Up-and-comer Jocelin Donahue made her huge, take-notice breakthrough in Ti West’s The House Of The Devil, in which she was the only character onscreen for much of the movie. She’s worked steadily in the intervening years, making several appearances in horror films including bit parts in Holidays, Summer Camp and Insidious: Chapter 2 alongside roles in more mainstream fare including Furious 7 and Terrence Malick’s Knight Of Cups.
Donahue takes the lead once more in Dead Awake, Phillip Guzman’s chilling, sleep-paralysis themed new fright flick envisioned from a script by Jeffrey Reddick (Final Destination). Taking on a dual role, as twin sisters Kate and Beth, the young actor is giving her first real opportunity since The House Of The Devil to flex her acting muscles. The film may stumble in places, but Donahue’s performance never wavers.
Wicked Horror caught up with Donahue to talk sleep deprivation, the challenge of playing two roles in the one movie, and whether she’ll be sticking with horror going forward:
Wicked Horror: What attracted you to this role (or these roles rather)?
Jocelin Donahue: The chance to play twins was a huge draw because I had the opportunity to play two different characters, and to create a relationship between them. I was also fascinated by the subject matter that Jeffrey tackled in the script. Sleep paralysis is a real-world phenomenon, a disorder that afflicts many people with symptoms that seem like they are ripped from a horror film. Plus I loved that there is such a long history and mythology around sleep paralysis.
WH: What were the challenges of playing twins? How did you approach this?
JD: I watched a lot of Orphan Black! I also checked out [Brian] DePalma’s Sisters, where Margot Kidder plays twins. It helped that Kate and Beth are written as very distinct people. I tried to accentuate differences in their demeanor and appearance. They are also in very different emotional states when we meet them. Beth is a recovering addict who’s been tormented in her sleep for months. And Kate is a straitlaced overachiever who is skeptical of all of her sister’s turmoil. So there was a lot to play with in terms of performance.
WH: You do some gnarly stuff in this movie when you’re paralyzed. The bathtub sequence in particular is pretty nuts. How did you find filming the rougher moments?
JD: Yeah, one of the challenges of making a movie about sleep paralysis was that we had to show fear solely in the eyes. I was getting strangled by the Night Hag over and over and I couldn’t move a muscle! I can imagine the claustrophobia and the helplessness that people who suffer from it feel. The bathtub scene was a bit of a departure because I wasn’t in bed, and I love how that scene was shot. I think I was in that bathtub for a good six hours though!
WH: Do you find yourself drawn to horror rather than any other genre?
JD: I like working in all genres, and I’ve been fortunate to make some really great horror films. Horror movies are fun to make because the stakes are always life and death and you still get to do the same emotional work that you would do in a drama.
WH: How was it working with the rest of the relatively small cast, particularly Jesse Bradford, who you share most scenes with (and Lori Petty who’s pretty hilarious here)?
JD: It was great! It was fun to play the two sisters with Jesse, because Beth was his girlfriend, and Kate didn’t trust or like him very much. They had very different dynamics. And I loved Lori’s take on Dr. Sykes in this film. She has such a unique and offbeat presence that works really well in this genre.
WH: Have you had any experience of sleep paralysis yourself?
JD: When I was around 12 I think I had an episode of sleep paralysis. I remember waking up, not being able to move, and seeing the silhouette of a tall man in a hat standing in my doorway. Some people call it ‘The Shadow Man’. I thought I was screaming out to my mother, but I was still sleeping. It was a nightmare that has stuck with me all these years.
WH: What’s coming up next for you? More horror..?
JD: In September I have a film coming out called Boomtown. It’s a dramatic look at the fracking industry in the Bakken region of North Dakota that includes real world stories and locals. I’m also part of a Christmas-themed horror anthology called All the Creatures Were Stirring. And I recently finished a horror/thriller called Browse. It stars Lukas Haas as a guy who becomes convinced that he’s been hacked and his that devices are controlling him. Should be creepy!
Catch Dead Awake on DVD and Digital from May 15, 2017