Isabelle Fuhrman has come such a long way as an actress since her breakout role as Esther in the horror thriller Orphan. The biggest twist of the 2009 film is that her mysterious character wasn't actually a girl at all, but a 33-year-old woman by the name of Leena Klammer, who suffers from hypopituitarism, which is a rare hormonal disorder that stunted her growth. This conveniently also makes others far less suspicious of her homicidal tendencies. The actress, who's since starred in several other major projects like The Hunger Games (2012), Adventure Time, Masters of Sex, and The Novice, spoke to Bleeding Cool about returning to the role of Esther/Leena in the Paramount prequel Orphan: First Kill and the challenges presented becoming a kid again as a physical adult. Directed by Brent Bell, the film follows Leena's escape from an Estonian psychiatric facility and assuming her new identity to an unsuspecting family willing to take her in.
BC: What were your feelings about revisiting Esther 13 years later?
Fuhrman: I didn't even have to think about revisiting this role. I had to convince the studio that Brent and I can make Esther work again without having to do all this CGI and crazy visual effects we could make me look 12 practically. I was thrilled and terrified at the same time [laughs] because obviously, Esther became people love this iconic character, and revisiting her felt like a huge mountain to climb. I started to realize rereading the first script and the notes I made that I was discovering her in a really unique way. In First Kill, we get to watch Leena discover the character of Esther that we know in [the 2009 film].
How would you say you changed as an actor from the original 2009 film into the prequel, and how did that benefit this new performance?
It's very different being a girl than being a woman, especially when it comes to maturity I didn't understand what sexual rejection was as a kid when I did the first Orphan, but I understood what it was like to feel like somebody you love thought you were disgusting and gross. As I've grown as an actor and as a performer, I have more confidence in myself in understanding how I can reach certain emotional places and dive into people in a different way. I also had to remind myself how I developed Esther when I was ten years old. I reread a lot of my script notes from the first movie and really tried to put myself back in the shoes of my 10-year-old self. I always did multiple takes, because I trusted Brent to make the decision on what worked best. I wanted to be able to marry those two parts of myself within Esther because that was where I could find her best.
How did you handle fame at such a young age I imagine people recognized you from things like Orphan and The Hunger Games?
I was really lucky as much as 'Orphan' was really popular; Esther is the character was so iconically different than me in the sense that the way she dressed, looked, and spoke that I was able to grow up in a semi-normal way. I don't think I got as recognized the same way other actor friends of mine in this business got. People, when they recognize me, don't really know what to do, because I'm very smiley. I'm the opposite of Esther, and I think most feel like they know me from somewhere, but they can't really pinpoint exactly where. That idea or notion of fame never really hit me as a person. I still feel like myself, and maybe that's my family and upbringing. I've been able to live my life pretty normally [laughs], go to school, make mistakes, be a stupid teenager, that sort of stuff.
What would you say is the most difficult aspect for just revisiting the character? Is it stunt work or a mindset thing?
I worked with these two wonderfully talented young actresses who were my body doubles, Kennedy [Irwin] and Sadie [Lee], who were on set with me every single day from the beginning. We worked on synchronizing how Esther moved, walked, and all of those things as a team. It was difficult because I had to remember how on the first movie Jaume [Collet-Serra], our director, [and co-stars] Vera [Farmiga] and Peter [Sarsgaard] explained the mature nature of certain topics with me in a way that didn't jeopardize my innocence or where I was in my life.
It was quite a challenge because it's easy to say, "I want you to be in the scene I caress Rossif's [Sutherland] face." But how you explain how to caress someone's face in a way that means something more than just touching someone's face? It was finding ways to explain things to them like you're curious and moving very slowly with your fingers using curiosity as guidance to what their face looks like and all the little wrinkles and all little freckles. I wouldn't have been able to do this movie without [Kennedy and Sadie] because I'm obviously much taller than when I was a kid.
Can you break down the chemistry with Julia Stiles and Rossif and how well you work with them?
I absolutely adore Rossif. He is such a sweet, sensitive, kind, generous actor who loves what he does. Working with him was so nice. We found such a beautiful relationship in the movie because you're not looking at Esther as a giant enigma. You're let into her world you're hoping she succeeds because she's so in love at times, which is horrible to say. With Julia, I was such a huge fan of hers. I was so excited to meet her, and she's everything and more. She's so kind, smart, cool, funny, and every single day when we would act in scenes together, I felt so lucky to have such a generous actor on the other side with me playing Tricia. We created these two very evenly matched women that could kind of play tennis back and forth with each other. I can't wait for everyone to see the movie and all the twists and turns that it takes with her and with me.
Orphan: First Kill, which also stars Hiro Kanagawa, Matthew Finlan, and Samantha Walkes, is in theaters, digital, and streaming on Paramount+ on August 19th.