‘It’s Going to be the First One Times a Thousand’: An Interview with TERRIFIER 2’s Lauren LaVera

Sometimes you just get a feeling. When the teaser trailer for TERRIFIER 2 dropped on July 24, the few glimpses we were given of Lauren LaVera as Sienna left this writer with the overwhelming sense that Art had his Laurie. Or as David Howard Thornton would put it, the Batman to his Joker.

Often times horror franchises hit the pavement sprinting but over time, they simply can’t maintain the pace and step by step begin to lose steam. Rare is the franchise that starts strong only to grow stronger, but that very well be the lane TERRIFIER finds itself in, and where LaVera enters the equation.

With a resume that includes Marvel’s IRON FIST as well as a background in martial arts and dance training, LaVera is well equipped to step into the daunting role of nemesis to the already iconic Art the Clown, but it’s her internal drive that will have fans falling in love with Sienna. The badass horror heroine TERRIFIER needs to take things to the next level.

LaVera considers the role a privilege, and demonstrated that with “endless questions” about the character for writer / director Damien Leone and even wrote a character biography to understand Sienna at a molecular level.

A firm release date is yet to be announced, but when Art disciples everywhere finally get the opportunity to lay orbs on TERRIFIER 2, LaVera assures all the blood and gore and action, but also believes the sequel “will be better in every aspect. It will be better. One hundred percent better.”

Ladies and gentlemen, remember the name Lauren LaVera.

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NIGHTMARE NOSTALGIA: When I spoke with David Howard Thornton last April he said that he’d told TERRIFIER writer / director Damien Leone that “Art needs his Batman, the Joker needs his Batman,” a worthy adversary. Then I saw the teaser for TERRIFIER 2 and it just vibed, you were chosen for a reason. How does it feel to be the protagonist in one of the most highly anticipated horror sequels in recent years?

LAUREN LAVERA: It feels amazing. I actually did mention in another recent interview that when I did find out I booked the part I went out to eat with Damien and Dave and that was one of the things that Dave actually said to me. He told me that Sienna is the Batman to Art’s Joker, so I don’t think I really understood the role I was taking on until he said that to me. I was like “Whoa, that’s a pretty heavy statement,” so I think in the beginning I really truly didn’t understand but I think it’s hitting me a little bit more every day, the effect that TERRIFIER has on people and what TERRIFIER 2 is going to mean in my life and both Dave and Damien’s life. If feels great, in short, after all that, it feels great.

NN: Had you seen TERRIFIER before landing the gig?

LL: Actually I knew about TERRIFIER before I auditioned, I knew of it. I had some friends, because I love horror and all of my friends know that I love horror, so I had a lot of friends and acquaintances reach out to me years and months before the audition saying “you should check out this film. You’d really appreciate it, you’d really enjoy it,” and I had every intention to watch it but I just never got around to it.

So, when I found out I had that audition I didn’t have a lot of time to watch the film before my first audition and then I received the callback. I got the callback without even watching the movie so maybe I should continue not watching the movie, I don’t want to see if and then maybe make the wrong choice in my next audition. So, I continued not to watch it until I found out I booked it, and the same day I found out I booked it I watched the film for the first time, and I watched it again a couple of times after that and I really enjoyed it.

NN: Actresses had to be lining up for the role of Sienna, so how did you land the part?

LL: Oh, God. That’s a good question. You know what? When I had received the breakdown I actually didn’t think I would be right for Sienna. So, I sent the breakdown–and for people who don’t know what a breakdown is, it’s what the casting director sends your agent and which your agent sends you, it’s basically a description of the character–and when I read it I was like “I don’t know if I’m this person, I don’t know if I can do this.”

So, I sent it to an actor friend of mine and said “you should audition for this because you would be more likely to get booked for this,” and she was real excited about it and said “yeah, I’ll do it.” I don’t know if she actually did it, but I was surprised each time I got the callback, I was like “wow, I really didn’t think I was the right fit for this,” but I guess Damien and the guys at Fuzz On The Lens saw something that maybe I didn’t. So, I’m happy I took the chance and actually went for it. I don’t know, with every role I just give it my all and hope it sticks. So, yeah, that’s how I booked it (chuckles).

NN: When TERRIFIER landed for the masses two years ago, Art the Clown became almost instantly iconic and a little indie wasn’t so little anymore. The bar was set pretty high for the first of what Leone hopes to be a trilogy, so what can we expect from its follow-up?

