Annalise Basso just graduated from high school.
In school, she took four advanced placement classes classes and will enjoy a gap year before heading to the University of Edinburgh. In most ways, Basso isn’t that different from a 19-year-old me; she wants to gush about senior prom, she loves a good meme, and she isn’t willing to watch the HBO documentary about The Slender Man. But she isn’t like 19-year-old me in one very important way — the St. Louis native has been a card-carrying member of Young Hollywood since she was nine years old.
Her IMdB page presents her as a 2017 scream queen of sorts: She’s starred in movies like Ouija: Origin of Evil and Oculus. Her best-known film, though, is more light-hearted — she starred as Vespyr in the 2016 Oscar contender Captain Fantastic.
Basso is graduating, though, literally and figuratively. Basso left high school behind this summer, celebrating her achievement with a private celebration with her family and teachers in Los Angeles. She managed a rigorous high school education in conjunction with a rigorous career. In addition to high school, she It’s no small feat, and Basso doesn’t treat it as such. She tells me over the phone repeatedly that it was “fricking hard.”
Her new short film The Good Time Girls, produced by Refinery29 for the Shatterbox Anthology, is unlike any material she’s performed before. In the film, Basso plays a prostitute Ellie — one of the good time girls — who takes Kill Bill-style revenge on her patrons. This marks the first time Basso has endured this level of violence on screen, even for Basso, for whom violence in movies is fairly routine.
Refinery29 spoke to Basso about The Good Time Girls, being a teen in Hollywood, and, most importantly, which Chris is the reigning king of all Chrises.
Refinery29: You have a lot of horror movies and thrillers on your roster, including the upcoming movie about the Slender Man. Do you have a preference for scary movies?
Annalise Basso: “Not really. It started out as just — it was the only genre that provided roles that were challenging for a 16, 17-year-old girl. When I did Ouija: Origin of Evil, I was super excited about that because here’s a girl who can fall in love and also be a heroine and that drew me to that role. It wasn’t necessarily the horror part of it. It was just — this girl can cry, she can be strong, she can be, you know. But I do like scary movies.”
Do you have a favorite?
“Oh! The Babadook. That Australian movie.”
Did you happen to see the memes that circulated about a month ago of the Babadook? It’s become a gay icon.
“No! I do have a love for memes, though.”
Editor’s note: After the interview, I sent Basso a collection of Babadook memes, to which she replied, “Thank you for making my life better with those Babadook memes.”
You’ve been in this business for almost a decade now — you shot your first project, Ghost Image, a psychological thriller about a video editor whose boyfriend haunts her after his death, when you were nine.
“Yeah! It sounds so weird. People are always like, ‘Oh my god, I’m a decade older’ or something, and I can say that I’ve been working for a decade.”
What doe the schedule for a 9 year old actress look like?
“Well, we can only work for a set amount of time. I remember working very little and having to do a lot of school. Because as a minor, you work for about 9 hours, and 3 of those hours are dedicated to schoolwork. So production has to work those 3 hours into the schedule everyday somehow. You can’t work very much as a minor, unless you take some kind of test [the California High School Proficiency Examination, called the CHSPE] that allows you to work as a legal adult. which is what I did [in high school]. Second semester sophomore year [I took the test]. That basically meant no more tutors, no more limited hours working on set. I’m basically an adult. So, I had to teach myself high school. I had to teach myself a lot of what I learned from that point on in school. ”
So, after sophomore year, were you effectively homeschooling yourself?
“No, because I still went to regular school. I just didn’t have a set tutor that was provided for me.”
How long would you be in school between films then?
“I do one or two projects a year. In between that time, I would be at school — I just graduated from Campbell Hall.”
“Thank you! I graduated with distinction!”
How was your graduation ceremony?
“It was a blast. It just felt really good because [sighs] it was so hard! It was so hard. And it just felt so good to have teachers there and people who supported me and my family. I graduated with my class, but I actually had a separate ceremony because I missed my graduation for a job. But my mom put together a little private ceremony and my teachers came and some of them spoke and I spoke and Lulu Wilson, the girl who played my little sister in Ouija — I’ve been really close with her and her family — she played the ukulele and wrote a song. It was a really sweet ceremony. My dean came and handed me diploma and it was perfect. Even though I didn’t get to do the walk with my class, I still did it.”
