Interview with ‘Dig Two Graves’ Actress Samantha Isler

Despite her relatively short career, Samantha Isler has already made a decent sized footprint in Hollywood. Not only did she star in the soon-to-be-released Middle American Gothic tale Dig Two Graves with Silence of the Lamb’s Ted Levine, but she also played the role of the teenage Amara on the CW TV series Supernatural and starred in Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic along with George McKay (11/22/63 TV series), Steve Zahn (Joy Ride 2001), Frank Langella (Masters of the Universe 1987), Missi Pyle (Gone Girl 2014), and Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings series), who was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of off-the-grid father Ben. Although she’s played some heavy and emotionally draining roles in her 18 years, Samantha Isler still has big plans for her life and career with no plans to stop learning the craft anytime soon.

PopHorror: Dig Two Graves was actually filmed over three years ago but is just being released now. Do you have any idea what the holdup was?

Samantha Isler: We made the movie and about a year and a half or two years later, we had some screenings and we went to some festivals. We never really knew the direction of press and promotional things. We knew it was a good film and that it had a cool message with a very cool story. Recently things just fell into place with the right people getting the movie out there. I don’t think any of us had an idea of how long it was going to take. I saw the movie awhile ago. We all thought, “Hey, that was great!” Now we’ll just go to some festivals. We didn’t really know. But now I’m excited that it’s finally getting out there.

PopHorror: What was it like to see yourself starring in a feature film?

Samantha Isler: It was really exciting, you know? That was my first lead. I was really out there all by myself. It was such a crazy experience being just fourteen years old and having the lead and being on set every single day for hours. I got to know the other actors and the director and the producers. It was great! When I finally saw the movie, I was a few years older. I didn’t really know what to expect. I was like, “Oh, my goodness! I was so young!” I was afraid I had made he wrong acting choices. But I was really pleased with the way the film had been put together.

I thought the scenes were edited perfectly. Some things were cut out and that was the right choice for the film. It was good to see it. I felt like all of our hard work – the blood, sweat and tears – that were put into this film and the crazy conditions in which we filmed in and all of the crazy things that we did. It was all for something. It was great seeing the movie. It’s crazy that I was so young. It is a really cool film and I’m glad I got to play such a cool character.

PopHorror: The movie mostly takes place in 1977. Was it weird or hard to portray a character from that period?

Samantha Isler: You know, I think it was very different. Especially for me being fourteen because I didn’t really know what to expect. But I think it was really good. We filmed in such a small town. The costumes were perfect. Everything was period. I feel like the seasoned actors that I got to work with and the setting really helped with me being so young. I think it was also good because the character lived in such a small town. So she wasn’t dealing with technology and that kind of stuff. In real life, we were so distanced from all that. We were in a small town in Illinois. I think my surroundings were also pretty helpful. And also because I was so young, it was hard for me to fully understand that I was playing a character from… how every many years ago it was (laughs).

PopHorror: Jake loses her brother very early on in the film, making her a very emotional character. What did you do to prepare for the role?

Samantha Isler: You know, I just put myself in that position. I have a sister whom I’m very close with. So you have to think – at what extent would you go through if you lost somebody who was that dear to you, you know? Would you risk your own life and put your morals on a completely different level to save someone you love? Or do you let nature run its course? It’s a karma thing. If you do something bad to someone else, expect something bad to happen to you. Do you agree with that thing? Do you do something bad to someone else?

Jake does everything out of love for her brother. So I just had to put myself into that position and really become one with her. She was such a conflicted young girl, but she was so strong at the same time. There’s not much else you can do to prepare for such a strange film, you know what I mean? Because it is so different. The circumstances are so out there. But you just have to think about someone you truly love and go, “If that was happening to me, I could totally see myself going through the same problems.

PopHorror: Especially when it’s offered to you on a silver platter. It’s not like she went looking for it. It just showed up. And for a girl so young, it’s just so easy.

Samantha Isler: Exactly! Yeah.

PopHorror: A lot of the storyline takes place outside in the winter. Did you film a lot of on location scenes outside?

Samantha Isler: We did! Yeah, it was cold. I can definitely remember that (laughs). I can remember that weather like it was yesterday. Visually, that turned out amazing. That all certainly helped that kind of setting – that chilling feeling. When you watch the film, that carries over. The breath coming out of our mouths as we’re talking and the ice in the streets and our ears being all red. The few scenes from the beginning of the movie – the summer scenes – were filmed later.

PopHorror: Oh, so you filmed that after.

Samantha Isler: Yeah, the summer stuff came after.

PopHorror: You looked so much younger in those scenes.

Samantha Isler: (laughs) Yeah!

PopHorror: A lot has happened to you since you filmed Dig Two Graves. Since this film, you were also involved in Captain Fantastic as a girl who had been raised off-the-grid with no knowledge of the materialism and trappings of modern society. Were those two characters – Jake and Keilyr – similar at all? They both grew up without technology, although at different times in history.

Samantha Isler: In a way, they’re similar and they’re different. The two plots are completely different. As for the girls themselves… intellectually, they were very different. But they were both innocent in the sense that they’ve never been exposed to a lot. But they’re mature in different ways. Jake’s mature in the sense that she’s dealing with such difficult decisions at such a young age. And then Keilyr from Fantastic, she doesn’t even know how little she knows about the world – not socially but intellectually. So they’re similar like that.

I think another way that they’re similar is that they’re both very strong, independent young women. I really do think it’s very cool that I was able to play two girls that aren’t obsessed with materials. The issues going on in their lives are so far beyond the issues of the typical teenage girl. So it’s been so fulfilling to play them. They’re both very strong, independent women. So they’re very similar in that sense.

