When we first met Sarah Butler, for an interview 5 short years ago, she was a relative newcomer to the entertainment business. It was her role in remake of one of horror’s most brutal and controversial films that established her as an artist to watch. As the days rolled by, we have continued to follow her career as she has continued to tackle bigger projects and even more ambitious material across a plethora of genres. She will be the first to tell you it hasn’t been the easiest of journeys. Thought it all, this natural beauty has continued to intrigue even the most hardened critics, amass legions of dedicated fans and maintain her down-to-earth attitude and razor sharp wit. What you will learn very quickly from talking to Sarah about her career is that her creative fire burns as more intensely as ever before as she continues to expand her horizons.
In 2015, Sarah has stepped back into the world from which she got her start. In ‘I Spit On Your Grave 3,” she reprises her role as Jennifer Hills, who is still tormented by the brutal sexual assault she endured years ago (in 2010’s ‘I Spit On Your Grave’). She’s changed identities and cities, reluctantly joining a support group where she begins to piece together a new life. But when her new friend’s murderer goes free and the tales of serial rapists haunt her, Jennifer will hunt down the men responsible and do what the system won’t – make them pay for their crimes in the most horrific ways imaginable. Only this time, no jury may be able to save her. Jennifer Landon, Doug McKeon, and Gabriel Hogan co-star in this unforgiving, unmerciful and uncut new chapter of one of the most notorious franchises in movie history.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Sarah Butler to discuss her blossoming career, her triumphant return to the ‘I Spit On Your Grave’ franchises, the challenges of bringing the film from script to screen and what the future may hold for this star on the rise.
Last time we spoke, you were still new to the business and audiences were just about to discover you through your role in “I Spit On Your Grave.” How has life changed for you in those five years?
Oh, man! [laughs] That could be a long answer! [laughs] Things have changed immensely. The first “I Spit On Your Grave” was a huge gift to me in my career. It gave me many opportunities. It has been a great experience to see what one movie can do for my whole career and how people can all of a sudden have faith in me after seeing me in one role. I have been really lucky since then and I have been able to build a resume with quite a number of independent films and TV appearances. I am hoping that this new film helps to bring even more awareness to my career.
The first “I Spit On Your Grave” film, that you were a part of, was a remake. It seemed to resonate with fans, spawned a sequel and now a third film. Were you surprised with the way fans responded to the film and you in the role?
Oh yeah! It was definitely a surprise. Before the film was released, when we last talked, there was a lot of skepticism from people who loved the original, wanted to see it respected and didn’t think anyone could do it justice. Then there were the people who hated the original and wondered why you would ever remake such an awful film. We had a lot of people who were adverse to us doing it on both sides and were eager to find any kind of weakness in me, my skills or my character. I faced a lot of people judging me prematurely and it was kind of difficult. I stepped away from paying attention to different reviews and people’s comments on the internet. People were just throwing up comments without trying to understand something enough to write an actual piece on it and just putting their opinions out there. They tended to be pretty harsh! People really don’t hold back! [laughs] When the film came out, I was definitely holding my breath thinking, “Please don’t be too cruel to me.” It was a huge surprise to see how warmly it was received. I think the most exciting part was winning over the people who had held the original so close to their heart. A lot of those people ended up being behind us. I certainly don’t want to offend anyone but I like doing this. I like playing Jennifer Hills and I hope they enjoy this new movie as much as they did the first one.
The new film, “I Spit On Your Grave 3: Vengeance,” has you reprising your role as Jennifer Hills. What drew you back into this franchise? Was it a no-brainer?
Yeah, it was pretty much a no-brainer. I wanted to make sure it was a good script but when I was approached and asked if I would be interested in being in the third film. I said “Absolutely! Give me a script! I want to make sure you don’t make me do something ridiculous but I would love to reprise that role.” Jennifer Hills is one of my favorite characters I have played. I was with her as she went through so many things and this project gave me the opportunity to have an new set of challenges and experiences as Jennifer. It was an amazing opportunity because you don’t often get the opportunity to expand a character when it is a feature film. Sequels are not the norm, so I feel very lucky to be able to do that!
Was it difficult to step back into the world of Jennifer Hills after all these years?
It wasn’t too bad actually. I watched the film again to remind myself what I had been through. That helped a lot and then I floated through it. It can be exhausting to be in a negative mental state for a long period of time and being beaten down by life. It can be exhausting operating from that sort of perspective. That is one of the best parts of doing a sequel. You don’t have to do as much prep work because it has already been done.
How does the experience of making the first film compare and contrast to your time on this new film?
Everything was different! For the first film, we shot in Louisiana in the middle of a swamp, out in the middle of nowhere. For “I Spit On Your Grave 3,” we shot in Los Angeles in the middle of the city. We had a different director and a completely different cast. I was the only returning cast member, as you could probably expect! [laughs] Obviously, after all these years, there were none of the same crew members involved. Every part of the project was different. The good part about shooting in LA was that you get to go home to your own bed at night. I almost prefer shooting on location because it helps keep you focused and your chores at home don’t tend to get in the way. After a long day or night on set, because we did a lot of night shoots, it was nice to go back to my own bed and try to get some rest. It was an exhausting process. I thought the first film was exhausting but this one was even more so! We were really down to the wire and had even fewer days to shoot from what we had on the first movie. I think that is kind of the trend now. Five or six years ago, films were shot in three weeks. All the veterans in the film industry were complaining about that and saying, “How do they make a film so quickly?” Now, I am finding more and more that some films want to shoot in two weeks. More time means more money, so that was a big difference on this project. We were shooting 14-hour days and it really took it out of all of us. Nonetheless, with all the differences, I will say the one thing that is always the same and has stayed consistent is that it is always fun. We always have a good time, so that is why I keep doing it!
