Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity is the $11,000 movie that climbed to the top of the box office chart on the strength of word-of-mouth from people who like a scare, as well as the performances of the two actors who carry the entire film on their shoulders – Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat. They’ve become overnight sensations, and I got to talk to them today about the film and its potential sequel, their wide-open futures in Hollywood and their own private tales of the paranormal. Not to mention stalking Meryl Streep in a bathroom. Check out my interview with them below.
Q. First off, what’s changed for you guys since this blew up so big?
KATIE FEATHERSTON: Oh my gosh, everything. It’s been such a whirlwind. There’s so much, so fast that it’s hard to absorb it all. Every time I feel like ‘this is it, it can’t get any better,’ then it does. We’ve been meeting amazing people, traveling. The response from the fans has just been unbelievable. This is more than – I can’t even finish the sentence.
MICAH SLOAT: I just want to second that. You can’t think it could get better, then it just keeps getting better. I also really want to push the fact that it’s a fan-based phenomenon. We love fans, we want to hear from you guys, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, send us messages. It’s your movie, too, and we really appreciate every single person who has seen this film and helped build that buzz.
Q. Have you gotten any offers from Hollywood yet?
Katie: We’re reading scripts and meeting cool people and taking meetings, and it’s pretty neat. It’s everything you want and could ever hope for as an actor.
Micah: It all exploded at once. It’s really just been a couple of weeks since this happened, so it’s early in the process. I’m sure we’ll have some concrete stuff to tell you in a couple weeks.
Q. I need to know – how did you pull off that ‘dragging out of the bed’ maneuver?
Katie: It involves me actually being dragged out of the bed and down the hall multiple times. Oren is like MacGyver. He’s like a magician.
Micah: Every single thing that’s happening on camera in the entire movie, except for one thing, is actually happening. It’s not CGI, it’s not trickery. Oren is just that good.
Q. Even you getting thrown at the camera?
Micah: All of it.
Q. How the hell did you pull off getting thrown at the camera, then?
Micah: [laughs] I’ll just tell you it was tricky, and Oren has a couple of holes in his ceiling.
Katie: He does. He has a drafty ceiling now.
Q. How much of the dialog was scripted, and how much was the two of you riffing off of each other?
Katie: Oren had a really clear idea about where he wanted this movie to go and what needed to be in each scene, but all of the dialog was improvised. Everything.
Micah: Every line, all the jokes, everything that we’re saying is off the cuff. When we had expository scenes, we needed to hit a lot of information in a short amount of time. Oren would tell us ‘we need to get this, this, this and this out there in 30 seconds, go.’ And we would just do it. We worked really fast and really well together, and we were able to shoot an entire movie in seven days, working 18-hour days. It flowed.
Q. A lot of times horror movies are a little too clever and sarcastic about what’s going on these days. Did you ever have to dial back the ‘meta’ nature of knowing all the horror hallmarks?
Katie: It wasn’t a clichéd movie, so there were few opportunities or situations where we had to fight against being campy or clever. We just had to be natural and in the moment, because that’s what we were dealing with. We weren’t dealing with clichéd moments.
Q. Do you guys believe in the paranormal stuff yourselves? Have you had any creepy personal experiences?
Katie: I’m open to it. There was a night when I was home alone as a teenager and I heard crashing sounds and I thought I heard footsteps – to the point where I locked the door and called the police. Nobody was there, but I still heard the stuff and it freaked me out. There’s a lot of unexplained stuff in this world. I’m open to it.
Micah: I lived in a really old house growing up in Connecticut, and there’s all kinds of weird stuff going on on the third floor, and I don’t like going up there. Also, when I went camping one time, it was completely pitch black on a new moon, and I woke up in the middle of the night because there was a scratching sound right next to my face, and it was so dark I couldn’t see a thing. There were these loud snorts and these red eyes just staring at me. I have no idea what that thing was, and I stared it down for about two or three minutes, just petrified and unable to move. Staring at it like the mask of hell. Then it bolted off into the woods, and to this day I do not know what that thing was. It was probably a moose or a bear or something, but in those two minutes, I was petrified.
