Jennifer Carpenter Is Quarantined
by Paul Fischer
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Kentucky native Jennifer Carpenter has come a long way since her break out performance in The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Now also a series regular on the critically acclaimed Dexter, Carpenter returns to horror in Quarantine, a remake of the Spanish horror flick REC. The film revolves around television reporter Angela Vidal (Carpenter) and her cameraman (Steve Harris) who are assigned to spend the night shift with a Los Angeles Fire Station, when a routine 911 call takes them to a small apartment building, where police are responding to blood-curdling screams coming from one of the apartment units. When it’s discovered that a woman living in the building has been infected by something unknown, the CDC quarantines the building, with everyone locked inside. And after the quarantine is finally lifted, the only evidence of what took place is the news crew’s videotape.
Carpenter talked exclusively to Paul Fischer.
Paul Fischer: You started out working in the horror vein, I guess, as it were. Why did you decide you wanted to go back and revisit that genre?
Jennifer Carpenter: Well, I have to say, for starters, I really was surprised when they marketed Emily Rose as a horror film, because the story was so incredibly strong. It felt more like a courtroom thriller to me. But that’s, I guess, where I discovered the fans of this genre, and how intense they are, and loyal and enthusiastic. So in a weird way, I felt like I owed them one. And they were—and Quarantine was interesting because I saw REC, the Spanish original. And it’s just the way that it was shot, I wasn’t quite—I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how that would happen. And that’s why I got interested. I’m not interested, however, in repeating myself. You know? And I don’t feel that doing Quarantine is any sort of repeat of Exorcism of Emily Rose. But it stands alone, and strong, on its own. I also, believe it or not, am equally as interested in doing comedy.
PF: With a film like this, with a script like this, what are the challenges for playing a character in a genre movie?
JC: There’s a lot to negotiate and to manage in a film like this and just a technical aspect of it, considering we were gonna shoot shots that were gonna last for five minutes or longer at times. So it was really—I kind of took it upon myself to write a pretty extensive back story for Angela, which really paid off, because the movie very quickly takes a sharp turn. And to have made decisions about her, and how she might have grown up, or the relationships she might have endured—it sort of taught me what Angela believes, and what she fights for, and what she fights against. And so I felt like I had an understanding of how she would function in such a stressful situation. And she would perform. You know, I like to think I might survive if I was ever put in peril like that.
PF: Was it easy to identify with her?
JC: Sure. I mean, I think to attempt to work in this business, you have to be a little bit of a competitor. And do some mental athletics at times. And I think she certainly must do that in her line of work, as well. And sort of make everything feel light and airy, when sometimes it feels anything but that. So I have an understanding of that. And also, the stakes to get the job done, to read people, and know how to—manipulate sounds like a negative connotation. But, you know, to manipulate them to get the information that you need.
PF: How competitive are you?
JC: Quite competitive. I grew up watching Kentucky basketball. And, you know, I ran cross-country for many years, and that’s so much more about your mind than it is your body. And I like the idea that—I mean, I don’t gamble. But I feel like this isn’t—it’s not up to chance, it’s not a lottery out here. Like, if you’re creative enough, you can find your way in. You can find what’s unique about you, and maybe turn up the volume on it, so that you can be heard or scene.
PF: You said you saw the original Quarantine. How different do you think the two versions are?
JC: Well, I think it was a fantastic reference. You know? I think just immediately bringing in a new cast makes it a new movie. And while the story sort of unfolds in the same way, we have the luxury of fantastic makeups, and great sound, great actors. The stakes are much, much higher. And it’s just bigger and badder, and more exciting, I think. [laughs] No, I think both are absolutely worth watching. REC was a perfect film, and incredibly well-done. I mean, her performance is amazing as Angela. I was a little intimidated.
PF: Are you generally a fan of the genre?
