The Movie Waffler Waffling With PHOENIX FORGOTTEN Star Florence Hartigan | The Movie Waffler

Waffling With PHOENIX FORGOTTEN Star Florence Hartigan

Florence Hartigan
The actress chats about her role in the Ridley Scott produced found footage sci-fi thriller.

In the new found-footage film Phoenix Forgotten - now on DVD and Blu-ray in the US, with a UK release coming September 18th - rising newcomer Florence Hartigan plays a young woman forever haunted by the strange disappearance of her brother. The actress, who is “mostly from New Zealand”, tells us about a film that’s being welcomingly likened to the granddaddy of all found footage films, The Blair Witch Project.

Florence Hartigan

Hi Florence. Where are you based these days?

Hi there!  I’m based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.

Originally from New Zealand?

Actually I was born in New York, and lived the first few years of my life in Ireland. My parents are Irish, but we emigrated to New Zealand when I was three. So I guess the short story is yes, mostly from New Zealand!

Did you kick off your career there?

I did, I started acting as a kid there in TV shows and commercials and soaps, then started doing films in my teens.

Why did you decide to make the move to Hollywood?

On a trip to LA I met a manager who wanted to work with me here so I moved out here to pursue that.

What was your first project? Did it shoot in L.A?

My first project was a sketch comedy TV show in New Zealand where I was in a rock music video “playing” the recorder.  I was 10 I think?!

So this project (Phoenix Forgotten) is a lot bigger than your first one! 

I think the fact that I can no longer remember the name of the aforementioned TV show gives you a pretty good indication! It’s funny though, this production felt very much like an indie shoot - although we were lucky enough to have the support of Scott Free (Ridley Scott’s company) behind us, we made the film on a pretty modest budget, so it still felt really small and intimate and collaborative, like the other indie films I’ve worked on. It wasn’t until I saw all the billboards and how many theatres it was in and stuff like that I realised, oh, this is a bigger deal than I thought! That was pretty cool.

Is horror a genre you gravitate towards?

As an actor I think horror movies are super juicy because the stakes are so high that you get to play with a big emotional range, which is always more fun. I’ve done a couple of other horror movies, including one I did a couple years back for IFC called Entrance where I get to die pretty horrifically. It was great fun for me, but apparently super harrowing for my friends and family to watch, I’m told. 

I am a pretty big horror fan as a moviegoer too. I thought Get Out this year was amazing. Some other faves are Shaun of the Dead and Jennifer’s Body and a New Zealand horror called Housebound, which if you missed you should see immediately. I also loved a super silly early Peter Jackson movie called Brain Dead (released in the US as Dead Alive), which is very weird and gory and fun. Also Wolf Creek is a movie I saw years ago and still stays with me as the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen. The Exorcist still holds up. I could go on…!

What’s Phoenix Forgotten about?

The Phoenix Lights was a real event - the largest public UFO sighting in history. Hundreds of people saw a formation of lights floating over Phoenix, Arizona. Phoenix Forgotten tells the story of three teens who went into the desert shortly after The Phoenix Lights incident, hoping to document the strange events occurring in their town. They disappeared that night, and were never seen again. 

My character Sophie Bishop, a documentary filmmaker, comes back to her hometown of Phoenix, years later, to try and shed some new light on the case of her brother’s disappearance. The story follows Sophie as she unravels the mystery, and uncovers unseen footage and new discoveries about the case.

Tell us about your character.

Sophie’s a woman who has grown up in the shadow of this terrible unsolved mystery - the disappearance of her brother. It’s really torn her family apart. When we meet Sophie, she’s come into town in part because her mom is selling her childhood home - her last physical link to this event that shaped her life is disappearing, so there’s this urgency that it’s her last chance to finally try and get to the bottom of this thing that’s been haunting her family. She’s also a documentary filmmaker, and there was something really fascinating to me about the tension between the objectivity of someone trying to get the most out of a subject  to make a good doc - when the subject is so deeply personal to her. But just in general this was a really fun world to play in. Our director Justin Barber had me watch a lot of Werner Herzog and listen to Terry Gross to inspire me as an interviewer, and I did a lot of the research Sophie would have done to prepare for her doc - I looked into real life missing persons cases in Phoenix, I researched police protocol, I went to local police stations and chatted to friendly cops. Having all that down meant we could be free to improv during the take. We had a script (written by T.S. Nowlin of The Maze Runner) but we also shot a lot of footage where Justin and I would trade off asking our subjects questions off the cuff, which is where we got a lot of really interesting moments.

What kind of cameras did they shoot the movie on – being found footage?

I wish I could give you specifics but sadly that isn’t my skill set! However I can tell you that Justin wanted to shoot the '90s footage on actual camcorders, but we just couldn’t find enough camera stock! To make it look period, he ended up running all the '90s footage that Josh “shot” through a VHS deck in post, so that gave it the appropriate amount of visual noise. I also believe they created a lot of the distortion and stuff by physically bumping the deck, so it’s like a practical effect. 

Is it a different beast to Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity?

I’ve actually never seen Cloverfield, but I did think Paranormal Activity was awesome. I’d say the main point of difference is that our film approaches the whole story as a real documentary, as if my character is really making a film about her long lost brother. We interview actual real people in Phoenix and ask them questions about their real experiences, and blend that into our fictional narrative, which I think makes the whole thing feel really interesting and blurs the line between fact and fiction.

What’s ahead for you?

My next project is the upcoming animated horror film Malevolent, which stars Morena Baccarin, Ray Wise and William Shatner. I got to play a spoilt valley girl (with a lot of emotional problems) and die in a very gruesome fashion!