Interviewing India Eisley in support of her limited series I Am the Night (in which she plays real-life person Fauna Hodel) is a fascinating experience. We were about four minutes into our phone interview when we found that we had an extremely powerful mutual understanding. The young breakout star is sublime opposite Chris Pine in the Patty Jenkins-helmed series (her haunting performance really anchors the entire production) and the following is a condensed and edited interview with the immensely talented (and refreshingly candid) India Eisley.
Brief Take: The roles that you choose seem to lie within a realm of opposites, especially with I Am the Night.
India Eisley: Oh, thank you so much! You’re the first person that ever noticed that. [laughs] I’m quite picky with jobs and ultimately, I’m a working actress and I need to, you know, make a living. [laughs] But within that, there is the part of me that is very creative. I have to care about what I am doing and I have to find some kind of hook that something means something to me and I have stakes in it. I’ve always encountered that—and it’s very astute observation—because the characters that I’m always drawn to playing are the ones that are being pulled in different directions. I know a lot of actors probably say the same thing, but as an actress what makes me tick is having something that I am playing against. I get bored very easily, so if it’s an external thing that she’s playing against, great, but if it’s internal, that’s what really draws me. Having those opposing extremes, it makes my job far more interesting and it makes my job easier with which to play.
BT: What is something that you have learned about yourself through the projects that you have chosen?
IE: God, such introspective questions in the morning! [laughs} It’s great, it’s great, it’s very rare that you meet someone that asks these kinds of questions. It’s not just like [slipping into an American accent] “Did you like your costumes?”. [laughs] I’m finding that I am 25, and yes that is older than being a teenager, but at the same time it’s very young and I am growing every day. And I think it goes both ways, I think my maturing is affecting what roles interest me but then by contrast, whatever role I am doing, I am learning a new characteristic that I didn’t know I had in me. The Dougherty Gang is a prime example of that. I can’r really say anything about the job yet because I was told not to. But I learned to let go in a lot of areas because she was kind of all over the place. The bulk of my career, playing mentally, you know, relatively unstable people, and that is the first role in a long time that I am playing someone who is sort of the same person in a situation. The Dougherty Gang was an example of letting go, that coupled with playing a real-life person for the second time. I learned a lot about myself from that. [giggles]
BT: Do you enjoying shooting out of time as well?
IE: Oh yeah! It’s unnerving in the best possible way, and that’s what I love about what I do. I look for jobs in which if I’m going into it scared shitless, that’s exactly where I want to be, to be completely blunt. That’s an important factor for me on an energy level because it always keeps me sort of wired, so that job in particular, that frenetic, wired energy, it was dependent on that, and I’m grateful for it.
BT: What has inspired you about working with and doing press with co-stars such as Jason Isaacs (from Look Away)?
IE: Jason (Isaacs) in particular, I learned a lot from him, just being in his company. He’s a really interesting person. I have been watching him, like many of us, for years and years, and when I heard he was cast as my father (in Look Away), I was a bit daunted, which doesn’t happen very often. I thought “Oh God, he’s going to be very intimidating and intense, and a bit terrifying”, and because Look Away was 98-99% me on screen all the time—and that doubled because I was playing two people—I was always a bit “oh my God, oh my God, oh my God”. And then I kind of went on autopilot, and I was like “I’m just going to have to do it, I can’t look at him, it’s this incredible actor that I have been watching for years that I have to look at as an equal”. But he dispelled any sorts of feelings of being small or being daunted, because the moment he saw me, he went [changing voice] “Hello, daughter!” and he is also a chatterbox, which I was did not expect. [laughs] So that’s why I absolutely loved doing interviews with him, because he kept cover for me. He is out there playing tennis at like 4 a.m. and then goes to work afterwards, he’s nuts. [laughs] I don’t hate the attention because it is part of my job, I get irritated when actors are like [raises voice] “you know I hate interviews, I hate press, I hate carpets”. It’s like get over yourself! It’s part of the job, and you’re promoting something which you are proud of and that into which a lot of people have put a lot of energy and work. Kind of a slap in the face for them to be that way and they’re not doing their job. So as much as I enjoy sitting back and watching people, and it doesn’t bother me, I do love contributing and supporting the project.
