Clea DuVall talks ‘Lizzie Borden Took an Ax,’ ‘AHS’ and much more in an exclusive interview!
Actress Clea DuVall’s most recent project is a real killer. In the Lifetime thriller Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, she stars as Emma Borden, the older sister to the infamous Lizzie played by Christina Ricci. For those unfamiliar with the story, if that’s even possible, in 1892 Lizzie Borden was tried and acquitted of the brutal ax murders of her father and stepmother in one of the most outrageous trials of all time. It’s been over a century since the gruesome crime occurred, and yet media and historians alike are still hypothesizing if Lizzie really “took” that ax, with some even pointing the finger at sister Emma as being guilty of everything from destroying evidence to actually being the ax-wielding killer herself.
DuVall is no stranger to intense roles, with an extensive film and television pedigree of critically acclaimed nail biting works under her belt, but it’s those kind of complicated characters that speak to her, and we’re happy they do! We recently got the chance to talk with DuVall to discuss what attracts her to the darker characters, her turn as Emma Borden in Lizzie Borden Took an Ax and the possibility of a return to the repertory cast of American Horror Story. Read the interview below to find out more!
CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL INTERVIEW AT THEDAILYQUIRK.COM
Clea DuVall (Argo, pictured), Sheryl Lee (Winter’s Bone), Emily Alyn Lind (J. Edgar), and Academy Award Winning musician/actor Ryan Bingham have joined the cast of the contemporary romance YOUR RIGHT MIND starring, Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up) and Ben Barnes (The Chronicles of Narnia).
Ami Canaan Mann (Texas Killing Fields) is directing her script with principal photography currently underway in Utah. Molly Hassell is producing with Ami Canaan Mann and John Jencks. Jon Avnet (Black Swan), Rodrigo Garcia (“In Treatment”), Highland Film Group’s (HFG) Arianne Fraser and Delphine Perrier, and Main Street Films’ Craig Chang are serving as executive producers. HFG represents the worldwide rights and will continue to shop it to buyers at EFM in Berlin.
Your Right Mind follows Ryan (Barnes), a modern-day traveling folk singer with only a backpack and banjo to his name. Ryan puts his dreams of becoming a successful musician on hold when he meets Jackie, (Heigl) a former country singer fighting for custody of her daughter. Together, with their Passion for music, and soon, each other, they form an unlikely relationship.
Alex Nibley posted this on his BLOG yesterday about Clea:
I did one day of shooting (acting) on the set of the movie Your Right Mind last week. I did a scene with an actor whose face you would recognize even if her name doesn’t ring a bell. After getting up around 4 o’clock for a 5:45 a.m. call, it was just starting to get light and it was bitter cold. Every time the door of the diner where we were shooting opened (which was often) a blast of arctic air hit us. The actor in question was clutching her prop — a pot of hot coffee — to help warm up her bare arms.
I said, “Do you actually have to go outside at the end of every take? Out in the cold in a short-sleeve dress without a coat?” She said, “You know what, there are worse jobs I could have than one where I have to go out in the cold for seven seconds. I’ve waited tables for real. This is better.”
Although the stereotype of the pampered starlet makes better tabloid headlines, I find this actor’s attitude to be much more representative of most of the professionals — actors and crew alike — who work in the film industry.
When you hear all those stories about spoiled Hollywood divas, remember there are a whole lot of real pros out there who are very good at what they do and glad to get a chance to do it. For some reason we don’t hear their stories very often.
The actor’s name is Clea DuVall, a class act and a really good actor.
Click HERE to see all 882 screencaps from Clea in the movie “Lizzie Borden Took an Axe”. Some previews:
Clea DuVall is no stranger to tackling dark subjects on screen.
She starred opposite Angelina Jolie as a pathological liar in “Girl, Interrupted.” She appeared with Sarah Michelle Gellar in the supernatural curse film “The Grudge.” On the popular FX series “American Horror Story,” she met her end at the hands of a fellow named Bloody Face.
Now she can add another character to the list.
In “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax,” airing at 8 tonight on Lifetime, she plays Emma Borden, sister of the 19th-century Fall River woman accused of killing her father and stepmother with a hatchet.
Although the real Lizzie was acquitted of the crime, the movie — as the title suggests — portrays a very guilty woman. And although no evidence exists to suggest that Lizzie’s father sexually abused her or that Lizzie was jealous of her stepmother, the filmmakers explored those persistent rumors as possible motivation for murder in their take on the case.
