Death of Me Star Alex Essoe Reflects on Her New Film and Career in Horror

Actress Alex Essoe's breakout performance came in 2014's Starry Eyes, playing a character who was so desperate to become a famous actress that she would do whatever it took to achieve stardom, no matter what deadly path it sets her on. In the years since the star-turning performance, she has starred in a number of indie genre films, due in part to her interest in horror storytelling but also due to how often genre filmmakers seek her out. Essoe took on the unenviable task of portraying Wendy Torrance in The Shining sequel Doctor Sleep, impressing audiences and critics alike with how she channeled Shelley Duvall's portrayal of the character in the 1980 film while also putting her on stamp on the figure. Essoe's latest film, Death of Me, allows her to flex all-new acting muscles, with the film debuting in theaters, On Demand, and Digital HD on October 2nd.

Vacationing on an island off the coast of Thailand, Christine (Maggie Q) and Neil Oliver (Luke Hemsworth) awake hungover and with no memory of the previous night. They find footage on Neil's camera, and watch, horrified, as Neil appears to murder Christine. With 24 hours until the next ferry and a typhoon threatening the island, Christine and Neil attempt to reconstruct the night's events — and are snared in a web of mystery, black magic, and murder. caught up with the actress to talk her interest in horror, Death of Me, and Doctor Sleep.

death of me alex essoe doctor sleep wendy torrance Most horror fans met you in Starry Eyes and really enjoyed your harrowing performance, and we've since gone on to see you in a number of other genre projects, including Doctor Sleep and the upcoming season of The Haunting of Bly Manor. How much of your career is based on pursuing genre films vs. you do one and you get offered more, and the more you do them, the more you get offered them?

Alex Essoe: Well, the thing with genre is, I love genre films. What I'm about to say has nothing to do with how I feel about them or my preferences or anything. But oftentimes with casting, with the industry, whatever you break out in is the genre that you will probably be cast in for the next few years. That's just how it works. They're like, "Oh, I saw you in a horror film. So we're just going to bring you in for horror." And you're like, "Oh, well, I went to school and I trained to do all kinds of stuff." "Yeah, but this is how we saw you, so this is what we're going to cast you in." Do you know what I mean? And, again, I don't mind, but it's not necessarily something that I had control over. If I had control over that, I'd be in one of those Marvel movies.

Well hey, listen, we're, so if anyone's going to be able to get you a role in a Marvel movie, it's going to be me, of course.

Well dude, why are you sleeping? Let's do it, let's get this done.

So my next question is do you want to be Captain America or do you want to be Iron Man or--

Do you want to be Black Widow? F-ck no, no I don't.

I don't know if Marvel is going to like that.

Well, Marvel is like, "You're going to do what we give you," which is fine.

When talking to director Darren Lynn Bousman about Death of Me, we both mentioned that the project had a Wicker Man vibe, which excited him about the script. I was curious what it was about the script and your character that drew you to the project, or if you just wanted a trip to Thailand.

Well, I'm not going to act like that wasn't a selling point. I've never been to Thailand and I've always wanted to go, but also what drew me to this was I really liked, like you said, I liked those elements, that it was reminiscent of The Wicker Man. I should say 1973's The Wicker Man, just so everyone knows which one we're talking about.

Which is a good point to clarify.

Yeah, exactly. Or The Serpent and the Rainbow or even to an extent, Don't Look Now. It has her chasing her loved one, always just out of reach. There's this real tragedy to it that I thought was really cool. And my character is, I mean, insane. It was so cool to play this like weird, culty fundamentalist.

It was nice seeing a different side of you, because in a lot of these horror movies, you play pretty sympathetic characters. Even something like Midnighters, you do some bad stuff, but it's justified.

It's justified in Midnighters, she's pushed to a place. It's not like she was waiting for the opportunity to do that to somebody. She just wanted her husband to get a job.

With this and especially Doctor Sleep, you have played a few moms in recent projects. Carrie Coon and Marisa Tomei both spoke recently about taking on roles where they would end up being asked to only be moms in future films, so were you apprehensive to take on these motherly characters and set the expectation from filmmakers about the range you could play?

Playing moms? Yeah, maybe, it's also about what you accept. Marisa Tomei has the power to accept or deny whatever she likes. She doesn't have to play a mom if she doesn't want to. And with this especially, this is not a conventional mother-daughter relationship. What was creepy about it is that the girl playing my daughter is a little too old to be my daughter. Do you know what I mean? There's this weird, I won't say ... I almost said like The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things vibe. It's not like that, but there is something very off about it. And there's something very off about our mother-daughter relationship because, originally, the part of Samantha was written for a 45-year-old woman.

But Darren decided to give me a chance instead, and I was really happy about that, but it also meant that we had to find a way to justify it a little better, and I think we came to a pretty good place. I won't give away any spoilers or anything, but it's pretty messed up.

I do like picturing you coming into the audition in Mrs. Doubtfire makeup or something, hunched over like, "Yep, it's me, a 45-year-old woman."

"Can you help me up? So nice, what a nice boy."

You played Wendy in Doctor Sleep last year, and director Mike Flanagan released his director's cut on home video, but did you film anything that didn't even end up making the director's cut?

No, actually everything of mine that isn't in the movie is in the director's cut, including an extra story point that was left out of the final cut. I highly recommend watching the director's cut of Doctor Sleep to anyone who hasn't. It's so fantastic. I wish that that had been released in theaters because there's a lot of extra Overlook Hotel stuff as well, which is just so choice. I wish that that had been the one that was released in theaters, but it's over three hours long. It doesn't feel like it's three hours, I feel like it moves along at the pace it should and it includes everything that it ought to. And I really liked it, even my mom was like, "Oh my God, I love the director's cut." The theatrical is good, but the director's cut is something.

Does your mom typically not watch horror movies? Wouldn't that be tough when you're in them so often?

Oh, she's so into it. Well, I wouldn't say she's so into it, my mom is just into whatever she thinks is good, regardless of genre. Which is nice, she was definitely a huge influence on my movie exploration from childhood all the way up to, well, now really, but especially in high school. She would always rent a lot of these cool, weird art films that I'd never heard of, and she's very much a film watcher.

She's actually the one who showed me The Shining for the first time, too.

So she's the one to thank for introducing you to the horror world?

Yeah, pretty much. She's the reason I watched that movie 25 times.



Death of Me debuts in theaters, On Demand, and Digital HD on October 2nd.