Cinema Australia Original Content:
Help us continue to cover more Australian films by making a donation to Cinema Australia below.
In The Possessed, Lauren Grimson plays Atalie, a cool young DJ by night and a demon hunter by, well… also night.
In the new horror film, directed by industrious filmmaker Chris Sun, the talented actor stars opposite Australian acting legend and horror icon John Jarratt, and she more than holds her own. With her impressive acting chops on full display in her first lead performance, Grimson steals the show and proves she’s more than ready for the big time.
Cinema Australia recently caught up with Grimson over Zoom to discuss The Possessed, working with the likes of Jarratt and Lincoln Lewis, the physicality of her role, and how she indulged in classic horror films to prepare to play Atalie.
We also asked Grimson for an update on Jennifer Van Gessel’s new mystery thriller, Water Horse, in which she plays a paranormal investigator.
“I know how daunting the whole process of acting is, so I have so much admiration and love for other actors automatically because of that.”
Interview by Matthew Eeles
Even though John Jarratt’s character Jacob is billed as the main character of The Possessed, Atalie has equal importance to the film. Would you agree?
That’s interesting. I feel like it’s shared between John, Lincoln Lewis and myself. So the film centers around Jacob mostly, but then Liam and Atalie are also very central to this story as well. So, it’s Jacob’s journey, but it’s really involved with the other characters and the principal cast as well which is cool.
Atalie is an uncommon name and it is emphasised in the film that it’s, “like Natalie but without the N.” Have you ever met an Atalie before?
I have not. [Laughs]. But Chris told me a funny story about how he came up with the name. I think he said that he had a friend or met someone who was named Atalie and he just thought that that was a really interesting name and so he wanted to use it in a film. It really feels right for the character too, even though it is such an odd name that you don’t really hear a lot. When I read the script, I was like, yeah, this character is Atalie.
Since The Legend of Ben Hall you’ve made three horror films You’ve had a small role in Wyrmwood, you’ve got Water Horse coming up, and now The Possessed. Are you setting yourself up to become Australia’s next Scream Queen?
[Laughs]. I would love that. I really love horror. I kind of don’t know how this has happened, if it’s come to me or if I’ve subconsciously gone to it, but I do absolutely adore horror and I love making horror. It’s so much fun watching it. So, I’m not sure a Scream Queen. I hope so though.
What are some of the horror films that you’ve enjoyed recently?
I just watched the 1970s version of The Amityville Horror. I’ve seen the remake, but I hadn’t seen the original. So I’m kind of going back and watching all of these original horror movies. I also recently watched one from the ’70s called Black Christmas, which was really fun and I feel like that film kind of set up a lot of the tropes for a lot of modern horror films. It was sort of the kind of handheld, first-person perspective of what was happening, which is super cool. What else? I think lately it’s been those two, but I do like to consume a lot of horror. I feel like when I go on to Netflix or Stan and I go through that genre, it’s kind of a struggle to find something that I haven’t seen in that genre.
How good is Margot Kidder in The Amityville Horror?
Oh, so incredible. So, incredible.
Speaking of women in horror, they’re often empowering figures. Iconic horror characters like Laurie Strode in Halloween, Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street and even Regan in The Exorcist. They’re put through absolute hell, but they often come out on top. Did you feel empowered playing a character like Atalie? She’s a badass when she wants to be and she takes charge when she needs to.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think those are the roles that I’m drawn to as well. I mean, I feel like you see in horror quite often, the lead female character is quite often the hapless victim who needs the help of the lead man to save her and fortunately, for a lot of the films that I’ve worked on, or that I’ve been drawn to, it’s kind of had that role reversed. So a lot of really strong female driven storylines, like you said, they kind of go through hell, but then come out stronger the other side. So I am very drawn to those kinds of roles.
I mentioned a bunch of horror characters there played by remarkable actors. Who were some actors in general who have inspired you throughout your career?
Gosh, how long is a piece of string? [Laughs]. So many ranging from friends of mine, actors who I know like the incredible Damon Herriman and Lincoln Lewis, John Jarratt, Romy Poulier who are all in The Possessed, to big film stars like Joaquin Phoenix. There are so many. I think because I know what it takes to get the character to a certain place, and I know how daunting the whole process of acting is, that I just have so much admiration and love for other actors automatically because of that.
