Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
October 4, 2016

A prequel to the 2014 film that first brought Hasbro's "talking board" to the big screen, Ouija: Origin of Evil rewinds the clock to the late 1960s to explore the early days of the malignant forces behind the moving planchette. While dedicated origin stories set in the realm of horror often feel unnecessary and subpar, Origin of Evil breaks the mold and establishes a compelling family drama at its core, distinguishing itself as one of those rare entries in the genre that surpasses the original. This is due in no small part to the talent at the helm, director/writer Mike Flanagan and writer Jeff Howard: the duo's previous collaborations on Oculus and Before I Wake have both put an emphasis on character-driven stories aptly blended with horrific elements and some jarring visuals.

In the wake of her husband's untimely death, widowed matriarch Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) does what she can to provide for her two girls, Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson). To these ends, she conducts seances out of her own house for grieving individuals desiring contact with lost loved ones. The self-made business is a fraudulent one, with Alice's talents lying more in showmanship and ingenuity than legitimate channels to the other side, but the single mom of two believes she is ultimately doing good in the world by earning a living and imparting hope to the faithful. But things take a sinister turn when she incorporates the ouija board into her act, inadvertently tapping into malevolent entities that have long lingered in her family's home. As time goes on, young Doris slowly succumbs to their influence, prompting her distressed older sister Lina to confront her mother and enlist the aid of her school principal, Father Tom (Henry Thomas).

Ouija: Origin of Evil reunites Flanagan and Howard with their Oculus actress Annalise Basso, who paired up with Karen Gillan to play that film's lead character in two different time periods (Gillan pointed out that Annalise filmed her scenes first, and credits her with establishing the foundation for their shared role). Aside from her successful foray into horror with both Oculus and Ouija, Annalise has established an impressive resume of quality work, starring in the coming-of-age drama Standing Up and the acclaimed festival darling Captain Fantastic. Her television guest appearances have spanned the gamut of genres, from comedy with New Girl and the irreverent Childrens Hospital to thrillers with Nikita and True Blood.

Prior to these projects, Annalise demonstrated her academic aptitude at an early age as one of the classmates on Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Contestants on the syndicated game show were wise to select her as their partner, as she usually knew the right answer to anything thrown at her, and regularly made informed, educated guesses on the rare occasions she didn't. Even now, as a young woman on the verge of going off to college, she is embarrassed by past mistakes. In a moment of nostalgia, we challenged her with a couple of questions she had missed as a child--she redeemed herself by immediately knowing the correct response to a costly world geography question, but still verbally chided her younger self for having gotten it wrong. That flash of self-deprecation demonstrated that she remains highly competitive with herself, and that innate drive, together with her sharp intellect and appreciation of the arts, has no doubt fueled her prodigious performances to date.

In this exclusive interview, Annalise talks about her experience of working on Ouija: Origin of Evil, her outlook on horror movies, and her future plans for higher education.

Ouija: Origin of Evil opens in theaters everywhere October 21. How did your experience of working with writer/director Mike Flanagan on Oculus segue into a reunion on Ouija?

ANNALISE: Well, I worked with Mike on Oculus when I was 13. Then I got to work with him again on this project, which was super cool. It was about three years later. And I know that isn't really, objectively speaking, a long time, but I feel like I had changed a lot as a person. And mentally, I was in a different place. And I was also a junior in high school, so having to do school and balance this job where I was working [long] days was so difficult. And having this cast and having Mike there, especially, was a great experience for me because I felt super supported.

To what extent were you able to collaborate with Mike in developing your character Lina?

Well, he had written it so well that I really didn't have a lot of questions. And Lina is someone who is super relatable, because she's dealing with regular schoolgirl things, like falling in love and experiencing that first love, and then also having to deal with super crazy, chaotic things. Which hopefully, for everyone, is not a supernatural "sister being possessed" situation. [laughs] But we did develop the character together, but not in a way that changed the storyline at all. Because it was already there, I didn't really have to ask questions.

Your bio has traditionally mentioned that you have a black belt in taekwondo. Does that type of training help during the filming of more physical scenes?

For sure. And I also do ballet, and I've started up krav maga recently...I think there's definitely a physical aspect of it that, as an actor, you have to be prepared for, especially when you're doing your own stunts. So it's important to be well versed in different physical activities. [laughs]

How would you characterize your relationship with the horror genre?

I like scary movies! I mean, one of my favorites is The Babadook. But I also like The Witch, which isn't really a horror film, it's more like a thriller. And just getting to watch those movies and experience a different side of horror, where the film actually has substance...Like Ouija, it's not your typical horror film. It's not "stupid teenagers go out and smoke pot or drink and then one of them dies, and it's like, 'It's a monster!'" You get attached to these characters. And I think that's the scariest part of it, because these are real people, they're relatable people. And that's scary.

You've talked about the importance of education...Are there plans for college in your immediate future, or will you be focusing on acting instead?

Well, I'm definitely planning on going to college right now. And I'm taking those steps, I'm applying, I'm testing. And right now, I'm balancing [work and school]--you know, I missed school today to do ten hours of press. Which is difficult, because when you miss days at a time, you're expected to come back to school [having] gotten the notes and everything. And I'm a senior in high school right now, so there's a lot of responsibility there. And education is super important to me, so I do definitely want to go to college. Not necessarily for acting, but I want to major in foreign language and minor in the classics or art history, something along those lines. But when I do go to college, I want it to be something where I can commit my full time to it, so I may take a break for a year or two, or maybe just keep coming back each semester. But I don't want to stop acting, either...

I'm glad to hear that, because you've been doing great work.

Thank you! Maybe I'll do theatre because I want to go to school in the UK.

[nonchalantly] Just do it all! Study abroad while you continue to crank out top-notch peformances...!

I'll try. [laughs] Thank you!

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