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Sara Paxton Confronts Her Ghosts in The Innkeepers

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

Sara Paxton at the New York headquarters of Magnolia Pictures.

Sara Paxton at the New York headquarters of Magnolia Pictures.

Sara Paxton

Confronts Her Ghosts in The Innkeepers

by Jay S. Jacobs

When we last left Sara Paxton, she was taking a huge chance in her career. After working most of her young career in light, comic roles, Paxton had taken a film very unlike any she had ever tried before – a remake of the horror classic The Last House on the Left. In that film, she had to take the very adult and extremely serious role of a young woman who was violently raped, shot and left for dead.

That was just over two years ago. In just that little amount of time, the pretty young actress’ career has pretty much taken a 360 turn. Paxton followed up Last House with another genre film, Shark Night 3D.  Now she is getting serious buzz for her third horror film in just over two years, a small independent ghost story called The Innkeepers. The spooky movie about two slacker twenty-somethings investigating a legendary ghost in an old hotel is opening to major critical acclaim.

Not only that, Paxton has a few more scary movies coming up. Suddenly, going back and doing light comic work seems like the stretch. However, Paxton is enjoying the ride and will go wherever the roles take her. She had to admit to me at a recent meeting about The Innkeepers in the New York offices of Magnolia Pictures that even she is a bit surprised by how it all turned out.

“I definitely am,” Paxton says, “but that’s how it goes. I get that and I think it’s all good. Everything worked out for the best. I wouldn’t have been able to do this movie if I didn’t do Last House of the Left. I would be working another movie, so I think I’m lucky.”

Still, she is always open to going back to some more lightweight comic performance. Or she’d be happy to take it in a whole new direction. Like the sharks she was evading in last year’s film, her career above all has to keep on moving forward.

“I want to do all kinds of stuff,” Paxton says. “I don’t mind that it has been down the horror track for the past couple of years because it’s fun in a different way. It’s challenging. It’s really hard for girls my age to get those roles where you can act… you know what I mean? Stretch out and try stuff. A lot of the roles I get sent are ‘cheerleader’ [or] ‘mean girl.’ I mean, that’s fine. That’s fun to play sometimes, too, but these are great opportunities for me. I don’t always get to do stuff like that in a film.”

Paxton has had a long career – the 23-year-old actress has been working since she was six – trying to “do stuff” that would be interesting. That has led her down some very intriguing roads over the years. Paxton was able to be the star of a popular kid’s series in Darcy’s Wild Life. She got to be a mermaid in Aquamarine. “It’s every little girl’s dream,” she exclaims. “Every little girl plays mermaid in the pool growing up. I was so happy that I got to be in the same realm of The Little Mermaid and Daryl Hannah in Splash.”

Sara Paxton at the New York headquarters of Magnolia Pictures.

Sara Paxton at the New York headquarters of Magnolia Pictures.

Also in the same realm – that is, an undersea realm – little Sara did a series of voices in the cartoon series Spongebob Squarepants.  “I did the theme song. Any random kid voice you hear is me,” Paxton recalls. “I’d go to Nickelodeon studios and I loved it because I could come in after school with my gross school shirt uniform and they’d give me candy and popcorn and toys and stuff… I haven’t done it in awhile. Since I’ve grown up, my voice has changed.”

Years later, the change continues as Paxton settles into the new path her career is taking. Yet, with The Innkeepers, Paxton is able to look backwards a bit too. The film, directed by Ti West, who turned heads a couple of years ago with The House of the Devil, is an interesting take on the traditional ghost story – mixing laughs with scares and then slowly ratcheting up the tension.

“It’s funny because when I read the script, I guess I didn’t notice so much of the comedy. It was when we started doing it and we were playing around with it that it became this whole other thing. A lot of it was on the page, but it was also that our chemistry was so great. Me and Pat [Healy], we just got along really well right off the bat. A lot of it was that. It was hard to describe the movie to friends because they’re like ‘it’s funny?’ I’m like, yeah it’s funny! But it’s scary… They’re like ‘I don’t get it’. I’m so happy that people are talking about it and they really like it. I feel really lucky that I get to be [in the movie]. It’s corny to say that, but I feelcool,” Paxton laughs.

