Alexandra Daddario in Texas Chainsaw 3D
Justin Lubin, Leatherface Productions

She may be the star of the sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the ‘70s shocker critic Rex Reed famously described as “the most horrifying picture I have ever seen,” but that does not mean that Alexandra Daddario is herself a fright film fan.

“I get scared very easily by horror films,” the New York-born actress admits during a recent promotional stop in Toronto, “and I have always avoided them because I get scared so easily.”

Set in the present day, Texas Chainsaw 3D ignores all the various sequels and prequels (five in total) that followed the success of the original film. Instead it is a direct sequel to the classic 1974 movie about the cannibal Sawyer clan, the family that proudly counts among its number Leatherface, a crazed killer with a fondness for making masks out of the faces of his victims.

Daddario plays Heather, a young woman adopted as a baby by a couple with an ominous connection to her birth family. She inherits a mansion in the small Texan town of Next from the grandmother (Marilyn Burns, original Texas Chainsaw Massacre) she never knew she had. Along with a few friends, she decides to investigate her newfound inheritance and maybe find out something about the family she never knew. Unfortunately, Heather’s attempts to uncover her roots lead her to stumble upon a dark family secret that involves a police cover-up, a locked room, and a revving chainsaw.

Daddario was aware of who Leatherface was prior to reading the script (“it was impossible to avoid it,” given the character’s pop culture profile), but she had not seen any of the Chainsaw films prior to getting the Heather role. She did however eventually hazard viewings of both the original and the 2003 remake starring Jessica Biel.

“I was blown away by how amazing the original film is,” she says. “You see why it’s lasted so long and why it’s so iconic and why Leatherface is so iconic, especially the way they made the film on a shoestring budget and with locals and the difficult circumstances surrounding the making of the film. It’s really an incredible movie so I was very excited to be part of it.”

While Daddario, 26, is perhaps best known for playing Annabeth Chase in the teen-oriented Percy Jackson films, she has acted in horror movies before (most notably in the 2010 indie Bereavement) so was familiar with the exaggerated emotions needed to communicate the terror of being chased by killers and hiding in coffins, both of which her character does in this movie.

“You use all the same tools you learned in acting class and through your experiences acting, but it’s a more extreme level of emotion,” she says. “And you are putting yourself in situations that you’ve never been in and can’t even imagine being in, repeatedly. So you are basically at a level of hysteria and emotion that you have to try to find some reality in, in a completely unbelievable circumstance. And there’s something really challenging and great and interesting about that, being an actress and being able to accomplish something like that.”

Another challenge Daddario faced on set was working with Dan Yeager. The hulking actor, who picks up the proverbial chainsaw once wielded by original Leatherface Gunnar Hansen (who has a cameo in Texas Chainsaw), deliberately kept himself apart from the rest of the cast in order to heighten the fear they would feel during the film’s more intense action scenes. It proved to be an effective approach.

“It helps you be more frightened,” Daddario says, “especially if it’s someone you can’t joke around with and you don’t have any inside jokes; you don’t have any relationship. It makes it easier to be frightened and work off of them.”

Shot over the course of a month and a half in and around Shreveport, LA, during a heat wave, Texas Chainsaw proved to be a challenging production for everyone involved due to the temperatures and long hours, but Daddario savoured the experience.

“I got to do some really cool things,” she says. “There are days you look around and you’re like, ‘I can’t believe this is my job. I’m hanging off of a Ferris wheel, and I’m in a coffin in the ground.’ And you look up and there’s a whole crew around you, and you’re like, ‘I can’t believe this is what I do for a living.’ So it definitely was an interesting experience.”

Asked whether or not she felt a certain pressure stepping into the Texas Chainsaw franchise, Daddario says: “Everyone knows what it is, whether or not they’ve seen the film. So, yes, there is always that pressure. But I think for people who are fans of the original film, there are so many nods to the original film: we had Marilyn Burns do a cameo and Gunnar Hanson, which was really an honour that they wanted to be part of it. And I think that it’s also something that stands on its own. It’s a fun, scary movie, and I think that people will really enjoy it.”