From Wayward Victorian to Painted Doll, Emilie Autumn speaks about her role in the upcoming second installment of the fantasy/horror musical The Devil’s Carnival.
An InterView with Emilie Autumn of Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
After the success of Repo! The Genetic Opera, writer/performer Terrance Zdunich and director Darren Lynn Bousman set about to create a whole new series that would push the boundaries of the medium and deliver a subversive yet darkly enticing experience – The Devil’s Carnival. Featuring an even wider assortment of acting and musical talent, the 56-minute episode presented a lavish vision of hell as a twisted carnival, wherein three tortured souls would endure the torments of damnation as only a pack of deranged carnies can deliver, revolving around variations of Aesop’s Fables, and ending with the Devil’s declaration of war with Heaven. The Devil’s Carnival received numerous accolades and much critical acclaim, making it all too inevitable that a second installment in the series would be forthcoming. Now set as a full feature-length movie, Alleluia! promises not only to expand on the richly dark experience of the first, but even take viewers in unexpected directions, driven by a diverse cast that includes Broadway legends like Adam Pascal (Rent, Cabaret), Ted Neeley (Jesus Christ Superstar), and Barry Bostwick (Grease, The Rocky Horror Picture Show), actors Dayton Callie (Sons of Anarchy), Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas), and David Hasselhoff (Knight Rider, Kung Fury), and musicians like Jimmy Urine (Mindless Self Indulgence), rapper Tech N9ne, Carla Harvey and Heidi Shepherd (The Butcher Babies), Nivek Ogre (Skinny Puppy), and Emilie Autumn. With the cast and crew of Alleluia! about to embark on a road show tour to premiere the movie, Emilie Autumn was kind enough to speak with ReGen on how she came to be involved and take on her magnificent role as the Painted Doll, along with a few glimmers of what fans of her musical Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls can expect in the near future.
To start off with the most pedestrian question, how did you first get involved in The Devil’s Carnival?
Autumn: It was actually easy because I was touring in Europe, and my manager at the time said, ‘There’s this guy who keeps e-mailing me, and I keep ignoring him because I think he’s this college kid filmmaker, and he just won’t stop, so do you want to see who this is?’ So she showed me the e-mail from Darren. And since I was on tour in Europe, we were really busy, so she didn’t take it too seriously, but he just wouldn’t stop. So finally, the note was sent to me, and he’d said, ‘Look, I don’t think you know who I am, but I’m doing this freaky project called The Devil’s Carnival, and there’s this part that I’d really like you to play called the Painted Doll. I can’t tell you much about it right now, but here’s a link – please watch this and get back to me.’ What he’d sent to me was a link not to Repo!, the movie, which I’d not seen. It was a video of the audience reaction to the Repo! road show and that stuff with all the people getting dressed up and getting involved. And I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this must be pretty significant because he’s having this reaction with his followers like I had with my shows,’ because it was similar with people dressing up and getting really involved and doing their own shows of the show, and I thought, ‘Holy shit, there is a connection here that I was not aware of; maybe I should write back to this guy.’ So he said, ‘Listen, the next free night that you have on tour, watch Repo!.’ So I got my girls together, we got in the bed in the hotel, and immediately when Sarah Brightman’s name came up, I was like, ‘Oh fuck, if Sarah Brightman will work with this guy, then who the hell am I, Emilie Autumn to say no?’ So by the credits, I’d already decided, ‘Yes, I will speak to Darren Bousman.’ The craziest thing of all was that I then realized that I’d already had two songs on the soundtracks to the Saw movies, which I’d also never seen because I’m just not into those kinds of movies. As Darren is well aware, I will never watch those movies because I have enough going on inside my head already. But I had songs on those soundtracks and I never noticed that connection before, but Darren had been following me for a bit and he just reached out to ask me to play this Painted Doll. What I learned about two years later, and this was about a year before we even started shooting The Devil’s Carnival because the script wasn’t even finished yet, but what I learned was that nobody else had even signed on for the movie yet. I was the first person to actually say, ‘I will have something to do with this project.’ Had he told me that at the time, that might have made some difference, and I might have said, ‘Okay, how about you call me back when this is actually a real thing and I’m not the first person to say I believe in it?’ Obviously, now Darren is my friend and I’m glad I said yes, but it was completely random and his e-mail almost didn’t get through because I didn’t know and I was on tour and it was the worst possible time to reach me. So, thanks to Darren and to Sarah Brightman.
As far as the music, Terrance Zdunich wrote the script himself and all the music with Saar Hendelman, and I know that on Repo!, Eric Powell from 16volt was involved in the recording of the music, as were members of Rasputina. Being a musician yourself, was it ever prevailed upon you to contribute to The Devil’s Carnival musically beyond being a vocalist?
Autumn: The only thing was on the first one, I played a violin part on a lot of the tracks, but I never was asked to be part of the writing process because they’re just doing so well on their own. They don’t need anything more than for me to come along and do my interpretation. I did actually have to make a small edit, and my writing contributions are taking out a few lines that are in my new big flashy number that I have in this movie coming up. The only thing I can really say is that the majority of it is not in English, so these lines were written in a very different language, and I had to learn and make them fit in a ridiculously short period of time. I tried so hard and I worked it out and I still couldn’t do it, so I did my research and I said, ‘We can make this line in this other language make actually as much sense by using only 10 words so that I can actually fit this in,’ and they approved, so I was really just the editor of that and thinking of adding in this other language, which was strange and fits with the Painted Doll theme, which is a bit sexy but is mostly just really angry and threatening to kill someone constantly.
Your own live shows have a level of performance and theatricality, so in portraying your character in The Devil’s Carnival and to get inside the character, what do you feel you connected with most and how do you feel that shows through in your performance?
Autumn: Initially, a bit of a different thing happened this time around. At first, when I was asked to do the Painted Doll, it was all so new and these characters were just being created by the actors for the first time. So, Terrance and Darren would have an idea up to the moment that we were on the set of like, ‘What is her hair like,’ or all of those things that go into creating the character. We didn’t know what she was wearing, and it was basically sown onto my body on the first movie. I’d just dyed my hair blonde that afternoon two hours before for the movie because I thought that’s just what I should do. And then Darren was like, ‘Well, what if we put an orange wrap with a Raggedy-Ann wig on you?’ And that’s when I just said, ‘Hell no! Let’s just go with this; I’m telling you, it’s correct! You’re going to like this.’ I walked onto the set, and Darren said, ‘I can’t even look you in the face right now, it’s so perfect.’ So, just the look of the character and her broken face and the fact that she didn’t speak, all just is part of the collaboration that went into creating the character – we didn’t really know until we started shooting what we were going to do with her, and we didn’t know her back story. She didn’t have one as far as I know. It was just, ‘We have this thing; how do we make it real?’ I have to admit that what I did in the first movie that made that character was basically me doing an exaggerated version of the evil side of what I already am and what I already do. It was frightening in that I hadn’t been behind a camera before in that sense; that was my first movie. And I had no speaking lines, but I had a song to sing and that’s where I’m very comfortable. So those considerations of ‘How loud do I talk’ and ‘How do I control the volume of my voice,’ and what do I do because it’s so different? I’m used to having to project and be seen and heard from far away. But they didn’t need anything from me other than, say, the twitch of an eyelash, and there they have the part. It was easy because the Painted Doll is me; in that sense, it was kind of cheating, but she’s such a cool looking character that I sang the songs how I would sing them, and I acted and moved how I felt a broken version of the bitchy part of me would. I created a back story of her in my mind, which ended up being slightly accurate. What was the second time around incredibly different was that this was incredibly challenging; the first one was a lot of fun, but it wasn’t scary. This one was scary because I am able to be, at some point in the movie, the Painted Doll again, which is my comfort zone. That’s me being me, and for most of the movie, I am not; I’m somebody else. That is me being an actor who has to look like she’s not acting and basically being a person that is completely different from me, and having to make it real at the same time. So now, I just went through my terrifying actor experience. Doing the first scene on the first day, and I’m not the Painted Doll as we know her yet, and I said one little line. I sat back and said to one of the other actors, who has so much more experience than I do, I said to her, ‘Girl, that was my first line ever in a movie.’ It was like, ‘Oh my god! That was the first line!’ And it was a terrifying moment and then I started asking, ‘How loud do I speak,’ and going through those awkward things that so many people in this movie have done a hundred times before. Marc Senter, who is one of the most qualified actors on this thing, and all of these people who, fortunately, were very kind and helpful. But these were things that I was very not used to; I’m used to singing and dancing, and knowing where the audience is and where to target my performance, so this was a very different thing. I think people are going to be extremely surprised by what actually happens since it’s nothing like the first movie at all – it’s got all of the elements of magic and all of the characters that you love, but it’s about the time before that; it’s a prequel, and it’s of course longer as a feature-length. The first one was gorgeous and I love it, but it was a series of vignettes, and there was sort of a sense of, ‘This is what’s going on down here,’ and it gives that sense of Heaven and Hell not getting along. It was a lot of fun, but I wasn’t a different person after I made it. On the second one, I was a completely different human being after I made it. It sounds overdramatic, but it completely changed my world and my senses after going through that experience.
