Grippingly frightening dedicated fans of the horror genre through physical and emotional scares can be a challenging task, as many viewers have become desensitized, and are unable to relate to characters who are contending with distressing situations. So creating enthralling and insightful horror movies and televisions series that captivatingly chronicle the problems of contemporary society in a purposeful way is certainly an even bigger challenge.

But actress Lydia Hearst, who starred in last year’s horror prequel, ‘Cabin Fever: Patient Zero,’ has naturally created characters in two such compelling, thought-provoking horror movies this fall: one in first-time feature film writer and director Eli Morgan Gesner’s ‘Condemned,’ which opened this weekend in theaters and on Digital HD, and the second in first-time feature film scribe and helmer Tara Subkoff’s ‘#Horror,’ which is set to be released in theaters and on VOD on Friday. The model-turned-actress will also play Charlotte Roberts in the upcoming WEtv supernatural thriller series, ‘South of Hell,’ which was directed by Eli Roth and produced by Jason Blum, who also co-created the series together. The entire first season of WEtv’s second original scripted series will debut on the cable network on Friday, November 27, before becoming available on VOD the next day.

‘Condemned’ follows Maya (Dylan Penn), a young woman who has become increasing upset over her parents’ continuous fighting and depreciation of the luxuries they’ve been given as part of their wealth. So she reaches out to her boyfriend, Dante (Ronen Rubinstein), in desperation, and he convinces her to move in with him and his roommates, Tess (Hearst) and Vince (Jon Abrahams). Maya’s initially excited to leave her toxic family home and truly start her life with Dante, but she’s shocked when she soon discovers that he’s squatting in an old, condemned building on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. She becomes even more despondent when she finds out that her boyfriend is nonchalant towards the illegal and immoral lifestyle many of his neighbors take part in, including taking and dealing drugs.

But that corrupt lifestyle soon becomes the least of Maya and Dante’s worries, as a virus born from the tenants’ combined toxic waste and garbage begins to infect the building’s residents. One by one, they each succumb to a terrifying pathogen that turns them into bloodthirsty, rampaging killers, and transforms their building into a savage slaughterhouse.

Hearst generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Condemned’ and ‘#Horror’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actress discussed that she was drawn to play Tess in ‘Condemned’ because not only is she an avid fan of the horror genre, but also because the character is relatable in the sense that she’s the victim of circumstance and poor life choices; how she appreciated Gesner’s approach to helming, because even as a first-time feature film writer and director, he still felt comfortable enough with his material to allow her and her co-stars to develop their characters’ relationships together; and how she thinks it’s extremely important that Subkoff incorporated an anti-bullying message in ‘#Horror,’ as cyber attacks have become increasingly detrimental in recent years.

ShockYa (SY): You star as Tess in the upcoming horror film, ‘Condemned,’ which follows a group of squatters who are living in an old, condemned building in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and it’s even more toxic to their health than it appears. What attracted you to your role of Tess in the movie, and how did you become involved?

Lydia Hearst (LH): Well, I love horror movies-it’s one of my all-time favorite genres. From the moment I read the script, I absolutely fell in love with the character of Tess, and knew I had to play her. She’s so different from who I am as an individual, and is really a true character.

But at the same time, I felt sorry for Tess, because she’s the victim of circumstance and poor life choices. We find out that she used to be a model, and now she’s battling addiction, which led to her living, and fighting for her life, in this condemned building.

SY: The movie was penned and helmed by first-time feature filmmaker, Eli Morgan Gesner. What was your experience of collaborating with him on the story, as well as your ideas on Tess’ backstory?

LH: Working with Eli was great. He gave Jonny Abrahams and I the liberty to create our own backstory for our characters. We were given the material in the script, but Jonny and I were able to get together and create our relationship, as well as the history and life that lead (our characters) to this place.

Shooting the movie was really fun-we were all working together in this one building. The cast and crew were so professional and nice. I really loved working with everyone involved on this project.

SY: ‘Condemned’ features a diverse ensemble cast, including Dylan Penn and Ronen Rubinstein, whose characters are also living in the condemned building and are affected by its increasingly toxic nature. How did you bond with the rest of the cast before you began, and while you were, shooting the movie? Did you have any rehearsal time together?

LH: I love that rehearsal experience. I think doing various theatrical exercises as they’re preparing for their roles is something that a lot of actors should experiment with, especially if they’re new to the acting field. It’s helpful to sit down and have a conversation with your co-stars, during which you build a history and life for your characters. That makes the situations feel that much realer when you’re in the moment.

