Danielle Panabaker oddly enjoys being terrorized for a living. Just last year we watched as Jason Voorhees tormented her and a group of unsuspecting teens in Friday the 13th and now she’ll have to outrun a terrible virus with the power to turn you into a psychopathic killer in The Crazies. The film is a remake of the 1973 George A. Romero original during which a top-secret government virus called Trixie accidently infects the water supply of Evans City, Pennsylvania. Breck Eisner’s reboot moves the action to a town called Ogden Marsh, where average citizens like Becca Darling (Panabaker) are subject to the horror of not knowing who maintains their sanity and who has been transformed into a murderous monster.
Check out what Panabaker told me working on The Crazies, her relationship with her sister Kay and plans to continue her horror career with John Carpenter’s The Ward.
SY: You’ve got a thing for horror remakes don’t you?
[Laughs] Well, it’s been really great to be able to work and keep working. So, yeah, I guess I’m the horror remake girl right now.
SY: What scares you more, a slasher wielding a giant machete or an insanity-inducing virus?
I really loved working on Friday the 13th and it certainly has an ionic horror character, but to me, The Crazies is actually a lot scarier. It has more of a thriller aspect – I was sitting on the edge of my seat. I feel like with Friday the 13th you know Jason’s coming to get the stupid teenagers, but with this film you don’t know where the crazies are and who’s really crazy and how crazy they are. I think that this was actually scarier for me to experience because even having read the script, I knew exactly what was coming but it was still really scary.
SY: Can you tell me about your character?
My character Becca is a resident of the small town Ogden Marsh and she is still in high school, she has a high school boyfriend and as her after school job she works for Judy Dutton (Radha Mitchell) as her medical assistant and receptionist at her practice. So she is just a really good, wholesome, good-natured young woman.
SY: Does she have a connection to anyone in the original film?
I actually haven’t seen the original film. My mentality is while we are certainly a remake of George Romero’s original film, we definitely have our own spin on things and our own take.
SY: I spoke with your sister when she was promoting Fame and asked her if she’d seen Friday the 13th. It was so sweet; she said she couldn’t handle seeing you in that situation even though it’s completely fictional.
She’s really sweet! I think it’s difficult for both of us to watch the other work. She did an episode of Grey’s Anatomy where she gets into a fight with her sister and then her sister dies and that was particularly devastating for me. There’s certainly that connection between the two of us.
SY: Are you planning to work together anytime soon?
I would love to work with her. We haven’t made any specific plans. We worked together not that long ago on a film for Disney and at this point I think it would be about finding the right piece of material that we felt was appropriate for both of us because we have such different, not significantly, but we certainly have different careers.
SY: How was your experience working with Joe Anderson, Radha Mitchell and Tim Olyphant?
I really had a great time! I think Joe is one of the most talented young actors I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. And Tim, I’m really excited for him because I think that this film could do great things for him because I feel like everyone knows his face – our generation probably knows him best from The Girl Next Door – but I think this has been a really great opportunity for him to really step into the leading man’s shoes. He’s great and he has three beautiful children, he and his wife have been married 15 years. Radha is such a wonderful individual. She’s so cool and funky and just has her own personality. If you’re going to be stuck in Iowa with four other people they were great people to be stuck with.
SY: Were there any scenes that were particularly difficult to film?
There were a lot of scenes that were difficult to film. The scene where my character and Radha’s character are strapped into a gurney was really intense. It’s very difficult to be strapped to a gurney all day and a little claustrophobic and confining. The car wash scene was very difficult and collectively [it took] seven or eight days to film all of the different pieces of that and we were wet for a lot of it, we were shooting in really small confined spaces. We shot in an actual car wash so that was a really intense – you’re riding on the elements of an actual moving car wash: the soap, the water and then the crazies are attacking you from every angle and you really can’t see where they’re coming from.
SY: I think one of the stills released from the film is of you in the car wash and you have this awful look of sheer terror on your face. Just the photo is heart breaking!
Good! I’m glad! Hopefully that was an appropriate emotion for someone who’s faced with the crazies.
SY: How was it working with Breck Eisner?
I think that he is incredibly talented. We were working on a comparably small budget and the scope and the vastness he was able to obtain with this movie was just incredible. He does such a great job of capturing the intimate nature of a small town but also the vast and expansive [impact] a biohazardous chemical like this would have.
SY: You’ve got The Ward coming up which sounds like a great film. Another horror movie?
It is, it is! It was actually a really great opportunity. I think one of the primary reasons I decided to do the film was to get the opportunity to work with John Carpenter who hasn’t made a film in probably about ten years, if not more! The man is not only an icon but such a gifted and talented filmmaker and I was so excited to get to work with him.
SY: Has filming wrapped?
Yes! We finished last September.
SY: Will we get to see a trailer soon?
I don’t know. Hopefully soon. I actually haven’t heard anything. I think John is probably finishing his cut right now and then from there hopefully there will be more movement. I think the movie will be great though.
SY: You’re going in the complete opposite direction with Renaissance Girl. Are you looking forward to doing a romantic comedy?
Yes! At this point in time I don’t know if the film is actually going to get made. I would love it if it could get made. The movie is so funny. I think it’s a really cool quirky script and yes, I would absolutely love the change of pace to do a romantic comedy.
SY: So what’s keeping it from getting made?
Money! I need lots of money!
SY: Oh, of course! Isn’t that always the case?
I think the film just needs to get financed.
SY: Do you know who’ll play the love interest?
I don’t. I don’t think anyone else has really been cast. I’ve been attached to that film for several years now and would really love to see it get made.
SY: Do you have a wish list?
No one really comes to mind. I think there would be a great opportunity for a young male lead. I think it’s a particularly difficult age range for men; it’s that cross from teenage into manhood. It would be a great opportunity to discover some really new exciting talent.
By Perri Nemiroff