Q. Do you have any favorite scary movies in general?
Micah: I’d definitely say The Exorcist as well. I saw that when I was really young, and I couldn’t sleep for weeks. Weeks. Weeks. It was horrible. It still freaks me out when I think about it.
Q. Has Oren talked about making a sequel?
Katie: Oren hasn’t, but everyone else seems to be. No one’s talked to us about it, we just get asked about it.
Micah: I’m sure they will, since it’s been such a profitable movie. But I also think that, whatever sequel comes down the line, I know that the Paramount people are extremely talented and they’re not going to let anything come out of the pipeline that’s terrible. I think people have learned from Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows that you can’t follow up a movie like ours with just a regular Hollywood horror film. So I expect whatever is going to happen with Paranormal 2, it will be a clever and interesting movie as well.
There’s a lot of unexplored information about the background to the story in this film, the demon and why it’s haunting Katie and who it’s haunted before. There’s a lot of room for prequels and possibilities for things that happened afterwards. I’m just really curious and excited to see what they come up with.
Q. Where would you like to see it go?
Micah: There are too many possibilities. I don’t think I can give you an answer to that.
Q. Maybe a Zombie Micah?
Micah: (laughs) I would be down for that! Give me a machine gun and make me a zombie and I’m down!
Q. How was the audition process for you guys? Was it a huge cattle call?
Micah: A cattle call is a good way to put it.
Katie: There were a couple hundred people that auditioned for each role. I remember girls leaving the waiting room looking disgruntled and frustrated.
Micah: There were a lot of people there, too, and they were going in and out really quickly.
Katie: Really fast. I walked in, he said “hi, how are you doing? Why do you think your house is haunted?” Literally that fast.
Micah: He didn’t ask for our name or a headshot. I don’t even know how he knew who we were. It was a really fun audition. I think both of us didn’t want it to end. When we met each other in the callback, it was “Katie, this is Micah. Micah, this is Katie. How did you guys meet? Roll camera!”
Q. Was he that fast as a director? Did he expect you to be on like that all the time?
Micah: He had to shoot a lot of footage in a really short amount of time.
Katie: It wasn’t like he was the drillmaster. He knew what he wanted, but we were a team. He was a great guy to work with.
Micah: It was the best creative environment that you could ask for. I was able to be the cameraman, the cinematographer, the actor all at once. It was a great opportunity and I’m really thankful for Oren.
Q. Would you be interested in pursuing cinematography, then, Micah?
Micah: I think it’s fascinating, but I like being in front of the camera a little bit better.
Katie: I think if you were behind the camera, you’d be a director.
Micah: Yeah, I’d probably be a director/writer before a cinematographer, if I was behind the camera.
Q. Is that the same with you, Katie?
Katie: I think I would only direct if there was a specific project that I was incredibly passionate about. I went to college and studied acting – my entire life, all I’ve wanted to do is be an actor. That’s really where my focus is.
Q. What would you really like to do next, if you had your choice? Any particular genres you’d like to step into?
Katie: I’d like to do a role like the female role in 500 Days of Summer. That’s the kind of role I would like to do. Let me just give you an exact title!
Micah: There are so many things I would love to do. Ultimately, I just want to work with good people. There are so many people in Hollywood that I would be thrilled to work with.
Katie: So many people we could learn from.
Q. If you had an ideal first co-star to choose in a bigger film… ?
Katie: Oh my god! There are so many people! I have to tell you this story. We did the Entertainment Weekly photo shoot, and I found out Meryl Streep was in the building. I went to the bathroom seven times hoping that we’d accidentally run into each other. Meryl Streep, Laura Linney, there are some people I just have such respect for. Sadly, we didn’t cross paths on the way to the bathroom, but she would be a great person to work with. I wouldn’t even be able to fathom that.
Micah: Katie is giving so many specifics, I feel like I should probably match her. If there was anyone in Hollywood that I’d want to work with…
Katie: Philip Seymour Hoffman! He’s awesome!
Micah: Yeah, let’s just take anyone who’s ever won an Oscar…
Katie: Can I just work with the entire cast of Doubt?
Micah: There are too many people to name individually. If I start, I just won’t stop.