Hell, we’ve been told, is relative. For Tessa, Jane Levy’s character on the ABC sitcom Suburgatory, it’s Chatswin, the affluent small town her father forces the New York teen to relocate to in the hope of giving her a better life. For Levy herself, hell was filming Evil Dead, Fede Alvarez’s shockingly gory remake of the ’80s horror touchstone, in which she plays Mia, an addict who retreats to a secluded cabin to kick her heroin habit only to become possessed by a pissed-off spirit. That nightmare had the 23-year-old actor shooting for a staggering 70 days in New Zealand, where a 3:45 a.m. reveille was followed by a six-hour session of hair and “demon makeup.” She was choked, buried alive by her castmates, forced to projectile vomit into their faces, and made to run around the woods in the middle of winter while being showered with “blood rain,” a tempera paint concoction that ultimately caused an ear infection. “One day l was lying in the mud, doing take after take, and someone from wardrobe came up to me and said, ‘Jane, your underwear isn’t dirty enough. Here’s another pair’—which they had dunked in the swamp,” Levy says with a shrug. “It’s a good party story and I’m proud of the hard work I put in. But I don’t ever want to make a horror film again.”
So the second season of Suburgatory will soon be drawing to a close. How has your character, Tessa, changed this year?
She’s a real suburbanite now. She’s living her junior year in high school. She’s smart and not shy when she wants to say something. It seems like she’s being pretty open and accepting—not as judgmental as she was last year.
I imagine some viewers are still wondering why Tessa started to date Ryan. Might it be fair to say he’s as dumb as a bag of rocks?
Jane Levy would describe him as a dumbass, but I don’t think Tessa thinks he’s stupid. Maybe she thinks he’s childish in an endearing way. He’s very naïve, but I think she realizes that his intentions are just pure and good. He’s obviously really into her. I’m sure that has a lot to do with it.
When did you know you wanted to act?
I knew when I was a kid.
Do you recall the moment?
There really wasn’t one; I just always wanted to do it. I tried to convince my mom to let me do it when I was really little, but it was always just “No.” I really appreciate that now, working in this business. There’s no way in hell I will let my kid near acting until they’re 18.
So how did you end up persuading your mom to let you act then?
I didn’t. I lived my life like a normal teenager. I didn’t even do plays in high school. I was really into soccer. School wasn’t hard for me, but it wasn’t exciting. I tried to figure out something I could do instead of going to college, but nothing seemed to get my parents on board. My summer after freshman year in college, I went on a trip with one of my best friends in Europe. When you travel, you can’t help but think about your life and look at it in different ways. I was having the most beautiful time, and I was like, “This is my life. I’m lucky enough that my parents are supporting me. Why don’t I not waste their money and do something that really excites me?” Acting was the only thing. I told my parents I was dropping out of college and I wanted to be an actor. I told them, “Don’t worry. I’m going to go to acting school. I’m not going to move to L.A. and be another blonde girl in a sea of blonde girls.” I went to acting school in New York City and had the time of my life. I had a really beautiful but sheltered childhood in Marin County, Calif. In New York, you’re kind of hit in the face. I felt free.
Can you relate to Tessa then, who moved from N.Y.C. to suburbia?
I can definitely relate to being a new girl. I was actually really shy. My shyness made me come off as a major bitchface. People didn’t talk to me because they thought I hated them, when in reality I was just scared. Tessa’s different than I was. She’s a pretty stand-up gal. She handles her situation with humor.
You also have your first major movie role in Evil Dead. How much of a sense of humor does your character Mia have?
She doesn’t have any sense of humor. The movie is bananas, completely ridiculous. It’s not realism in any way, so I think somehow there’s humor in that, but it’s not like the original. I actually don’t think the original movie was intended to be funny, but the campiness of it makes people laugh.
What did you think when you saw the original?
I thought it was fucking awesome. I thought it was scary. The demons were just ridiculous. These 18-year-old kids made this great horror movie for almost no money. Sam Raimi turned out to be a super-promising director. I love the scene in the woods and the close-up shots of the eyeballs. I totally didn’t find the original funny at all.
If there’s any humor in the original, it’s definitely dark. But this remake doesn’t look funny at all. What’s the difference between the two?
The major difference is we have a shitload of money. People thought the original was funny because the effects aren’t great. Now we have the technology and money. Having said that, there is no CGI in the movie we made. All the effects are practical effects. I was doing them myself, and it made the job pretty hard.
What were some of the things you had to do?
You won’t believe it. First of all, this was a 70-day shoot, which is ridiculous for a movie. I was told that Saving Private Ryan was 36 days, and that’s a crazy war movie. I’m a demon for the majority of the movie. It was six hours in hair and makeup every day. I was in New Zealand, which was really far from home, and I just felt lonely. I got buried alive in a ditch. I had prosthetics on my face, blood splattered on my face, and a plastic bag tied around my neck with an oxygen tube around my ear. I had to inhale the plastic bag and look like I was suffocating, so I actually almost was. When you breathe really deeply, you’re breathing in plastic and it makes you lightheaded. While I was doing that, dirt was being shoveled on me until I completely disappeared. I had to dig myself out after two seconds so they could get the take of me being fully covered. It was my job to get my hands free enough to rip the bag off my face and breathe again. The other way I got buried alive was in a coffin under the ground. I had to crawl into it about a foot underground. I had a flashlight and my cell phone, and I had to be under there alone, which was terrifying. I had to projectile vomit on someone’s face. I did that a lot of times. I felt really bad. I had to shoot in the winter, outside, and I was the only actor working. It was me, all night, in blood rain, which is rain with tempera paint. It was so cold. Tempera paint got stuck in my ear. I was still getting paint out of my ear for three months after the movie wrapped. It just didn’t come out.
One day l was lying in the mud, doing take after take, and someone from wardrobe came up to me and said, “Jane, your underwear isn’t dirty enough. Here’s another pair”—which they had dunked in the swamp. In front of all my crew members I put on a pair of muddy underpants. Just a day in the life playing Mia in Evil Dead. A far cry from Suburgatory.
When were you most scared shooting the film?
I was not scared. I mostly just wanted to go home because I was tired. The director would always be like, “Jane, remember, we’re actually making a movie and it’s going to be great.” After a month or two, I completely lost sight of that. Now that it’s coming out, I’m removed from that whole experience. I’m excited because I saw it and it’s a really good slasher film. The director did a great job and I’m proud of the hard work I put in… But I don’t ever want to make a horror film again.
So no chance you’d sign up for a sequel?
If we’re going to speak frankly, I don’t have a choice, but I think at this point I’ve
acquired the skills I need to survive.
Photography by Thomas Giddings.