I was able to sit down and chat with Lights Out star Alicia Vela-Bailey on the Warner Bros. lot to discuss a few tidbits about the new horror hit from Director David Sandberg (currently shooting Annabelle 2) and producer James Wan (The Conjuring 2). Those of you who read my review for Lights Out, know how much I loved it (follow the link to all of that gushing here), so it was a fun treat to meet the smiling and lovely face behind the terrifying and elusive Diana.
We got some inside scoop from Alicia – about the development of the character’s movements, the trials and tribulations of playing the character and being stuck in the heavy makeup on location in the Southern California heat.
AVB: “Because of my dance and gymnastics background… I’m sure they have a video of my audition somewhere. Like – I was doing back-bends, crawling on my… just doing weird movements. We’d go fully one way, and then he’d [director Sandberg] be like ‘Oh I like this, but maybe not so much this.’ So we’d turn it around – just weaving in and out of different movements and ways that the character can move, and how quick and how supernatural the movement would be. It was really fun.”
“When David first showed me the character; the artwork – I was so excited. ‘This is so creepy’. I love horror movies, so I love all of that eeriness – to help create the mood and bring the character to life. ‘I get to do this?’ I had a lot of fun with it.”
“It wasn’t specifically choreographed. Certain scenes though, David had very specific moments he wanted to capture. I would always ask, ‘Am I popping up really fast? Or is this a slow raise? Do you want it like… crouched in a ball, you want me to roll into my spine? Do you want me to just stand up like a cat all of a sudden standing up? Already upright?’ Everything was the unwinding of the hands – the fingers are so long… and slow movements then fast movements. We wanted to mix it up. Not all of the movements would be the same. It was never totally choreographed. We would do different versions of it to see what looked better on camera and what David liked.”
I asked Alicia if she was kept separate from the other actors during filming. Sissy Spacek famously cordoned herself off from her cast-mates while filming Carrie – just to keep that sense of “odd man out”. And in this case – Diana is terrifying! Of course, the reactions from the other actors would be more authentic if they didn’t see her until “action” was called.
AVB: “On set, It was funny I’d be sitting around in between takes, trying to stay cool. It was hot in the suit. As Diana, I wanted to stay in the dark; I knew I looked hideous. It was just really weird, I almost felt sorry for Diana. Every time anybody walked around the corner, ‘Oh, you scared me!’ I’m trying not to scare people; I’m trying to sit quietly. But the makeup – everything is just so creepy.”
“And the first scene [the red-light tattoo parlor sequence] I filmed with Teresa – she never saw me until that scene. It helped with her performance as well.”
And of course, being in such heavy make-up and with Diana being such a physical role, there are naturally some things which could be more difficult to overcome.
AVB: “There were parts where I was rigged to the ceiling. Being in this outfit too, it’s a little restricting on movement sometimes – and the goggles with the reflectors for the eyes. And so it was really hard to see. And of course, the set is so dark. So I’m blind — trying to go to my mark and do the movement without falling. And a lot of times I was barefoot and I’d be on my toes – just to give it some extra; creepier “limb” look. And just balance, and trying not to trip. I don’t want Diana to trip. And trying to make the subtle movements and stay tight in my core, and still be able to move and look like I’m in full control of myself.”
Alicia actually had two separate looks/costumes while shooting. One was a sort of black rubber suit – for all of Diana’s darkly lit, hanging-in-the-shadows work. And for those of you who have seen the film, there’s a lengthy sequence late in the story where one of the characters uses a portable black-light when the power goes out. That look was a make-up design which consisted of 20+ pieces/appliances all over her body, and which required anywhere from 6-9 hours of time in the make-up chair for application. I’m sure you can guess which “Diana” look she enjoyed more.
AVB: “I actually preferred the shadowy – silhouette black version; that one. Because it was a suit, it was a lot easier to go to the bathroom. The other one was just – I needed help. Even eating was hard. My fingers are a lot longer [as Diana]. I couldn’t just pick up my phone, you know… ‘I’m bored. I’m gonna play some games.’ I felt like a kid. I felt almost disabled in a way. I couldn’t do my normal thing.”
“Eating… I had to get my grilled cheese sandwich chopped up into little pieces. And get a chopstick and stab it to eat. It was just really hard. The little things you take for granted – just chilling out… ‘I can’t do this.’ You’re sticky, and you don’t want to mess up the makeup ‘cause it took hours to do. You’re just trying to be careful.”
And here’s a small sampling from my review for Lights Out: “I really liked this villain. Diana was terrifying, with an intriguing history and again, she’s scary as hell. And she’s practically invincible – that one (not as easy to exploit as you think) major weakness aside. I was expecting another Samara from The Ring or The Grudge’s Kayako. And while Diana’s visual appearance certainly pays homage to those Asian horror heavyweights, Diana was a bit more straight-forward in her approach to terrorizing this particular family.”
So I questioned Alicia about what I called “deliberate” movements from Diana – rather than the slow menace of the aforementioned Asian horror characters.
AVB: “Oh yeah, I like that. She will creep up on you and she’ll move fast if she needs to. And that’s what I liked about it. You didn’t know what to fully expect of her. Then realizing, she’s really strong too – she can toss you. I like this character – just gave more to the story and more movement and just different ways she could attack people.”
And Alicia’s best anecdote (thanks for being so forward with the “embarrassing” details!):
AVB: “It was funny… there was this one scene where we were upstairs in “Rebecca’s” room, and it was really hot that day… and I started sweating. Everything’s glued to me, so there’s nowhere for the sweat to go. And I’m starting to feel pools just pile up in me – so embarrassing. I had an air bubble pocket come out on my leg, and I just started leaking all of my sweat into a puddle. ‘Guys, it looks like I’m peeing right now! I promise I’m not peeing.’ I felt so eerie and gross, but it helped. When it came time to get all aggressive, I was ready for it. All my frustration. ‘I’m so hungry and I couldn’t eat my sandwich!’
With all of this suffering for her art – once you see the film, you’ll plainly see that the hard work and blood, sweat (mostly sweat!) and tears paid off! Diana’s bound for placement in the horror hall of fame!
If you’re still on the fence about seeing Lights Out – jump on over and join those who already recognize its easy popcorn goodness and constant barrage of jumps, frights and screams.
And we’ve already heard the news that New Line Cinema has green-lit a sequel to Lights Out. Will Alicia, aka Diana return? Stay tuned! But in the meantime, head out to your local cinema and see Alicia at work! Her performance, and the film itself – are a blast!