Musicals perhaps once had a stigma about them of being family-oriented and lightweight, while in more recent years, we have Sweeney Todd and The Devil’s Carnival, which are more esoteric and subversive…
Autumn: They’re unapologetically edgy.
Do you find that there’s a greater acceptance for these ‘weirder’ and edgier things, and does it ever concern you that people are getting into it who probably take it more as a ‘cool’ or novel sort of thing?
Autumn: I guess that leads into the question of if it matters how someone gets into a thing or an art form? If somebody is exposed to something and they enjoy it, does it matter if they enjoy it on not a profound level like you or I do, or if they just think, ‘Hey, this is cool! Darren Bousman directed this – I guess I’ll watch it!’ I was actually just having a conversation with someone about the theory of why we like what we like and that it’s all okay as long as we’re paying attention to something that’s good, and if a lot of people watch it or listen to it, which in my opinion is generally not true. If people like something, it’s generally mediocre because the most people means the lowest common denominator, and that’s not who we go for. We want a lot of people, but we don’t want everybody; if everybody likes you, you’re generally doing something wrong. However, even that sounds a bit… not snobbish, but perhaps…
Autumn: Definitely elitist. And I’m not even saying that there’s not a place for elitism, but you don’t want to disenfranchise people that might be into you, and god forbid, maybe a lot of people would like something if you present it to them in an appropriate way. I don’t believe people are inherently stupid; I do believe that the majority of people, the masses that we like to complain about, are generally not… well, the majority of people don’t eat well or take care of themselves, and that’s the majority. But you have these pockets of the country or cities or the population that actually do seem to care about certain things, and that seems to be the minority. I don’t know if it has to be that way or if we accept that, and maybe we subconsciously rule out people who might be on our side because we go into it thinking that if everyone likes it, you’re doing something wrong. I believe that, and yet, I don’t like that I believe that at the same time, and that’s my own personal challenge to deal with. For example, I was just talking to Marc about The Killers; they’re a hugely popular band, who has sold millions of albums, and I think The Killers are really fucking good! I really like them, and there’s some part of me that enjoys, very rarely, that I like something that a lot of other people like, because most of the time, that’s not the case. There’s something to that, so I just wonder how many other people could also get into something that is not usually what they would be into either, whether it’s a mainstream thing or a non-mainstream thing. I suppose it’s all about doing something so interesting that it challenges what people think they’re normally into or welcomed or invited to. Musicals are a particularly odd thing because, by nature, they’re ridiculous! You’re telling a story and all of a sudden people start singing, and you have to make it so good that people don’t start laughing when they watch that. I’ll go to a musical that has won all kinds of awards and I will feel that once the first person comes out singing… you know that twinge of awkward embarrassment that you get in the pit of your stomach, and it doesn’t mean that it’s bad, but that it’s going to take you a minute to fully let go and get into this thing. The musical still has that difficult time of getting people over that belief, and my goal in my own writing of musicals is to completely obliterate that, which is probably the biggest challenge. Musicals alone don’t obliterate that; you have to be into musicals and you have to let go. I think what is especially so about this second The Devil’s Carnival movie is that it’s got such a variety of music and it seems to come genuinely from these characters, and the music is such a huge part. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the scoring that they do goes so that you don’t feel these moments of, ‘Oh, now they’re talking and now they’re going to start singing.’ That, I think, they have done shockingly well, which is why you have a lot of younger people that are into this, because it doesn’t ask them to completely suspend the disbelief; it just feels somewhat natural. Of course, if you get a lot of people that are already into, maybe Darren’s work, maybe Terrance’s past work, or maybe just theatrical things in general, there’s something about this that makes it easier for them. But I think that what also makes it easier for all ages is that musicals seem to be more popular than ever, and it’s with things like Sweeney Todd, which got a lot of people into musicals who thought that they were just like The Sound of Music or things that are generally very positive. I think The Sound of Music is obviously one of the best things ever made, but some people that are into that may not be into other things, and some people that are into Repo! or The Devil’s Carnival, which is very different, but they completely disregard The Sound of Music. But it seems to me that every year, there are more musical movies out there, from the Les Misérables production to Into the Woods, and it might not be for everyone, but it’s not stopping. I actually think it’s a great thing and that more are being made and we’re just constantly being shown that this is a valid thing that isn’t just for Broadway freaks like me. I think anything that gets attention that shows quality, I don’t care how or why someone gets into it; no matter why someone got there, they are taken to a place when they walk out with a bit of a different perspective or are a bit of a different person in some microscopic way. As a closing example, I know very well that in the past, a lot of people might have come into one of my personal rock shows because they saw a poster and said, ‘Oh, that girl’s got great tits!’ I’m so completely cool with that because they’re in there, and it’s my job to change something about them or get them immersed in the story, which the show has always been – it’s a story that takes you on a journey and it’s not just hearing the songs. That’s what a musical has to do. I just took Marc to this thing at the big opera for the first time in Los Angeles, and his mind was completely blown. He didn’t grow up with this stuff like I did, and he’d never seen a proper Broadway production before. It’s really nice to see that if something is done well enough, anybody can find something in it. I think the dark musical being accepted for any reason is great, and it’s a great thing for me personally because The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls musical, which is my whole career right now, is guaranteed to be the darkest musical that’s ever been on Broadway. I really need people to be into the alternative side of what a musical can be and to be okay with knowing that some parts might not be appropriate for your kids, and not every musical has to be a family musical; that’s what this is. It is pretty scary and I like that people are more accepting of that.
Until the movie’s release, we don’t want to give away too much…
Autumn: Before I get into trouble.
Is there anything about The Devil’s Carnival that we can talk about that we’ve not covered?
Autumn: It’s such a huge movie with so many people in it, but I can tell you personally to look forward to the scene when David Hasselhoff yells in my face, and the tears are real; that’s all I really can say. The tears are real, and once you know that, you know why I went through a couple of weeks afterward of complete withdrawal and suffering through a really tumultuous and emotional ride, and recovering from that. When the tears are real, you’re actually not okay afterwards, and there are a lot of them! I learned that some people use the glycerin that they put in the eyes where they can cry automatically. Marc Senter, my gentleman who is an incredibly trained method actor, had said, ‘Oh, no. You don’t do that! This is real or you don’t show up.’ I thought, ‘There is no way in front of Marc Senter that I’m going to resort to using glycerin tears.’ It was quite an experience, but the result of that is that now I’ve found that place where the tears live. I had to find a place physically that feels like it’s just behind my actual heart, and I can now access it frighteningly well at any time. One of my biggest and most dramatically emotional scenes in this movie, Darren came over afterward – we were shooting at 4:00 in the morning, and it’s freezing, and I’m barefoot, my feet are cut up – and he asked me, ‘Are you okay? Guess what you just learned tonight. 1) You’re a badass actor! 2) You’ve just learned how to win any argument ever! Because if you can cry like that, nobody’s going to win.’ I didn’t even think of that, but yeah! Any argument I have, I’ve totally got this! It’s good, but now I’m recording the audiobook of The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, and it’s also very dramatic and very emotional, and there are parts that you can imagine that someone is getting really worked up in some way. I found that as I was reading it that I was crying, and I had to wonder if people that are hired to read other people’s books are meant to go through this experience and start crying in the middle of a chapter. But I just know that I spend hours editing each chapter, and when you hear someone cry, especially yourself, you can’t help but feel something, and I’m not a crier. So, thank you to Darren Bousman and The Devil’s Carnival! A year before we shot this movie, they were in the middle of writing it, and I didn’t even know that I was a primary character in this thing, because there are so many characters that they could have chosen to follow, and maybe for the next one, they will follow others. Terrance sent me a text message that said, ‘Emilie, just a question: Can you cry on cue?’ And I thought, ‘Oh, shit! What is about to happen?’ And I just pensively said, ‘Yes,’ because I learned a rule as an actor that you always say yes. ‘Can you fence?’ ‘Yes sir, I can.’ ‘Can you ride a horse?’ ‘Absolutely!’ And between then and the time that they say, ‘Action,’ you better learn to ride that horse and fence. I was figuring this out and nobody complained, but now I can’t turn it off, and that’s my own issue to deal with. But I hope that people enjoy watching it as much as we did making it. I don’t have any expectations until people see it, and the truth is I haven’t seen the whole thing, and I kind of don’t want to because I’m terrified. I am in no way confident that I am any good; I just know that I did the best that I could, and I hope that it worked. I was not scared on the first one because I was basically being myself. Due to the ensemble cast and the new song that is not in English, I think there’s enough to work with that I’ll be okay.