BT: How about the actor playing your grandfather in I Am The Night, Jefferson Mays? You seem to have a great on-screen relationship with him.
IE: Jefferson is just kick-ass—for a lack of a better description—in every way, as a human, as an actor and especially in this role. In this role he’s oddly warm, but very menacing simultaneously. When I first worked with him, we have a scene in which there was barely any dialogue. I was watching him and I was like “Oh my gosh!”. He is just terrifying and brilliant, and on a performance level, he’s just one of the most fun actors with whom I have ever worked because every take has a new energy to it. You feel as if you are throwing that energy back and forth to each other and it really does feel like playtime, as hokey as that sounds, but he just brings a useful liveliness to the set and I just adored working with him.
BT: Who are some of your favourite scene partners and who are some people that you’d still like to work with?
IE: I would love to work with Samuel L. Jackson again. Sam was a wonderful person with whom to work and I just really loved him, loved him, loved him. And also Jefferson, he has that playful energy in which you always feel like you are on equal footing and you’re tossing the ball back and forth, that’s the feeling. It’s never judgment, it’s purely play. Yes, so I’d love to work with Sam again. I’d love to work with Jason again. I’d love to work with Patty (Jenkins) and Jefferson and Golden Brooks, who plays Jimmy Lee, I adored working with her and she’s a dear friend now, and she’s just awesome. Awesome lady. [laughs] As far as directors, I kind of have a soft spot for Tim Burton because Beetlejuice was the first film that I ever saw, so I’m predisposed to like everything that comes from Tim Burton. [laughs] I would adore to work with him. And Danny Boyle, Mira Nair, Ridley Scott, Quentin Tarantino…there are many, many people with whom I would love to work. Luca Guadagnino is a very big influence on me as well.
BT: Could you talk about some of your charity work?
IE: I haven’t done nearly as much as I want to, but ultimately I have to start somewhere. There are two charities that come to mind for me. Animal SOS Sri Lanka is one, in which a friend of my mum’s runs it. They’re not a big charity, but what they’re doing in Sri Lanka is incredible. We went to Sri Lanka when my mum was filming there and we were there for three and a half months. The situation with the dogs there is so dire and it’s horrifying. And so Kim, this woman, she goes around with her team of people and she takes them off the street, brings them in, fixes them and shelters them basically. And then Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation, which is located in L.A. I’ve never met him, but his name’s Marc Ching, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with the absolutely atrocious Yulin Dog Festival in China. Yeah, he and his team go down there during the festival, and they break out hundreds of dogs and bring them back, and he’s just an absolute angel. What I’m hoping to get into are more things for wildlife, wildlife preserves like elephants and primates and the like.
BT: What do you present of yourself on social media versus what do you keep hidden?
IE: That’s another great question from you. It tends to be 50-50, if I’m being honest, it’s 50-50 with me. 50 per cent laziness, I’m terrible at social media and I’m really making an effort. I constantly get nudges from people on my social media saying my Instagram is not very good. I’m like “oh well!” The other part of me, it might seem completely contradictory, because of all of my long-winded answers in this interview, but I am a very, very private person. It’s something that is very important and I think that is something being lost in this day and age. Because I think it’s important for actors to have a certain air of mystery about them, that’s the whole point of this profession—it’s to be able to tell different stories and to convey different characters to people. I think it’s harder for people in this age to be able to differentiate, when you know what they had for lunch on that day of filming when you’re watching the movie. You know, “Oh, I know that they went back to their trailer and their sister was there with their dog”. It takes away from the magic of it, really. So 50 per cent laziness, but 50 per cent I want to preserve myself because I think that it can hurt how people view you through your jobs.
I Am The Night premieres Monday January 28th on TNT