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CAMILLA BELLE on 'WHEN A STRANGER CALLS'
Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment

February 2, 2006


In this interview, Camilla talks about taking on the lead role of terrorized babysitter Jill Johnson in her debut thriller When a Stranger Calls. The film also features Tommy Flanagan as the titular stranger, and is directed by Simon West of Tomb Raider and Con Air fame.

The Interview

MEDIA: Simon said you originally weren't interested in this role. What finally sold you on it?

CAMILLA: He's very right. I was really skeptical about doing it...and I was like, "No, I don't want to do a horror movie. Not my thing." And then my agent was like, "Just go meet with Simon...I think this is a little bit different than what you think it's going to be." So then I met with him, and I read the script, and he was telling me the type of movie he wanted to make. "I want to make a psychological thriller. I don't want to make a horror film...And we really want to make it like Wait Until Dark with Audrey Hepburn." I was like, "Oooh, okay! Well, if that's the type of movie you're going to make, I'm fine." [laughs] I had a couple concerns about the setup of the character and whatnot, and he agreed, and we just got along really well. We had the same ideas about the film and we kind of clicked, and then I just decided to do it.

This is your first leading role in a wide-release movie. Now that it's coming out tomorrow, how do you feel?

I'm just excited. It's a new thing for me. It's the first time that all of my friends are like, "I don't have to go to like the Arclight and drive forty minutes to go and see your movie." [laughs] You know, it's the first time it's kind of a film that is accessible and people are aware of it. You [don't] have to go scrummaging through some indie theater to go see it...It's the first time I've been in a film like this, and for me, it's just exciting more than anything. I'm not nervous.

We know you've been acting ever since you were a kid, but did you ever have a babysitting gig?

Never. Everything about this movie was new to me. One of the reasons I didn't want to babysit...I kind of didn't really have a lot of time to begin with, but it didn't really appeal to me very much because I didn't want to be in a strange house. I didn't want to have to be in Jill's situation, you know? [laughs] Being responsible for kids in a house that I don't know. Even being in my own house alone in the dark, I start hearing things and making my mind go overboard about what it is, like a man standing outside my house with a knife--and it's just the fridge. So I had to kind of ask my friends, "What was it like?" And they just talked about kids that puked on them, or that were just not behaving. Luckily, they had no scary story to tell me.

So you didn't review Adventures in Babysitting as research material?

No, I did not. [laughs]

What was the physical training for this role like?

It was pretty rigorous. It was pretty difficult. Jill's a sprinter, and I had never set foot in a track before in my life. I dance. I'm not an athlete in that way. And Simon wanted me to bulk up a bit, and get some muscle and have a more athletic body. So then I got a trainer and we went to the gym a few times a week and the track. And it was like over an hour in the gym doing tons of weights. And then we went in the track, and I had to learn the technical aspects of running, and how to run correctly. And I had to really know how to sprint and how to be good at it. And it was protein shakes--lots of protein in my diet--and epsom salt baths. And I was sore every day. And also it was hard because I had just graduated from high school when I decided to do this. It was summer vacation, and all my friends are...all on the beach, and I'm there training in the gym and trying to get muscle bulk. [laughs] But it was just great at the end of it, when I got to see my body really change a lot in the span of like two months of training, which is really a satisfying thing.

What about the stunts? Any special training for those?

We had some kind of martial arts type of thing just to kind of get into the [mood]. And that came more easily for me, because really it's all about the choreography. And having a dancing background, it's just about where you go, where the punch goes...strangling goes here. So I really, really enjoyed that. I had never done anything like that before. And then we ended up choreographing the whole fight scene to Tommy [Flanagan]. And then we ended up being dragged down the stairs a million times. [laughs] It hurt. But it was really fun. I had a really good time.

We heard you took a few bruises...

Oh, my mom would not let me wear a skirt when we went out together. "They're going to think I beat you up." [laughs] I had like welts all down my legs. Because all the stairs stuff...You're being dragged down a million times. It was very painful, and I had a couple scars here and there. But I wore them with pride.

How long did it take to shoot that fight scene on the stairs?

You know, on the schedule, it's a day. Ends up lasting for about a week. [laughs] It was like constant banging up every single day. But it was worth it. Now I get to see that it's me up there in this fight scene. It's not a stunt double. And it's just so satisfying, I think, for an actor to go, "That's me getting beat up." And it looks real, which is great.

Did you keep up the exercise routine even after you were done with the role?

I really kind of filled up all my jeans with muscle mass. I felt like a machine. [laughs] It was insane. So I kind of had to try to go back to dance and elongate everything again. I try to keep up the push-ups and some weights here and there. But definitely not as rigorous as I was. And I still don't like running. I didn't like it before, and I still don't. [laughs] I just never found running really fun. I've kept up kind of the gym stuff, but not the protein diet.

