The entirely unscary Katie Featherston
Gregg DeGuire, PictureGroup
Take note, horror fans: Katie Featherston is back.
More specifically, “Katie Featherston” is back – the version of herself the actor played in the horror smash Paranormal Activity. The one who ended up possessed by the demon that had stalked her since childhood – and who pops up again to bedevil her new neighbours in Paranormal Activity 4, which comes to disc on Tuesday.
Over the phone from Los Angeles, Featherston – who turns out to be a very nice person with a quick laugh and absolutely no hint of demonic malevolence – was happy to talk about the improvisational nature of the franchise.
“The way we film these movies is very fluid,” Featherston says. “You know, they have a really great idea, and great concepts, and they know where they want to go, but there’s a lot of room for play. So there’s a lot of things we shoot that never end up in the film, and I never know how it’s gonna actually turn out. There’s plenty of things that I’ve filmed that didn’t make it into the final cut … [it’s not] ‘Okay, I’m gonna be in four scenes and these are my ten shoot days, and then we’re done.’ It’s much less locked-down, much less defined than that. So really it’s just like showing up and having a lot of fun, and then it’s sort of a surprise when you see the finished product.”
The flexibility dates all the way back to Oren Peli’s original Paranormal Activity, Featherston says.
“We probably have, no exaggeration, 12 hours of Micah [Sloat] and I pretending to be a couple and doing that whole thing where nothing happens; it’s just us being in love and being happy,” she says. “And of course, 12 hours is a bit much for most of America … in in an earlier version, which I have a copy of floating around somewhere, there’s a much, much longer intro. That was something Oren really stood by; it needed to be a 90-minute movie, and you needed to get to the scares so that people would really have fun, but you really did need that time to get to know our characters. He really pushed for as much of that as possible, and I think they found a good balance. And that’s something that they tried to continue to do with the sequels.”
That said, now that the Paranormal Activity audience knows what to expect, the series can have a little fun with its own elements. There’s a running gag involving open refrigerator doors that still hasn’t paid off in someone lurking behind one, and when Featherston pops up as a friendly neighbour in Paranormal Activity 4, it’s played for uneasy laughs rather than scares.
“Exactly!” Featherston says. “That was really fun, that was a really fun day to work on that. I was like, ‘Guys, I’m not the old, nice Katie … let’s figure this out.’”
After two prequels that grew increasingly complex and gimmicky (oscillating fan-cam!), Paranormal Activity 4 marks a return to the naturalism of the first movie, spending most of its time with Kathryn Newton and Matt Shively as a pair of teens who figure out there’s something really weird about “Katie” next door.
“I was watching the ‘Recovered Files’ on the [Paranormal Activity 4] DVD,” Featherston says. “There’s so much good stuff in the back-and-forth that it reminded me of Micah and I and all that extra footage no one’s ever seen. It’s really a fun thing, when you have an actor you can play off so well – it makes for a much more enjoyable experience.”
Although she’s the only actor to appear in all four Paranormal Activity movies, Featherston doesn’t plan on defining herself as a horror actor.
“I really wanna do comedy,” she says. “That’s my next goal. Whether it’s a movie, or a single-camera comedy or something like that, that’s where my head is. That’s what I’m focusing on now. So I’m excited about that, and then we’ll see about PA5. We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed.”
And yeah, about that – is there even a plan for Paranormal Activity 5? Featherston says a next chapter is happening, but she yet doesn’t know what it’ll about.
“I know that it’s coming out in October – right around my birthday every year! - but I don’t know [anything more],” she says. “I don’t know if I’ll be in it for sure – and if I am, what will be going on. They’re not gonna stick me in the movie just to do it; they’ll have to have a good reason for me to be there, and that’s comforting. And if they can figure that out, then I will be so, so thrilled to be in a fifth movie.”
And if they can’t?
“And if they can’t, then I will be so thrilled to be cheering them on with the 15,000 movie tickets I will buy for the opening weekend,” she laughs.
Paranormal Activity 4 is available on Blu-ray and DVD on January 29th.