Actors Sabrina Kern and Carolyn Hennesy About Being Evil in St. Agatha

Darren Lynn Bousman is quite a director, having been behind some of the more gruesome entries in the Saw franchise, as well as the over-the-top super ambitious rock opera Repo: The Genetic Opera. His newest project, St. Agatha is just as over the top as most of his earlier work, if perhaps a little less violent…but ha, maybe not.

I was pleased to speak with two of the leading actresses from Bousman’s latest film; Sabrina Kern who plays the titular Agatha (nee Mary) and Carolyn Hennesy who plays Nurse Ratchet-in-a-habit, Mother Superior. I spoke to Sabrina first, and what happened is as follows:

Hi Sabrina, I really enjoyed your performance in St. Agatha. I thought it was great.
Sabrina Kern: Oh my God, that’s so good to hear! Thank you!

I was curious because I saw you worked with Darren Lynn Bousman before on The Tension Experience. Is that when you decided to work on St. Agatha or how did you join the cast?
Kern: It was all such a random thing, even for The Tension Experience. Darren found me in Backstage, so even that for me, when I got the Tension call and then somehow ended up being the lead of Tension was already a crazy thing. It was a surreal thing. One day during Tension, I think it was mid-run, he came in. He had been speaking about a script he was reading and then he comes in and he says “You know, I’ve been reading this script and now I’ve read it with you as the lead in mind and suddenly it just clicks for me. It makes sense” and he said, “I think I’d like for you to be the lead in my new movie” and I was like “Yeah, right,” like that’s not gonna happen. Because I’ve never been in a lead in a feature. Plus, I’m from Switzerland so I don’t have a lot of experience here in the U.S. I didn’t truly believe it at first, but a few weeks after, I put myself on tape for it, so it got a little more real then. Then Darren just kind of kept fighting for me to be the lead because he thought I was the best one for the role. I’m very grateful that it all happened. It was kind of a dream come true.

“…Darren just kind of kept fighting for me to be the lead because he thought I was the best one for the role.”

Well kind of going off of that, this is a two-part question. First of all, were you a fan of Bousman’s movies before?
Kern: So I’ve definitely been a fan of his work. I was always a big fan of the Saw movies. They’re insane, but they’re good. So I would watch those and then I had to do my make-up final at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I was thinking “what should I do with my make up final?” and all these girls were like “Oh, I’m gonna be a mermaid” and all these cute things, and here I am and I was like “I’M GONNA BE JIGSAW!” and so I was Jigsaw for my make-up final. I dare you to find that picture online.

Oh my God, that’s awesome.
Kern: It was great. It was almost kind of meant to be, because almost exactly a year after that, Darren randomly called me, and he didn’t know. I don’t think I told him about that make-up final thing until like a year into knowing him. So, I definitely knew some of his work, not all of it, but then as soon as I met him, I watched all of his other films to make sure I know what I’m talking about.

What would you say is your favorite part of working with him as a director?
Kern: I always say, as a joke…that it’s like working with a drunk genius toddler. Because he’s insane and I can say this because we’re really, really close friends now. But he’s insane. He has a lot of ideas going through his mind at all times so his attention span is maybe like a second, but he’s absolutely brilliant. He always has new ideas and I think what I like about him the most is that we just have this creative flow together where we completely understand one another. We come up with ideas and we accept what the other person says and just try it out and see what happens and yeah…he’s great. He’s an actor’s director, (he) understands the process of an actor and sees it as a collaboration.

So more about the role itself. You’re pretty much under stress the entire time except for maybe about five minutes in flashbacks. What did you do to channel that feeling, where did you go to get that feeling to come forward?
Kern: That’s a good question, I mean a lot of it was preparation for sure. Not to get too “actor-y” on you, but I did a lot of journaling as Mary (Agatha’s original name) because to me it’s so much easier to go into deep emotions like that when you know the character. You can’t know enough about it. So I just did a ton of journaling and got to know Mary inside and out. The other thing is, working off Carolyn Hennesy and all the other girls: Courtney Halverson, Trin Miller, Hannah Fierman, and Lindsay Seim. They are all so good that it just made it easier, to be honest. Because whenever—working off of them was a dream.

