Isabelle Fuhrman wants everyone to know that she’s not actually a psychopath.

The 12-year-old actress is so convincing as Esther, the titular adoptee of Orphan, that strangers have been giving her a wide berth since the promotional campaign launched.

“A lot of people who recognize me expect me to be some freaky child who’s weird and walks around giving this glare, but I’m not,” she insists. “I’m totally different than Esther. It’s called acting, OK?”

And it took a lot of work to bring the mysterious, preternaturally creepy Esther to life, but Fuhrman says hair and makeup did most of the work for her. “The minute I got my hair curled, the minute I got into my dress, I would just transform into her, then I would go throughout the day being her, being Esther,” Fuhrman says. “Something clicked every morning when I put on the dresses.”

While creepy kids are nothing new in scary movies, it’s rare that audiences see a creepy little girl. “Most evil characters are male, like in The Good Son or The Omen,” Fuhrman says. And that’s something that attracted her to the part.

“There aren’t really bad little girls in movies. There was The Exorcist, but I never saw that movie. I probably never will,” she adds with a laugh.

Making a horror movie in which half the main cast is under the age of 13 can be tricky, especially when the main antagonist is an adorable little girl.

The filmmakers did the best they could to shield their young cast from the coarser subject matter, using barely noticeable digital effects to add in things like swinging hammer heads and stabbing knife blades or coaching Fuhrman to give the right look or line reading without really letting on what her character was up to.

Beginning her career at age seven, Fuhrman has mostly done voiceover work, along with the occasional skit on Jay Leno’s Tonight show.

But given that her face basically is the marketing campaign for Orphan, Fuhrman is sure to get a lot more attention than before.

“I go to normal school. I have friends,” she says of her non-Hollywood life­style. Still, she doesn’t mind freaking people out on the street. “If America hates me, I’ve done my job.”

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• Orphan opens in theatres on Friday

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