Exclusive: 'Stake Land's' Danielle Harris Talks Acting, Tony Scott And Becoming A Director
From successful child star to famed scream queen, charismatic actress Danielle Harris has actually defied the odds by simply being a talented performer. Her work of late especially has shown some serious diversity in a genre that tends to pigeonhole its stars. Whether she’s playing a young gal on the run from evil, a vengeance seeking tough woman with an axe to grind or even a hard-hitting sleazy tabloid reporter hunting for a story, Harris chooses roles that have shown her fans there’s big talent in her small frame. Her latest project "Stake Land" (hitting DVD/Blu-ray on August 2 from Dark Sky Films) is no different with Harris playing a lost pregnant gal who teams up with a group of misfit survivors to fight a world that has been taken over by vampires. The film, which also stars co-writer Nick Damici, Connor Paolo and the amazing Kelly McGillis, is the dark and delicious work of "Mulberry Street" helmer Jim Mickle and is chocked full of monsters, mayhem and mood. Harris herself is currently busy at work on her directorial debut called "Among Friends," but graciously took time out to talk ONLY with Starpulse in an exclusive one-on-one Q&A about everything from "Stake Land" to "Hatchet 2" and everything in between. (We even covered a little early "The Last Boy Scout" action for the Tony Scott/Shane Black fans!) So grab those wooden stakes and pray for daylight – lady Harris is in the house!
Hey Danielle – how are you doing?
Danielle Harris: I’m crazy! (Laughs) How are you?
Well! Thanks so much for taking time out to talk to us!
DH: You got it!
So what’s got you so crazy?
DH: I’m actually directing my first feature! It’s called "Among Friends" and we start shooing Friday, July 29. We’re shooting a full-length feature in nine days! And I am pulling out all the stops and calling in all my favors – it is insanity right now. I’m so, so excited, but holy sh!t! (Laughs) I’m ready for it I think!
Cool! Now your character in "Stake Land" starts as a kind of a big sister to an unlikely thrown together family, but also develops a nurturing side due to being pregnant – how would you describe Belle?
DH: The reason why I wanted to do "Stake Land" was because I thought where I was in my life as a woman was really similar to who Belle is. All the roles that I had done growing up and up until "Stake Land" mirrored the other side of me, which is the bad girl who’s feisty and sassy. I’m from Queens and kind of always played the tough girl, but as I was getting older in my life I’m in a place where I want to start a family and I’m looking for a partner. So I felt like this was the first script that I red that really would allow me to explore that – to be feminine. To be the nurturer and the wife and sister and caretaker of the group and that’s something that I’ve never really done before.
What was interesting was I didn't have any make-up on in the movie and we shot with the Hi-Def cameras and exterior – and I feel like I never looked better. I thought I’m gonna be rolling around in the dirt, running around, and covered in crap and I’m gonna look like sh!t! But I watched the movie and I actually think I look better in this movie than anything I’ve ever done and I think it’s because for the first time I was able to feel like me from the inside out.
Jim Mickle, both on his first film "Mulberry Street" and now "Stake Land," is the master of dark tone and mood. What is he like as a director?
DH: I just have a love for Jim Mickle as a filmmaker and friend and as a spirited human being. He’s got such a vision and he’s so smart – he knows exactly what he wants. But he’s got this kindness with a bit of goofiness mixed in there and you would look at him and go, ‘You’re Jim Mickle?!’ His writing is really intense, but all the characters are formed and all come from places of real human interaction, which I think is really what Jim’s all about.
All the actors, especially you and the stunning Kelly McGillis, are so focused and committed to the extreme situations in "Stake Land" and it shows – what was the overall tone on set?
DH: What I loved about this movie was we kind of shot it in order. We shot for a few weeks, then we took a big break and then we came back in November because we needed the seasons to change. We all believed in the story, but we all knew going into it that it was going to be a really tough shoot and you had to really want to be a part of this. We all shared one trailer, we’re filming and ninety percent of the movie is outside, we’re sitting in the dirt with each other, it’s freezing cold and we had to huddle together to stay warm – literally. So you see us growing together and forming those relationships as the movie goes and that’s because we were actually doing it in real life.
