As an actress, Isabelle Fuhrman is in a dicey spot. No matter what she does, it’ll be almost impossible to forget her sledgehammer debut 2009’s intense psychological thriller, Orphan. Thanks in large part to Fuhrman’s terrifying portrayal as Esther, an Eastern European demon child from hell, Orphan is a classic of the genre. Furhman was 11 then. Now, at 14, the Atlanta is terrorizing the big screen again in the blockbuster-to-be, The Hunger Games, as the ruthless, knife-throwing expert Clove (Check out our interview with Clove’s onscreen partner Cato, here). As we continue our The Hunger Games countdown (only 4,700 seconds to go!), we caught up with Fuhrman, who filled us in on how she became a blade-wielding badass.
You’ve started acting at the age of 7. Did you always want to be an actress?
My sister Madeleine very much likes being on stage, and she loves doing theater performances at school. When I was little, she would always come home after school, dress me up in whatever outfit, and we would put on shows for our parents. I always say that she was my first director because she would turn to me and say “Bark like a dog” and I’d start barking. When she was auditioning for Cartoon Network, I had to go with my mom to take my sister, and they ended up seeing me as well. We both ended up getting it. I was in awe with everything. The casting director convinced my mom, and I ended up going to Los Angeles. It was only supposed to be for a month, and I ended up staying for three. My mom and I fell in love with the city, so we moved out there after my sister finished middle school.
What was acting in Orphan like? Did it feel uncomfortable, stepping too much into that adult territory?
I love playing edgy and crazy characters because they’re so different from what I am. I don’t know why I get all these scary characters; maybe I give up that creeper vibe. There are so many different things that have to lead up to why a person is bad, and it just interests and fascinates me. With Esther I don’t think I really was thinking as myself, I was thinking as that character. As far as discomfort goes, the only one I had was cursing on camera. I was really scared about saying the F word, and all the producers were like, Seriously you’ve walked around the set and you’ve heard us all curse all the time! So, I ended up saying ‘fudge’ in every single take except for three close-ups.
We are so excited to see you play Clove in The Hunger Games. How did you first hear about the project?
My agent first gave me the book when Lionsgate decided to make the movie. I stayed up all night and I finished it overnight, and I e-mailed them in the morning saying, “I have to be a part of this.” I’d just fallen in love with the series. I think I’ve read the entire series about nine times now. I originally went for the role of Katniss, but I’m 14, so I was way too young for it. I thought I wasn’t going to be a part of it and I was really sad. A few weeks later my manager called me and asked me if I would be interested to read for Clove. In the book, Clove is this muscular career tribute and I’m definitely not. But I kind of knew how I wanted her to be like; I had a good idea of who she was.
I thought it would be fun to go see the casting director again, and show her what I came up with. I didn’t even expect to get the role. When I got the call from my agent I cried. I was at a restaurant and everyone in the restaurant is looking at this 14 year-old girl crying at a table. I never thought that people could cry of happiness. The second time it happened was at the Elle Women Hollywood event last year. I got in the car after the event with my dad, and started crying like, I met so many awesome people. It’s just that overpowering feeling.
Speaking of emotions, what kind of a relationship did you establish between yourself and Clove?
My character is so fierce and kind of sarcastic—this game, it’s fun for her. I had to learn how to be a badass. It was a lot of martial arts training and conditioning. For one scene we trained for a week for 8 hours a day because there was so much going on in it. I really wanted to learn how to throw the knives properly, and how to fight with them. That way I could bring her to life as I would want to see her – as if I was just watching the movie. I had to lean out, and get muscle definition. At the same time I had to figure out what in big in my mind, become her, and embody her in every single way. So I wrote a one-page background story for her past. Being able to come up with my own story for her, and make her this sarcastic, sick, masochistic person was awesome. After the last day of filming I let her go because I’ve done my job, and that’s all that I can do. I have to wait and see how it turns out.
You are a very young actress. What does the future hold for you?
I just fell in love with the business and everything about it. I really want to get into producing, I actually am producing something with Disney right now, writing and directing. Acting is still my favorite part of the business, I love being different, being able to create different characters and personas, and make people feel something. In a way, I find it the weirdest way of self-expression because you basically lay your feelings on a platter and just say, Look at them. I want to be on all sides of this business because it’s something that I’m really passionate about.
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Photography by Hilary Walsh