Did you research demonic possessions before stepping into the Atalie character?
I did. I feel like I was pretty fortunate in the sense that I have digested so much horror. I watched a lot of the recommended films that Chris wanted us to watch, and I already kind knew the horror genre really well. I had to do the two weeks of hotel quarantine before shooting started. While I was in hotel quarantine, horror is pretty much all I was consuming, which was really fun, but it does definitely do something to your mental state when you’re stuck in a room for two weeks and you’re consuming nothing but horror. It was pretty freaky.
So I was in the two weeks hotel quarantine and I was watching a lot of Ari Aster films. I was watching Hereditary. It does seep into your subconscious. And then I started dreaming as the character and seeing demons in my dreams and it was really quite intense. When I got out of hotel quarantine, I went into my accommodation where I was staying. And I think it was the first night after filming. So we’re rehearsing this really intense possession horror film on Halloween and then I went back to my accommodation that night and at about 2:00am, the fire alarm went off and I immediately got out of bed because I thought the building’s on fire. The alert was just to wait for further instruction. So I was waiting in my room, nothing happened and I waited for a few minutes and I decided to call reception because I was like, if the building is on fire, I’m obviously not going to wait to leave. I called reception and they were like, “Oh, we’re so sorry, there’s faulty wiring we’ll fix it straight away. Don’t worry. There’s no fire.” And so I thought it was all good. That was solved. Went back to sleep, went to work. The next day I came back to the hotel and then at the same time in the morning, the fire alarm went off again and I did the same thing, waited a couple minutes, nothing happened. I called reception and I said, “Is this going to be happening every night, because I just have a really early call time and if so, can I move to a different building?”
And they said, “oh, is that coming from your room?” And I was like, “yeah.” And they were like, “we’ll send someone down.” And this lady came down, inspected my room to see if there was any smoke or anything weird going on and I was like, “oh, so there’s a fault with the building?” And she said, “no, tonight it’s just your room.” So that was pretty freaky because smoke is what you smell before you see demons. So it was all kind of weird and connected.
Did you sleep after that?
I couldn’t really sleep. When I came home after the shoot I was sitting on the couch and I got this really weird overwhelming feeling to check the cupboard in the hallway. Don’t know why, because that’s never happened to me before, but I wanted to honour this feeling. I opened it and there was a giant spider in there and I was like, okay, something is telling me to leave this room. So I called reception and I said, “would it be okay if I moved rooms?” And I moved rooms and then I was fine after that. [Laughs].
Tell us about having Mark on set. The real life exorcist.
Mark is such an interesting human being. You would see him on the street and have no clue that he is an exorcist, but then again, I guess what does an exorcist look like really? And he’s just this incredible man with this really interesting life story about all of these exorcisms he’s performed. Having him on set was really, really reassuring. So he had also brought a few friends to the set as well, who were different energy workers and energy healers and he would introduce us to them, which was super cool because you’re not often exposed to that kind of world in your everyday life. And Mark had told us that they were actually performing clearings on us and on the set and on the studio lot while we were working to keep us safe. And so I always felt like I had those series of weird occurrences after I came out of hotel quarantine. I had three days where really weird things were happening, which we just spoke about. And then I think it was after that they started doing their healings and clearings and then nothing happened and I felt really safe. So, it was very reassuring having a real life exorcist on the set of a possession film.
There are some scenes in the film where you are thrown around quite violently. Can you tell us about shooting those more physical scenes?
When Chris approached me about the role, he did let me know that it was going to be really physical, that there would be a lot of stunts involved. I hadn’t really done anything like that before, but in my normal life, I’m a bit of a thrill seeker. I’m mad about rock climbing, mad about bouldering, love any kind of ropes, harnesses, adventure sports, heights, anything like that. So I was like, “Hell yeah, I’m I’m up for it.” And so I got to learn a whole bunch of new skills with a really incredible stunt team, which was just so much fun and they really looked after me and made me feel really safe. So that was a really big drawcard of the role for me as well. This is definitely the most physical film I’ve been a part of that’s for sure.
