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Isabelle Fuhrman Talks 'Down A Dark Hall,' Ghosts & Empowering Women (Exclusive Q&A)


Warning: this article contains spoilers.

Whether we’re fascinated with them or mortified by them, we enjoy a captivating ghost story. From our childhood favorite, Casper, to ghastly tragedies like Crimson Peak, we’re all shamelessly (or maybe shamefully?) obsessed with supernatural films. However, we’re even more obsessed with eerie books turned cinematic reincarnations. In one of her latest films, Down a Dark Hall, Isabelle Fuhrman portrays a teen who’s sent to Blackwood Boarding School to help work on her behavior and school work. During her admission, she and the other young women find that they’re being possessed by exceptionally gifted spirits.

Given her past roles in The Hunger Games and Orphan, Isabelle isn’t a stranger to suspenseful scenes or scary films. After spending the last two summers at the Summer Shakespeare Program at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, Fuhrman talked to us about her upcoming suspenseful film—based on the titular gothic novel of the same name—ghosts and working with empowering women and empowering people in our own lives.  

Her Campus: You portray Izzy in Down a Dark Hall, who is being posessed by the spirit of a mathematician. After the initial setup of the film, Izzy and the other four girls work together to attempt to leave the Blackwood Boarding School.  If you were in Blackwood, how would you work with the other characters to convince them of what was happening and ultimately escape?

Isabelle Fuhrman: Well, I think that's what makes AnnaSophia’s character [Kit] so interesting, because we're all kind of in different stages of being possessed by these different characters. She's the only one that is somehow able to see through it all, you know. I think that she does a really good job of kind of recruiting us sort of one by one, in terms of how she's seen everything move, and talks to each of us—though it's just a little bit too late for some of the other girls. In the end, I think Izzy is alright when Kit gets to her, but by the time by they're about go, Izzy’s just too far gone.

HC: Absolutely. I think that's really interesting, like you said, that everyone's at a different point in the journey to kind of show how each of the girls are affected by the spirits.

IF: Yeah. I think the reason why we're the ones that are selected is because we are troubled and we're missing a certain piece of something in our lives. Then, we come to this place where we're told that we're special, and this is the piece that has been missing is Blackwood. I think everybody wants to feel like they have a purpose on the planet. I think that's what I was really attracted to with the characters and script and the story was that all of these girls kind of go to this school in a very Girl, Interrupted way. We all have our own troubled past and we all kind of come together in this place where we're told that we're special, but we really find that with each other.

HC: I like that you all find that through yourselves, too. It's this very dynamic growth between the characters. So was mathematics one of your favorite subjects in school? Or was there a different subject that was your fave and how do you hone that passion in your life now?

IF: You know, English was one of my favorite subjects. I was always really good at math. It was really funny because when the props department was writing up all of the math stuff, I remember reading through it and was like, "None of this makes sense. Like this isn’t real. This is that theorem and that doesn’t make sense." I did really good in school, especially in high school. So, I ended up taking my own notebooks and filling [the board] myself. And a lot of the stuff you saw on the wall and the props were just a copy from my notebook. I did a lot of math while I was in the movie.

HC: That’s amazing.

IF: Definitely brought me back to high school.

HC: Are you going to be taking up math as a hobby now in your spare time?

IF: No. Though it’s funny because I realized how much you forget when you aren’t practicing something every single day. You don't realize how far you've gone, you know? And the basic math you do on a day to day basis, you know. I don’t do a lot of math on a day to day basis. But when I went in, I remembered parts of it and part of it making sense or parts of it not. I actually had my mom send me my textbooks, and I was writing everything and doing all these math problems. I was like, "Gosh, I’m really out of practice." I used to be able to do these so quick. Now, it’s taking forever.

HC: Oh, it’s definitely a humbling experience, but it shows you how much high school and teachers really taught to you.

IF: Yeah, I know. I gotta shout out all my teachers.

HC: Since Down a Dark Hall follows the basic premise of the novel, even with the changes and adaptations in the film, how did you work to put your own spin on your character?

IF: What I think is really cool with our director Rodrigo Cortés is that he had such a clear idea from not only the set as a whole and the art design, and the direction and when he went in to edit the movie, but everything down to our wardrobe and who our characters were. I think you work with directors sometimes who’re finding things and everybody has their own process, and I've never worked with someone that, you know, I could tell he was seeing the movie in his head. So, the book was something that he told us we could read, but the script is very different from the book. He was like, "You guys can read it to find out more about your character, but I want you guys to, for the most part, ignore it because we're telling this story, which is what's on the paper in front of you."

