The last time I was with Isabelle Fuhrman was about 12 years ago. She was very much a regular girl but sharp and smart. Now she is 24-years-old, playing a college student, and challenged by intimidating scene. It was a big surprise for me, but when I spoke to her, I found she still has her down-to-earth personality.
Q: Last time I interviewed with you was for Orphan. It was about 12 years ago. You were just a girl. But look at you. You grew up and became a beautiful young lady. So 12 years later, what has been the biggest change in your life and what never changed about yourself?
A really good question. I think the biggest change would probably be that when I finished filming Orphan, I felt very grown up, even though I was only, you know, like 10, 11 and 12 years-old when it came out and now I’d say I feel very young. And I think ar ound like 19 or 20 years old, I started to realize like, oh, wow, I’m really young. So I think that would be the biggest change and I think I hope that I hold on to that because I do; it’s a way nicer feeling and feeling like so mature, but I think that’s normal when you’re younger – to want to be more grown up and adult.
And What never changed? I’m still a goofball. I still make a lot of jokes and I’m also incredibly clumsy and I also don’t think I’ve been able to master eating food without getting it all over my face or all over my clothes and that is something that I really actually need to get better at realizing – that so many nice clothes have stains on them and I still eat like a 10 year old so yeah, that hasn’t changed a bit.
Q: Alex, the character you played in the film, has guts and she is really focused on her goal of what she wants to do, so how about yourself? I saw your Instagram account and you do triathlon and marathon. These are like torturing yourself. I guess you and Alex have something common in the way. Why do you like torture yourself?
I think I really never considered myself to be athletic when I was younger. And when I found that I enjoyed running as a sport it was really because I didn’t have to compete against anybody else. I realized that I could compete against myself and that was enough for me. And when you watch yourself grow on a daily and weekly basis as you do when you pick up anything and do it continuously, it really became this sort of addiction to me, of running, because I was running longer and faster and I was getting stronger. And that was a weekly change that I could tangibly see and, you know, it was a very attractive quality of the sport that I enjoyed. The triathlon, funnily enough, just kind of came to be because I was running and, you know, I’m, I used to swim, but I’m not a great swimmer. And I’m definitely not good at biking. But there was something for the children’s hospital that I did, because through the running community, they reached out to me.
Then, for rowing, you know, for this sport, it is very similar to running. It is a team sport, but at the same time it is individual like you really have a lot to work on your own in terms of like your ERG time or, being in the single skull. And I found that actually very interesting. And I purposefully actually made this a part of Alex’s character, and it was something Lauren (Lauren Hadaway, director and writer for the film) and I spoke about which was that in the movie. Alex really excels in the single boat. And that’s because her biggest competition throughout the whole film is herself. And she knows that and when she’s a part of a team, you know, yes, she’s vying for one of those top spots and she’s fighting for that for that top place and really kind of going after it in a way that’s not exactly healthy, but her real place where she really does drive herself is when she’s competing against herself and her resiliency and grit and her drive.
I definitely relate to that when it comes to my acting career when it comes to like, when running, when it even came to working on this project, because I really felt this sort of need to be the very best rower on the set, because I rowed the entire film. I didn’t have a double. It was me. And so for that entire training process, it really was about making sure that I could sit in a boat next to a bunch of college students and be just as good as them.
And why do I like to torture myself? Because I think that’s how you get better. I mean, I really think there’s obviously a balance. And you know, I have a hard time in my own life finding that sometimes. But every single time you have to overcome a challenge, it makes you better, and I really do genuinely feel that. When it came to running, or rowing, or even acting like I have a little bit of mild discomfort, I push through this, like a wall or barrier that you either physically or mentally have set for yourself. It is what pushes you to the next level. And so that is why I will be the one who will be, you know, who will torture myself and make sure that I get to that next level. I don’t need anybody else to do it for me – I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing. Maybe a combo?
Q: We have many interests at your age, but very few like to torture themselves, and they basically don’t like to be challenged. So they always want to choose easy directions in life. So what do you say to that? Your generation, and the younger people who look up you: what words of advice would you give them?
