If you’d be so kind, humor a guy for a few seconds and think back some years to your life at ten-years-old. Were you just getting into sports? Perhaps music? Even girls? What about spending days upon days acting in one of the most famous horror franchises in cinematic history? Oh, sorry – did I lose you?
The latter was a typical day for actress Danielle Harris, who hatched her acting career on the legendary set of “Halloween 4” back in 1988. Since then, she has remained active in Hollywood but found an unexpected pick-up in the horror genre when Rob Zombie’s 2007 “Halloween” went into production. Subsequently, Harris has earned praise for performances in another franchise – two of the three “Hatchet” films. She’s even been graced with the moniker of the modern day “Scream Queen.”
Harris speaks with TSJ about her early days, the upcoming third part in the “Hatchet” series (currently in theaters), and how the films that started her career spawned a resurrection she never saw coming.
The Smoking Jacket: This is the third installment of the “Hatchet” series, your second in the role of Marybeth. How did you enjoy the development of her character and story over the films?
Danielle Harris: I think, for me, it was sort of easy because I had a couple of years between the two of them, so I was able to process what happened. But the reality of having to go back in there after taking time off and having to do all of that again was kind of traumatizing. [laughs] I was so wrecked after the last “Hatchet” that I needed that time off, though. Then when they called me back in I was like, Okay, here we go! Let’s do this!
TSJ: That’s interesting. I guess horror films can really take a toll on you.
DH: Yeah! And I wasn’t in the first “Hatchet” so when Adam [Green] called me for the second one he said, “You’re going to be crying the entire time.” [laughs] Sure enough, when I read the script I was like, Holy shit. I am crying in the entire film. And when this one came up I asked if I was still crying throughout it and he said, “Actually, no. You’re a total sarcastic bitch, but you’re going to be handcuffed the entire time.” Sure as shit, I was. [laughs]
TSJ: [laughs] What was it about the story that drew you to it?
DH: I think it was the fact that it brought me back to how I started. So many films have special effects and I find myself thinking if it’s not broken you don’t need to fix it, so just leave it. I tend to get over-saturated with the way they make some movies nowadays. I don’t want everything to look like “World War Z.” While I think that’s cool, I just don’t buy it all the time.
I think Adam writes really good, classic American horror. That’s what I appreciate about him. He’s not trying to do something that everybody else does. He does what he loves. I respect that.
TSJ: You mentioned before how you started out. Your first film was “Halloween 4.” Had you always enjoyed horror?
DH: I knew nothing about horror movies. I was just a kid. It was more like, Woo, I get to go to Utah! Plus I got out of school and ate spaghetti all night long. [laughs] I was equally excited to do the movie as I was to order French fries in a hotel room and sign a piece of paper as if I was giving out an autograph.
I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t realize what the horror genre was and I definitely didn’t know what I became in that world until 2007, when Rob Zombie did the new “Halloween” franchise. I only did one other horror movie up until then, which was “Urban Legend,” so it had been about another ten years before I stepped onto a horror set. But then suddenly I get the title of a modern day Scream Queen. I think it has something to do with the fact that I have now embraced that part of my life, as I’ve gotten older.
TSJ: I wanted to ask you about that. Quite a few people have coined you the modern day Scream Queen. There aren’t really many today. How do you like owning that title?
DH: It’s funny; I‘m still shocked by it. It kind of came out of nowhere, but the truth is I’m pretty easygoing with all of that. I think I’m more surprised that people still talk to me about “Halloween 4.” It’s crazy! I’ve realized that it could be because there aren’t many horror franchises around today. Maybe that’s why I’ve had a career like this and found my niche? I don’t know, but I love it! I get to really flex my skills as an actor.
TSJ: Going to Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” must have been a very different experience than the original.
DH: Oh, yeah! It definitely was. I felt as if I was going to pass the torch onto Scout because I only worked on it for about a week and a half. But afterwards I realized that I still had a crazy loyalty of “Halloween” fans. People said they were psyched to see me in the new one, which is kind of rad, isn’t it? It encourages me, really. Whenever I’m feeling burnt out the fans keep me going. It makes me feel like I’m still relevant, which is really nice.
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TSJ: Twenty years is a long time to have a fanbase. I don’t think there are many franchises today that have an impact the way “Halloween” did.
DH: Definitely. It’s weird; it’s like the same franchise that started my career has helped me relaunch my career. That’s pretty amazing! I owe a lot to those “Halloween” movies.
Plus, to see these scream queens from the past – like Jamie Lee Curtis or Linda Blair – horror films started their careers. There’s a lot of people who came from horror. It’s something we should embrace.
TSJ: I’d agree. A lot of stars began in horror.
DH: People like Johnny Depp or Jennifer Aniston. It’s a genre that deserves more respect.
TSJ: So aside from acting you directed your first feature last year – “Among Friends.” What was the experience of directing?
DH: I loved it! I prefer it actually. I think I needed to be more creative, and I had been acting for so long I wanted something different. I needed to expand my horizons and flex my creativity.
I also felt there was so much more to film-making that I didn’t know about. I wanted to learn it. I can’t wait to do it again. It was so hard and I loved every minute of it. I’ve never worked that hard in my career. [laughs]
TSJ: It definitely seems like a nonstop process with directing. Even after a film wraps, the actors leave but the director spends six or so months on it.
DH: Oh, yeah! This film is a perfect example. Here we are talking about “Among Friends” now but I did it two years ago. We just got distribution through Lionsgate. We’re coming out on August 17, I think.
TSJ: That’s exciting! You’ve basically been in the limelight since you were a kid. So many child actors find themselves going off the rails growing up in Hollywood. How did you maintain a constant career when so many have a difficult time with that?
DH: I was afraid of drugs. [laughs] Also, we didn’t have the paparazzi when I was coming up. Don’t get me wrong, my friends and I got into little trouble – partying, drinking, etc. – but we all kind of stuck together and kept working. For me, failure was not an option. I had major responsibilities. I was supporting my family so I needed to keep working. Whatever I did, I never took it to excess. I’ve just always been very appreciative for what I have and I didn’t want to ruin it.