“…I just did a ton of journaling and got to know Mary inside and out.”

For a significant amount of time, they (Mother Superior and her goons) have you in a coffin. Were you actually inside a coffin. Not without giving too much away, but how was that and what was it like shooting that part of the film?
Kern: That was definitely the craziest day. Generally, we didn’t have a lot of time to shoot this film. We had very, very little time. So, everything that happens in the coffin, or in that basement all happened in one single day because we only had that location for one day. That was definitely a draining day, but also very fun. I think the very first moment I had to step into the coffin was a little weird, but after that, because we only had that one day, everything was so fast paced that it didn’t ever really get to me that much. We had to film all those scenes back-to-back-to-back. You know, they gave me a little nice blanket to lie on, it was fine. It was more rough for Agatha than it was for me.

Do you think that the actual you, apart from Agatha, would have been as headstrong as Mary/Agatha was? Or do you think that you would’ve handled it differently?
Kern: You know, I would like to think that I would be as headstrong and brave as Mary/Agatha but I don’t know. Maybe I would be a complete mess, just crying in the corner and hoping that someone would save me. I don’t know what I would’ve done. Yeah, I never thought of that. No one has ever asked me that!

I know you did a lot of theater so maybe this can be a two-for-one. What was the first play or the first movie that you saw that made you think that you wanted to be an actress?
Kern: That’s a good question. You know, it’s actually funny. I think–this is so silly. It was different than it was here in the US, but it was one of those…you could compare it to…not NCIS but it was definitely like a series with lawyers? I don’t know why I watched it when I was that young. It was this thing where lawyers would be in court and they would bring their arguments, and I just always thought that was so impressive. The funny thing is, even though I was already acting from the age of six, I watched that and thought “This is great, I want to do that” and then I studied law because I thought “I want to be a lawyer.” Then I realized, half-way into my studies of law, I realized that’s not what my mind meant what I wanted. What I wanted was to play a lawyer because I thought that was cool. So, I hope that one day, I’ll be able to play a lawyer to fulfill my childhood dreams.

“…I just did a ton of journaling and got to know Mary inside and out.”

Yess! You could. I mean everyone in the world has been on Law & Order SVU and you’re big enough now, I think you could be a defense attorney on there if you wanted.
Kern: Oh my God, I would love to!  Listen, I always say, they need so many victims. I could be one of the victims, but see that’s not what I want. I want to be a lawyer, so no, no victims.

You could be like a really evil defense attorney on there. Those are always great.
Kern: Oh my God, I love it. I have my next goal written down now.

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Carolyn Hennesy is an incredible actress and absolutely obliterates all in her path as Mother Superior in St. Agatha. I spoke to Carolyn the day after I spoke to Sabrina and here’s what went down.

Hi Carolyn! I thought you were so great in this movie. I was blown away.
Carolyn Hennesy: (laughs) Thank you!

Did you enjoy playing someone just so unabashedly evil?
Hennesy: The most fun. Trust me, I told my therapist some of the things I got to do and actually suggested doing in this movie and she looked at me and her eyes went wide for the first time since I’ve been seeing her and she was like “Were you able to walk away from that?” and I said “Yeah, I think I was.” Because these are mines that you get to go down and kind of dig around and then come back up. Because if you stay down there, then you’ll go insane. If you get to come back up and have some fried chicken in Atlanta after a day of being evil, it kind of evens you out. So, yes, it was the most fun because you get to do things you cannot do in polite society without being arrested or institutionalized and then you get to have fried chicken.

I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a straight villain. Do you think that Mother Superior knew how bad she was or do you think that she had good intentions behind what she did?
Hennesy: Oh, honey, if you asked Mother Superior, she’s completely justified in every move that she made probably starting years before St. Agatha takes place and for years after. Absolutely! She’s still doing God’s work. It does not matter that the organized Catholic Church has turned its back on her. That does not matter. She has served a higher purpose and a higher purpose means tough love and tough love to her means, well, the audience is gonna find out.

