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How have you approached working with children when filming harrowing scenes in both this film and “The Babadook”?
I think there has to be a huge amount of protection because this film is going to be a memorable part of their lives. Certainly there’s a huge amount of having fun playing make believe with them. I would do make believe scene acting with Noah Wiseman, who played my son in “The Babadook.” There’d be times where we’d be driving along in the car—Jennifer would be in the passenger’s seat, I’d be driving and he’d be in the backseat—and at one point, Jen asked, “Do you ever have tantrums?” Noah said, “No,” so Jen replied, “Really? I have tantrums, and when I have a tantrum, I go like this,” and she acted it out before asking, “What do you do, Essie?” I said, “Well, when I have a tantrum, I go like this,” and acted it out. Then we asked him, “Can you do that?”, and what he ended up doing is all on camera.
After a scene like that, we’d all have a laugh or a hug, and then he’d go on his rocking horse or play with his Legos. Of course, there needed to be a huge amount of protection on a film like “The Babadook.” I would do particular scenes in multiple ways. I would do it with Noah while saying different lines. I would do it with him while mouthing my lines if I was screaming at him and literally ADR them in afterwards. Or I would say something like, “Go on, eat dirt,” and then whenever we’d cut, I’d act joyful with him. Then Noah would leave and I would do the scene again with a 20-year-old man on his knees, and I would deliver the dialogue live.
On “Bunny King,” Amelie was a genius. She had lines to learn and she would do them, but quite often, we would be improvising. When we were in that plastic playhouse, we would just play and they’d have to film us. It was quite wonderful because we got on so well. She could go in and out of the lines and into our play. I was having Bunny play with dolls, acting as if they were our family in our own little home. She just loved me and I loved her. We have those amazing moments where she’s touching my face, and when they go to take her away, she had a full tantrum, but it was playacting. It felt real but it wasn’t traumatic. She didn’t want to stop playing with me. So magic like that can happen, particularly with children who love playing and being in the moment.
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