Condemned is the new infectious disease, outbreak horror film from first time director Eli Morgan Gesner. We spoke with actress Lydia Hearst about her character Tess and her love of horror. The film is currently in select theaters and is available on VOD and iTunes. Check out the interview and official synopsis below.
Fed up with her parents’ bickering, poor-little-rich-girl Maya (Dylan Penn) moves in with her boyfriend who is squatting in an old, condemned building on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. With neighbors that are meth heads, junkies and degenerates, this depraved hell hole is even more toxic than it appears: After a virus born from their combined noxious waste and garbage infects the building’s residents, one by one, they succumb to a terrifying pathogen that turns them into bloodthirsty, rampaging killers and transforms their building into a savage slaughterhouse.
How did you get involved in Condemned?
Lydia Hearst: My manager knew that I was an avid horror buff and she presented me with this script. I had a couple conversations with Eli about the character of Tess and thankfully he found my passion for his film and my love of the script and horror. He gave me the opportunity to be Tess.
What attracted you to the character?
LH: It was exciting because it was a true character piece and Tess has different layers to her where she’s sort of fallen from grace. She used to live in this glamorous world of fashion and success, and in a sense she just fell down the rabbit hole and got lost in a twisted world of drugs and debauchery and you see her today squatting in this condemned building. And she’s a sad character, she’s sort of a victim of circumstance and drugs and I just sort of found her fascinating.
You deliver a monologue in the film with some real conviction about some of those issues.
LH: Y’know I probably did feel conviction in the moment, I’ll admit the City of New York has changed a lot. All the neighborhoods are beginning to resemble sort of one big city, the west and east villages used to be very different and I think they’re very similar now. I’ll admit I’m not a fan of Citi Bikes. (laughs) More than anything, I found thee humor in it because it’s one of those things. Eli wrote it and there is a lot of truth to it and they are facts that a lot of people are afraid to say. I think we live in such a politically correct time that people are almost fearful of being honest. I love that Eli has no fear and he put that in there and gave me the opportunity to put a voice to his words.
Did you enjoy being a part of this horror ensemble?
LH: It was amazing. I think when you’re actually in it you don’t realize just how gross it is ’cause you’re sort of covered in that goo and dirt and rot everyday. Watching it again it’s sort of like, “Wow. I knew we were dirty, but that’s pretty gross.” (laughs) It was a lot of fun and I love how the characters were so different, and the dynamic of all the relationships felt really real and we had a lot of fun.
Your co-star Ronen Rubinstein told us that you were one of the most prepared actresses he’d ever met.
LH: Honestly, I’d had a lot of discussions with Eli and I got to New York probably a week early to go and walk through the set and see where my living space was going to be. Johnny Messner and I had done a bunch of FaceTime meetings and when we actually met in person instead of Eli creating the backstory, he and I sat down together and did an acting exercise. We just talked for hours and literally manifested this life together; the fall from grace and how we found each other to how we wound up squatters in that building.
I don’t know, I’m so passionate about acting. I think it’s important to prepare and one of my idols is Sir Anthony Hopkins who says he reads a script about 100 times before hits set and I think that’s extremely important. Actors should read the script, I think you should read it 20 times before you walk in to set, but honestly if you have a chance to read it more, that’s even better.
What drew you to becoming an actress?
LH: I’ve always wanted to do acting. I just got extremely fortunate with my background in fashion, and a few years ago I decided, “It’s now or never.” and if this is what I want to do I need to make the jump, so I packed my bags and came out west. It’s a constant uphill battle, but it’s worth the struggle when you get the roles and you get to breathe life into these characters. Honestly, it’s one of the most rewarding experiences in the world.
What attracts you to the horror genre?
LH: It’s just so much fun and for me it’s this incredible escape and kind of anything goes in horror. You know I love the roles. It really is a challenge both physically and emotionally and mentally in some of these parts because you’re really in that moment and in those scenes, and things are really happening. When the blood starts coming out and all that, it’s very real in that moment.
You also have some new projects coming out as well with #HORROR and the Eli Roth series South of Hell.
LH: I love both of them. #HORROR was amazing. The earlier parts of that film sort of sets you up for the rest of the torment that ensues later in the film. South of Hell was one of my quintessential dream projects y’know. We got to move down to Charleston and James Manos Jr. who created Dexter created this show, and it was produced by Eli Roth and he also directed the pilot. I love my character and I honestly hope that audiences love it as much as we all did making it because I’m not ready for my character to go away yet and I hope we have many more seasons to actually get to continue the lives of these roles.