Danielle Panabaker has officially conquered maturity. And composure. And her most recent physically-straining acting gig. You won’t find the up-and-coming tartlet boozing atop tables at Hyde anytime soon. Progressing gracefully from tween star in Disney’s Sky High—stop lying, you watched it that one time when you were babysitting your friend’s friend’s little sister— to this week’s release of Friday the 13th, the Georgia native from an acting family (younger sister Kay stars in Fame—next ’09 sensation) held her own as one of the youngest members of the Friday the 13th cast. She tells BlackBook about ending a day at the office with a concussion, mustering up the courage to try on the mask (finally!), and why the remake will trump the original.
What horror movies did you grow up watching? It’s so funny, because I didn’t actually grow up watching horror movies. They give me horrible nightmares, and I say “give” in the present tense because I still have a problem with horror movies. So when I found out about this movie, I’d never seen the original.
So you watched it after being offered the role? Yeah, they offered it to me and I called my boyfriend at the time, and made him come home early from work so we could watch the movie while it was still daylight outside. That’s how much of a chicken I am.
After your first screening of the film, did you have any preliminary doubts about taking the role? I was prepared to be scared out my mind. But the first one has Kevin Bacon, and is actually kind of cheesy. So, there were other reasons for joining this film other than the original.
How’d you get used to the blood and gore on the set? Do you have a strong stomach for that? I don’t have a strong stomach, but I’d like to say that it wasn’t scary. The deaths in the movie are really gruesome, and while the actors are walking around, they look like the living dead. It was pretty gross. During the day they were shooting Aaron Yoo’s death, he was covered in blood. I couldn’t be near him.
How’d you distance yourself from that? By running away. I couldn’t hang out around that too much.
What was the toughest day on the job? There were some pretty long, intense night shoots. Including one that ended in me getting a concussion. That was probably the worst.
Did you have to take a few days off? Fortunately it happened on the last day of our week, so I had the two days over the weekend to recover, but I actually couldn’t go back on Monday, because I’d hit my chin, and my face was so swollen, and it was a mess. It shows you that we were really goin’ for it. We didn’t halfass anything on this movie.
How did you relate to your character, Jenna? Jenna is a lot of fun. All of the kids are going on this college road trip for a weekend away at their friend’s cabin. And she’s there to have fun. She’s excited to be at the cabin, and excited to get out and explore. I think I have that adventuresome spirit as well. I’m not afraid to try something new.
Did she commit any stereotypical horror movie no no’s (i.e. having sex, saying ‘I’ll be right back,’ splitting away from the group)? I don’t think so. She’s pretty original.
This is a 180 from your wholesome character in Sky High—which did you prefer? They’re both a lot of fun. I was seventeen when I was shooting Sky High and I’m 21 now, so a lot of personal growth has happened. So I brought all of that to the film, as who I am now. Those were two of my favorite movies to work on, Friday the 13th and Sky High, so I certainly couldn’t choose a role I liked better.
Why will this remake top the original? What makes it stand out? We’re 30 years later in our ability to make films, and in general, films have gotten better. With this one especially, and with our producers—Brad Fuller, Andrew Fuller and Michael Bay— it’s their seventh horror film together, and I think they really have the formula down. Our movie is really creative and exciting. I think the remake is going to be better than the original. It’s a lot scarier. I don’t think there’s a single death in the movie that is cheesy or isn’t going to make you jump or have nightmares.
Are the deaths similar to Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Yes. Similar, in the fact that they’re really gruesome. When people die, they die. They don’t just disappear off screen. You see them go. It’s intense.
Who is your Scream Queen idol? I really like Jamie Lee Curtis. I think she’s a wonderful woman and a great actress.
What was it like hanging out with Jason? Derek Mears is one of the nicest, funniest, sweetest people I’ve ever met. He was a dream to hang out with. I just saw him and want to hang out with him all the time.
Did hanging out with him onset make it more comfortable during shooting the violent scenes? Well, hanging out with him onset is not always the most comfortable thing, because he’s a pretty imposing figure. But I really enjoyed seeing him.
Did you ever try on Jason’s mask? Yes. I’ve held the hockey mask. I’ve tried it on. My younger cousins came to visit the set with my aunt and her friend. The adults knew the original mythology behind Friday the 13th and my little cousin—who is about eight-years-old— was just sort of tossing around the hockey mask lightly and had no idea what she was doing. My aunt was like, ‘Put that down, you have no idea.’ She was clueless to the iconic weight of it. My cousins will not being seeing the movie anytime soon. They’re much too young.
Did putting it on change anything for you? It made me have a lot more respect for Derek, because he had to put the whole thing on. That changed, but I didn’t understand Jason any better. It’s hard to understand a crazy killer like that.
What did you guys do to occupy yourselves in your free time in the creepy woods in Austin? It was a very testosterone-driven set. We shot a lot of nights, so one of my funniest memories is that it’d be about 2 or 3:00 in the morning and everyone was just starting to get really tired. So all of the boys, I use that term very loosely, all the men on set would challenge each other to push up contests to see who could do the most push-ups.
Where did you fit into that? I laughed and held the camera. Yes, there is footage of this that will hopefully be seen someday, on the DVD maybe.
Where did you go out in Austin? We were staying at the Four Seasons so we spent many a good night hanging out in the lobby there. But we would go up to Sixth Street and go to a bar called Union Park where we had our midway party. We were always at Sullivan’s. We went to Guapo for the queso.
Any playlist you had to help unwind? I was really into Ray LaMontagne while I was there.
Are you superstitious? Not really superstitious. I wouldn’t walk under a ladder, just because that seems silly. But I wouldn’t say I’m significantly superstitious. When we were shooting on Friday June the 13th, I was a little nervous that something would go wrong because we’d already had so many accidents, but we made it out without a hitch.
What other accidents? One of the other actors wound up in the hospital for a stomach appendix thing. Our first day our prop guy got hit in the head really hard. So, it was one thing after another.