In "The Forest," Natalie Dormer heads to the depths of the Aokighara forest in Jap|Lionsgate2/2
In "The Forest," Natalie Dormer heads to the depths of the Aokighara forest in Jap|Lionsgate
Natalie Dormer is sick of talking about "The Hunger Games" and "Game of Thrones."
"You and I are going to get on like a house on fire," blurts the English actress when she finds out this jounalist has never seen a single episode of the HBO series.
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Luckily, we're talking about “The Forest,” a new horror film in which she plays a young American trying to find her missing twin sister (also played by Dormer), who’s gone missing inside Japan’s dense Aokigahara forest — a beautiful but feared place where some people go to commit suicide.
Not that Dormer, 33, would do just any old horror film.
“The Forest” is an unusual horror film. It's heavy on ideas, about grief, sibling love, even a bit of feminism.
It’s a smart horror movie. It’s a thinking person’s horror movie. So I can talk about it in a junket and sound halfway intelligent. [Laughs] That’s why I took the role. I’ve never contemplated, in real seriousness, of doing a horror movie before. I’m a film snob. I like genre made at a high spec. I wasn’t a horror fanatic. I don’t really get a joy out of scaring myself, so I don’t seek it out in horror movies. But I know a good movie when I see one, like “The Others,” “The Orphanage,” even “It Follows” from last year. Good storytelling is good storytelling.
What particularly made you think this stood apart from the rest?
I could imagine hearing my sister or someone I really cared about being on the other side of the world and was in pain or in danger. You would get on a plane. There’s this idea that we all carry baggage, we all have demons, we have all something, big or small, we regret later in life. We all carry guilt. That’s the most terrifying thing, when things in horror movies are plausible.
Still, you have to do a lot of technical stuff, like acting scared and running.
[Laughs] I got really, really, really good at bolting through a forest as quickly as possible, avoiding roots that are going to break my ankle or branches that are going to take out my eye, then stopping dead in the exact right position I needed to. I’m really good at sprinting and stopping now.
This wasn’t shot in Aokigahara but in the Tara National Forest in Serbia. Was it spooky shooting in the woods, even with a full crew and lights?
It wasn’t terrifying. It’s kind of like how a sex scene is the most unsexy thing you can shoot. Horror movies are actually unbelievably unscary to shoot. When you watch it, you find yourself jumping at it, even though you were there. Once you add the music and the elements, that’s when the alchemy happens.
You did get to do a touch of shooting around Aokigahara. Did you actually step off the path, which people advise not doing?
I stepped five meters off the path. My driver wouldn’t step half a meter off the path. I thought he was joking at first. I stepped off and clamored over the roots. I turned away and my driver wouldn’t step off. I was like, “Come here and take a selfie with me.” He genuinely would not step off the path. That made me reassess it, because they’re a very respectful culture. They are superstitious and they are spiritual, and they’re very respectful of the heritage. And there’s a lot of heritage in the Aokigahara forest.
Horror is also a genre that, more than most, features female protagonists. Do you sense that the meatier female roles are in genre films, even now?
I genuinely think the tide is turning on that. Cinema is finally catching up with what television has known for a long time, which is that three-dimensional, fully-fleshed-out characters who are contradictory — i.e., they read as real human beings — are commercial. The message is finally coming through. Katniss Everdeen as a blockbuster character proves that; the money argument doesn’t stand. They’re 50 percent of your audience, so please cater to them.
You actually co-wrote a film with your fiance, Anthony Byrne — a thriller called “In Darkness,” which you’re about to shoot. How did you find being on the other side of the process?
Really enjoyable. Traumatic as well. Getting notes is a traumatic process. You have to learn not to take it personally. If anything it only enhances my respect for writer, what they get from directors and other people during the process. We can have this conversation in a year’s time and we’ll see if it worked.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge