Heading into theaters this weekend, Vampire Academy is the newest young adult phenomenon to be translated from book series to screen; looking to supplant the hole left behind by the Twilight Saga with its own supernatural angst from the popular Richelle Meade novels. Pitting different types of vampires against each other during the prime of the awakening adulthood, Vampire Academy is an interesting take on the popular allegories that are often made between classic fictional monsters and our own human nature. We sat down with Lucy Fry (Lighting Point) and Sami Gayle (Detachment, TV’s Blue Bloods, and the upcoming Darren Aronofsky film, Noah), two of the actresses who portray the Academy’s feuding students, to talk vampires, school, and all things acting.
I’m going to start with the obvious question; were you familiar with the source material?
Lucy Fry: Not before I got cast but as soon as I was cast, I dove into the books and I loved them.
Sami Gayle: I was familiar with it through friends but I had never read the book until I began to get involved with the film, at which point I began to read the book, and I loved it. Richelle Mead is such an incredible author and she came to set, and we all got to meet her on this one day when we had this huge scene, and everyone in the film was in the scene. She’s just such a charismatic, fun personality.
Were you first interested in joining the film based on the script alone or did you want to read the book before you really delved into this?
Sami: I loved the script. I’m such a fan of Daniel Waters, who wrote the script, and also Mark Waters, his brother who directed. Vampire Academy has, I think, an iconic director. Mean Girls, Heathers, which Daniel Waters wrote, Freaky Friday, which Mark directed; those are some of my favorite films.
Lucy: Mean Girls, I’m obsessed with Mean Girls as every teenage girl is. Pretty much everyone is.
Was working with him everything you expected?
Lucy: No, he’s got a great sense of humor too. He’s really quirky and interesting. I guess I wasn’t expected him to be so…when he’s focused he can pay attention to everything at the same time. Like he has 10 eyes, one looking at the actors, one looking at the lighting, one looking at the colors and makeup. He can just see everything and knows exactly how the story needs to fit for the comedy to play well. The way he can make comedy play is just so brilliant. He’s got that down pat.
What exactly drew you to the character specifically?
Lucy: As soon as I read the first script, I loved it because of the friendship between Rose and Lissa [the two central characters played by Zoey Deutch and Ms. Fry, respectively]. It was interesting, because when I got sent the script, I had been backpacking around Europe with one of my best friends, and just the story of their connection, and the psychological bond that it has, felt really in tune with the kind of friendship that I was having at that time. Well I’m still best friends with her, but the connection between the two of them is what really excited me about the story. About Lissa, I loved her sensitivity, and the way that she has so much empathy for everyone and everything, and that she’s got a lot of emotional baggage and is dealing with a lot of psychological problems, but is doing everything she can do get better. Rose is a part of her healing.
Sami: I think that Mia is a manipulative girl who sort of confiscates her motives. She’s interesting to me, because I felt it would be challenging to play that mean girl because I’ve never really done that. I’ve played a prostitute, I’ve played a catholic schoolgirl, and now we’re seeing her be a little less innocent, but I wanted to do something different. I also sort of enjoy this magical, mystical world that I was going to get to sort of put myself in. What was great and best about Mia for me was finding her redeeming quality, because no one wants to see someone on camera that is plain mean for an entire film. There has to be, even if it’s just for one second, an ounce of a redeeming quality. With Mia, I couldn’t really understand Mia as just a vampire. You have to shed that supernatural layer and realize that’s just the icing on the cake and just look at her as the girl that she really is – who is an innocent girl that’s insecure about her social status, her upbringing, her family’s status in society, who’s jealous of Lissa, because she feels that she’s a threat to her boyfriend. So, it was looking at those things that made me insecure to make me realize she was just mean to mask that insecurity. That really made me begin to love Mia and understand her and relate to her. That’s what I brought to the character; that underneath all this meanness is this glimpse that I really am just a normal girl like every other teenager on this planet who’s just trying to find himself or herself.
Was your internalization of how your character felt something that you kept to yourself during filming?
Sami: No, I discussed it with the director in finding the character because, obviously, you always collaborate with the director on these films. For me, it was important to have that in the back of my head and be in clothes, especially with our costume designer Ruth Meyers, who is a doll, I love her, it was important for me to have…even my shoes were a little less because Mia doesn’t come from the wealthiest upbringing. So even those things were wannabe components of my character – my shoes, my outfit. It’s sort of like the girl who wants to be at the top but can only get clothes at the second hand store. To do that, that makes her relatable.
Was it freeing being able to play the baddie? Did you bring anything different to your process?
Sami: I think for me, since I’d never done that before, dying my hair was something great, because I felt like I was changing Mia as the person instead of just playing Mia. I was becoming her. I think that I wasn’t going to walk around on set being Mia, because no one would have liked me, so you have to shut it off and then turn it back on. Process-wise, I think it was finding that redeeming quality and internalizing that and understanding that, and thinking about that constantly. Tom Selleck, who is the sort of patriarch of Blue Bloods, he has this thing, which he tells me to do, which is fib and vipe. It’s sort of like looking at the financial status of the character and the intellectual status of the character, and the emotional status of the character, and that’s sort of what I did. Each letter stands for something different, and I filled those out extensively. I did a lot of work before to find who she really was, so I could really have Mia as sort of a layer cake character rather than just a sheet cake character.
There are so many different types of vampire lore now over the centuries, and this story uses specific types of lore that maybe people aren’t familiar with. Did you have to go back yourself and look over what they wanted to do or did you just go with what was in the script?