Chris is one of Australia’s most consistent horror film directors. He has released a new film every two years for the last 10 years. What’s it like to work on a Chris Sun film?
Chris is just an enigma. His energy is contagious and it’s electric. I can be having a really kind of blasé, meh kind of day and I’ll get a call from Chris and afterwards I am just so excited to be alive. He loves what he does and his energy is incredible. So to be able to not only have him as my friend, but to work with him on horror films, which is just my jam, was so much fun. And it’s not just that he has fun with it, which he does. You can just tell he’s in his element. He loves every minute of it. He’s really ambitious and really tenacious and I think that combination of the three is really, really special. I mean, who doesn’t want to be around someone who just loves what they’re doing?
Being a horror film, The Possessed comes across as being very serious on screen, but is there time for fun behind the scenes?
Oh my gosh. We had so much fun behind the scenes. I mean, obviously on screen like you said, things are very serious, but just the cast, the principal cast, we all get along like a house on fire. We love each other and love the crew as well. The crew were really great and really fun. So I feel like there were often times where Chris had to reign us back in and make sure we were getting the job done. I mean, we are focused and we’re working, but we just love being around each other and love working together so much. It was a lot, it was hard work, but it was really, really fun. I mean Lincoln, his energy is infectious as well as Jade Kevin Foster, Angie Kent, everyone was just really great.
They’re all such big personalities. Did you feel that while working with this group?
Yes. I absolutely did but in the sense that they don’t have big personalities that overshadow other people. They’re big personalities in themselves and allow space for everyone, which is a really special thing and it was really fun to have all these different, big personalities together, but working really well together. There was no clash, if that makes sense.
From my perspective, things really seem to be happening for you at the moment. Does it feel that way to you?
It does and it doesn’t. Thank you for saying so by the way, I really appreciate that. I felt like before COVID, I did have a few runs on the board and things were starting to work for me. I started with a film called Water Horse, which was written and directed by Jennifer Van Gessel and that was really cool. Jen really had a lot of faith in me when she gave me that role, because I’d never been the lead in a feature film before and it’s a huge deal and it’s a big step for someone to take, to offer that to someone who’s never done that before. So I did Water Horse and then I was cast in The Possessed, which was really incredible. On the back of that, I’d been speaking to the Roache-Turner brothers for a while, just on and off as an industry friendship. They’d always wanted to get me onto one of their films, but nothing had kind of fit and then they were making Wyrmwood Apocalypse, which is the second Wyrmwood film. They offered me a cameo in that, which was really wonderful. After that, I worked on a short with Alex Proyas, the director of The Crow, called Sister Darkness, which was really, really special. So I play two roles in that film which is a short film in its own right, but also as a proof-of-concept for a larger film in the works, hopefully. And I got to share that with Rodger Corser, from Doctor Doctor, which is a real honour as well. So yeah. I feel like these things happened one after the other before COVID and then obviously during COVID lockdown, everything stopped. It’s been a little bit weird getting traction and then nothing during COVID,. But I’m starting to audition again for projects that I’m really excited about. It feels like things are starting up again.
I want to know more about the character that you play in Water Horse. Diane Wilson is a paranormal investigator. Are there any other the similarities between Diane and Atalie?
Diane and Atalie are so far apart, like poles apart. [Laughs]. So Atalie is kind of like this cool hip young DJ and Diane is the polar opposite, very insular, quite disturbed and quite removed. So during the journey of the film, Jen and I wanted to make sure the audience felt a bit unsettled by Diane. So she doesn’t draw you in a lot. Yes, they’re quite different the two characters. [Laughs].
I love watching you in these intense films, but would you like to explore other genres soon, should the opportunity arise?
I would love to explore other genres. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I adore horror, but I also really love action. I would love to do more of that. I got a bit of a taste for it on Ben Hall which is kind of an Australian Western action drama and then a bit on Wyrmwood as well, which is really cool. And there’s a small bit of action on The Possessed as well. So I’d love to explore that. I also really love drama. I feel like you can’t beat a really great Australian drama. So I would love to do that as well.
The Possessed is in select cinemas now. See The Possessed Facebook page for screening details. An official release date for Water Horse and Wyrmwood Apocalypse will be announced soon.