JC: I don’t have the stomach for it, to be honest. Like, I just don’t like to ride crazy rides. I walk through haunted houses with my eyes closed. But I watched this movie. And the last 45 minutes were the most fun I’ve had in a really long time, you know? And I’m so happy when I go into a movie now where I don’t, in the first five minutes, think I’ve been robbed. Like, they got my $10. Or $15, whatever it is to go to the movies these days. And I was—I mean, of course, they were kind enough to show me this one for free. [laughs] But I think people will be happy.
PF: Tell me about Dexter. What surprised you about the success of that, and the acclaim that show has attained?
JC: I thought it was one of the best scripts I’d read in a long time. And I think I might have been the only one in Miami when we were shooting to the pilot that admitted to myself that it may not get picked up. Even though it was great, and had everything going for it. But it was—it was new and innovative and challenging. And I really commend Showtime for giving audiences credit, to know that they—just because they see the show, they’re not gonna go do terrible things to their neighbor. [laughs] You know? Like, people want to—I think that’s the attraction to this genre. Is that it really requires that you check your life at the door, and you escape for a minute, you know? And certainly Dexter makes you do your own sort of thinking. And you sort of negotiate—like, am I with him, or am I against him? Am I with him, or am I against him? And that’s sort of the fun of tuning in every week.
PF: Do you see him as being a sort of anti-hero? How do you define that character?
JC: It’s a strange thing for me, I think, to try to answer that question. Because—you know, my day to day life with him on the show is, I know him as a good man. You know, as my touchstone. And so it’s weird for me to step outside of that and judge his character. Because I don’t watch it like a normal fan. Because I’m so deep inside it, you know? It’s weird, because I also get the question a lot, like, “How would Deb respond if she knew what he’s up to?” And slowly but surely in the third season, you know, people are revealing—everyone is revealing themselves in different ways. And what little I know about him, but what I come to find out about him, feels so weighty and so large that I think it would have to be a slow reveal. You know? For her to not die on the spot, of shock. So—I don’t know. That’s the great thing about TV, though. Is I really step into her life and live another life every day that’s not my own.
PF: Do you think fans will get anything particularly special out of this season of the show?
JC: Yes! I think—at the end of every season of the show—and I know we’ve only ended two seasons. But I ask, along with the rest of the cast, “What will we do next year?” And we have these—I mean, our writers feel like they’re these secret superheroes. You hardly ever see their faces, because they’re working so hard. And this season’s the best yet. And I can say that with complete confidence. This season is the best one so far. So whatever it is that people love about it, for all their many reasons, I think they’ll all be pleased. That’s the goal. We’re really appreciative of the fans, and want to make them happy.
PF: Any idea what you’re planning on doing on the next hiatus, at this point?
JC: Well, it is coming. And it’s a strange time out here. A lot of independents are happening one day and then they aren’t the next. And auditions are few and far between. So I’m gonna promote Quarantine. I have another movie coming out in the fall—I have a movie out now called Battle in Seattle. And just see how things unfold. I actually really would be happy to take a minute off. [laughs]
PF: Who do you play in Battle in Seattle?
JC: I play a lawyer. I’m a reluctant protester who comes to define her own place, and her own role and what it means to be politically aware. And I play Sam. She sort of comes to the rescue of the protest.
PF: It must have been fun to do something very different.
JC: Absolutely. And—you know. I think I had a lot in common with Sam. Like, I wanted to be involved, and I wanted to be active, and I wanted to be educated. But I wasn’t sure how I could serve. Or—you know, like, especially with the upcoming campaign, and everything. It’s like, I want to dare to get involved, and I want to dare to have a voice in all of it, and I want to finally claim my responsibility in being active in my life and in my government.
PF: Are you optimistic about the results of the election?
JC: I am optimistic. There’s really no other way to be, you know? I mean, isn’t that part of earning your citizenship? To believe that change will come, and that you have some part in making sure that it happens? I can only hope, and talk. And talk and talk and talk to friends and family, and make sure everyone’s paying attention.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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