Sara Paxton on ‘Liars All,’ Indie Flicks and Actors on Social Media
It’s all fun and games until somebody gets murdered. Liars All is a claustrophobic thriller that takes place on New Year’s Eve at a gathering of students studying abroad in London. When the group plays a raunchy game of truth or dare, a murder soon follows and no one is clear on who exactly did the killing. Sara Paxton (The Innkeepers, Last House on the Left) plays Katie, an American student who is in love with Mike (Matt Lanter), who is still hung up on his old girlfriend (a nightmare) Missy (Gillian Zinser).
Last week, we spoke to Paxton over the phone about the camaraderie on an indie film set, collaborating with writer/director Brian Brightly and which actress she would like to play in a biopic.
Tribeca: Liars All is an interesting psychological murder mystery. How did you come to the project? What were your first reactions to the script?
Sara Paxton: My agent sent me the script and I really liked it. It was this murder mystery story, but like you said, had this really interesting psychological aspect to it. I always liken the movie to Clue, but with more sex and less comedy. [laughs] I was also drawn to the character of Katie.
Not to give anything away, but the movie is told through a number of different people’s perspectives. You don’t know what the truth is or what’s false or who the good guy is or who the bad guy is. In my opinion, Katie is the only character that the audience feels like they can trust, and I really liked that. She’s the truth and the light at the end of the tunnel throughout the whole ordeal.
Tribeca: This is writer/director Brian Brightly’s sophomore feature. Can you discuss your collaborative process? Were you able to give input on your character?
SP: I love working with Brian. He’s a really great guy, and I thought the script was so well written. I feel like most of collaboration sprung up from what was on the page. Speaking for myself and the other actors, we took our cues from the script, but as Brian go to know us during filming, the lines kind of become blurred and little bits of me started coming in there more. The whole cast hung out during the production and a natural dynamic sort of formed.
I do think Brian followed what was happening in our group. He would sometimes ask me to do takes in which Katie was a little more goofy or funny or shy because you get to know people when you work with them. He would intuitively know how to play off our strengths. I wouldn’t say that we improv’d a lot of it, but so much of the film came to life right there on set.
I still love doing genre and I love doing horror but I want to do more. There’s a lot more to me than just that.
Tribeca: Outside of the party sequences, the majority of your scenes feature you alongside Matt Lanter, Gillian Zinser, Torrance Coombs, and Alice Evans. Can you talk about working with this talented group of actors?
SP: I’m still really close with a lot of the actors. I speak to most of them on a daily basis. [laughs] It’s always funny with these quick indie shoots because you have no time to be nervous or afraid so you just have to jump in headfirst. I think that environment forces people to bond quickly and stick together. It was really great to have that relationship with everybody because sometimes we had to do kind of difficult scenes.
There’s a really sexual scene between Matt and me. If you don’t trust people that you’re working with it’s tough to let go. Luckily, we all got along and so we all could just sort of do our thing and not be feel self conscious and go for it. That’s also a testament to Brian for putting together a group that he thought would work together and get along. They’re all really great people I could gush about them for a long time.
Tribeca: One of my favorite moments in the film was Katie’s speech to Sandra at the police station about living up to her potential. Any twenty-something watching the film can relate. Can you talk about the preparation behind that monologue?
SP: When I got to her monologue, when I was first reading the script, I knew I had to be in this movie because I loved it so much. That was actually the piece that Brian used as the audition piece. We’ve all felt the weight of expectations on our shoulders before. I could totally relate to it, especially as an only child. That’s my favorite part of that movie.
Tribeca: Most of the action in the beginning of the movie centers around a twisted game of Truth or Dare. Which one have you generally chosen when you’ve played the game in the past? Did working on Liars All change that?
SP: No, I think I’m definitely the Katie in the group. [laughs] I’m always the one that’s like, “Guys, this isn’t a good idea!” I’m just way too neurotic to do a dare. I’d never be like Gillian’s character…I was born like a 90-year-old woman.
I always liken the movie to Clue, but with more sex and less comedy.
Tribeca: You are no stranger to SXSW.This past year; you had Cheap Thrills and The Bounceback at the Festival. While Cheap Thrills has been picked up for distribution, The Bounceback has not, despite positive reviews. I noticed you have been tweeting about an upcoming TUGG screening of the film in Chicago. In this day and age, does an actor’s job stop after the press day? Is having a social media a new prerequisite for the job?
SP: With social media being so prevalent right now, I think that something new is happening. In a weird way, it’s almost like we are our own publicists. For me, I am so proud of The Bounceback. I love every single person that was involved in it and I want as many people to see it as possible. I am completely team Bounceback. [laughs] If I can help by tweeting about it, then that’s what I am going to do.
There are definitely some people that don’t feel that way and dislike social media and the whole thing. I feel that there are a lot of actors who just sort of say “peace out” after they are done shooting, but I don’t think that mentality can exist anymore. Times are changing, especially if you work in indie films. If there’s not a megastar cast or some monster publicity machine on the film, I do feel like its part of my job to help and get the word out there.
I am more than happy to tweet about my friends and movies that need a little help. I really am. So who knows what will happen in the future. Maybe, we’ll all just be doing it ourselves.
Tribeca: From big budget films (Last House on the Left, Shark Night 3D) to indie horror (The Innkeepers, Cheap Thrills), you are quickly becoming one of this generation’s most well known scream queens. Ignoring the obvious, what are some of the biggest differences between working on low-budget horror and high-budget horror films?
SP: Well, when you’ve got more time and more money, the process is a little more relaxed. [laughs] Well, not relaxed in all ways because you’re still running around screaming and being all physical. We had four months to make Last House on the Left and only three weeks to make The Innkeepers.
I remember Ti West likes to shoot on film. On the very last day of shooting, he had to gather the whole crew and the actors together and tell us, “Listen, we only have a few feet of film left and we can’t afford to mess up.” That kind of thing wouldn’t happen on Shark Night 3D! However, I love doing indie projects because I love that intimate feeling where you’re all together in it and you’re one team.
I think that environment forces people to bond quickly and stick together.
Tribeca: Your recent work suggests that you are moving away from the horror genre. Do you hope to take more comedic roles like that in The Bounceback?
SP: I don’t get a chance to do a lot of comedy, which is unfortunate for me. Even during The Bounceback, it took a lot to convince the director that I could do it. Comedy is what I love and where my heart is. I would love to keep doing more of that. I hope that The Bounceback gets out there and people see it. I want people to know that I can do this. I still love doing genre and I love doing horror but I want to do more. There’s a lot more to me than just that.
Tribeca: So on that note, if you could star in any biopic, what would it be and why?
SP: I would probably want to play my idol, Goldie Hawn, although I think probably Kate Hudson would do that. [laughs]The whole reason why I’m an actress is because of Goldie Hawn. Oh, and Lucille Ball! However, I think I’d have more of a shot at playing Goldie.
Liars All is now available on VOD and select theaters.