You mentioned being curious about the script going into the project. What did you bring to the material this time around that may not have been on the written page?
Well, let me toot my own horn for a minute! [laughs] One thing that was obviously with me was the experience of Jennifer from the first film and the ordeal I went through. That obviously can’t be written on the page but it is there. That really informed everything that I did in this new film. People’s pasts are very powerful. If you have ever been to a psychologist or seen a psychologist portrayed on television or in film, you always see them point back to people’s childhoods as the source of people’s mental and emotional issues. Playing Jennifer Hills was no exception to that rule. The whole point of the film and the question that it begs is can someone recover from an ordeal like that? At this point, you kind of see Jennifer making the attempt, even if it is feeble, to reintegrate herself back into society. The question is can she leave behind what happened to her and to what degree will she be able to do so. That was the biggest part that I brought. If they had hired someone else to play this role, I wouldn’t say something would have been missing but it would have been up to that actress to generate that on her own and it would have been a big challenge. That is why I say it is a gift to do a sequel because you really don’t have to do all the work to put that in there. It is there because it is part of you already.
You had a new director for “I Spit On Your Grave 3” with R.D. Braunstein. What did he bring to the table for the project?
Richard was smart to want to maintain the parts of the first film that made it so successful. Of course, every director wants to put their own stamp on things. He wanted to make sure we felt free to do whatever we thought felt right for us even if it wasn’t quite in line with the first film. He wanted us to remember it was our own film and we could do what we wanted with it. The thing about doing the first film was that it was a remake. When we were doing the first film, we really did have to be careful. With this new project, it is totally outside of the realm of the first film. I think RIchard wanted to show what he was capable of without being held to any constraints and he wanted me to be free as well. He would always remind me by saying, “Go in there and do what you do!” He always made me feel that I should be confident in my choices. That was a really great space to operate from as an actor.
As I am sure you can attest, each project has its own unique challenges. What stands out to you as the biggest challenge on this film?
I really felt I had a responsibility to uphold the franchise. I was really the only common denominator from the first film to this film. I wanted this film to be worthy of being part of the franchise. Even though no one put these kinds of responsibilities on me, it is something I tend to do to myself with whatever I do! [laughs] I really did want to deliver for my fans, myself and the people at Anchor Bay who had put a lot of faith in me and helped me along in my career. I wanted to give them the best that I had and continue the storyline in a very real and believable way and deliver a really entertaining product. As you can tell, that is a lot! [laughs] I really did exhaust myself in the process. It was a difficult shoot and there were times where I definitely didn’t have enough sleep. Trying to still do a good job and have a good time to boot was a challenge. It is really important to keep both of those things in mind, otherwise, what the hell are you doing? Balancing your responsibilities with the act of having a good time and enjoying what we do is definitely a challenge on any project.
How have you most evolved as an actor since you started in the industry?
I think the biggest thing has been trying to expand into different genres. Starting out in the revenge horror genre, I tended to get a lot of opportunities within the genre and in ones close to it, which has been great. I couldn’t ask for better fans or a more fun genre to get started in. It has been really awesome but, of course, we always want to expand and show we are capable of more. At times it has been difficult but, a few years ago, I did an action film called “Free Fall” and it was a big opportunity to show what else I was capable of. This past year, I have done quite a bit in the world of indie dramas, straight dramas that are very dialogue driven, no action in them and center around very character based, intellectual based conversations to entertain the audience. That has presented a whole new challenge to me as an actress. It has definitely been fun to rise to that challenge but it has been a difficult process to get people to see me in that light. I am really excited to have had that growth recently and I hope people enjoy it. We will have to see because a lot of these projects are still coming out and aren’t finished post-production yet.
What is a dream role for you?
Oh, that is tough. It is hard to narrow it down but I do love fantasy films because it does really allow you to go deeply into your imagination. The role that Keira Knightley has in “Pirates of The Caribbean” would be amazing. You get to go to an exotic location with intriguing people and amazing actors working alongside of you, all under an epic director! [laughs] Who doesn’t want to pretend you’re a pirate all day?! [laughs] But like I said, there is so much out there. I just watched “The Martian” a couple of nights ago and it just shows you how our horizons and imaginations are expanding. There are so many awesome opportunities as an actor and the more the human mind expands, the more opportunities we have to tell different stories. I am such a lucky person to be in an industry where it is never-ending and a constant journey with new and exciting opportunities around every corner.
We have seen you grow as an actress on screen and talked about it today but I wanted to touch on the aspects we don’t necessarily see. What is the best lesson we can take away from your journey so far?
Wow. Listen, you have to love what you have. I was just thinking earlier today about the cliched phrase and what they mean by, “If don’t have what you want, then want what you have.” I think that is a great life lesson. As an actor, there are certainly times when you go through a drought where you don’t have a whole lot of love or validation coming in and there might not be many things that are fun. However, even an audition can be an amazing opportunity for fun, enjoyment and gratitude. You have to love what is going on in your life at any given moment. If you aren’t acting on set but you have an audition, make it count. Have fun. Make it the most fun thing you have done. If that isn’t happening, make a YouTube video. The point is — enjoy yourself. That is what our profession is really all about. It is the in-between times that really matter. You have to keep yourself happy and nurtured, so you will be able to shine when an opportunity comes along and you can blow them all away. Never get down and keep your head up!
Awesome advice, Sarah! Thanks for your time today! It has been a pleasure watching you over the years and we can’t wait to see where you take us next!
It was great talking to you again, Jason! Take care!
Just in time for the Halloween season, ‘I Spit On Your Grave 3’ hits DVD, Blu, Ray and VOD on October 20th. You can follow the continuing adventures of Sarah Butler on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!