Sorry, I’m just trying to get a sense of your schooling, here. When you were on set after you’d taken the test, would you go into your trailer and just pick up a textbook?
That’s incredibly difficult!
“Yeah! Especially this last year. Because I missed a lot of school. I don’t know why! I guess I was just so busy — I was auditioning all the time, and working a lot. I took four AP classes. I had to teach myself AP statistics for the most part. And then when I was in class, my teachers were super helpful, but it was just really hard with math and some other subjects. It was a stressful year. But I’m still happy that I chose to take 4 APs.”
That’s really intense. Are you looking at college?
“Yeah! If I’m not working, then I’m going to University of Edinburgh next year. I applied with a gap year, so I’ll have this next year to work. Then, come fall of 2018, hopefully I’ll be at University of Edinburgh.”
So you’re going take 3 years off of acting to chill?
“I was planning on just taking three years, going to college, and doing that. Over my high school career, it felt like I was being pulled into two different directions and working two full time jobs. School’s a job. Then you have acting. And I wanted to dance to do other things, so I kind of drove myself insane. But it was all worth it. And so that’s why I’m just taking this next year to work, and in the fall of 2018, I want to take 3 years to go to school. They have 3 year programs over there. And maybe during the summer I can figure out a way to work! But I just want to take some time and do school.”
Obviously, you’ve done a lot of intense films. (Ouija: Origin of Evil is no picnic.) But The Good Time Girls is sexually violent. Do you consider this the most violent project you’ve worked on?
“Yes. I mean, at least, excluding horror films and all that. It was certainly the most violent physically. Cause of, you know, what happens to Ellie. And [there’s] lots of blood. But yes. Short answer, yes, it was the most violent project I’ve worked on.”
How does that affect your time on set? Are you conscious of the violence?
“No. I mean, not really. Because people don’t take themselves too seriously. It doesn’t feel particularly violent; it was just like, okay we’re going to do this portion of the scene where this person dies, or where this person shoots that person. So, it kind of felt. It didn’t feel violent.”
It’s also kind of a girl power film.
“Yeah! That’s something that I haven’t really seen. A female protagonist — actually, three — in an old western film. I praise Courtney [Hoffman, the writer and director] for making something that is unique.”
Was this your first time handling a prop gun?
“No. But this is the first time I’ve handled an old western gun. They work a little differently, and you can twirl them on your finger and everything. I loved twirling that gun around. It was so much fun. I love prop guns. Especially shooting — this one was a Colt something. I felt like a badass.”
What was your first time handling a prop gun?
“It was for an episode of the show Nikita. I was a 12-year-old assassin. I shot a Glock-29, and it had some kick to it. It was fun. It was just a small handgun but I was surprised at its weight, because it was my first time handling a gun.”
In Captain Fantastic your character had a very dramatic fall off the top of a roof. How much of that stunt did you perform yourself?
“Well, they did let me climb the tree, but they ended up using my stunt double Lucy. She taught me how to do it, but they had her do it. They actually had to stop me from going up the tree any farther. [Laughs] For the scenes when I’m tumbling down and all that, they built a separate roof with rubber tiles that was closer to the ground. So they shot me on that. Everybody was watching [Lucy] because she had to fall onto the roof of the car onto the cement. That was her. She did that by herself. I don’t know if I could have done that. That was really scary! Because she had to fall onto cement after falling onto a car! That’s terrifying.”
Well, it was terrifying to watch. Speaking of Captain Fantastic, you worked with Viggo Mortensen! And in The Good Time Girls, you worked with Laura Dern. What’s your biggest takeaway from working with such veterans?
“One thing is to respect everyone on set. That’s what I really admire about Viggo and Laura and a lot of other people. They take the time to — they’re just aware of themselves on set. They know how to be compassionate and still be professional. It’s difficult to be really sincerely nice to everyone, because that takes a lot of time, and sometimes they can be distracting from a scene. But the way they handle themselves, I really admire that. Because even when we’re doing, you know, a long shoot, or an all-night shoot, they’re always professional, always kind. So, I’m trying to be as kind as I can be on set. All the time. Because everybody is working hard, and you just want to make a peaceful environment for everyone else, and you can do that by being kind and empathetic and respectful. It actually makes things move quicker.”
