Danielle Panabaker first made her mark on the entertainment scene with roles in Disney productions such as ‘Stuck in the Suburbs’ and ‘Sky High’. A lot has changed in that time and she has blossomed as a performer. One of the most intriguing young star’s in Hollywood, she has grown immensely as an actress and her resume grows more diverse with every role. The latest project she has taken on, Austin Chick’s “Girls Against Boys,” is no exception to that rule. The film centers on Shae (Danielle Panabaker), a naïve college student, is tormented by several men in a matter of days. As she reaches her breaking point, she is drawn into coworker Lu’s (Nicole LaLiberte) twisted plan for revenge. Together, the two embark on a gruesome killing spree, terrorizing and brutally murdering not just their attackers, but any man who gets in their way. However, after a wild weekend of retaliation, the friendship between the girls shifts into a dangerous obsession, and their perverse game becomes a desperate struggle for Shae to maintain control against Lu’s deadly and seductive influence. In addition to Danielle Panabaker, the solid ensemble cast of ‘Girls Against Boys’ features Nicole LaLiberte (Dexter), Andrew Howard (Limitless), Michael Stahl-David (Cloverfield), and Liam Aiken (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) and was written and directed by acclaimed director Austin Chick (XX/XY, August). Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon caught up with Danielle Panabaker to discuss her evolution as an actress, her influences both on and off screen, the challenges of making “Boys Against Girls” and more!
What about acting intrigued you early on and made you pursue it as a career?
That is an interesting question. I feel like I fell into acting initially. My sister and I started doing it when we were younger, doing community theater. It wasn’t until I was fortunate enough to work on “Empire Falls” that I really began to love it and understand all the different craftsman and artists involved in creating a film. They really bring to life everything you see and experience while watching it. I think that was what really ignited my passion for acting.
Who would you cite as some of your biggest influences on-screen and off?
Good question! On-screen, going back to “Empire Falls,” I am very grateful that everyone was so kind to me. I was the youngest person on set by far and it was really my first professional experience. There were so many great experiences from the sound guy explaining to me not to crinkle my crackers over my line to Ed [Harris] working so hard to create a relationship. They are certainly role models for me. Particularly, the director, Fred Schepisi, was incredibly kind to me and helped so much. I will always be grateful to them all. In my personal life, I think I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by really incredible people. First and foremost, I wouldn’t be where I am without my parents. It starts there. I have been very lucky to create a family, so to speak, in LA with some great people. The producer of “Sky High” and his wife mean the world to me and have always been there for me to talk me through career choices but also help me with life choices. I feel very lucky in that way.
Your latest project is a dark film called “Girls Against Boys.” What can you tell us about the character you play and the film?
The film to me is a coming of age story of a young woman who is going to school in New York. She suffers through a really traumatic event. She is assaulted and raped after going through a break up, so she is having a really tough time when a young woman named Lu comes into her life. Lu helps her get back on her feet and get a little bit of ownership back and together the two girls go to seek revenge.
What was it about the project or the script that intrigued you?
It was really nice to be given the opportunity to do a role that has such a full arc. Often times, characters for women are written as the girlfriend or the daughter of someone. This role was a chance for me to take the reins and take the character completely through the arc of the film. That was very attractive to me, along with working with the director, Austin Chick. He was so wonderful and truly a great collaborator. Both of those were wonderful reasons to be a part of this film!
What elements did you bring to this character that wasn’t in the original script?
That is another interesting question. I think I tried to create Shae to be someone who had a life before this weekend, the majority of the film takes place over a weekend. I wanted to be someone who had a life before this happened and who would have a life after. I think that was a big part of bringing the character to life for this film and to flesh out the story arc.
You mentioned Austin Chick. What did you take away as an actor from your time on this project and working with him?
I had a great experience. I was very empowered by my experience in New York, as it was my first time in that city. It is a challenging city! I learned the subway and was able to get around. I was really proud of myself for that! [laughs] It was a great collaboration between myself and Austin, which I am grateful for as well. It was a chance to really sink my teeth into something, to discuss things with him and then work it out by trying it. It was incredible and something I will take with me moving forward.
Did you do research for your character before jumping into the project?
As much as possible! I had some time before I met Austin in New York for filming and I tried to do a lot of research and preparation. I worked with Nicole LaLiberte to get to know her beforehand. Because our relationship is so intimate in the film, I wanted to have a relationship between the two of us as people so we could draw from that. I did do some research on women who have gone through an experience like this. I read a couple of books and tried to find as many articles online. I found when researching this topic online that the anonymity of the Internet gives many women more of a voice in an experience like this. Austin had also recommended a few films for me to watch. The one that sticks in my mind the most is “Lilya 4-Ever.” I took a look at the film and tried to get a sense of what he was looking for, as well.
There are a lot of elements at play in this film. What were the biggest challenges with this project?
I think every day posed a different challenge. The beginning of our shoot was a lot of the stuff in the loft with all of the guys. That was very emotionally challenging, not to mention I think we went through three boxes of Cap’n Crunch or maybe more! I don’t think it was something I was prepared for! [laughs] Some of the slo-mo stuff in the film was really challenging and technically difficult. It can be very tedious to shoot, particularly the shot underwater. That was a little frustrating for me because I knew what Austin was looking for and I was having trouble giving it to him.
You have had an impressive career so far and made some terrific choices. How have you evolved in your craft since you started?
I think I am constantly evolving. Hopefully! [laughs] I continue to study and try to push myself as an actor and also as a person. I think, by default, having more experiences helps to inform my work. I think so much of how I have grown comes from life experience and hopefully it translates into my work as well.
Is there a particular type of film or genre you want to take on in the short term to challenge yourself as an actor?
I love the variety! I am so fortunate that I get to work in a lot of different fields. What was great about this film was the character and getting to delve into something so dramatic. I would love to do another drama piece in the vein of “Empire Falls” or something similar with a great ensemble. I would also love to do something with more action! I think it would be really fun and I love the physical challenge of training and I think it is really cool!
What is the best piece of advice someone passed along to you in regards to your career?
Helen Hunt told me to keep training and studying. That would also be my advice to aspiring actors as well. I think it is really important to keep challenging yourself and expanding your knowledge.
Thanks so much for your time today, Danielle. We really enjoyed the film and look forward to seeing what you have in store for us in the years to come!
Thank you so much! Take care!