In 1978, director Meir Zarchi unleashed his film, ‘I Spit On Your Grave,’ to the masses. The film ended up being banned in several countries after being condemned by critics for its graphic violence. The film eventually experienced a second life in the Mom and Pop video stores that littered the neighborhoods of suburbia in the mid-’80s, elevating it to “cult” status among genre fans. Three decades later, director Steven R. Monroe’s remade the film, which many consider “sacred ground,” and stands ready to bring it to a new generation.
Sarah Butler is the talented young actress who scored the lead role in this ambitious project. Butler plays the role of Jennifer Hills, a budding novelist who travels to a remote cabin to write for a few months, only to be brutally attacked by a pack of depraved local men. Jennifer’s journey into darkness does not end there, as she seeks revenge and dishes out her own brand of justice — brutally murdering her attackers, one by one. I am sure you are thinking, “the horror genre is not typically the genre for a breakout role,” but ‘I Spit On Your Grave’ is not your typical horror film. On screen, Butler’s portrayal of “Jennifer” is anything but one-dimensional. She breathes life into this iconic role, making it jump from the screen as she peels back the layers in a role that is sure to leave a lasting mark on critics and audiences. Icon Vs. Icon’s Jason Price recently sat down with this multi-faceted actress to discuss the process of remaking this cult classic, the challenges that it presents along the way, and her thoughts on her big-screen debut!
Let’s give everyone a little background on you. Where did you grow up and why decide to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?
I grew up in a small town called Tulalip, Washington. I did a lot of theater when I was in school there and really enjoyed it. After that, I came down to Los Angles to study the arts at USC. That is how I got down here. Eventually, I found my way into auditioning, having known some people that were in the game. I asked them what I could do to get started. I basically started from the bottom of the ladder and I am working my way up. I have always kind of been an entertainer! [laughs]
‘I Spit On Your Grave’ is one of your breakout roles. How did you originally get involved with the project?
It just came through as any other audition would. You know, set your sights, study these lines, go to this place at a certain time and read those lines. Then I got a second audition and I got the script at that point … I was like “Whooooaaaaa! What is this!” [laughs] I was a little bit apprehensive at that point but after talking to my management, who assured me that it was going to be “bad ass” in his words, [laughs] and some respected friends in the industry, I realized that it was a great opportunity for me. The character goes through so much and there is a huge arc. It was a great honor to get the role.
Did you have any reservations playing the lead in the film due to the graphic nature of the film?
Yeah, totally! That was my initial “Whoooaa!” I honestly think my first reaction was, “I can’t do this movie! This is crazy! What is this sick thing?!” [laughs] Like I said, it was the people that I respect around me that got me pointed in the right direction. From there I was like, “Why are they all so excited about it? Let me do some deeper thinking!” That is when I really realized that this was, and I don’t want to sound blasphemous and say it was a blessing, but it kinda was! It is not very often that someone at this point in their career gets a role offered to them of this magnitude. I really got room to stretch my muscles in this film and it was really fun to do! It was such a great breakout job for me! It was fun and an honor!
Were you familiar with the original film before you took on the role?
Not at all. I didn’t even know that it existed! I had no idea but, after I got cast, I rented it! At that point, I had already read our script and become very familiar with it, so I knew what to expect.
Did you do anything to prepare yourself for your role mentally, seeing as what your character goes through both psychologically and physically is so brutal?
No. It was something that, if I had prepared for too much, it would have been like shooting myself in the foot because our natural tendency as human beings is to shield ourselves from pain, fear and all of the things that I needed to tell this story. Basically, I went into the scenes where I was being victimized with an open mind. I went into it as a normal person going through their day in their life and then is suddenly attacked for no reason. It wasn’t hard to react to that just having such talented costars who were surrounding me and being so creepy and terrible! They did such a good job at that! [laughs] It was such a pact mentality and it was very frightening being in the middle of that, so I had to genuinely react to that.
For you as an actress, what was the biggest challenge in making this film?