Simon said the house was like another character. What did you think of your "fellow actor"?

The house was kind of scary on its own. There's a lot of shadows, and all the glass. You could see through everything...I would get kind of spooked out walking around by myself, when I knew that the whole crew is downstairs setting up the shot and we're inside a soundstage. [laughs]

Did you ever think, "I better not get upstaged by the house"?

[laughs] Really at times, I kind of think I'm supporting the house: the star is the house, and I'm the co-star. Simon's right, it really was its own character. Even just walking in there and shooting in the house, all of us were like, "Wow, it really has its own personality."

Would you like to live in a place like that?

After this experience, I would not want to have a house with glass everywhere. There's no way I would do that, because anyone could look inside. I'd want to have walls. [laughs] Long drapes covering the house the whole time...

Did you see the original When a Stranger Calls starring Carol Kane as Jill?

I didn't see the original film. To be honest, one of the reasons why I didn't want to do this film to begin with...I thought it was going to be a horror film, and I'm not a big fan of that genre myself. So I didn't see the original, because I just wouldn't have seen it to begin with. And then I kind of made a decision not to see it because I really didn't want to be making comparisons to Carol Kane and thinking about her performance constantly. I really wanted to pretend it was an original script and start fresh, and we're all just going to make a good movie, and that's our goal.

As someone averse to horror movies, did you have to pick up a few thrillers before shooting and watch them to get up to speed?

Well, that's what I had to do, because I really hadn't seen many thrillers either. I just don't like being scared. [laughs] But then before I shot the film, I was like, "I need to see something just to kind of get myself into the mood for it." And I went back and I saw some movies like Rosemary's Baby. I saw Wait Until Dark many times, just because that was kind of our movie to base it off of. And then I forced myself to see The Shining. I had to see a movie where there's someone scary so I can pretend that is my stranger. So Jack Nicholson really was the guy I was always thinking about in every scene. I'd kind of get the DVD box and stare at his face.

So you're not a horror fan at all?

No, I'm not. I'm still not. [laughs] You know, when I saw this for the first time, I was genuinely scared, and I was watching myself. I just get scared really easily. I'm watching myself onscreen, I know everything that's happening, I know every shot, and I was still scared. My mom was scared. She's like breaking my finger holding me so hard...I don't like being scared, personally. A lot of people kind of get a rush off of that. I don't. [laughs]

Most of the scenes in Stranger were shot in sequence. What kind of advantage is that for you as a performer?

Well, it's a huge advantage. I was really, really thankful that we were able to do that. It's like when I did [The Ballad of Jack and Rose]. We shot that in sequence almost the whole time. And having that experience, I just realized that's so helpful, especially in a script where the timing really matters, and the sequence really matters. And in this film, it did, because it just keeps on building and building and building. And if you go back and forth from the fight scene, and then you go back to high school, and then you go back to the hospital, and then you go to just starting to hear the noises, you can never know where you are at emotionally. And it just makes it so much harder. But for this, I always kind of knew that it's just getting worse. [laughs] It's not going to get any better. So it made it a lot easier.

Were the high school scenes shot at a real high school? It looked a little unusual...

No, that wasn't a school. It was actually in San Pedro, and it used to be an old YMCA. It kind of is really rundown, and now it's a home for...ummm...They're not crazy, but you felt like you were walking into One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, to be honest. It was a very strange place. I'm not really sure what it was. And we had this gym there, and it wasn't really a gym. And they had like a basketball court on the bottom, and this track on the top level. But it wasn't even a track. It was not much bigger than this room.

That indoor track was also unusual--it was a small circle and curved at a strange angle. Was it hard to run on that?

It was really difficult, because I had been running on a normal track at a high school, training there. It was very bizarre, and it was really hard. And it was really small, too, so you kind of feel like you're getting dizzy because you're really going in circles, and always sideways. I went there a couple days before we shot this scene to try to get used to that track. And the trainer and I [were] like, "Oooh, no. It's going to take more time than we thought to get used to." And there were spiderwebs everywhere. It was a very weird place.

A quick aside to wrap: what's your taste in music?

Oh...that's kind of difficult. Whenever people ask me that, I have a long list because it's really broad. Frank Sinatra is my constant favorite, and then it goes from like Neil Young and Dylan to Nina Simone, to Franz Ferdinand, to Brazilian music. And I kind of can't pinpoint one thing that's my favorite. Now I've been kind of listening to bluegrass. I go all over the place all the time. And I had a little Beach Boys phase. I have phases, so it kind of depends on the time. [laughs]

Thanks for your time.

Thank you very much.

Related Material

Movie Coverage: When a Stranger Calls




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