By WILLIAM J. WRIGHT
The diabolical Leena Klammer, better known to horror fans as the psychotic child-impersonating killer Esther, may have met a watery end at the conclusion of 2009’s Orphan. Nevertheless, there is much more of her story left to tell. Thirteen years after the original film’s release, Isabelle Fuhrman, now 25, is back as the calculating, diminutive murderer. Set two years before the events of Orphan, ORPHAN: FIRST KILL recounts how Leena escapes the Saarne Institute and dupes the grieving Albright family into believing she’s their daughter, who was abducted years before.
Julia Stiles (The Omen, Dexter) co-stars as Tricia Albright. A fiercely protective and highly intuitive mother, Tricia soon suspects that something is not quite right with her long-lost child. However, this time around, Esther isn’t the only one harboring a dark secret.
Recently, Julia Stiles took some time out of her busy schedule to speak with RUE MORGUE about her role in the upcoming Orphan prequel.
Had you seen the original Orphan film going into FIRST KILL?
At that point, I had seen it. I didn’t see it when it first came out in theaters – only because I am a wimp, and I don’t really watch horror movies. The world is scary enough as it is. I can only stomach comedies. But I knew that the movie was really popular. I have a ton of respect for Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard, so I was like, well, it seems to me like a really sophisticated horror movie.
I think also, as an actress if you’re not the main character, if you’re not the villain in a movie like this, it’s not as much fun. Usually, you’re just going to work acting distressed all the time, but I was so surprised – and pleasantly surprised – when I read the script for ORPHAN: FIRST KILL.
There’s another twist that to me was so surprising and satisfying. I also liked that there is some fun to be had in this movie, which is a weird word for a scary movie. Because we already know the truth about Esther, we get to watch this girl trick everybody, and for more time than you do than in the original. So that, I liked about it. I mean, obviously, there’s like murder in it, but the fun of the movie is much more about who Esther is and how she navigates in the world versus you know, blood and guts and gore.
Without giving too much away, because there is that really big twist, tell me about how you approached playing Tricia Albright. As a relatively new mom yourself, did motherhood influence your performance?
Only in so much as I would have run in the other direction and not wanting to go anywhere near this kind of scary material! But I just separated the two. In playing Tricia, what was so appealing about her to me was that I almost had to play her like two different characters because before she figures out what’s going on with Esther, I had to treat [her] as a very different person. There’s pre-twist and post-twist [Tricia], I guess.
Of course, your character is at the center of that shocking twist. What was your spoiler-free reaction to learning just what your part in this film would be?
I didn’t know until I actually got to it on the page that that was that was going to be revealed. I just thought it was really clever because it’s believable. I think the biggest question is, you know, Tricia is a woman who is determined to protect her family and heal it and keep it together. Yet, when Esther enters or re-enters their home Tricia can’t quite put her finger on what is wrong. This doesn’t feel right, and we as the audience are going, “When is she going to figure it out?” And what happens when she does figure it out? I think that’s a bit of the danger in the movie as well.
Do you find playing a character who’s so morally ambiguous cathartic or uncomfortable?
I think it’s cathartic. At this point, I’m not looking for a way to like relate to a character like that. I just tried to serve the story. [I hope] this doesn’t give too much away, but Esther has kind of met her match. Even if Esther can get away with tricking this family, once Tricia figures that out, Esther has someone to reckon with. She’s a powerful woman who will stop at nothing to protect her family, and Esther is a threat to her family, ultimately. So she’s in for it.
What was it like working with Isabelle Fuhrman?
Amazing! Oh, my God. First of all, she’s a lovely human being. She’s such a hard worker. She’s so kind and optimistic and upbeat – wise beyond her years. It’s so obvious to me that, of course, probably at 10 years old she was really precocious and wise as well and so right for that part. But now, as a grown-up, she’s just a really impressive person. I would be on set watching her act and think, “Wow.”
We didn’t do any CGI. It was all practical camera tricks, but it wasn’t just about making Isabelle seem shorter or smaller or more childlike. What she did with her voice and her mannerisms made it so convincing, and the movie hinges on that because, otherwise, why would anybody believe this identity that she’s made up?
At least initially, you have to engage Isabelle as Esther as if she were a child. Was it difficult establishing that dynamic?
No. And I was so relieved that it was Isabelle playing Esther. I can’t imagine anybody else playing the part again. That I didn’t have to act opposite an actual child was such a relief because, otherwise, it would have been too cruel and weird.
Julia, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with RUE MORGUE. You totally walk away with this movie.
Oh, it’s a duet. I appreciate that, but it is very much a duet!
ORPHAN: FIRST KILL premieres in theaters and on Paramount+ Friday, August 19.