LL: You can definitely expect more blood, more gore, definitely more action, but also more story, which is what really drew me to it. The thing with the first TERRIFIER, the reason why people love it so much is because of the insanity that happens in the first one, it’s very gory, there’s a lot of twists and turns that people either loved or hated, so that’s what I liked about it. But it was basically a setup for Art. It was really just go give you an idea, it was supposed to be an introduction to him.

What was lacking in story for the other characters, for the final girls and just for everybody else involved, the difference and what people should really look for in the second one is that it’s very much story-driven around the character of Sienna, around her little brother Jonathan (Elliott Fullam), around her mom and also around her friends, her friends play a huge part, and there’s also some other really wonderful characters that I think people will fall in love with. But you’ll still get all of the same things that people loved about the first one–you’re still going to get that gore, you’re going to get even more action, more blood–it’s just going to be the first one times a thousand plus an interesting story.

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NN: In late July, Leone appeared on The Nick Taylor Horror Show podcast and shared that you were in constant contact with “endless questions” and were journaling about your part, saying that “nobody has ever cared for a character” as much as you had, perhaps even more than he did–adding that Sienna is his favorite character that he’s ever written. Tell us about that preparation process going into TERRIFIER 2.

LL: I spent a lot of time for this, and also in general with my acting coach Bryan Fox, and he’s incredible. I was constantly reaching out to Damien and constantly reaching out to (Fox) with endless questions. I like to read scripts that I book hundreds of times, because I’m a huge fan of Anthony Hopkins and that’s what he does. He reads his scripts like 500 times or something like that, and I didn’t read (chuckles) as much as that but I read it over and over and over again to see if I could pick up little things. It’s all about subtext, so reading between the lines–what is my character really saying with each line–what is the underlying meaning. I also write biographies for my characters, so I’ll make the smallest decisions of what’s my character’s favorite color to broader concepts like what’s their sexual orientation or something like that. It’s just a a deep dive into what I believe Sienna should be.

I also asked Damien make a playlist for me. One of my favorite actors is Mahershala Ali, he’s incredible, and I heard in an interview with him once that he makes a playlist for all of the characters that he takes on because what that person listens to gives you a better idea of what kind of person they are. So, Damien made a whole playlist that I still listen to to this day because I absolutely love it, of songs that Sienna would listen to and it really gave me a better idea of who she was. If she listens to this kind of music she probably is a romantic, she’s probably a this, she’s probably a that, so there was a lot that I put into it including music choice to broader concepts. It was a lot (laughs).

NN: Can you give us a taste of the kind of music Leone thinks that Sienna would listen to?

LL: It’s funny because I’ve said this before, but I think Sienna is a lot like Damien. I mean, he wrote her, but even reading the scripts and hanging out with Damien I see a lot of similarities. One of the bands he put in the playlist a lot was Fleetwood Mac, that’s Damien’s favorite band which I love because I’m a huge Stevie Nicks fan, so when I saw that I was like “wow, that’s really great.” Also, a lot of eighties music. A lot of Fleetwood Mac, a lot of Madonna too which I loved, but also some nineties music like Gin Blossoms and Rage Against the Machine, really great music. It gives you an idea of Sienna’s more dreamy-esque fantasy, she’s very into fantasy and stuff like that, but she also has an edge to her. It’s a lot of variety between eighties synth music to hard rock.

NN: In that same Q&A, Leone also commented on a night during filming that was dingy and cold and that he was a bit down but looked over at you covered in blood, wearing a skimpy Halloween costume, suffering more than anyone, but you just smiled. Would it be fair to say that you don’t just see this film as an opportunity but a privilege?

LL: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. In all fairness I do think that every job is a privilege, I’m very grateful with every job that I had, but there was something very special about this film. There was something very special about the camaraderie that we all developed on set, with me and Damien as well, we keep in contact frequently talking about the character, talking about the entire process. We’ve all developed a great love for each other, a great respect for each other. Sometimes I would just take a step back and look at everybody on set, see how tired they all looked and how hard they were working and I was just thrilled thinking we’re all making something very special together. It was very easy for me to smile at times because I was just in awe with the people that I was working with.

NN: You also have background in martial arts and dance, so how helpful were those skill sets in what had to have been a grueling and physically demanding shoot?

