If you’ve been hanging around Nerdist.com lately, especially in our weekly horror round up “Horror Happenings,” you’ve heard us tell you about Starry Eyes, the feature debut from co-writer/directors Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer about a struggling actress trying to find her break in Los Angeles. Starry Eyes premiered at Austin’s South by Southwest film festival earlier this spring and buzz has been building for the indie horror flick as one of the best genre movies of the year. I can absolutely with a clear conscience tell you that it is and for horror fans it is a must see movie for 2014. I spoke with Klosch and Widmyer about their experience making the movie, where the idea came from and how they found breakout star Alex Essoe.
The day after a screening in Los Angeles, I ask the two how it went, to which Widmyer replied, “It went over so well with the audience. We had some woman gagging in the audience up in the balcony during the vomit scene!” Definitely off to a great start…
So where did the inspiration for Starry Eyes come from in the first place? Said Widmyer, “Kevin and I were trying to get a much bigger movie off the ground about seven or eight years ago and we spent about four years trying to raise the money about this big feature film that never happened and along that way we did a lot of casting so we were essentially holding auditions for a movie we didn’t have money for. So we were seeing a lot of actors and actresses, this was in New York in the early 2000s, and we just started to see a lot of people come and go and we started to have sympathy for actors and what they go through and you almost realize there’s almost a masochistic side to actors where you’re working maybe a sh**ty day job, maybe a waiter or in an office, and on your lunch break you’re running down the street to a studio space going in there reading a scene for maybe five minutes and then, ‘Thank you,’ and then you head back to work and you’ll sometimes never know what your impression on the casting director was so in a lot of ways you’re just putting yourself out there, but at the same time, there’s something that’s very brutal about that.”
Widmyer continued, “So we liked the idea of focusing a horror movie on a person of that character but you amp it up a little bit to where now there’s this desperate person – they feel like they’re at the end of their rope, they have body issues, they’re very insecure, they hate their job, they hate their friends – and how do you put that person in the worst possible situation where their body is now turning against them. And now you have a body horror movie about a person whose body is everything, especially female actors, who have a lot more pressure to that degree. So that was one element.”
So much of the praise for Starry Eyes has focused not only on the dark tale of a Hollywood dream gone wrong but on leading actress Alex Essoe’s performance. One that, according to Kolsch, was almost impossible to cast. He told us, “With Alex, she definitely fit the role and became the role perfectly… I really think that seeing this movie and knowing Alex as Sarah I can’t picture anyone else in there. We were starting to feel worried in auditions when we cast Alex because it was a very specific role… We needed somebody that had the talent to be able to play this role but at the same time they needed to have this look that was beautiful in not the same way as everybody else. They really had to stand out in performance and in physicality.”
The co-writer/director continued to sing his leading lady’s praises, saying, “I look back now and I think how lucky we are. She’s in every scene of the movie. If we had someone who was just passable or serviceable or wasn’t really giving this breakout performance like she did, I don’t think the movie would be getting as much success. Sure, it would still be – I still think thematically what it’s about and the way it was shot we have a good movie there but I just think without her carrying it in every scene it would just, I don’t know, it might just disappear into failure to launch as they say. You know? We made a movie that is like, ‘OK! We’d probably be fighting to get it in festivals and trying to do something with it.’ I really think her performance is taking it to the next level.”
Starry Eyes is available on iTunes and OnDemand and in theaters now.