SY: The majority of the movie takes place, and was filmed, in the title Manhattan condemned building where the squatters live, and are ultimately infected. What was your experience of shooting the film on location? Does the process help you relate your character and the overall story?

LH: Filming on location was really helpful. We really were in that building, and it was disgusting. (laughs) But it was also a lot of fun. The building really was condemned, and I have no idea how Eli found it. Everything you see was really there; the set design as incredible.

SY: Once the residents begin to become infected by the virus, the horror movie features increasingly intriguing stunts as they begin to target each other. Did you perform your own stunts while you were filming?

LH: Yes, I did perform my action sequences. I don’t think I have ever had a stunt person on any of my films, actually.

SY: What was the experience of filming the movie independently, especially since it’s driven by action sequences and stunts? Did shooting independently influence the way you and the rest of the cast and crew could creatively shoot the film?

LH: I think it did positively influence me. Since we filmed the movie independently, I was able to become more over-the-top and emotional as I was playing Tess than I would have been if the movie had a larger budget or was made at a studio. We were really able to make our own choices and stick with them. So that helped make this be such a fun movie to make. I hope that audiences can see how much fun we had while we were filming, and love the movie as much as we do.

SY: ‘Condemned’ begins by showing the residents struggling to financially survive, and then shows their transformation into vicious killers after they’re infected by the virus that forms in the condemned building. What was the process of showing Tess’ emotional and physical transformation after she was infected?

LH: Well, I love taking on a challenge. With Tess, even though she’s living in this decrepit, grotesque building, she’s a very relatable character. She’s vulnerable and truly in love with Vince. She’s a victim of bad circumstances and poor life choices.

Up until she says the line, “Oh, my God, I’m a junkie,’ I don’t think she ever realized she had a problem. She was living in a world of denial. If the building hadn’t become infected, maybe she and Vince would have gone to rehab and move to the Upper East Side.

SY: ‘Condemned’ (is currently playing) in theaters and on Digital HD. Are you personally a fan of watching films On Demand? Why do you think the platform is beneficial for independent films like this one?

LH: I think the On Demand platform is so helpful. I think it exists to the extent that it does today because if you have a full-time job and kids, it’s hard to get to the theater. I love going to the movie theater, but because I’m always working and traveling, the closest I ever get to a theater is an airplane television.

SY: The movie had its premiere last month at ScreamFest in Los Angeles. Were you able to attend the screening at the festival, and if so, what was the experience like for you?

LH: I was able to attend the premiere. It was amazing to see Tess on the big screen and what the building looks like through the lens. It was just as I remembered it, so it was so much fun to watch it in the theater. While we were making the film, I don’t think we realized how grotesque some of the scenes are, so it was great to be able to watch those moments back. I love Eli’s vision and how he brought it to life.

SY: Besides ‘Condemned,’ you have starred in several other horror projects throughout your acting career, including first-time feature film writer-director Tara Subkoff’s upcoming movie, ‘#Horror.’ What was it about the character of Lisa, as well as the story, that convinced you to take on the role?

LH: Well, I have been friends with Tara for years, and we really wanted to get to work together on her directorial debut. So I’m really happy that we were able to do so.

I only had a smaller role in the film, due to scheduling conflicts, but I love the character of Lisa. She’s a little bit of a bad girl. As far as horror films go, if you’re a bad girl, you don’t last very long. She helps set up the feel for the entire film, including all of the trouble that ensues.

SY: ‘#Horror’ shows the damaging emotional effects that cyberbullying have on adolescents As a fan of horror films, why do you think it’s important for movies to discuss such an important issue that’s so harrowingly affecting modern teens?

LH: I think it’s extremely important because a real situation; it’s not unfathomable for something like this to happen in our society. Despite the fact that there are all of these anti-bullying campaigns, I think people are still confused over what cyber bulling really is. I think many people don’t feel as though harassment on social media is really bad, but you’re still being a bully. I think that everyone does have a voice, but not everyone realizes how loud it is, and what it can do to the individual it’s reaching.

Interview: Lydia Hearst Talks Condemned (Exclusive)
Lydia Hearst as Tess in the horror film ‘Condemned,’ an RLJ Entertainment release.
Photo credit: Paul Sarkis.

Written by: Karen Benardello

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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