For over a decade, Fiona Dourif has been quietly establishing herself as a force to be reckoned with in the world of genre film. Fearless, quick-witted, intensely expressive, and laser-focused, she pours her heart and soul into every role to take them to the next level. Her dedication to her craft is evident as each new project brings exciting new opportunities for performances that stick with audiences long after they leave the theater. Her latest project, Brando Lee‘s “Don’t Look at the Demon,” is no exception to the rule. Additionally, it is a testament to her collaborative spirit, which has helped her carve out a unique niche in the entertainment industry.
Based on real (banned) religious rituals and the director’s personal experiences, this unique horror film also serves as the first Malaysian movie in history to hit United States theaters. Centering around troubled medium Jules, played by Fiona Dourif (Chucky, Tenet, The Blacklist, Shameless) an American team of paranormal TV investigators, along with Harris Dickinson (Where the Crawdads Sing, Triangle of Sadness, The King’s Man), Jordon Belfi (Entourage), and Randy Wayne (Dukes of Hazard: The Beginning) an American television crew of paranormal investigators go to the home of a couple who claim to have experienced inexplicable, threatening disturbances. Delving into the mystery, they encounter possessions and apparitions more terrifying than any they’d witnessed before – actual contact with the other side. As the cameras roll and bodies are possessed, they’re inevitably overwhelmed by this violent supernatural force. Their only hope? Jules. She refuses to face what really happened when her first supernatural encounter left her sister dead. But her dark past, if she can unlock it, could be their only hope of stopping the demon before it’s too late.
Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Fiona Dourif to discuss her unique career path, her evolution as an actor, and the material that speaks to her. Most importantly, she offers an inside look at making her latest spine-tingling project, ‘Don’t Look At The Demon,’ which is available now on iTunes, Prime Video, VUDU, and Googleplay from Outsider Pictures.
You have become a very familiar face on the screen in film and television. What drew you to the craft of acting?
I didn’t think I was going to do it initially. I come from a line of actors. My grandmother was an actor, as well as my father, obviously. As a teenager, I wanted to do whatever was utterly different from my family. I was one of those! [laughs] When I was 23 or 24 years old, the bug caught me, which is quite late for an actor. I went on a couple of auditions, and they ended up working well. Then I fell into it! [laughs] There is something about the desire to do it. It must be genetic! [laughs] I don’t understand it, but it sure seems that way!
Was there a specific moment you remember being bit by that bug?
There was! I was in an improv class. I moved back to Los Angeles when I was 23 years old. I had been living in Ireland. When I returned to LA, someone suggested I try this improv class. So I did it, begrudgingly. I was doing some stupid skit about a pizza, but there was a moment when I completely lost myself, and it felt like flying. It was a fantastic experience. I became not self-conscious in a way that I had never felt before. So there was that and the fact that the teacher thought I could do it. So, at the end of it, I thought, “Wow! If I could do that for a living, it would be crazy! It would be so fun.” It took a while for me to be able to make it work, but it’s been working for a minute!
When do you feel that you came into your own in terms of your craft?
Ten years after starting! I waited tables until I was 33. It was about that time that I started getting enough work to support myself. Then I got on a couple of TV shows. Then, if you are known for something, people start hiring you for other things. I fell into this specific niche, but I am lucky because it’s also one I love. I play a lot of visceral monsters! [laughs] I play bloody, deeply disturbed, or disturbing half-creatures. It’s something that I enjoy playing and get offers for, which is really lucky. By the way, getting acting work has always felt like winning the lottery. I know thousands of people work hard at it, but only a few actually get to do it. So it feels like getting a lucky lottery number, and I’m very grateful.
I know you’ve seen the entertainment from all sides. What lessons did you learn early on in your career that continue to resonate?
You are a cog in a wheel. For a performance or piece to work, there are a lot of elements that are out of your control. But, ultimately, everything comes together and works. That is generally true with a lot of things, right? Even if you paint a painting, it has to have timing and be thematically released in the right place. It’s just so evident in film and television. You can try very hard to make something the way you want it to be, but even the director doesn’t have the final say. It’s a cohesive piece of interworking art that takes on a life of its own and either works or doesn’t. Even the person with the final cut is cutting together other people’s work. You have to have one person with an overarching vision. This is one of the reasons I wanted to do ‘Don’t Look At The Demon.’
You have to have someone with an overarching vision, and the script has to work on these elemental levels. It can be very different, but the plot and story have to have purpose and movement. And then, honestly, you have to have a shit ton of luck! [laughs] The performances have to be strong. The thing that people don’t often realize is how sound is. You can have a scene that doesn’t work, but if you change the sound design, it can go from zero to 160 with the right sound mix. Hats off to those guys! You see the Oscars and someone getting up on stage and saying, “Thank you so much!” When you think about the number of people who’ve played a role in that one person getting the award, it’s crazy! Acting, directing, and everything else is such a collaborative thing. It takes so many people to make something work!
As you mentioned, one of your latest projects is ‘Don’t Look At The Demon.’ What spoke to you about the project?
