“The Blair Witch Project” set up the landscape for current movies and the way they are shot. Films such as “Paranormal Activity” and “Quarantine” both capitalized on the success of “Blair Witch.” I recently had the chance to talk to one of the original cast members of “Blair Witch,” Heather Donahue.
Going back about 10 years, you made your breakthrough in “The Blair Witch Project.” This movie set up a lot of the ways movies are being made now, mainly low budget hand held camera shots like “Paranormal Activity” and “Quarantine.” When doing this project, was there any thought that “Blair Witch” would essentially change the way movies are made?
When we were making “Blair Witch,” the highest hope was that it would get into Sundance. There was no sense, in my mind at least, that it would have such an impact. My job was just to go for it, get down and dirty. No holds barred, not even runny snot and splotchy cryface.
I saw “Blair Witch” when it first came out and everyone thought it was real until one day you showed up on an MTV Awards show. From the time the movie finished shooting until the appearance on MTV, what was your life like in terms of not being able to promote yourself for upcoming projects when people thought you were dead?
There weren’t a lot of opportunities at first for the cast to show that we were in fact alive and well. It was part of the marketing scheme to keep the cast under wraps. To the extent that we showed up as dead on IMDB. Once the movie came out, we were given more opportunities.
The movie recently had its 10 year anniversary. Do you still have fans coming up to you that still can’t get enough of “Blair Witch”?
I can’t say that I’ve had many people come up to me that can’t get enough of “Blair Witch,” but I still do get recognized for it. These days, that mostly happens around Halloween. It’s always funny how fresh it is for people, since they’ve just seen it, and how long ago it is for me. They sometimes seem concerned, like I’ve aged a decade overnight.
Since then, you’ve done some smaller roles in film and TV, one of which being on “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” What has the road since “Blair Witch” been like in regard to getting acting jobs? Has the movie helped or hurt auditioning, etc.?
I think it’s always hard for actors whose first big movies become etched in people’s memories. I think it was challenging for me to be seen as anything other than ‘the girl from the Blair Witch Project.’ I hope to see Katie Featherstone not become more than ‘the girl from Paranormal Activity,’ if she wants to keep acting.
For me, having people stuck in that one perception of me turned out to be a blessing, though it didn’t feel that way at the time. It gave me the kick in the head I needed to move on from LA and acting. I was able to get back to writing with more commitment and discipline than I had when I was still auditioning. I was able to find a life I love. Most important? I learned how to let go. Have the courage to empty the cup, because it will fill again, with something more delicious. I guess it’s that whole thing about nature abhorring a vacuum.
Eduardo Sanchez (“Blair Witch” director) danced around the idea of making another “Blair Witch” movie. The movie was so great because of its originality. What are your thoughts about another “Blair Witch” movie?
The mythology that the Haxan guys (producers of Blair) created for the original movie is so rich that I don’t doubt they could come up with something great. I would go see it.
You actually have an extensive writing background. What do you enjoy doing more, writing or acting?
It was my love of reading and writing that originally brought me to acting. I love trying on another skin, another life, walking in someone else’s shoes. Diving into another world. I loved that about acting, but writing lets me go deeper. I get to spelunk myself and the world in more ways. On the page, you aren’t limited by age or race or nationality. You can create any kind of character. I wasn’t getting to do that as an actress. I wasn’t getting to tell stories whole. So, though I miss some of the social bits of acting, I love writing (most days) and finally feel like I’m doing what I was meant to do.
Currently, you’re writing a book called “GROWGIRL: The Blossoming of an Unlikely Outlaw.” Tell me a little bit about how this came about and what the story is.
I’ve been asked by my publisher not to talk about the book. But I can say this: for my thirtieth birthday, I got a tattoo of a daisy growing out of the crack of my ass. The thought behind it was that all beauty comes from shit. The book illuminates adventures along those lines. And I mean that in the most positive way.
I had a chance to watch some of your readings from the book via your website (http://heatherdonahue.com/). The response from fans is great. What has been the reaction from the book and its readings?
For me, readings satisfy any lingering itch to perform. I love sharing my work, and the response has been great so far – even the haters have been enthusiastic. That’s another way my background comes in handy in my current life. Acting gave me a pretty thick skin, which is a thing to be grateful for when you write about controversial topics.
You write a lot about marijuana. It was recently voted to NOT become legal in California. Do you think it will ever become legal? If it does, how does it change the way people look, use or fell about marijuana?
I’m fascinated by the politics of marijuana. The plant itself is a force to be reckoned with. We’ve been coevolving with cannabis for thousands of years now. It’s always been there. The founding fathers grew it.
I feel the zeitgeist around pot is here to stay and we will see growing momentum toward legalization nationwide. As there is more testing around the medical benefits of cannabis, there will be a change in the way that people look at the plant. I think it is just a matter of time before we recognize that the benefits of marijuana, used responsibly, outweigh the harm inflicted by prohibition.
And I say this as someone who doesn’t indulge much, but when I do, it’s because I feel it’s necessary. If I can’t sleep and I have a choice between a bit of Kush or an Ambien, I will choose the Kush because I believe it’s better for me. I look forward to the day when that’s proven.
Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything you wanted to add?
Just a big thank you.Tags: growgirl Heather Donahue