LL: It was immensely helpful because through my martial arts I’ve made a lot of friends who are also martial artists and who are also stunt performers, so because of that I train with my friends who are martial artists and stunt performers. We train on mats, we train on how to fall, we train on how to take a hit, and this was a very action-heavy role to take on. Sienna gets beat up a lot and she beats up a lot, as well. If I hadn’t known how to properly fall, how to properly take a hit I could have seriously been hurt or I could have seriously hurt somebody. That experience was absolutely beneficial in the long run with this type of role.

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NN: What makes David Howard Thornton so special in that clown costume?

LL: (Laughs) What he really brings to the character, his whole experience, he’s a comedian first and foremost. One thing that I truly believe is that it’s much easier for comedians to venture into more dramatic roles that dramatic actors to venture into comedic roles, because comedic roles in my opinion are much harder to take on. There’s a nuance, there’s a formula to it, and I think because he’s this hilarious guy with this wonderful personality he’s able to give Art this sadistic but also a you-can’t-help-but-love-him type of personality because of the type of person that (Thornton) is. Really, his whole essence is what makes Art so special.

NN: You touched on how funny Thornton is (as well as the character), but there’s also a switch that he can flip where it’s very menacing and unnerving, that stare with his eyes is absolutely terrifying. After all your prep, what went through your mind when you finally set up for your first scene and just before Leone yelled “action” and you’re staring at Art the Clown?

LL: Definitely terror. It was not hard for me to feel afraid of Art the Clown. Dave is a different story, I could never be afraid of Dave, but as soon as he gets into character, as soon as he manipulates his body, as soon as he manipulates his face it’s much easier to be afraid of him. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m terrified of clowns to begin with and the character that Damien created with the prosthetics that he made are truly horrifying. I felt everything. Every time I look afraid I’m truly afraid because it’s actually very scary to witness in real life. A lot of it was done with dark lighting and I felt like I was alone because of how the stage was set up, so it was definitely very scary.

NN: Speaking of Dave, we reached out to Mr. Thornton and he said that maybe we should ask you about the ghosts at Fright Factory and the house you stayed at upstate during filming. 

LL: (Laughs) That’s funny. I have a very interesting relationship with my belief in ghosts because I really feel in my life that I have encountered supernatural entities. However, I’m the type of person that refuses to believe that they exist. I constantly tell that to myself because I don’t think I’d be able to sleep at night if I would give in to the things that I believe that I saw.

At the Fright Factory, yes, he told me some things but I’m the type of person who tries to stay oblivious to it, I’m like “no, that didn’t happen” just because I’m terrified of it, I”m very much a scaredy cat. (Thornton) said he saw things moving, there was a mechanical doll that went off by itself in the Fright Factory which I cannot deal with because dolls scare the hell out of me. Especially porcelain dolls, and that was a very creepy porcelain doll. I was like “okay Dave, whatever you say. I just won’t go in that room.”

And the same at the house we stayed at upstate, a priest died there and apparently he wasn’t the best person, so there was some creaking. I actually stayed in his room, so I personally could not deal with it and just tried not to listen to whatever ghost stories people told me. I was just the type of person that said “okay, whatever. I can’t listen to it,” so yeah (chuckles), that’s my take on it.

NN: Horror fans are a passionate bunch, are you ready for the fervor to come once the film drops?

LL: I cannot wait. I’ve already had my fair dosage of horror fans because there were a lot of horror fans who were on the set of TERRIFIER 2 because they donated to get the film made, they’re wonderful people. They got to hang out with us, and I still talk to them because they’re amazing. As well as online, I’ve already had people reach out to me with just so much love and so much support. I’m floored by the horror community because they’re like you said very passionate, but really wonderful people because they just want fun and want good entertainment and I really truly believe that we’re going to deliver that. I’m excited to meet every single fan.

NN: We know that you can’t give much away, but what can you share that will leave TERRIFIER fans champing at the bit until the big unveiling?

LL: (Laughs) Wow, that’s a tough question. I’m not even quite sure what I can share. What I can say is that it definitely will be bigger and better in every aspect. There will be more story and I think, again that was what was lacking in the first one and that some people were complaining about. Damien is the type of person that reads every comment and tries to listen to all of his fans. He knows that he can’t please everyone, obviously, but he puts everything into consideration. (Leone) often says “they’re either trolling or they have something of substance to say,” and he really takes all of that into consideration. He’s listened to everybody’s thoughts on the first one and how he can improve the second one. I truly believe that the second one will be better in every aspect. It will be better. One hundred percent better.

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