I think that was a really great thing to have, and I think the book is a great thing to have as a backup to just go back and say, okay, this is who this person is. But it was really great to just go by the script and what we were working on day to day. All of us just become very close friends, but we always talked about how our characters' relationships were to each other. That was important in how we all felt, and how they took the leap, and how they differentiate. Because you bring five people together in a school, and it was really small class people and you hope that everybody gets along, and these girls don't really connect with each other because they're all kind of in their own sort of thing, until midway through the script. So we wanted to make sure that we understood why. Sierra, which is Rosie Day’s character, came from a completely different life than Victoria Moroles’ character (Veronica), then Kit kind of fell somewhere in between. My character, I always felt like, was somebody who grew up in a house that was probably very wealthy, and she was somebody that wanted attention and probably did bad things for that reason. But Izzy is a very strange girl. I think we all wanted to feel like outsiders, in our own way, so that way people could relate. I think everybody goes through stages, especially when you're in high school when you feel like an outsider in your own peer group, and we wanted to show not only that these girls are, but they can still work together and find common ground.

HC: I think that's beautiful because it revitalizes the book and the original premise of it in a unique way that's empowering. Since the film features empowering women, portrayed by an even more empowering cast of actresses, what was it like working on a film that predominantly featured women?

IF: It was so, so, so much fun. It was funny though because Rosie was the only person that I didn’t have a script read with because she was in London. But I've known AnnaSophia for years, and we had met each other many, many times at different meetings and auditions and that sort of thing. When I went into chemistry read, we were all in a group together: Taylor, Victoria, AnnaSophia, and I, and then there was another actress who was reading for Rosie’s part at the time who was in America. And we all chemistry read. I remember when we left, I think we all had the same feeling that we were all getting this part together because we just really connected in a way that I couldn't even describe. I think sometimes we just meet people, and you’re just meant to connect.

When I got off the plane in Spain, we went to dinner that night and I met Rosie. The minute I sat down at the dinner table, the first thing that came out of AnnaSophia’s mouth was, "What do you think about being the Spice Girls for Halloween?" And I was like, "We’re definitely going to get along." We spent so much time together. Working in a foreign country, when you're not with your family, and all we really had was each other, we really bonded. I genuinely have so much love for every single one of them. And we still keep in touch. I think oftentimes you work with people and say you’re going to keep in touch with them, but you don’t see them all the time, but we absolutely have. I’ve seen them so many times, just because I think we just all really love each other and we became a family.

HC: I think that chemistry really reads well on screen. And I think that's amazing that you're all supportive of each other, even off-screen.

IF: Well, it's funny because I think when you work in this industry, you’re auditioning for projects all the time. And what we found very funny—which you don’t notice because typically when you audition for stuff, you’re just doing it on your own—but we were in a foreign country where we didn't have anybody that we could read with, so we would chase each other for our auditions and we were all auditioning for the same stuff. We were all laughing about how different we all are and how there’s no way that one of us would get a job that the other one could maybe possibly get because we’re all so different. I think it's just brought us together in this really special way.

I think it made all of us realize something about our industry, which is that everybody is just looking for what they want, and even though there is a lot of production a lot of the time in the film industry, it’s really fun and interesting to know that everybody is so different and we're not all the same. Being in these different roles, we all have completely different attitudes, different look, but we're all going out for the same project. I think we found it funny this idea of competition. When people ask and they’re like, "It is like going out and competing for roles." It's not a competition. You meet people and sometimes they like you and sometimes they don’t. And I think we all found a lot of comfort in each other.

HC: I think that's amazing, especially with the different spin on the entertainment industry. Like you were saying, it's more of a relationship than a competition, which I think is a beautiful comparison.

IF: I think there's always some stigma that women are competitive with these things, and I find that the women in my life bring me up the most and support me the most—and I do the same. Nothing makes me happier than when a friend gets the job, even if I auditioned for it, because we all get to share and celebrate that. It's a really exciting time, and I think that everybody will have their time and everybody will have their moment. It's just such an unbalanced sort of thing that it's more important to stand by each other, love each other, and support each other. I think being in a cast that’s so female-centric, we all thought, "This is awesome that we get to work together and not only that, but also grow in our lives together for the rest of our lives, and be friends with each other and watch our careers grow, too."

HC: How would you personally define women empowerment?

IF: I think I would define female empowerment probably just what I said, with empowering the women around you to just do the things that they want to do and just be there for them. If you can’t help in any way, try supporting them. Even in just general, people in general, should do that for each other. I mean, it’s a big world out there, and it’s getting smaller and smaller at the same time. So I think that we all have to support each other and be there for each other and celebrate peoples’ highs, and be there for them when they have their lows. I think that I feel the most empowered by my female friends. I can call them and tell them anything and I know that they wish the best for me and want the best for me. And I want the same for them. I think that female empowerment is just bringing up the women around you and being there for them and being a part of the world of women that is now pushing forward and kicking ass and taking names. I just think it’s awesome.

Down A Dark Hall is currently in theaters.

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