In the ghostly horror film set for a late October 2004 release, KaDee Strickland plays an American nurse studying social work in Japan. When she mysteriously disappears, her job is taken over by another student nurse, Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar). When Karen enters the assigned home, Karen discovers an elderly woman who is lost in a catatonic state while the rest of the house appears deserted and disheveled. As she is tending to the stricken old lady, Karen hears ominous scratching sounds from upstairs. When she investigates, she is faced with a supernatural horror more frightening than she could ever imagine.
One of the things that makes The Grudge unique is that it is a remake of popular Japanese film, called Ju-On: The Grudge, and is directed by Takashi Shimizu, the same writer/director of the original. It stars KaDee and Sarah, plus Jason Behr, Clea Duvall, and Bill Pullman.
KaDee talked to Staci Layne Wilson of Horror.com exclusively about acting in two horror films this year, and what it was like to work in exotic counties such as Fiji and Japan, and how she just missed her chance to work with one of the greatest simian thespians of all time.
I enjoyed the movie you were in last month, Anacondas.
Thank you for your review. You got the movie. People either understand what they’re getting into, or they don’t. If they don’t, but that’s OK. You can’t control that. For me, it was good fun for me. It’s the kind of thing I enjoy.
And you got a fun character to play, too.
Oh, man. It’s funny, but I never thought I would sort of follow up a Woody Allen movie, which was a big dream job for me, with a snake movie. You never anticipate that, but my agent – who is really lovely – she called me and she said, ‘You know, somebody at the studio saw your dailies and they want to bring you in for this.’ I read the script and it’s probably one of the best characters I’ve seen in terms of being able to plays a woman, especially in a genre movie, where you really get to go from A to Z and you get to change it up. And it was good fun for me to get to use my natural Southern accent. That was fun. Especially in terms of getting to do it a genre picture where you don’t see Southern characters usually portrayed as smart or having the answers, or things like that. Especially when they’re women – they’re generally bimbos in the films. But you know, Dwight was very specific about giving her mobility and being more interesting for the audience, so I was thrilled.
Where was Anacondas filmed?
It was filmed in Fiji. We were there for three months. It was intense.
I loved the cute little monkey in the movie. Did you get a chance to work with “Kong”?
Her real name is Katie. She was hysterical. She was far more seasoned that most of us, with the exception of Sally, Eugene and Morris. Katie has been doing this for 12 years – she’s a rally monkey. Then they also had a baby monkey, Ted, who did some work as well. I’ll tell you, when I first got the script one of things I loved was I had all these great scenes with the monkey, where I bonded with the monkey, I guess to sort of highlight the innuendo that Bill and Sam would end up off in the sunset together. And I just loved it, because I love animals and, um, then I got there and Johnny was still shooting something back in the States so he was the only cast member that was not there. So I trained with Katie, Sally trained with her, and I thought I was going to have a lot of time with her, she was going to be riding my shoulder in the jungle… and of course, when Johnny got there, they’re like, ‘You know what? It’s best if she just spent most of her time with him, it makes more sense.’ They completely cut my little relationship with the monkey – I was so sad! [laughs]
That is a bummer.
I still learned a lot. There were so many things I didn’t know, like, when you deal with monkeys you can’t laugh or smile at them because that’s showing teeth and that’s a sign of aggression. But of course, when something’s that damn cute all you want to do is laugh and smile at it.
You’ve got another scary movie coming up, this one a little more serious: The Grudge. Are you a fan of the genre?
I grew up on scary movies. I would literally fall asleep in church on Sunday because I had stayed up and watched the late show. In Georgia, they’d have the horror movies late on Saturday night. And Elvira, too. I just grew up on them, I love them. They’re great fun.
You have some great co-stars in The Grudge. What was it like to work with them?
The irony is, I had this dream cast to work with, but I didn’t really get to ‘work with’ any of them. One of the appealing things to me, in terms of the chance to do this character Susan, was that most of the screen time is by myself. I thought that would be an interesting challenge. I had this acting teacher in New York who used to tell the class to watch films with the sound off, and if you understood what has happening to the character through their behavior then you got it right. So I thought, ‘This is a way for me, at a very early point in my career, to put that to the test and see if I can actually solo it.’ Also, hand in hand with that, when you work with a crew and a director that don’t speak English, you really get tested in that way; because if you’re not doing your job communicating what you have to communicate as the character, then there are a lot of people around you that don’t know what you’re doing. And they will let you know that it needs to be more clear. So that was wonderful, I mean, really wonderful.
And how about the director, Shimizu?
I absolutely adored working with Shimizu. He was fantastic, he was very specific, right down to the way you breathe – to create the tension and the terror. My character is interesting; I sort of joke that I watched Klute a lot. And it is true, I mean it’s not just a joke. I did, because I think Jane Fonda had this brilliant way in that film of creating tension and fear for the audience just by walking down a hallway and looking over her shoulder. And I had to do that in The Grudge. I think if you have a really solid director, like Shimizu – and also, this is his baby, he’s lived with this, and has done it in so many different incarnations – that I really only wanted to get it right. It’s so obvious when you work with someone that specific and that dedicated, and has that much of a rhythm. There is no Union there. These people work hours that are ungodly, according to our standards, and you never heard anyone complain. The [crew was] so present for him, and so lovely to us, it was just a dream. A real dream. A bit of a nightmare at times too, because you want to get it right so badly and one of the funny things that happened during filming: I remember we were doing this scene, and we had a translator who was an absolute sweetheart, and she kept coming up to me saying, ‘Shimizu asked, could you be weaker?’ And I didn’t know what that meant; should I look tired, or…? And what it was, was he was trying to ask me to be more vulnerable. We finally figured that out, but it was funny – some of those takes must have been just silly. I was probably slumped over, looking just stupid because I didn’t know what he wanted. [laughs]
So you didn’t really have any scenes with Sarah. Who did you get to work with the most?