Lucy: To me, it actually made perfect sense when I read the script. Somehow, it’s written in a way, and I hope the film appears in a way, that makes it very obvious. The lore is that the Moroi [the good vampires at the Academy] are the living vampires who have powers, the Strigoi are the undead vampires who are evil and want to kill off the Moroi race, and the Dhampir [vampire helpers, including Vampire Academy protagonist Rose] are half human, half-Moroi, who want to protect the Moroi from the Strigoi.
Sami: I think a lot of it was reading the book for background knowledge and the script for what we were actually going to portray onscreen. It was interesting for me to learn about the Moroi, the Strigoi, the Dhampir because we don’t really see that before where they are a bodyguard-sort of race that protects the good vampires and collaborates with them and the Strigoi. Where this movie is really different from others is it shows that when people are supporting each other, and coming together for good against an evil force, they can really accomplish things.
Lucy, you mentioned that you were drawn to the film because you were backpacking with a friend. This movie is technically a school movie. Were there any allusions you could make back to your own schooling?
Lucy: Yeah, I think that everyone at schools, or who has been to school, will be able to relate to those issues that Vampire Academy deals with about bullying and finding yourself in an environment that can try to box people into stereotypes. I think everyone will be able to relate to that.
Did you have your own personal feelings that came up at any time?
Lucy: Um, I guess the value of friendship when you’re in high school is one of the most important things, and there aren’t a lot of films that reflect the power of your girlfriends, and that’s one of the things that I loved about it. It’s very girl power and it’s really honest in that your friendships are the most important thing at that time.
I guess there are comparisons everyone could make in general about their own upbringing to kind of growing up in this high school environment with a social pecking order and all that.
Sami: Absolutely, everyone at this age is just trying to find themselves between innocence and maturing to be an adult. It’s sort of that journey that’s not just when you get there; it’s the climb that really matters and what you learn along that journey. I think you really see that in this film.
With what you’ve read in the script compared to what you actually saw on set, were you prepared for any specific kind of action requirements that may have been needed or was there extra training you had to do?
Lucy: Well, I was the princess so everyone fought around me, and my action sequence was ‘back away and squeal.’ I got the squealing down pat. I’ve got a good scream now.
Sami: Yeah, I was so excited. I’ve done a lot of really dramatic films and I have a film coming out called Hateship Loveship, which is a dramedy comedy, and it just premiered at Toronto with Kristen Wiig. So, it’s different for me to be able to do action in this mystical world. I did one other action film with Nicholas Cage and played his daughter, but this was totally and completely different. The schools that we got to shoot in were insane. I mean, I’ve never seen schools like this before.
Were there more actual practical locations rather than sets?
Sami: Yeah, we only shot in studios for a few weeks. We were shooting at real schools in and around London. I took a few exams while I was out there. I took an AP exam and I took an ACT out there, and the schools that I took them in they were offering you fresh muffins, and I had my own proctors just for me! It’s crazy. So different from the US.
Lucy, technically this is the first big jump from TV to film for you.
Lucy: Yeah, this is my first movie.
Were there any kind of different feelings that you had on this type of set compared to TV?
Lucy: I was really nervous going into it, because it was my first film, and I put a lot of pressure on myself. I wanted to do as good a job as I could and I really let myself feel that pressure. Thankfully as we went along, I felt really comfortable, because the director, Mark, paid so much attention to detail that he wouldn’t move onto the next scene until we had what we needed and what would work. So, I felt like I was free to stop judging myself, because I knew that Mark would just take care of it.
This is a very large cast with veterans and up and comers. Were there a lot of points for you to learn from that as well?
Lucy: I really loved Gabriel Byrne and learning from him, from the way he is able to manage to deal with the state that he’s in, and he’s been a really powerful actor but has balanced his life. He’s got a great sense of humor and puts nature first and his family and his friends, and he doesn’t let any of it get to his head, and he’s really grounded. That was really inspiring for me to meet someone so successful but doesn’t buy into anything false. He’s really just a really good guy.
Sami, you’ve very quickly almost hit every single base that everyone wants to hit. You’ve done straight dramas, the dramedies, action, TV, the movies, etc. You’ve even got an epic under your belt with Noah coming out. What haven’t you done that you really want to do?
Sami: I would like to do a romantic comedy, but not a romantic comedy that is cheesy. I want to do an old romantic comedy like Roman Holiday or My Fair Lady. Or a romance film like Splendor in the Grass. I’m obsessed with those old romance films. I also would love to venture into the silent film world. I think that’s extremely compelling and interesting and really relies on the acting, even more so than when you have an actor speaking. If you have to tell a story without speaking, it’s sort of like—I come from a dance background, so it’s like a ballet where you have to tell a story with just your body. I think that’s really interesting to have to tell a story with just your face and your mannerisms, and I’d like to tap into that world. I’m a big fan of The Kid and The Bicycle Thief.
Do you see yourself branching out into more behind the scenes role as your career grows? Writing something or producing it?
Sami: My brother and I are actually currently working on something. I can’t discuss any of it now, but we’re working on something.
This is the kind of film that may become a series. Were you prepared to jump into the whole thing if that was the case?
Lucy: Yeah, I really hope that I can take Lissa the whole way. I love the book series, and her journey is really exciting and interesting and fun, and to get the chance to take her the whole way through would be a dream come true.
What do you have coming out next?
Lucy: I’ve done an Australian film called Now Add Honey, which is a family comedy, and it’s a really fun interesting film about an LA child star who goes with her mom, who’s played by Portia De Rossi, to Australia and her mom gets arrested for drug trafficking, because she’s addicted to pain killers from her plastic surgery and then Honey gets dumped with her Australian family, and has to learn how to deal with being a normal person and not a star. It was so fun, I loved working with her.
Is that completed now or does it still have more work?
Lucy: It’s finished. We’re in the ADR process now, so it should come out this year too.
Sami, what’s the order of things you have coming up?