They have an absolute justification for their motives…”

Oh my God, yeah they will.
Hennesy: So, she’s utterly justified. You know, no real villain, I think..there may be a few exceptions, but one of them is not Mother Superior. No real villain knows that they’re evil for the sake of being evil. They always have, or usually have, I would say 99 times out of 100. They have an absolute justification for their motives.

I didn’t ask Sabrina this but did you grow up in a Catholic background or a super religious environment?
Hennesy: I did not. No. No. Listen, I know a number of things about the Catholic Church. I have Catholic friends and I’ve toured the Vatican. But, Mother Superior, I believe, was twisted from the start. I think she came from whatever womb she came out of…twisted. So the fact that she became a nun was to do God’s work but found that her methods were far more superior than those subscribed to by the Church. So I think Mother Superior was always at odds with organized Catholicism, so that was kind of rich for me to tap into.

Where did y’all shoot because that house was amazing?
Hennesy: Yeah, it was in a town called Madison, Georgia. It has one of the largest collections of pre-Bellum, antebellum, Bellum homes. You know pre and post Civil War homes that are still intact. Many of these homes are on this tremendous circle tour that so many tourists can visit and they’re all in fabulous condition. Except one, which was the one we were shooting in and it was still glorious, but there were cracks in the plaster, made more evident by heavy camera equipment on the second floor. The house was in the process of being sold, but there was so much work that needed to be done on this house. It’s also on the historical registry. The third camera assistant I believe, was the daughter of the family who lived there, or used to live there. She was able to tell us everything about the house and anyone who buys it will have to spend millions on shoring up the foundation and there’s so much restorative work that needs to be done before this house can ever be shown again…but it was perfect for our needs.

I got through Saw 2 by the skin of my teeth…”

 

Considering how heavy the subject matter is, what did y’all do as a group when the cameras weren’t on? What did you do to kind of decompress from shooting?
Hennesy: We hung out together, the ladies of St. Agatha. There’s a funny little arcade area in downtown Atlanta, so we played miniature golf. We ate fried chicken. We hung out there quite a bit, and then, because we were all housed separately when we couldn’t get together, trust me, I know this for a fact, we decompressed. We decompressed by sort of holing up and checking up on emails and connecting with our homes back in Los Angeles or wherever. We had some decompression time alone and got together and laughed a lot. We also, believe it or not, laughed a great deal on the set, which you had to do.

I know that you’ve been acting for a long time but I wanted to know if there was any specific movie or play that influenced you to want to be an actor?
Hennesy: No, and I’ll tell you what it was. My father was a production designer so I walked on to my first soundstage at the age of four. I knew in that moment, in that moment, that whatever goes on in this big, dark box…where there were also free donuts, and lots of quiet..and then a hub of activity and a small pool of light somewhere deep in this cavern, that’s what I was going to be a part of. It just happened to be a stroke of good luck or the grace of God that I am suited for it, but that’s when I knew. I grew up as a studio brat!

That’s great and it’s really good luck, and you’ve done a lot of great stuff with it! My last question if I can is were you a fan of Darren Lynn Bousman before you worked on St. Agatha?
Hennesy: I was, even though I had to hide my eyes from most of his work. Listen, I got through Saw 2 by the skin of my teeth. I knew I couldn’t even handle Saw 3 and 4. I couldn’t do it, there’s just no way. There’s just no way, but oh I was a fan and the man knows blood, so I knew that I was in good hands.

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St Agatha is the story of a “wayward home for girls in trouble” i.e. a home for pregnant girls in 60’s Georgia. Mary loses her family and becomes pregnant. Facing homelessness, she seeks refuge in a convent that was recommended to her by a nun who met her at a soup kitchen. It doesn’t take long before Mary (Sabrina Kern) knows that the nuns, particularly Mother Superior (Carolyn Hennesy) are up to no good.

Like most Bousman films, it’s incredibly fun in a sadistic sort of way. If you love his other films, you will LOVE St. Agatha. The interesting thing is, even if you did not enjoy any of his other films, you might find yourself enjoying this one in spite of yourself. Thanks for reading my interviews, while you’re at it, please check out the review from Norman Gidney!   

 

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