Interview – ‘Orphan: First Kill’ director, William Brent Bell on bringing Esther back for the horror prequel

Esther’s terrifying saga continues in this thrilling prequel to the original and shocking horror hit, Orphan. After orchestrating a brilliant escape from an Estonian psychiatric facility, Esther travels to America by impersonating the missing daughter of a wealthy family. Yet, an unexpected twist arises that pits her against a mother who will protect her family from the murderous “child” at any cost.

To celebrate the release of Orphan: First Kill (in cinemas September 1), StudioCanal have released an interview with the film’s director, William Bell Brent, as he discusses bringing Esther back after all these years, and how he worked with Isabelle Fuhrman on making this prequel film even more shocking than the first!

WHAT DREW YOU TO DIRECTING ORPHAN: FIRST KILL?
William Brent Bell: Sometimes when I watch a movie, I’ll start making notes and it was just a coincidence that I had made all of these notes about the original film, Orphan. Six months later, I was approached with the script for Orphan: First Kill. Before I read it, I was really honest with them that I was pretty skeptical. As a fan, I was excited to read a new Orphan movie, but it had such a lot to live up to. However, as soon as I read it, I was blown away and I said, “Oh, wow, you guys really did it! You made something that is unique but not too unique from the original film.” It still feels like the world but the story has twists and turns and it’s fresh. There is a new perspective on this character. But then it became, how do we cast this character if it’s not Isabelle Fuhrman? So the challenge became getting Isabelle back into the role.

DID YOU FEEL PRESSURE SIGNING ON TO DIRECT ORPHAN: FIRST KILL GIVEN HOW POPULAR THE ORIGINAL FILM WAS?
William: Yes, I felt pressure and that’s what drove me to try really hard with this movie especially because it was made with the fans in mind. As soon as we announced the movie, I got death threats so I knew we had to really pay attention here and make sure that we were making a movie that was for the fans. But hopefully, it is also for a new fan base as well, while not just treading the same waters as the original. So yes, it was definitely a lot of pressure. And still is.

WHAT WERE YOUR INITIAL CONVERSATIONS WITH ISABELLE FUHRMAN LIKE ABOUT REPRISING THE ROLE OF ESTHER?
William: Firstly, the fans always said you can’t make this movie with somebody else because Isabelle Fuhrman is Esther. I had never felt that rush of super fandom from a project I’ve worked on and so I approached it as a fan. Isabelle had contacted me through Instagram after the prequel was announced and she told me how excited she was that we were doing the movie. I told her that I was doing a screening tonight and that she should come and meet me. That was the first time I met her and she looked amazing, just a little scaled up from when she was a child. She has very similar features, hair, and proportions and she has such tiny hands. She told me that she really wanted to keep playing this character, that it was her character that she created and she was really passionate about it. So then we had dinner to really talk through how we might be able to do it as I had tons of different ideas on how we could achieve it. I thought that she had a lot of courage to put a character that she created on the line and to put herself out there like that, and then to also trust me and all of us to do it. She had to completely believe it and then that allowed everybody to believe it. This movie is a love letter to Esther, to Leena, and to the fans of Leena in a way so everything we did had us thinking, “Is this going to be something that’s going to be satisfying for the people who were
attached to her from the original film?” I think that we accomplished that. It was a labor of love for everybody involved. Especially when Isabelle came on board because we realized just how special everything was. We could have never made this movie any other way.

HOW DID YOU APPROACH THE ORIGINS OF ESTHER?
William: To me, it’s about relating to a character, and relating to what scares people in everyday life is to me, what’s scariest. Obviously, Orphan: First Kill is a bit fantastical as it’s about a woman posing as a child but at the same time, I very much want audiences to empathize with her, relate to her, and understand
her, to allow them to be more scared or to have more fun. I think that is more thrilling.

IS IT TRUE THAT YOU SAW SOME SIMILARITIES BETWEEN ESTHER AND HANNIBAL LECTOR IN THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS?
William: That’s definitely true. Hannibal Lector is a great example of a really great villain because they are typically smarter than everybody else in the room. They don’t have to use a lot of wasted energy. When they kill you, it’s going to be a surprise and they’re brilliant. So when we were getting into certain aspects of the story, we knew we could have a little more fun with the concept because everyone is in on the secret and so it’s a little more playful at times. But if it started to become too playful, I would think, “Would Hannibal Lector do that? Would he ever run after somebody?” No, he’s not going to break
a sweat. A villain doesn’t have to be overtly funny, or extremely active to be scary, thrilling, and dangerous. Somehow they’re always walking but they get there first. Esther is kind of like that because being a child, she can’t use her physical prowess to overpower people, so she has to use her wits. Also, the relationship between Julia’s character, Tricia, and Esther reminded me of Hannibal Lector and Clarice Starling in some ways.

AT WHAT POINT DID YOU AND THE REST OF THE CREATIVE TEAM DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO AVOID TOO MANY SPECIAL EFFECTS AND DO AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE IN-CAMERA? WHAT WERE THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECTS OF THAT APPROACH?
William: There are so many different ways to do this kind of thing and I don’t really think technology is even at the level to be able to pull this off with pure CGI. The problem is that if you really want to make it organic and make all the characters in the story able to act with the actress, then having a body double
with a green screen face and replacing her face, is just not the same. So, I wanted it to be as practical as possible, where Isabelle was doing as much as possible. Because COVID really slowed down the movie, in that downtime I had our cinematographer, Karim Hussain, come on board, as well as makeup artist Doug Morrow, and then we started doing tests with Isabelle that ultimately convinced everybody that we could do it. After that, every shot was a challenge no matter how normal the shot was because there was always some trick going on. So we could never just relax and shoot normal scenes because Isabelle was in almost every single scene.

WHAT WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT ASPECT OF FILMING THE MOVIE DURING THE PANDEMIC?
William: The most difficult part was the lack of personal connection. We shot the film very early so there were no
vaccines. I wore two masks and goggles. The actors were the only ones who didn’t wear masks and so trying to direct an actor and talk to them wearing goggles and a mask, they’re not getting a lot from me because they can’t see my facial expressions. So it made it difficult but we got used to it. And it wasn’t until we wrapped the movie that I took my mask off in front of the crew and it was the first time anybody had seen my face. So it was weird and it was challenging but we had to be very careful.

WHAT DID YOU LOVE ABOUT THE PERFORMANCES OF THE REST OF YOUR CAST – JULIA STILES, ROSSIF SUTHERLAND, AND MATTHEW FINLAND?
William: The concept of these Orphan movies centers on this woman posing as a child which is pretty outlandish in some ways. So to have a cast that could make that feel believable was extremely important in making it a ride and making it a viewing experience that was satisfying. I want people to be entertained, have fun, and fall in love a little more with Leena. Julia Stiles is amazing because she grounds everything, and she’s also hilarious and an amazing actor to work with. But the biggest thing for me was that she could take a scenario that’s rather absurd and make it feel like it’s really happening and make it feel real. And then with Rossif as Allen, that character is very specific. Rossif is this tall, handsome guy, and he’s a very sweet artist and so it was perfect. Matthew Finland’s character, Gunnar,
was written a little more straightforward as a high school jock and Matthew had a very different take on the character. The four of them really created a very dynamic movie family.

DO YOU THINK WE COULD SEE ISABELLE REPRISE THE ROLE IN MORE ORPHAN FILMS?
William: We definitely discussed it because the interesting thing is that if this works it means she could play the character for the rest of her life if she wanted to. We’ve only seen a small sliver of Leena’s life. It’s a great character that we’ve only scratched the surface with. We all just love the character so much.

Thanks again to StudioCanal for the interview from William! Check out Orphan: First Kill in cinemas September 1.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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