Part of that coolness just came from working with West – a hip new name on the directing scene. However, she has to admit she was not really up on his work before getting involved with the film.

“At the time: not at all. I didn’t know him. I had never heard his name before. I like scary movies but I don’t seek them out,” Paxton chuckles, “because I get really scared easily from the movies. I’m just a big baby. Especially anything with ‘devil’ in the title really scares me, because I was traumatized as a kid. When I did [see The House of the Devil], I was really impressed. Then I felt embarrassed that I didn’t know who he was, that I hadn’t seen his movies. I was really embarrassed. Even now, I don’t like to do interviews with him because he makes me nervous still, because I don’t feel cool enough to be in the movie. He knows so much by being in the film world and I’m still so new to it. But I’m really glad that we got along and that he wanted me for the role. I’m happy about it.”

In The Innkeepers, Paxton plays Claire, a bored college student who is working the final weekend at a spooky old hotel which is closing after centuries in business. The place is called The Yankee Pedlar Inn. (It is a real hotel in Torrington, Connecticut; however the subplot of the shutting down is made up for the movie – the Pedlar still very much open.)

Sara Paxton and Pat Healy in "The Innkeepers."

Sara Paxton and Pat Healy in “The Innkeepers.”

Claire’s only co-worker is Luke (Pat Healy), a slacker who is pushing 30, living at home and bored with his dead-end job – yet not sure what he will do next. It’s not like the hotel is keeping them busy, there are only four guests in the whole place – a former TV star turned psychic (played by Kelly McGillis), another woman hiding herself and her son from her estranged husband and an elderly man who is nostalgic for the room in which he spent his honeymoon.

With lots of time and not much to do, Luke has decided it will be fun to look into the hotel’s ghost legend. And if Claire feels like she needs protecting… all the better. After all, he figures, she’s really cute.

“I think that she thinks that they are friends,” Paxton says. “She’s kind of naïve, obviously, about everything. So she doesn’t even see that that he’s [interested]… She’s like ‘I know what we gotta do!’ He’s like (romantically) ‘Yeah, what do you wanna do?’ And she’s like ‘Get the ghosts!’ He’s like ‘oh…’ (dejected). She doesn’t even notice. She thinks they’re friends.”

Paxton also enjoyed the opportunity to work with McGillis, who pretty much walked away from Hollywood after starring in two of the biggest hit films of the 80s –Witness and Top Gun.

“She was great. She came in the second week of filming so it all worked out. We were already all so close and she was supposed to be this famous person that comes in randomly, and then she was the famous person that came in randomly. She made me a little nervous because she’s famous, so that kind of all played in. She’s definitely an intense lady but nice. I brought my dog on the set with me and she had her dog, so we would love our dogs and hang out, whatever. It just all worked out.”

Paxton isn’t even sure if her character really believed in ghosts until she had no choice but to believe. Claire may very well have been looking for ghosts just as something to amuse herself.

“You’re supposed to be able to have two opinions on it,” Paxton says. “There was definitely an argument for each. You can definitely say it was just her paranoia, it was an asthma attack and she didn’t have her inhaler and she got caught up in her own… freaking out. Or you can say it was meant to be the pendulum. Did you hear what Kelly McGillis said? She said that there were three lost souls. She was the third soul.”

Sara Paxton in "The Innkeepers."

Sara Paxton in “The Innkeepers.”

So we’re not sure if the character believed in ghosts. Does the actress?

“I don’t know,” Paxton says, thoughtfully. “I don’t not believe in ghosts. I just have never seen a ghost. I want the ghosts to be like, ‘Hey, we’re here.’ Then I’d be like, I do [believe]. I’ve seen a ghost.” She laughs. “But I’ve never seen one.”