Emma had an alibi the day of the murders. She was in Fairhaven visiting the Brownell family. She died nine days after Lizzie in 1927 at 76 years old. The sisters are buried side by side at Fall River’s Oak Grove Cemetery, next to their parents.
Duvall, who appeared in the Academy Award-winning film “Argo,” said she had fun playing Emma. She called us from Los Angeles recently to chat about the role.
DEVITT: Lizzie is often the first name we associate with the Borden murders, but Lizzie’s older sister has an important part in the story. How did you bring life to Emma and approach the relationship between the two women?
DUVALL: I really tried to just humanize her. It’s a story that there are a lot of stories about. It’s such a famous case and I think it’s easy to get caught up in that — kind of the gory horror of it all. I just tried to make this a story about a family and a story about a sister trying to figure out or cope with this tragedy, looking at her sister and trying to determine what happened, what’s true, what’s not, all of that.
DEVITT: You grew up 3,000 miles away from Fall River in Los Angeles. How much did you know about the case prior to filming?
DUVALL: I knew the basics but I didn’t know the specifics of it. I just knew there was a woman named Lizzie Borden who was accused of murdering her family.
DEVITT: What drew you to the role?
DUVALL: I was interested in knowing more about Lizzie as an historical figure. I thought the script was really cool and weird and interesting. It was written by Stephen Kay, who is a friend, someone that I’ve known for probably almost 20 years. And Christina (Ricci) is someone that I’ve known since we were kids. I really love her and was really interested in working with her and Nick Gomez, the director. It was the whole package with this. It just seemed like a lot of fun and a fun world to spend some time in. An interesting world.
DEVITT: The home where the murders happened is now the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum. Would you ever visit the house and dare to spend the night?
DUVALL: I mean, I would want to go. I don’t know if I want to stay there. I’d have to see how I felt when I got there. … I would love to go and see it and see if you can feel the energy of that place as you can in some places where horrifying things have happened.
DEVITT: Was there anything that surprised or shocked you over the course of filming?
DUVALL: I think what’s really fascinating — and Christina, Nick and I talked about this a lot before we started filming — was this idea, this newer theory, that the girls were victims of sexual abuse from their father. And looking at it from that perspective was an interesting thing to play with for sure and made it beyond just, ‘Here’s this insane girl who does this crazy thing for no reason.’ Not that she’s justified, but here’s what motivated her, and then in turn, here’s how her sister would feel about her doing that based on what they had experienced.
DEVITT: Fall River, Mass., has a distinct look. I know you filmed the movie in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Could you describe the setting?
DUVALL: We had a wonderful production designer and a wonderful art department. Everything on the sets was really of the time. Halifax is gorgeous, a really beautiful, very green, lush city. It’s a maritime city and as you get more inland it does feel more like a quaint East Coast town.
DEVITT: People around these parts are known for their New England accents and can be very critical when Hollywood attempts to put those accents on screen. Will we hear anyone try a Fall River accent in the film?
DUVALL: No, there are no accents. I think that perhaps it was discussed. It was a really small film. We didn’t have a huge budget. We definitely didn’t have any time. It was such an ambitious film to make in the time that we had. And because you have actors from all over, you have so many accents you’re dealing with and getting everybody on the same page accent-wise, I think, would have been too ambitious.
DEVITT: Do you plan to watch the premiere with everybody else?
DUVALL: I really want to see it. I don’t have television so I don’t know how I’m gonna see it. I really want to see what Christina did. She was so wonderful and I’ve heard from a lot of different people that the movie’s really good and that she’s extraordinary. I’d like to see how it translated on screen based on what we were doing, what I saw in life. Everybody did such an incredible job. I don’t personally love watching myself but I love seeing what my coworkers did. I’m so excited for them, so proud of them and I want to see how it turned out.
DEVITT: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the film?
DUVALL: I hope everybody enjoys it. Watch it for me and tell me how it is.
I would like to thank Natalie for the wonderful new website layout! I hope everyone likes the new layout as much as I do!
Website layout preview:
Actress Clea DuVall talks about gender, Matthew Shepard, and her latest role — in Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, starring Christina Ricci.