At the very least, it will be interesting.
Autumn: Oh, definitely. Besides, we’ve got actual Broadway stars in this thing; anybody who is a fan of Adam Pascal, who is a two-time Tony nominee and is established from Rent and the revival of Cabaret on Broadway… this guy is legit, and he’s my co-star, my fellow lead. For that reason alone, anybody who don’t care about me or anyone else will be into this just because this guy is for real. We also have Ted Neeley…
The original Jesus Christ Superstar!
Autumn: Exactly! This is no joke! These people are amazing, and I actually don’t want to be a rock star; I want to be in theatre exclusively, and everything that I’ve done to this point has been amazing practice to grow a new sort of audience for what I want to do and create a really hardcore, down and dirty experience doing this. It’s such a huge blessing for me to have been in this second movie with all of these people because I’m now using them in my musical – they’re in it!
That leads into the question about what is next for you, because your last album was in 2012, and it’s been some time since you went on tour.
Autumn: I was on the Warped Tour a year ago, and before that, it was probably a half a year… my last proper tour was a year-and-a-half ago. The musical could have happened long before now had I not been touring, but that has all been to grow the audience and actually do the music that I’ve recorded and do the show that I do love, so touring was necessary. But it was also necessary to take a break to get this thing going, which has been the biggest project by far out of anything that I’ve ever done. Right now, we’re finding a venue for basically doing a preview mini-version in Los Angeles, and simply finding a venue has already taken three months. This is an immersive musical experience, and the whole idea is to take the asylum off the stage and bringing people inside of it and have the musical going on all around you. It’s not a rock musical, but it’s a proper theatrical production. What we did on the Warped Tour was basically a preview of what we were working on out in 105-degree heat everyday. That was a huge challenge, and if we can do that, then we can definitely pull this off inside an actual venue. As well, finding a place that allows all ages, which is so incredibly important to me, is incredibly difficult to do; especially in Los Angeles, which is not the most theatre-going town, and this will hopefully change that. You know that there are people that, through no fault of their own, are growing impatient and saying, ‘Hey, you’re on tour and you’re not putting out an album, and we want new stuff. What’s going on?’ And it’s like, ‘I’m trying to find a fucking venue that you’re allowed into!’ As we’re finishing this movie, as Darren is doing the color correction and we do the ADR, I’m doing the audiobook and began working with a proper booking agent to get the book to a proper publisher and get it out in a new form because I want this book out in a way that people can actually afford. I sold 50,000 of these gigantic asylum books thus far, and I think about how many more people can’t actually get this thing because it’s so expensive, because of the graphics, because it is so big, because I had to sell via my own personal website. So now, I am rewriting the book, changing a lot of things, and repackaging and rereleasing it on a global scale within the next year to make it something that is more readily available to the people who need to read it. Through all of this, we’re trying to find a damn venue to put a musical on, and it’s incredible how difficult things like this are, so things take so much more time than we all anticipate, but it’s going to be so worthwhile. The second Devil’s Carnival took longer to create for a lot of reasons than everyone had anticipated, and yet, had it been done a moment sooner, it would not have been this big and have had this many people in it for it to be this incredible thing. I don’t think there’s a single weak link in this chain.
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