I had coffee with the director, Brando Lee, and he is a huge fan of the genre. That is so cool to encounter because not everybody has it. We talked about horror movies for a really long time, and he liked what I liked, which was cool. It’s a Malaysian movie. It was shot in Malaysia. Every element of it was made by Malaysian people. Aside from three American actors, this is a specifically Malaysian movie shot in Kuala Lumpur. Our director, Brando Lee, wanted to make a haunted house movie that was a fun, wild ride that is pretty specific to his culture. A lot of the rituals in the film are real. He grew up with these things; they are a part of his culture. That really spoke to me. It’s a cool, spooky thing, but it was also an adventure for me. I got to go to corners of Kuala Lumpur that you would never see as a tourist. A couple of the monks featured in the film were real monks. So, I made memories that I would never have had otherwise. I got to sit in on rituals that felt really special. That’s one of the coolest things about this life and something I feel so lucky for.
The inspiration for the movie came from something that had happened to him that he felt was supernatural. I don’t feel totally comfortable telling that story because I only remember specific fragments of it, and I don’t want to butcher it. However, it came from a deep belief that he had in this. It was so personal to him, which is so cool. Brando had a deep belief in the supernatural and blends it together where it becomes this very jump-scare, long-possession, crass and disturbing movie.
What is your typical process for bringing a character to life, and how does it relate to this project?
I have all kinds of different ways that I use to get my feet into different characters. It varies really wildly, so I don’t have one specific thing that I use. [laughs] It also feels ridiculous to try and describe. What is it like to try to walk around, feel and understand how one person would feel in any situation? It’s my favorite part about acting! In this film, I’m playing a medium who doesn’t want to be a medium anymore but has psychic powers. I’m playing my mother! [laughs] My mother was a professional psychic! [laughs] I’m very ambivalent about whether people can or cannot have that ability. I really don’t know. I’m more skeptical than not, but I am familiar with what faith in that looks like. My mother was a brilliant, singular woman. I thought about her a lot during the filming. She had just Passed in the year that we shot the film. That was another one of the reasons I wanted to do this film.
What were your biggest challenges with the role and most significant takeaways from this experience?
Regarding challenges, everything moved at a very different tempo. Often, when you shoot in other countries, you’re still working with a crew that feels familiar. By that, I mean you are still working with an AD or in a lighting situation where everyone speaks the same language. This was shot at a different pace in a foreign country, and nothing about making the movie felt familiar. That was pretty cool. I was playing a fish out of water in the movie, and I felt like a fish out of water while filming the movie! [laughs] The pace was much calmer. American films are shot at a much more rapid pace. It’s very much on the go, and time is money. So, this movie wasn’t that. My biggest takeaway from the experience is simple —”go on adventures.” You never know; you might end up with a weird, spooky, jump-scare haunted house movie in the end as well! [laughs]
What do you think most people would be surprised to learn about this film?
We were staying in this hotel above a casino, and one of the actors kept having to change rooms because they felt something weird was happening! We found out the folklore of the hotel was that people kept jumping off the tower because they had lost everything in the casino downstairs. There were a lot of tangents in that, but I wanted to work with Brando because we really liked each other and had a genuine connection. Most importantly, he was making something that he was very passionate about. How cool is that? Another interesting tidbit I learned from Brando was that it’s only been in the last two decades where Malaysian film has been allowed to depict the supernatural. Before that, it existed solely in people’s imaginations. So this movie is cool on a lot of levels. I’m proud of Brando, and I hope he is happy with it!
How do you feel you’ve most evolved as an actor throughout your career?
The secret with acting is that everybody gets better at being more comfortable. Commitment is 60% of it, but it’s so much easier to commit when your heart isn’t racing. I have become more confident and more comfortable, and because of that, I can take wider swings. I’ve also been lucky that I don’t get cast as “the girl” usually. I get cast as these monsters, which allows me to take wild swings to the back of the ballpark and see if it works! [laughs]
What do you look for in the material you take on?
It generally comes down to getting to a place where I can understand what drives the person. That particular theme is interesting to me. It differs from project to project. Every once and a while, I will get something that feels like an ingenue, and I don’t like playing it because I feel like I’m lying or something. If what is driving the person feels like something I can portray in some meaningful way, that intrigues me. I’m also intrigued by concepts I want to explore and think more deeply about. That’s important to factor in because when you take on a project, it’s going to be something that’s going to occupy part of your brain for months. Right now, I’m often cast as people with a chip on their shoulder! [laughs] I don’t know if every actor thinks this way, but it is the case for me. It seems very meaty to me and like there is a lot to sink my teeth into. I’m grateful that I have fallen into that niche.
Before I let you go, thank you and the creative team behind the ‘Chucky’ series for giving us such a wild ride with the television series. Nica Pierce has had quite an arc! What does this character mean to you?
I love her! She was the most traditional heroine I have ever played, and then she got more deluded as things progressed. The suffering she has endured keeps increasing exponentially with each installment of the franchise. Just wait until you see what Don Mancini has in store! He keeps changing it. He keeps giving me more and more things to do, which is really great, and so lucky when it comes to a returning character in a franchise!
I can’t wait to see where the journey takes you. Thanks for your time today, Fiona!
Thanks so much for talking to me. Everybody should go check out “Don’t Look At The Demon” when it starts streaming on November 22nd!
‘Don’t Look At The Demon’ is available on iTunes, Prime Video, VUDU and Googleplay from November 22nd, 2022.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.