On August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were butchered to death with an ax in their home in Fall River, Mass. Their daughter Lizzie Borden was accused of the murders, and the subsequent trial gave her a notoriety that has endured for over a century. Although Borden was acquitted of the crime, the question of “What if?” continues to intrigue the American public, leading to various pop-culture treatments of the story, with the latest being Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, a Lifetime film starring Christina Ricci as Lizzie and Clea DuVall as her older sister, Emma.
“She’s such an interesting person in history,” DuVall tells The Advocate, speaking about Borden via phone while en route to the set of an indie project. “Did she do it? Did she not do it? It’s that era’s version of O.J. [Simpson.] It’s the same kind of fascination with people getting away with murder.”
As an actress, the Argo star is no stranger to the world of crime and intrigue, particularly in her portrayals of women as both perpetrator and victim. Her breakout role in Little Witches centered on girls caught up in occultism and human sacrifice. More recently, she played the lesbian lover of Sarah Paulson’s character in American Horror Story: Asylum and fell victim to the serial killer Bloody Face.
For DuVall, the enduring allure of characters like Lizzie Borden, who was accused of not just killing but brutally hacking her father 11 times and her stepmother at least 18 times with a sharp instrument, is linked directly to the public’s expectations of gender.
“People have this idea [of] all the gender roles that everyone is supposed to play: The men are the aggressors and the women are the gentle homemakers,” DuVall says. “And the idea that a woman could be capable of that kind of brutality” still continues to shock and amaze.
Much of the Lifetime film deals not with the event of the murders of Abby and Andrew Borden, which is seen through sporadic flashbacks that may or may not be real, but rather the trial of Lizzie, where these stereotypes of female behavior are confronted head on.
“She’s pretty. She couldn’t have killed anybody,” the crowd murmurs as Lizzie, portrayed by the wide-eyed Christina Ricci, first enters the courtroom. The prosecutor is tasked with breaking down these preconceptions for the jury and, in turn, the viewer, arguing in his closing remarks for “the cold, merciless fact that confronts us”: that anyone may be capable of violence.
And while some crimes are unforgivable, there may be many LGBT people who identify with Lifetime’s portrayal of Lizzie Borden in the first minutes of the film: a person constrained by the expectations of her gender who rebels in any small way she can, from shoplifting to sneaking out of the house to socialize at parties. “Aren’t you a Sunday school teacher?” one party guest asks Borden, who, martini glass in hand, replies, “Only on Sundays.” Other lines reveal her unhappy state with more candor. “I just wish I had the freedom to live the life I’ve always imagined,” Borden remarks sadly in the opening chapters.
This is the second film to feature the talents of both Ricci and DuVall. “I love working with her,” DuVall remarks. “We’ve known each other for a long time, and we come from similar places.” The first, HBO’s The Laramie Project, also centered on a grisly murder that continues to reverberate in the public consciousness — that of gay man Matthew Shepard. DuVall, who portrayed writer Amanda Gronich in the film more than a decade ago, is still surprised by the political advances that the LGBT Americans have achieved since them, including the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and the rising tide of marriage equality across the United States.
“It was a completely different world before,” DuVall says, reflecting on a recent conversation with a 20-something that revealed the disparity in LGBT perceptions between generations. “Things have started to change for the generation of young people now, and so the world they live in now is completely different than the world we live in. … It’s really exciting and amazing.”
DuVall, who was a lead in the LGBT film But I’m a Cheerleader, and counts Orange Is the New Black star Natasha Lyonne, her costar from Cheerleader, as one of her best friends, wholeheartedly believes in the power of movies like The Laramie Project to educate the public on the struggles of minorities and thus sway hearts and minds.
“It was such a clear-cut hate crime, and I think that it’s important for people to see, to know that happened,” the actress says. “Film is such a great medium to show people what the reality is. [For example,] no matter how much we know about slavery, when 12 Years a Slave came out, we were all so impacted, because it was a reminder of how horrific things were and how vigilant we have to be to not allow anything like that to happen again.”
Be it a witch, a lesbian lover of a cheerleader, or the sister of Lizzie Borden, DuVall’s past roles reveal the struggle that comes with being an outcast — a pain that she says is more universal than one might think.
“I think the thing to remember is that everyone feels like an outsider,” she says. “I think that’s what most people’s struggle come from, most people’s pain comes from feeling … alone and feeling isolated.”
“Being brave enough to be who you are is the only way that you’re going to have a happy life,” she concludes. “It’s so worth it.”
Lizzie Borden Took an Ax will broadcast Saturday at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.