I think it’s such a hard balance to strike. I mean, I think in certain respects, there is this sort of lack of drive in certain generations, I see what you mean, in terms of wanting to go the easy way out. And I get that in certain respects, I think that sometimes I have to remind myself that I don’t always have to be struggling in order to be excelling, or to be doing a good job. And I think that’s a huge lesson for Alex throughout this movie as well. But at the same time, I think that you, yourself, have the responsibility to be your biggest ally, your biggest coach, your biggest advocate. You’re, you know, the fighter within you, the person within you is the one that can really tell you if you’re doing a good job and, and that takes a lot of self understanding and self growth. And I think that’s something that when you’re young, you don’t really have, it’s something you develop as you get older. And I think some people don’t ever really develop it, because it’s a really hard skill to learn. I don’t even know if it’s possible to master, but you know, there is this: I do personally have this sort of drive to try and figure that out for myself. I mean, I’ve definitely, I killed myself with this movie. I mean, I really, I was rowing for six hours a day, my hands were like cut up and bleeding, I was absolutely exhausted at the end of every single day, I was rowing before and after a whole day of shooting. And that was just because I wanted to challenge myself, I wanted to torture myself. So I could really do this part justice and get into the mind space of what it was like to be an athlete that’s like striving for that best number, striving for that next level.
I think with young people today, it really kind of is like one or the other. I think people either kind of fall into this category of not really wanting to push themselves to a certain degree because they feel comfortable. And then there’s this other category where people don’t feel like they’re doing enough. And we have this American Hustle culture mentality, especially when it comes to college and college admissions. We saw the college admission scandal and everything, where you can’t just apply to a school and get in and you have to be something more than just yourself and I think that breeds either extreme ambition, or just, kind of sit back, relax and be like, whatever, I don’t really care.
Q: I can’t avoid asking about your upcoming big project. We’ve been anticipating the film Orphan: First Kill. I think the filming is already done and I guess your age is kind of approaching the same as Esther’s real age. So what was the transformation like to your looks, a nine year-old-girl and then coming back to the character years later?
It was incredible to revisit Esther, kind of a dream come true. It’s the first time in movie history that an adult has ever reprised the role they played as a child – luckily for me. William Brent Bell, the director, was adamant that I be in the movie and we did a really great job with practical effects. The majority of the way that we shot the movie was actually with forced perspective and using lighting tricks and that sort of thing. So the movie is really me. I mean, I had two wonderful young ladies, Kennedy Irwin and Sadie Lee, who helped me from different angles and played me, you know, playing Esther from the back and from the side. But we really kind of felt like it was important that I was in as much of the movie as possible, because that was a character that I created, so long ago. And revisiting it was like we’re putting on an old dress that you really love. But it was very fun to kind of step back into her shoes and remember who she is and also discover new things about who she was. And I can’t wait for people to see the movie; I’m really proud of it. It’s incredibly creepy to see yourself as a 10-year-old again, when you’re in your 20s. It’s very weird.
Q: Since many child actors got derailed, they have many troubles. But you remain grounded. How did you stay away from trouble?
Have a really good family. I went to regular school, even after I did Orphan, and I went to a regular school here in California, in person. I think also, I was really lucky, when I look back. And there are a lot of times where I wish that I was working more, and there were parts that I really wanted, that I didn’t get. But now being in my 20s, and looking at my career, I’m really proud of the fact that I was able to grow up and have a normal childhood. I was able to make mistakes and date people and go to parties and stay out late with my friends and get in trouble with my parents. I mean, that is stuff that you do naturally as a young person and to be able to have a normal childhood at the same time as doing something that I love, I think really kind of kept my feet on the ground. Also I have a Russian Mom, I have a Russian grandma, my sister is also like, there’s no way that I could get away with anything if I even tried. I have such a great supportive, wonderful family. When you have a big sister, it’s like anytime your head gets a tiny bit bigger your sister’s like, “Are you kidding me?” And I was like, “Yeah, right” [laughs]. So I’m really, really lucky.
The Novice opens on Friday, December 17 in select theaters and VOD.
The film nominated for 5 independent Spirit Awards!
Best Feature, Best Director (Lauren Hadaway), Best Female Lead (Isabelle Fuhrman), Best Female Supporting Actress (Amy Forsyth), and Best Editing.