In Beautiful Creatures, Alice Englert plays Lena Ravenwood, a southern teen in Gatlin, GA dealing with her powers as a caster. When I spoke with Englert by phone, her real Australian voice greeted me with worldly charm. Acting! The film based on the book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl deals with the power and curse that comes with being a young caster in love, and the prospect of being claimed for good or evil on her 16th birthday. Englert comes from a cinematic lineage. Her mother is director Jane Campion and father is second unit director Colin Englert. As an actor, Englert has already racked up several festival movies (we saw Ginger & Rosa and In Fear already) but you may discover her for the first time in this visual effects extravaganza, adapted by Richard LaGravenese.
Alice Englert: Hi Fred, how are you?
CraveOnline: Good, thanks, Alice. It’s great to talk to you.
Oh, we’ve only just said hello though. I hope it’s as good as the expectations.
I think that’s as much my responsibility for good questions as it is yours, so let’s see how I do. Did you ever go out for any of the other teen novel franchises before Beautiful Creatures?
Wow, that’s funny, no one’s asked me that. Actually, you know in the early stages, you sort of audition for everything, but I did for Snow White and the Huntsman. That’s it, I think.
Would that have been for the Snow White role?
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. I could have almost been criticized as not being the most beautiful girl in the world.
Coming from Australia, what do you think of this American obsession with vampires, witches and other magic?
Oh, I think the world’s pretty obsessed with it at the moment to be honest. I think it’s really interesting. I’m not so familiar with specifically the vampire thing. I can’t quite say, but what I can say in concern to the fantasy genre is I think that people use it as a metaphor on a deeper level and use it as a pure escapism on a shallower level. It does, it helps us to process things that are too big or too scary in our normal lives, too close or uncomfortable. I personally like to be a bit uncomfortable, but I understand why that genre in itself is so attractive. I liked this film because I thought that whilst being a supernatural story, it really ended up being more about what it is to be a human being. That, I think, we can talk about much more since we are humans.
Do you think the theme of Beautiful Creatures could be “With great power comes great responsibility?”
Yeah, I think you can say that of anything. No, I think the theme that I was attracted to in Beautiful Creatures was [that] you claim yourself. In my opinion, I think that’s a really valid idea and I’m glad that that’s our foundation.
I got that from Spider-Man but I mean it as a compliment that I got that out of Beautiful Creatures too.
Did you feel powerful as Lena?
Yes, definitely. I loved playing that part and being able to be powerful and feminine and explore that kind of power, power that didn’t need to be masculine to be powerful or strong. I think that Richard [LaGravenese] did a wonderful job of writing these wonderful female characters in this movie which is not always the case with films of this size.
One of the big confrontations is when you spin the whole dining room around. It’s a great visual effect but everyone is really acting in that scene too. What was the acting challenge of performing that scene with all the visual effects?
You know, we did that actually on a set that really did all those things. The tables spun, the floor spun. Me and Emmy [Rossum] were strapped to poles and it took three days. So it was really mad, I have to say. It’s one of those scenes that you do your best and you just really have no idea whether or not it’s going to work. It’s so hard to tell through all the layers that make up the scene, because the spectacle of it is such an important aspect. It’s really hard to know how it’s going to turn out, but I think Richard really pulled it off in the edit. We were all thanking the editing team for getting that one together.
That’s probably why it looks so much more intense than if it were green screen.
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Yeah, I think it was really great that we got to work with that because it just is. It’s different when you’re really doing it.
How are you going to celebrate the opening of Beautiful Creatures on Valentine’s Day?
I’ll probably just be in my room, not reading anything or looking at anything.
Are you staying away from any of the reports?
Yeah, I don’t find it very useful to be honest with you. I’ve seen too many people who I love and respect read very trivial throwaway comments about themselves in reviews or basic write-ups and just fall into depressions for weeks. They’re all people I think are extremely talented and have done great jobs, so I feel like everyone has the right to comment and make their comments but it’s not my business necessarily. I prefer to talk to people who I love and respect and whose opinion I know I value.
We’re all vulnerable to that. You come from a family of filmmakers behind the scenes. How were you led into acting in front of the camera?
It was a sort of organic thing. I never went, “I must be an actress.” I thought, “I think I could do this. I think I could be good at this.” I would just get sort of hungry when I read something I thought I can do well, whether it was in books or in scripts or if I saw a certain movie. It sort of happened quite naturally. I met my agent at the theater where she’d seen a short film I had been in not with plans to be an actress, just I’d been in a short film as a favor. She asked me to come in.
I got a chance to see In Fear at Sundance. They said they kept the script from the actors so you’d be really scared. Was there dialogue you could memorize or was it all a surprise?
They would give us a few ideas to play off and the first scene I think we had a script for. We sort of rehearsed that and scripted that out but then most of it, I just think [director] Jeremy [Lovering] did a really fantastic job at leading us through what could’ve been a disaster of an idea, but that’s what’s so great about making low budget movies with people who have just decided to be there because they want to make something good. We were all willing to take that gamble.
It sounds like a great idea on paper but you never know when you actually execute it. Did it work and really make you scared?
Oh, I was terrified. Seriously, we were scared. It was one of the most hilarious, compelling processes I’ve ever been through, but there were times where it was just terrifying because you really didn’t know when something was going to happen and there was a slight nervousness of like, “What if something goes wrong?”
Ginger & Rosa is quite a first feature to get to do. What was your experience with that film?
Oh, I love Rosa. I think she’s just such a great role and I love the film, I love [writer/director] Sally [Potter], I love Elle [Fanning], I love everybody in that cast. I just think it’s such a wonderful film to be a part of.
How intense was that scene where the whole ensemble is together and everyone sort of explodes?
It was full on. It was full on. It was interesting because while everyone else was exploding, sometimes you feel a slight tendency to go, “Oh sh*t, should I be crying and screaming right now?” I remember having to just try really hard to stay connected to Rosa and not do any competitive acting.
What are your hopes for Beautiful Darkness and other Beautiful films?
[Laughs] Other Beautiful films... I don’t know if we’re going to make sequels actually. We haven’t heard anything. You always sign an agreement to do sequels but we came on board thinking that we were going to make this one. If it plays out well, I’m sure they’ll want to make more.
Have you read ahead just to see?
No, I want to keep it fresh for the script, etc.
So you won’t even read the book until the script adaptation is done?
What can we expect from Singularity?
Singularity was actually my first film so I’m only 15 in that, which was three years ago now. I’m a supporting role. I play Dolly Edgerton in the 17th century, big hair and big dresses. So it’s quite a distant project and I’m really curious to see where they’ve taken it because it was epic when I first read it, in its scale. I’m just wondering how, three years on, what else has unfolded.
What are your favorite movies or movies that inspire you?
Oh, I love Last Tango in Paris. I love my mum’s movies. I’m a big fan of Being There with Peter Sellers. Billy Wilder, Haneke. I really liked Melancholia and I think Paul Thomas Anderson has just been making so many wonderful movies. There’s so many, and Bertolucci is someone I really admire because I love visually the choices he makes as well, like in The Conformist, etc. I’m a big fan of being able to hold those long shots and use space. I don’t know, I think everything’s so quick cut these days, as if films are too afraid that the audience is going to get bored instead of relaxing and trusting their work.
Did you learn a different way to read films from your parents?
I think I read films having grown up around the pre-production and post-production aspect of the filmmaking medium, a lot more than most young people who are in acting would have experienced. I do think about scripts in a different way. I can’t just read a script as an actor. I don’t know how to do that.