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     Robin Tunney

on making THE CRAFT

interview by Douglas Eby 

"What attracted me to do THE CRAFT was they wanted me to do it," Tunney notes, "and it was a lead girl, and nobody's ever thought of me as that. I'm usually 'the strange best friend,' or 'the really troubled one.' I hate the leading girl in movies usually, especially in teen movies - like 'the ingenue' - I want to stuff her in a locker."

She has seen a work print of THE CRAFT with most of the special effects in place, and thinks "they're really intense; they're great special effects. That's what's going to sell the movie, just because it doesn't have a lot of the other parts of horror films. You never want to admit you're doing a horror film when you're doing one; you like to think it's a psychological thriller, just because everybody associates horror films with bad acting. But THE CRAFT really has no genre: the acting is not over the top, and the dialogue is very real, and it's not campy so the special effects had to be impeccable, or it would just be hokey.

"In a way the film is magic, but it explores things that are very real. Adolescence is really a horrible time, and these girls come into themselves through magic and through these abilities, and learn lessons that have nothing to do with magic, that girls go through all the time. And It's about time that girls took over in a movie, and are not just the girlfriend or the object of someone's desire; they're taking control, and they're sort of the underdogs of the school, and they come into their own through magic." 

She notes the film "starts off like a teen film, like SIXTEEN CANDLES or something, only more eery, and then all of a sudden they're witches, and it's full-blown special effects. It's classy. Doug Wick [the producer] is so classy, and that's part of the reason I trusted him. When you hear the theme, you go 'Oh God' - they could do it totally campy, which I'm not interested in as an acting style. I like real films. And Andy [Fleming, the director] is just fantastic too. So I knew it wouldn't be girls running down alleys with their breasts hanging out and stuff. I'm sick of that. Girls are about so much more than that. I think people are going to want to go see a film where the women are strong, and it's about them.

"I went to Catholic high school, so my being in this is not going to make my grandmother very happy. It's funny, because I was the only one who is Catholic in it. You have this thing in mass where you have to genuflect before you go into the pew, so I said you have to do this [for a scene] and they said why, and I said because you have to; I don't know why, it's a rule. Or like instinct. It's funny they set in a Catholic school. I went to St. Ignatius College Prep - "Where Modesty is our Policy."

"I took a year off after high school because I wanted to act, and I didn't want to study drama in a college atmosphere. Drama in big doses always drove me nuts: they were always so dramatic, and I thought acting is about real people - why do they surround themselves with all actors. So it's been a few years now since I graduated and I love acting. I regret parts of going to college because I think it's a marvelous time to find your peer group, and discover things."

Tunney says she really likes being able to play different characters: "I'm nothing like Sara in THE CRAFT, and I'm nothing like Deborah, that I did in EMPIRE, or like the girl I was in ENCINO MAN. It's fun to play different people, and when you have that separateness from someone, it's easier for me to play them, because you look at the person from an outsider point of view, and you know the things they do. If you're just playing yourself, somehow it just seems too easy. 

"My first professional job was in a CBS School Break Special, and I'm glad I did stuff like that, because I've learned how to hit my mark and how to find my light, and how to match, without there being tons of risk, so on THE CRAFT I really got to work, and all that stuff wasn't in the way, it's just second nature. And I was working a lot of seventeen hour days, in almost every scene, and I don't think I could have kept that up if it was my first job.

"EMPIRE RECORDS I'm really thrilled I did: it was the first movie or first acting work where I really liked my performance. I took a lot of chances and I learned a lot of lessons about working in film and having an opinion, and that it's okay to say maybe I should try this, or I think she would do this, or I don't think she'd say that. Before, I always felt like a kid, and felt like I was so lucky to be there, that I just said their lines and did whatever, and I didn't really feel it was collaborative.

"But on EMPIRE I learned that was okay, and I got to make all these crazy choices. I shaved my head in a scene, and that was my idea, and it really helped the performance, and I learned that making solid acting choices is important. But I made friends, and had a really good time making EMPIRE.

"I was very young doing ENCINO MAN, and it was fun. It was a comedy, and I haven't done one since, it's just nice to know you can. I was really campy and over the top in it as a mall girl - but you're supposed to be. One thing I like about it is nobody can label you when you do parts like that, or doing the "Depressed Gothic Girl" - and that's something Hollywood loves to do, putting somebody in a category because it's safe. And I just want to keep on surprising people; I don't want them to know what I really look like, or what I really sound like. 

The movie she did with Ed Harris after that - RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE - was "such a blast," she exclaims. "I've done a lot of teen ensemble things, so it was nice to work with a lot of adults. It was actually the highest rated TNT original movie of all time, which is so great for Ed and Amy, because they worked their butts off. Ed is just the coolest; he's as good as it gets. 

Returning to THE CRAFT, Tunney explains that "some of the ritual and ideology of Wicca got lost. But it's a movie, and I think it will have general audiences be interested, and the lovely thing about it is that it does introduce Wicca as a religion, and we do follow some of the things, but I think people have to put their foot in one toe at a time, in order to understand it. But it's a film, and you want people from ages of thirteen to twenty five who have never heard of witchcraft to understand, so you have to speak in general terms. If people get more interested, they will read up on it and will understand about the Goddess.

"I read a number of books about Wicca when I got the role, but I didn't want to do too much, because Sarah, my character, knows nothing about it; she's sort of a natural witch, she's had this ability since she was a little girl. And she finds out slowly about it. I had a world religions class in high school, and I've been interested in different religions, mostly in Buddhism and Hinduism. But I had never known anyone who practiced Wicca, and still had that stereotypical thought of it being someone in a pointy hat and a green face, and it was interesting to meet Pat [the witchcraft consultant]. Some of the ritual stuff we do is true to it, from books.

"Weird things have happened during Pagan ceremonies on Leo Carrillo Beach, and that's where we were shooting. There was an altar we had built, and we end up invoking this spirit, but at the beginning it was to give thanks, and we all brought things to sacrifice, according to whatever element we represented. But the altar got washed up and then Fairuza [Balk] got very ill, which was weird.

Making the film was "a lot of hard work," she found, "but I'm happy with the way it turned out. I think it's going to make people laugh, and I think it's everything it's supposed to be. It's exciting. It's the first time I've ever done a movie where it turned out better than the script. And it was better than my expectations, which is just great. 

"I think when someone is up on the screen and you're watching them, there's something behind their eyes that makes them interesting, there's a life there. A lot of your career as an actor is having a rich life, going out and having experiences that are real so you have something to draw on. If you're constantly in the cycle of work, work, work that it's really hard to grow.

"Actors and actresses that take time off to lead interesting lives are much more interesting to watch. I think in order to be happy doing films, and live away from home for three months, and be uprooted, and have a hundred and fifty people in the crew that are your new best friends - you really have to have a good idea of who you are. And the only way you learn about who you are is just through having life experiences and having good relationships. If you just surround yourself with make-believe all the time, you're going to be sort of empty when you're up there on the screen. Those are not the people you're compelled to watch." 

Being in THE CRAFT was "a huge growth" for Tunney as an actor, she says. "It was terrifying to be a lead. It wasn't like being in a small part where you're trying to figure how to stuff a whole character into a short screen time, and make the audience know everything about her.

"In the lead you have to be there more often, and you can't be as clever, because when the audience sees you up there all the time, they'll see you thinking and they get to know you, so you have to be real every moment, not think about anything but the situation that you're in. It's also a matter of subtlety: you can't act too much when you're playing a lead, because you're up there and they'll see you acting."

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[originally published in Cinefantastique magazine, 1996]

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video:  The Craft

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