Samantha’s co-stars from Captain Fantastic – Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell, George McKay, Nicholas Hamilton, Isler and Annalise Basso

PopHorror: I saw that you sang in Captain Fantastic. Do you like to sing?

Samantha Isler: Yeah! I’ve always done theater and I’ve always sung in theater. I never thought I would sing for a film though. The way that all came about – it’s kind of crazy – was during the audition process for Captain Fantastic, you could send in a skills tape where you could show if you do martial arts or if you play an instrument or if you speak another language or whatever. So I sent in a tape with a few of the different little things that I do and I added a clip of me singing at my Freshman voice recital (laughs).

The director, Matt [Ross], who I adore, was very complimentary of it. But then nothing really more was said until way later in the shoot. The song was always in the script. We knew that there was going to be a song. Then Matt approached me and he said, “We’ve been thinking – we really want you to sing it. Everyone else is going to be involved in a way, but we really want you to do the lead vocals.” I was extremely nervous! I was like, “Okay, I guess…” (laughs) Then we got to the studio and there were these really high notes that I had to hit and I was freaking out. I was getting really upset and I said, “I can’t do this, guys!” Matt was like, “No, no! You can, you can!”

So that was definitely stepping out of my comfort zone – singing in front of people (laughs). Especially in a studio in front of people that I don’t know very well. But by the end of the shoot, we were all such a family. Now I love listening to the song and looking back because that’s one of y favorite scenes in the movie. It was such a powerful scene. So now that I’ve done it, I’m a bit more confident in myself. I’d actually love to sing more.

PopHorror: I love that story! It sounds like a movie all by itself.

Samantha Isler: Thanks!

PopHorror: Do you have any projects coming up that you can talk about?

Samantha Isler: Definitely! In January, I just got finished filming an Aaron Sorkin film called Molly’s Game. It’s the true story of Molly Bloom. I’m playing a younger version of Jessica Chastain’s character who’s the main character. I also got to work with Kevin Costner who played my dad. We just got done filming that and that was so much fun. Since I do play the younger version of her, I’m only in a few little clips but she’s such a cool character. So I’m really excited for that to come out. I also have a few things that are kind of in the works. I don’t know if I can say too much right now (laughs).

PopHorror: If you could work with any actor or director, who would it be and why?

Samantha Isler: For an actress, it would be Meryl Streep, actor would be Tom Hanks and director would be James Cameron. Those are my three. Or Steven Spielberg. And why… Hmmm…. Meryl Streep, I just adore. In every single movie, she’s completely different. Some actors and actresses, they have their niche and sometimes they’ll play the same character in every movie but she doesn’t.

PopHorror: She’s like a chameleon. Like Gary Oldman.

Samantha Isler: That’s what I love about her! I absolutely adore her and I just recently got to meet her. I started crying! I just walked up to her and I was like, “I’m sorry if this is weird, but I will hate myself for the rest of my life if I don’t introduce myself to you right now.” She’d actually seen Captain Fantastic, which was really cool. We talked for a little bit. And that all just made me love her even more. If I got to work with her, I don’t know what I would do! She’s so amazing. Plus she’s always made really good decisions. In all of her films, she’s done a lot of great quality work and she’s played some amazing characters. That’s what I want to do. I want to have great roles but I also want to make great films.

I feel like Tom Hanks is the same way. I just adore him. I haven’t met him but I have friends who are close with him. He’s done so many movies that were just phenomenal. He’s like Meryl Streep where he can change and become all of these different characters but always, somehow, manages to be extremely likable in every movie that he does, which I love. As for James Cameron, two of my favorite movies are Titanic and Avatar, which he created and directed. Just his style of directing and based off of the films that he’s decided to direct. All of his movies seem to strike me at the core and I don’t know why because Titanic and Avatar are two completely different types of movies. He just seems like he’d be amazing to work with, just based off of the things that he’s done.

PopHorror: PopHorror is a horror review site, so I have to ask – are you a fan of horror movies? Do you have any favorites?

Samantha Isler: I actually do like being scared. I like watching them. I don’t see a lot of horror movies when they’re still in the theaters. I did go out and see The Conjuring in the movie theaters. That was probably the most recent one. But sometimes I like being at home and watching them – never by myself (laughs). I think it’s a little bit easier for me to watch horror movies because I’m thinking, “There’s the guy with the camera and right above that is the boom mic.” I put it into the perspective so I don’t get too freaked out.

But horror movies that have anything to do with kids or religion freak me out. Those are the scariest for me. If there’s something religious or some kid is, like, possessed, then those are the scariest to me. I do think they’re entertaining. One of my favorites – I’m not sure if you would consider it horror or not – is The Shining. I guess it could be considered more of a psychological thriller.

PopHorror: It’s definitely horror.

Samantha Isler: Okay! (laughs) I’ve also watched so many documentaries on how it was made and the psychology behind it all. I really like that, too. I like horror movies that make you think.

PopHorror: What are you afraid of?

Samantha Isler: That is actually one of the coolest questions I’ve ever gotten. I’ve got to think about it… Okay, I’m not going to say spiders or anything like that because that’s not what I genuinely want to answer. What I’m afraid of is making the wrong decisions in my life to please other people, whether it’s in my career or in my personal life. I guess that’s a common fear for everybody. “What if I do this or that and it ends up being the wrong thing?” There’s always that paranoia.

I think that happens a lot to me in my professional life with the different projects I decide to take on or not take on. I’m always like, “Am I making the right choice?” I’m still in high school right now and I plan on going to college. So it’s like, do I go to college? Or do I go to Los Angeles? Can I juggle both?” It’s the unknown – that’s what it is. To sum it up (laughs).

PopHorror: I think that about wraps it up for us. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today, Samantha. Good luck in your decision making!

Samantha Isler: Thank you so much!

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of PopHorror.com, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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