense of what he was going for?
I’m sure he had some influences but I didn’t want to watch anything. I didn’t want to be influenced and I didn’t want to put myself through the experience. Gregg and the writers didn’t mention any films they pulled from, just that they’d watched and rewatched Amateur Night over and over again before starting production. They knew what they were going for.
Lesley Coffin: Is editor and founder of Movies, Film, Cinema. A writer with a masters degree from NYU’s Gallatin School in biographical studies and star theory. She wrote the biography on Lew Ayres (Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector) and Hitchcock’s Casting (Hitchcock’s Stars). Lesley currently freelances as a critic and interviewer for a number of sites, including regular contributions to The Interrobang, Pink Pen, and Young Folks, and previously wrote for The Mary Sue and Filmoria. (Twitter handle @filmbiographer, website lesleycoffin.com)