Exclusive: Starry Eyes’ Alex Essoe Talks Hollywood, Transformation, and Inspirational Fingernails

The beautiful and talented Alex Essoe is the breakout star of Starry Eyes. We at Dread Central were so impressed with her work that we just had to sit down and talk with her about her performance so we recently tracked her down to get the skinny on the film.

Since Starry Eyes hits DVD and Blu-ray TODAY, February 3rd, what better time than now to post the results?

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Alex(andra) Essoe led off the interview with a real shocker. When asked if Starry Eyes (review here) was her first lead in a feature horror film, she replied, “This is my first lead in anything,” making her performance that much more impressive.

She went on to give a quick description of Starry Eyes for those who didn’t get to see the movie during its festival run. “Oh my goodness. Well, there are plenty of chills and thrills!” Essoe said. “In a nutshell, without giving too much away, it’s essentially about a struggling actress who unwittingly sells her soul to a demonic cult that is masquerading as a big budget movie production studio.”

We asked Essoe to compare the casting directors she’s worked with in her professional life to the ultra-creepy one played by horror veteran Maria Olsen in Starry Eyes. “It really depends,” Essoe said. “I’ve had some casting directors be extremely patient and nurturing and they really give you their undivided attention, and I’ve had casting directors stop filming before I’m even done with the scene.”

One of the more memorable early moments in the movie involves Essoe’s character, Sarah, being asked to throw a fit in front of the casting director and her assistant. It involved her screaming and writhing on the floor. Essoe described what it was like to shoot that particular scene.

“It was really fun,” she said. “It was exhausting. One of the most interesting things to me about acting is the opportunity to explore the unknown as far as human neuroses and demons and all of that. So it was really nice to have an opportunity to get completely lost and to take the reins off and just slip into the abyss and whatever you find there. That’s what it is. That’s the most rewarding part of it for me.”

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The damaged psyche of Sarah has a huge part to play in the events that happen to her in Starry Eyes. Essoe discussed the deconstruction of the girl. “I had to be very specific about what Sarah wants, and I found the more fragile I made her and the more insecure and unhinged, the easier it was to inform the other choices she made and where she goes.”

“She’s very much a lone wolf,” Essoe added.  “She doesn’t really belong anywhere and she doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere, which is funny, because she’s given opportunities to break that habit with the people around her. They send out these little life rafts to her, and she rejects them because she’s already got this opinion of herself and she has this very romanticized ideal that ‘I’ll finally be happy and fulfilled if this specific thing happens.’ So because she’s such a slave to that ideal, once it’s offered to her, she’s already decided that nothing else will validate her existence except for that. So having that, it was easy to transition to the more devious parts of her. There is a devious side to her and other aspects to her personality. Her quietness and her shyness is more passive-aggressive than it is innocent.”

Throughout Starry Eyes Essoe is asked to do some pretty intense things. We curiously asked if she ever got close to feeling something was too much for her. “No. The more they threw at me, the more I wanted to do it,” Essoe said. “I was just like, ‘Whatever… Let’s just go full-tilt. Let’s see how far down the rabbit hole we can go with this.’ There was never a time where I was like, ‘That’s the line! Sorry, not doing that.’ Because the writing is so good, everything that happens to her is justified and it fits the story, and even the most extreme violence doesn’t feel gratuitous because she really believes that this is her chance to be somebody instead of who she is, which she despises.”

Upon watching Starry Eyes, it’s quite clear that there is a distinct allusion to life as an actor in Hollywood. We asked Essoe to discuss if it’s a fair representation of the life of a thespian. “For all of its extremes, there are a lot of very stark truths to it,” Essoe said. “The everyday struggle of an actor is depicted really well because you get rejected far more than you’re accepted. Rejection and derision and not being taken seriously and that whole ‘Oh, you’re an actor?’ and that look you get when you tell people what you do for a living. That’s all part of it. In that regard I think it’s very realistic. I haven’t encountered the same challenges that Sarah had vis-à-vis the casting couch and having to deal with predators. I haven’t heard of that really happening anymore, but maybe I’m just lucky. It’s more just the slog and the self-doubt and constantly questioning if this is what you really want to do. That, I feel, is well represented.”

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For much of the second half of the movie, Essoe is covered in varying degrees of prosthetics and make-up. She talked about working with the effects. “It harkens to that eternal argument of: Do you develop a character from the inside out or the outside in?” Essoe explained. “I happen to think both are equally important. There is something about who Sarah is at the end of the movie (without giving too much away). I did a lot of preparation for it and rehearsed, but once those (costume) fingernails were on, I don’t know what it was, but that one small detail formed the entire trajectory of that chapter of the movie. The prosthetics, especially since they’re so good… when I looked at myself, it was easy for me to believe that that’s what’s happening to me. And that’s important. You have to believe what’s happening to you, or no one else will.” And FYI, Essoe did not shave her head for the role. That being said, kudos to the F/X team because that was one goddamn impressive bald cap!

One look at Essoe in her role as Sarah, especially in the hot pants uniform of the Big Taters restaurant she works in when not auditioning, shows the actress keeps herself in amazing shape. We asked if she did anything extra to prepare for the role physically. “I didn’t,” said Essoe. “I didn’t necessarily want to be in peak physical condition because I wanted it to wear on me and I wanted to be exhausted and I wanted to empty the tanks. So I kept all the physicality within the actual shooting, and outside of that, I was mostly a body at rest.”

So she didn’t feel the need to spend any extra time preparing her body for the role, but she certainly took a very professional approach and prepared herself mentally for the challenge. “I take a very pragmatic approach to character and story; I wanted to see a beginning, a middle, and an end,” Essoe said. “You create a mask for yourself, and then you forget about it when you get to set. You trust that it’s there, and you find new things and incorporate those. I wouldn’t say it was difficult necessarily on the day because I had already done my homework beforehand. And I love that stuff. I love the theme of transformation, and I love incorporating physicality and metamorphosis. Maybe it would be hard if I didn’t enjoy it so much.”

In addition to Essoe, the cast includes Noah Segan (Looper, Brick, The Picture of Dorian Gray), Pat Healy (The Innkeepers, Cheap Thrills, Compliance), and Amanda Fuller (The Brittany Murphy Story, Cheap Thrills).

From the producer of Cheap Thrills and Jodorowsky’s Dune, Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch’s Starry Eyes is an occult tale of ambition, possession, and the true cost of fame. Special features on the Blu-ray and DVD include commentary with writer-directors Kolsch and Widmyer (who previously teamed on Absence) and producer Travis Stevens; 10 deleted scenes; a music video by the film’s composer, Jonathan Snipes; Alex Essoe’s audition video; a behind-the-scenes photo gallery; and the theatrical trailer.

Synopsis:
Determined to make it as an actress in Hollywood, Sarah Walker (Alex Essoe) spends her days working a dead-end job, enduring petty friendships with other struggling artists and competing actors, and going on countless casting calls in hopes of catching her big break. After a series of strange auditions, Sarah lands the leading role in a film from a mysterious production company. But this opportunity comes with some bizarre conditions that will transform her both mentally and physically into something beautiful… and altogether terrifying.

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Scott Hallam

We all go a little mad sometimes...haven't you?

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