on making THE CRAFT
interview by Douglas Eby
Rachel True plays Rochelle in THE CRAFT, one of three high school girls dabbling in magic to get better test grades and making the right boy pay attention. But they are having only limited success until, adding a fourth girl to make their secret circle or coven more authentic, they start to have some real power.
"In the film," True explains, "my group of high school friends are into - I can't even say witchcraft, because it's not not even witchcraft - they're just into gaining their power, so they start off doing little chants. In any other world, they'd be prayers, but they take it three steps further. Their friendship strengthens as their power grows, but we know what happens when people corrupt power, right? To me, that's kind of the lesson in the film, because one of the lessons of witchcraft is that whatever you put out comes back times three, so if you're putting out flowers and love, that's what you're going to get back, and if you're putting out 'I hate you - Die' that might come back as well.
"We're talking about four girls who don't have any power in school - they are the misfits, the outcasts that everyone makes fun of and nobody wants to talk to, so in the beginning it is them just trying to say to the world, hey, I'm here and I'm okay - and nobody listens, so they take it ten steps further: 'I'm really here. I'm going to show you I'm okay!'
"Not to make it sound pat, but each of the characters has a problem," True adds. "Mine - Rochelle's - is that she has an overbearing Dad, and she's the only black student at this school, so it's a little more subtle than some of the other characters; Bonnie, for example, was burned in a car accident, so she's dealing with scars in the outside world, whereas my character's dealing with scars that are on the inside world, and how she deals with that. And I can relate to that, because I went to an all white school, so I knew what that was like. And it was hard at the time, but anything that's difficult you learn from, don't you?"
There were a lot of reptiles and snakes used in the movie, but True "got off really lucky," she admits. "I'm fascinated and repelled by insects and reptiles, so I was kind of looking forward to working with them, but when I found out I didn't have to, I was perfectly okay. That was just fine with me. The character Sarah, who is the fourth girl in the group, runs into problems and she's the one who ends up covered in snakes: poor Sarah!
"Even befor doing this film, I've always been interested in mythology. Ever since I was a kid, and when I was young I focused on Greek and Roman myths, because that's what you learn, and then I sort of opened it up and started reading Robert Graves and certain other books that weren't so much about witchcraft, as much as Goddess mythology, and I find that really interesting.
"Once I got the role, they had a Wiccan priestess as an advisor for us, Pat Devin, and she was very helpful in recommending books on the subject. And of course to her, it's truth and it's religion, it's not four little made-up girls doing fantasy chants, so it was interesting trying to put the two together, to bring her truth to making a movie in Hollywood.
"I think the producers were interested in making it truthful. You're going to bend some stuff - it's a Hollywood movie - but, at the same time, having Pat Devin there was really great on their part, and a lot of the chants are true chants, which was a little freaky to me at certain points, because you think 'Oh well, you know, I'm not really into this but I am conjuring up something here'.
"We filmed one scene on the beach and there was definitely weird energy around, and we were followed around by a white owl to several different locations, and little things like that, or certain mishaps would happen and you'd have to wonder what that was about. So I'm not going to say anything was following us around, but I definitely felt like there was energy. I think some Wiccan groups are going to be thrilled this film is being made, and some not.
True had not worked before with any of the other lead actresses [Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Fairuza Balk], but says she had known most of their work, and really respected them, so was very happy to get the job.
"My stepmother is Verona Barnes," True notes, "and she's no longer working, but she was a New York theater actress, and came to New York with "The Great White Hope" with James Earl Jones. She was absolutely an inspiration to me, because when I was a little kid the first time I saw her on stage when I was five or six, all I could think was that is so much power, seeing her onstage was just the most powerful image, and that's always stuck with me, even when I wasn't necessarily thinking I was going to be an actress.
"The first work I did was three 'Cosby' shows in New York, those were the first actual on-camera things I did. Then I did the movie CB4, a rap parody in the SPINAL TAP vein. Then once I moved here, I did a lot of television, a lot of sitcoms - any black sitcom you can name, I've probably done. Then I did a Movie of the Week called STALKING BACK, which was a really good experience. Doing EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE was actually a blast, because I was working with a really good director named Anne Goursaud. She was an editor for Francis Ford Coppola - she edited DRACULA and a lot of his films.
"So it was great working with a good director, doing guerrilla filmmaking - shooting a feature film in two weeks, mostly on night shoots (which I thought was perfect, because it was a vampire movie). I think everyone probably has a horror movie tucked away. The director was just going to have the vampire break my neck, and I said 'No - no way. If I'm in a vampire movie, the man is biting my neck. I will not be in this movie if I can't get my neck bitten!' I mean, isn't that the whole point of being in a vampire movie? Well, I got my wish. And I got to work with good people like Alyssa Milano and Jordan Ladd."
Her new film, called NOWHERE, is directed by Greg Araki - "an independent guy, really talented," True comments. "I had the lead in that, so I was kind of thrilled to get to work with him. It's sort of like a '90210' on acid. That would be my description.
"I saw a roughcut of THE CRAFT, which I really liked. When you work on a movie, you just have no idea how it's going to come out; you hope it's good, but you don't really know, and you don't see it until about six or nine months afterward, and I saw it and was pretty pleased. I was happy.
"As far as developing a career as an actress, I think it's a fine balance between trying to just work, and also be true to yourself. If you're fortunate enough, you get to a position where you can be a little pickier about your roles. Which is not to discount everything I've done in my past; everything I have learned tremendously from. So now I feel I'm lucky in the respect that I can sort of pick a little more carefully, which is tricky because as a black actress, there aren't that many roles to pick from. Which is why I felt I was truly blessed this year, with leads in two nice films, and also the luxury of being able to do a studio film and an independent afterwards was fantastic."
There is some more opportunity now for black actresses in film, True thinks. "It must be said to the credit of a lot of the people I read for, I do get to read for roles that are not specifically black. That's double-edged: it's amazing that they're bringing me in and showing people new ideas, and at the same time it's a little hard because seventy percent of the time or even higher I'm not going to get those roles.
"But I do feel it's worth it to go in. In fact, EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE was not written as a black role at all; I think I was one of the only black girls to read for it, but the director and I connected, and she like my reading, and I got the part.
"And that was amazing, that here's someone who's willing to take a chance, and change something a little bit. Also with a movie like THE CRAFT: that could easily have been done with four white girls; I was actually amazed when I got the script - here's a regular little high school script, and there's a black character in it, and she's not selling drugs, she's not selling her body, she's just a high school student, and a middle class high school student at that, which I think is an area that does need to be represented in film and television. It's starting to be a little bit."
But also it needs to be in a realistic format, she says. "Like the 'Cosby Show' is a sitcom, and was ultra perfect. They're starting to open that up a little and bring in realistic middle class, upper middle class, lower middle class blacks, showing the whole spectrum, so it's not just 'Got to be in a gang to get out of my life.' So it's nice to be in a movie that's breaking that a little bit."
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[originally published in Cinefantastique magazine, 1996]
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