For me, when I did get to work with the other actors, typically I got to work with the Japanese gal. Kyako is the character that she plays – the ghost itself. She was just lovely. You’ve never seen such a pretty girl, and then you put her in this garb and she looks like a freaking nightmare. That was hilarious – it’s always interesting when you see someone morph. Man, she just – what was really beautiful was just to watch Shimizu work with this woman and how he could literally, with just a gesture, communicate exactly what he wanted her to move like. And she just went into it. She just morphed into this creature, and it was just beautiful. That’s just solid talent when you have that much of a physical command over what you can do and how you can transform yourself. That’s ultimately what is interesting and one of the reasons I was drawn to the character of Susan, it because she’s so different from Sam and so different from any of the others I’ve played.
I also had the good fortune of working with Clea a little bit. I think she’s one of the great character actors of our generation. Certainly going to be, if she’s not already considered that. Then you have Sarah and Jason who have had such big careers at such a young age that are just two of the loveliest people you could ever hope to meet. I was just crazy about those two. We all got very close, because you’re stuck in a foreign land like that where you can’t always communicate. Those two blew me away with how they picked up on the language. They could get around like nobody’s business, like it was old hat to them. I always felt safe when I was out with the two of them, ordering dinner. I knew I wasn’t going to get anything too bizarre. On the days that I worked, Sarah would always call to see how my day went. You don’t often find that. That gal is completely pulled together. She blew my mind. I learned a lot, just in terms of different aspects of how you make a movie, how the business works, and so forth.
Even though The Grudge is being remade by the same Japanese writer / director who originated the idea, I imagine it will be somewhat Americanized for the U.S. and European audiences. Can you talk a little about what we can expect?
I think audiences can expect a really fantastic conversion of suspense and horror. I think part of the gift of what the Japanese can do is, they create such images that just stay in your skin. It’s beautiful in terms of cinematography and a lot of the action is silent. I think they have the ability to story-tell with very few words. It really plays into the brilliance of filmmaking. A lot of times, American films or western films, use dialogue so much. I think that’s wonderful if you have a great script, but I think another interesting venue for a filmmaker to take is to really just trust the storytelling through the images. I think that’s something the Japanese do really well, and very creatively and inventively. Shimizu is just so on-point with understanding how to scare the shit out of people – to be perfectly crude about it. The real comedy in that is that he’s a hysterically funny person. He and I would moonwalk in between takes – we just had fun. When you look at that, and then you realize this guy can scare the pants off you, it’s funny. It’s a true testament to his capacity as a director and as a storyteller.
I also love the fact that, in culture that adheres to different rules in terms of its portrayal of women and women’s roles in the society… I mean, I’m Southern, so I relate to a lot of these sort of things. It’s not a myth: the women do take a backseat, they’re very humble, and men are very much the priority. I personally never had any experiences where I felt like I was being belittled because I was a woman, but it was more understanding that I believe what Shimizu wanted to do was a give a voice to a woman in a way that they don’t often do in the cinema there, and the culture there. I thought that was really fantastic, and very progressive. It doesn’t just apply there, it can be common in the world.
I think the audience can expect a really fantastically told story, hopefully a well-acted piece. I get a little critical of myself, and I haven’t even seen it yet. But I certainly know that everyone else worked very hard, as did I, to really serve him in the way that he wanted to tell the story. It was important to all of us to get it right. I hope the audience believes in what we’re doing too, because if you’re going to recreate something in the way that that film was done, as good and as well-done as the original, you’d better be on the ball. Everyone worked really hard to do that.
I think it’s interesting that you bring up the cultural mores about women in cinema, because one of the reasons I preferred the Hollywood version of Ringu, The Ring, was because the woman was a much stronger character in the remake. She starts off fairly strong in the Japanese version, but then the man enters the picture and it’s his show from then on. At least in The Grudge, female characters were portrayed on pretty much even ground with the males.
Yes, and in the American version you’ll see that even more so. And you also have that aspect of being, particularly with my character, Susan, who’s an American who has been there and working in the Japanese culture as a businesswoman and has adjusted. I learned a lot of little things just being there – because, I don’t think you can fully research a character like her until you’re there. This was something so foreign to me. I remember doing this particular scene, where now I sort of cringe thinking about it: We’re being shown the house, my family has come over and we’re thinking of buying the house, and the guy who plays the realtor has to be one of the cutest human beings I’ve ever been around – just adorable. At one point in the scene, we’re talking and I touched his arm. And I thought about it… unless we were really, really close I would never make contact like that with a Japanese man. You don’t know any better unless someone tells you [it’s inappropriate], but once you’re there for a couple of weeks, the culture does sort of seep into you. I very much fell in love with it. I’d go back there in a heartbeat. Now, when I go to a Japanese restaurant I dork it out so much. You fall right back into it, when you’re ordering or whatever. I love that I understand certain things now, when I’m out in a restaurant or Little Tokyo, it sort of just tickles me.
And you’re working the The Farrelly Brothers next?
Yes. I don’t know what I’m going to do, not having to cry and scream through a character arc [after Anacondas and The Grudge]. It’s with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, it’s based on a Nick Hornsby novel called Fever Pitch. It’s gonna be a blast, a completely different animal than I’ve tackled before. I’m excited about it.
Interview by Staci Layne Wilson