Or has she? The movie was shot on location at the Yankee Pedlar – and while she never actually saw any spirits, she does have to admit that some odd things took place there. Director West had first experienced the Pedlar when he and his crew stayed there while filming The House of the Devil. Upon learning of the hotel’s history, he wrote The Innkeepers about the place. When Paxton was hired and they moved in, West was sure to let his stars know that the place was really haunted.

“People were getting so scared,” Paxton says. “A lot of weird stuff did happen. I don’t know, maybe it was that the place was so old. The whole building was just weird. It’s all askew. You’ll walk into one room and than all of a sudden it’s like ‘creakk.‘ Weird stuff like the door would like wildly fly open at midnight randomly. I’d be like: it’s the wind, you know? Lights flickering and the phone would ring, but nobody would be there.

“It’s funny, because the room that we filmed the big climax in, with the old man, they picked that room only because it’s the biggest room. So they could get the camera and the dolly in. It turns out that’s the most haunted room in the whole place – which is a coincidence. The second floor is supposedly where the real stuff goes down. But I stayed on the third floor.”

Of course, safety is a relative term for Paxton at this point in her career. After all, in just the past two years she has had to – through her characters – try to deal with killer escaped convicts, vicious man-eating sharks and now a vengeful spirit. So… truth to tell… which one scares Paxton the most?

“I’ve always been afraid of sharks. I definitely think I’m more scared of ghosts than killers,” Paxton laughs. “Oh my God, it’s so bad! My parents think I’m crazy. I’m scared of stupid ghosts. But I don’t know what will be next.”

Sara Paxton in "The Innkeepers."

Sara Paxton in “The Innkeepers.”

One of the things coming next is horrifying in an entirely different spectrum. Paxton has taken a role in the historical drama The Boys of Abu Ghraib, about the infamous Iraqi war scandal.

“It’s about a soldier that goes to Iraq and he’s in Abu Ghraib,” Paxton explains.It’s about the whole thing [that] happened, with the release of the pictures of them torturing [prisoners]. I play the girl from back home of the soldier who’s involved in the whole thing. All my stuff is happy stuff. It’s him before he goes away. Him in the middle of these horrible situations looking back at happy moments with her. Then he comes back home and he’s not the same person.”

On the more traditional horror track, Paxton has three new films on the way, Enter Nowhere, Liars All and Static. She is also set to do a film reboot of the 1960s western TV series The Big Valley which will co-star Jessica Lange, Aidan Quinn, Richard Dreyfuss, Bruce Dern and the original series star Lee Majors.

“We haven’t done it [yet],” Paxton explains. “I got involved in that last year. It’s hard because there are so many famous people in it on television shows so all the schedules need to like, go. I’m just waiting for them to make it.”

And if another light comedy comes around? Paxton is up for that, too. The movies are a wildly varied world and Sara Paxton is enjoying learning about all of the aspects – both as an actress and as a fan.

“Growing up, I really liked the classics. I was raised on Gone with the Wind and Jimmy Stewart. That’s the kind of stuff, because my mom was a total huge classic film buff. Rear Window and all Alfred Hitchcock. That’s what I liked.

“Now I can’t just keep watching those movies,” Paxton laughs. ”Now that I’m in this movie I’m definitely seeing what else is out there. There is obviously so much that I’m not hearing about and not seeing in the whole indie film world. I think it’s so great. Great, but it’s kind of crazy that there are so many great people that make so many great movies and nobody’s ever heard of. Like me. I didn’t know who Ti was. He’s so talented it’s crazy. He’s honestly probably the best director I’ve ever worked with.”

Copyright ©2012  All rights reserved. Posted: January 31, 2012.

Photo Credits:#1 © 2012 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.#2 © 2012 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.#3 © 2012. Courtesy of Magnet Releasing.  All rights reserved.#4 © 2012. Courtesy of Magnet Releasing.  All rights reserved.#5 © 2012. Courtesy of Magnet Releasing.  All rights reserved.

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