You directed one of the amazing Character Prequels, which can be found on the DVD/Blu-ray release for "Stake Land" – why did you ultimately choose to examine the character of Willie?
DH: The reason I chose to do Willie was because I went to Iraq and visited the troops and I’m a very, very strong supporter of the military – one of my best friends is in the army right now. So for me Willie’s story was important as I felt he was one of the characters we didn't get a chance to know as much as everybody else. There was a short that I directed called Madison which was part of an anthology called Prank and it was all about performance and character and dialogue, but I wanted Willie to not have any dialogue. I wanted it to be a moving picture without words.
What impresses me about your work of late is that even though you done a lot of acting in the same genre, your roles have become more and more diverse – tortured in "Halloween," tough gal in "Hatchet 2," sleazy journalist in "Cyrus" and nurturing sis in "Stake Land" – is this by design?
DH: One hundred percent! I made the decision after I did "Halloween 2" because everything I had basically been offered between "Halloween" and "Halloween 2" in that year and half was the same girl. It was like we need a girl that can be the sassy best friend in high school – let’s offer it to Danielle! And I felt like I’m never gonna be seen out of this box unless I stop taking these roles. I’m a workaholic and I love to work in the genre, but I just thought I’m not inspired and excited anymore. I didn't want to take a role where before I got on set I’d roll my eyes and go I can do this with my eyes closed – it just didn’t do it for me anymore. Plus I felt that if I was bored with it, the fans must be bored with it. I’m not just a scream queen, I’m actually an actress and I’ve been saying for years these movies are really, really hard. It’s hard to do a genre movie. It’s hard on my body; it’s hard on my spirit. I have health issues that I feel are directly related to me being victimized in movies, because your body doesn't know that it isn’t really happening. So everything I did after "Halloween 2" was different and even the stuff that hasn’t come out yet is completely different too. "(ChromeSkull) Laid to Rest 2" totally different, I did a movie called "Shiver" that’s totally different and "Night of the Living Dead: Origins" totally different – these are all roles that I’ve been excited to play.
"Hatchet 2" – not only are you amazing, but your ferocity in the final scene lingered long after the flick ended for me. Can you talk a bit about shooting it and what did it take for you to get to that emotional spot?
DH: It’s scary, but it doesn't take much. I myself have such a crazy, feisty, dark furious rage that…good things come in small packages like diamonds and dynamite. There are two sides to me. If you go back and watch that ending there’s a moment where I started laughing because I couldn't believe what was coming out of me. I couldn't believe the craziness that I was finally allowing to be seen on film and I was having so much fun with that that I started laughing out loud. I’ve never been able to let that out before. I’ve never gone after the bad guy – this is the first time that I’d really gotten to win. And after years of being the victim, I just didn't want to be the f@cking victim anymore and I was able to let all those years out...and it happened to be captured on film.
I keep forgetting that you played Bruce Willis’s foul-mouthed daughter in the Shane Black written, Tony Scott directed "The Last Boy Scout" – you were young, but do have any fond memories about working with Tony on that film, especially since you’re now directing your own movie?
DH: Tony’s probably...he could be one of my favorite people that I’ve ever worked with, but he’s a director in a very different way. Adam Green is a very good friend of mine and I love Rob Zombie and Jim Mickle – these are my boys. But Tony was like a DIRECTOR to me. He wore the same thing on-set everyday because he just couldn’t even think about what he wanted to wear – he was that committed to his job. But also I had to get a tooth pulled to be fitted for the fake braces I wore in the movie – I had real braces but they’d already come off by that time – and Tony came and picked me up at my house and brought me to the dentist to do it. And I was talking to him about Laura Ashley bedding and how I wanted this comforter for my new bedroom – I was thirteen or fourteen – and when we wrapped Tony bought me all that stuff. He just listened. He got it. For a man to have that much on his plate, being such a brilliant filmmaker and such a macho man and make these movies that are bad ass plus be the guy who came and picked me up and took me to the dentist and bought me Laura Ashley bedding - he’s pretty amazing.
'STAKE LAND' HITS SHELVES ON AUGUST 2 FROM DARK SKY FILMS.