Towards the end of filming was the most challenging day that I had. Each of the kills during my revenge were shot in one day, so basically, I got to kill a guy a day! That is a very short schedule to shoot such big scenes that involve so many different elements. At that point, I was not only controlling a bunch of prosthetics and special effects makeup things in the midst of playing this character that is mentally over the edge after everything she and I have been through. That was very challenging. I also had to control the scenes because I had most, if not all, of the dialog in those scenes and had to be remaining in control of the situation at all times, driving the story forward pretty much on my own at that point. There was a lot to juggle there doing those scenes. On top of it, I had such feeling of guilt for the positions that these guys where being put in because, at that point in the shoot, they had become my friends, much to the directors dismay. He didn’t want us to hang out but we did anyway. [laughs] It was hard to see them tied up in different positions, complaining that their arms were completely numb, and smeared with fake blood. It was hard to be cruel to them at times but it was actually a good motivator as well because the more cruel I could be to them faster, the quicker they would be out of those positions as we got the shot we needed and moved on. I think that guys were quite surprised at the anger and violence that I was able to pull out. [laughs]
Moving away from the darkness of the film for a second, what part of this process was the most fun for you?
Probably the most fun that I had was during those revenge scenes just because, after all that I had been through, there was so much there to use and bring against these guys. To add that element, a little point of insanity [laughs] and having many layers to work with is something that I really enjoyed — playing the subtleties of the post attack Jennifer. I would say a close second is the day that I got to lay out on my dock in my bikini, that was a fun day too.
Nothing wrong with that! I knew we should have done a set visit! [laughs] [laughs] Yeah!
The film has been making the rounds at many film festivals and is generating quite a buzz. How has the overall process of presenting the film to the masses been for you, be it fans of the genre and the critics?
The audiences have been amazing. They have been so supportive, the whole community. We feel really lucky that we have an overwhelming amount of support from fans of the original film, which is a hard thing to do. Everyone that has come up to me at festivals or conventions have been really complimentary and are getting really psyched that the film is getting ready to hit theaters. I suppose there are other people out there that have different opinions, but I guess they just don’t wait in the line to come tell me! [laughs] That’s OK with me! I did watch the film in Montreal at the Fantasia Film Festival with an audience. That was a great experience! It was like a dream come true. I had been saying in interviews for a while that I hoped that people would stand up and cheer at the end because they were able to go along for that ride and root me on the whole way. That is exactly what happened! As soon as there was any sign of me coming back, the audience started with an “Ooooooohhhh” or “Ahhhhhhhhhh” and clapped anytime that I would kill someone! There would be little groups of standing ovations here and there! The crowd was just electric! It was loud in there and it was exactly what I had hoped for!
Very cool. Do you have any fears of being typecast as a “Scream Queen?”
Well, that is always a concern of every actor. No actor wants to be stuck in one single genre. It is something that we are always aware of. I wouldn’t say that it is a fear, but I am definitely aware that it could happen. But at this point in my career, I feel like I have so much more to give. I don’t feel that I am stuck right now. That is the focus of my representatives and myself at this point, to seek out that perfect next project to be the perfect counterpart to this one. It is kinda difficult because ‘I Spit On Your Grave’ is a very strong genre film, but there are different things out there that we can counter it with. Maybe you will see me next in a romantic comedy, who knows! It is really exciting to be out there looking for the right thing!
What is the best piece of advice that someone has given you along the way in your career?
Just to enjoy the journey. It sounds so simple, but it is such a great piece of advice, just for life in general. You hear all of these little life lessons and anecdotes that people say, you hear people say them your whole life. Then for some reason someone says it to you and it all of a sudden makes sense and means so much, it rings so true! For some reason, that one has just stuck with me. Sometimes I will go on an audition. I am on this huge lot that is like a maze and people are looking at me funny! I am thinking, “Did I wear the right thing?” Or like this morning, my power went out and I am supposed to be all dolled up for some on-camera interviews! These things pop up but I always remember to enjoy the journey because I will look back at this time and think, “Remember when I was so freaked out that one day that I didn’t have the right dress on!” That stuff doesn’t even matter in the grand scheme of things because I am sure that no matter where I am, I will be happy there. I will be able to adapt to where life takes me.
Where can fans catch you next?
They can catch me promoting this film! That is what my life is all about right now! I am going to be going to the Calgary International Film Festival and then I will be going to Sitges Film Festival in Spain. Basically, I am traveling around trying to bring this film to peoples’ attention while I am looking for the next big acting project.
Thank you so much for your time, Sarah! We think you did an amazing job on the film and we look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!
Thank you so much!
‘I Spit On Your Grave’ hits theaters in “Unrated” form on October 8, 2010. Check out the official website for ‘I Spit On Your Grave’ at www.ispitonyourgravemovie.com!