I notice you have a quote from Uta Hagen in your Twitter bio — have you ever taken acting classes or studied acting methods?
“I did take a few classes, and I was coached for a while, but I’m a perfectionist — I got in my head a little bit, and I would go into auditions thinking, if I don’t do it this way, then I won’t get it. Although it did help for a little while, it came to a point when I knew I just had to figure it out on my own. My mom kind of took the reigns and really guided me. I owe a lot of my success to my mom, and her driving me to auditions and giving me notes and of course, my dad for supporting me and the rest of the family. Just got to give him that honorable mention. We all moved out to LA to pursue acting. He had to continue working in St. Louis and help support us.”
Yeah, you’re sort of a showbiz family. Both of your siblings, Gabriel Basso and Alexandria Basso act as well. What’s that like?
“It kind of just happened. My sister was the first one to start acting. And I began doing it a few months after she did, and then my brother started doing it about a year later. It was fun! It kind of became a competition and that made it fun.”
A competition! What do you mean by that?
[Imitating her siblings] “Well, how much did you make on that? How much have you got saved up in your bank account? That kind of thing.”
So, you all have separate bank accounts for your careers?
“It started out that way. Then we pooled our money and became incorporated. My brother took a break for a little bit, and so did my sister, but I continued working. So I’m actually going through the process of creating a separate deal for myself. ”
Are y’all represented by the same agency?
“Well, I haven’t talked to my brother about acting in a while. He may be coming back, I’m not sure, but I think he’s represented by UTA. I’m also represented by UTA. And my sister kind of quit acting and is writing now. She’s trying to find representation because she’s written a few scripts and they’re wonderful and fantastic and amazing in every way. ”
Would you ever consider writing?
“Yeah! I’m writing now. Maybe eventually. I don’t think I’m very good at it, but I’m writing because it’s good for the brain. Is this the right adjective — ‘therapeutic’?”
I saw that you went to prom!
“Oh, prom was amazing. Prom was a great day, a great night. We finished the night by watching The Patriot, which was a little unconventional.”
Do you feel like you were able to have a normal teen trajectory? You’ve basically worked two jobs for ten years.
“Right. I feel like I’ve had normal experiences. I’m so happy I was able to go to high school and that I graduated. School is so important when it comes to developing who you are. And I’m so grateful for that. My mom — she’s done everything she can to make my life as normal as possible. I’ve had kind of a normal experience. I’m super happy with the balance that was struck. Because I got to experience both. I didn’t have everything riding on my success at school. I also had this other part of my life — the acting part — that developed a different part of who I am. I’m just super grateful for how things I worked out. I wouldn’t change a thing, even though it was so fricking hard. [Laughs] I had to teach myself a high school curriculum.”
What about a social life? Is it hard to maintain a regular social circle when you effectively lead two lives?
“The social part of it was kind of hard because the kids at school couldn’t relate to me taking so many breaks and being gone for so long and still being able to graduate. They didn’t see how that was possible. What they didn’t realize was that I was still doing the work, and so that kind of made it hard to continue friendships at school. A lot of actresses either quit going to school or take the test that I took and then that’s it, so it’s like, ‘Hey, Sally, I can’t hang out, I have to do schoolwork.’And they’re like, “Oh. Okay.”
It was difficult on both sides because it’s hard to do both. You have to choose one or the other. The social part was definitely challenging. That’s the part that I love and hate the most about this industry — during the couple months that you’re working, you get to know so many great people either love or hate their jobs but are still great at them. Then, once that job is over, it’s kind of like, ‘Oh! I guess we’ll never see each other again.’ There have been crew members that I’ve worked with multiple times, but excluding that, you never really get to see anyone again. But that two months of pure bliss is worth it. I think.”
You’re set to be in the new Snowpiercer series. Have you seen the original film?
“Yes. I love it.”
Okay, then who’s the king of the Chrises?
“Oh, boy. Chris Pratt! I loved him in Parks and Rec. I think he’s so funny and a genius and just so fun to watch.”
Okay, silly question: If you remake any movie and then play any role in it, what would you do?
[Sighs] “Wow. My favorite movie of all time is Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley. But actually you know what? Lord of the Rings, and I would want to be Aragorn.”