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MY SOUL TO TAKE

Casting The Suspense Thriller
"In Haiti, they don't say people are born with multiple personalities. They say they are born with multiple souls.” —Jeanne-Baptiste, Riverton EMT

When casting the Riverton Seven, the filmmakers decided they wanted to work primarily with largely unknown performers.

"We were very cognizant of finding talented young actors without well-known faces, so that the audience wouldn't have preconceived ideas when they come into the cinema,” comments Labunka. "We had to find the right balance and tone for the cast to work together as one, as all of the characters spring from one person. We needed to have ways of showing different aspects of Abel's personality in these seven actors.”

Craven found the casting process inspiring. "We discovered a group of enormous talent for the film by jumping back and forth in between coasts,” he says. "All the kids we found are just wonderful, very special and very different.”

Adam "Bug” Hellerman is the lead character in the film, but his was actually one of the final roles that was cast. Another actor had been initially brought on board, but he fell ill at the last minute and left the production close to the beginning of principal photography.

"We thought we had found someone who was perfect,” says Craven. "In the end, the gods smiled upon us, and we found an absolutely incredible replacement in Max Thieriot. He understood the arc his character had to take, which was the one thing that frightened us most—working with a relatively young and inexperienced actor on such a challenging role.”

Thieriot admits he was initially nervous about playing Bug. "I realized that if I was going to do a thriller, there's only one person I should do it with, and that's Wes Craven,” he says. "Wes is definitely the king of the genre, and that's what I thought about while I was reading the script. It's not a slasher movie with blood and guts. It has a lot more depth than that and is more of a thriller than a horror movie.” He was also excited to play a character that takes on many personalities and additional traits as the film progresses.

"Little pieces of other people come out in Bug, and they can be quite subtle—including their voices.” The opportunity to work with Craven was something that appealed to many of the young cast members. The Brave One's JOHN MAGARO was cast as Bug's best friend, the often-bullied Alex Dunkelman. "This film felt different than Wes' other films,” Magaro says. "A Nightmare on Elm Street is based in the supernatural, while My Soul to Take is a little more human with some great folklore and mythology.”

"The idea of actually working with such an iconic writer and director was hard to imagine,” commends Twelve's EMILY MEADE, who plays Riverton's self-appointed high school queen, Fang. Meade describes her character: "Fang isn't written as a caricature; you get to see all sides of her. That's what makes Wes' films classics. They have those classic horror movie moments you would expect to see in a scary movie, but you also care about the characters and feel like you know them…even if they're bad.”

The Great Debater's DENZEL WHITAKER, who plays Jerome King, another one of the Riverton Seven, admits he was initially apprehensive about portraying a blind character. He says, however, that he quickly got over his fears: "When I heard it was Wes Craven, I thought, ‘I'm going to work with a horror legend! This is the man who made Freddy!' I wanted the chance to be a part of another Craven classic. He's the originator of horror films that haven't been done before.”

In Good Company's ZENA GREY, who plays the fervently religious Penelope Bryte, was excited about her role as the most pragmatic of the Riverton Seven. Her only hesitation came before the rehearsal. Once production began, however, her fears were assuaged. She notes: "The audition turned out amazing because Wes coached me the whole way.”

My Soul to Take marks PAULINA OLSZYNSKI's first feature-length film, and she jumped at the chance to work with Craven and her fellow cast mates. She was cast to play the object of Bug's affection, Brittany Cunningham. "Wes is an amazing writer and director, and I loved the script,” she explains. "This is a great start for me.”

The remaining actors who comprise the Riverton Seven include newcomer JEREMY CHU, who plays the mischievous Jay Chan, and The Last Song's NICK LASHAWAY, who plays the aggressive jock (and Bug's frequent tormentor) Brandon O'Neil. Completing the core young cast is up-and-coming young actress SHAREEKA EPPS of Half Nelson. She was brought on to play Jerome's overprotective sister, Chandelle.

For the role of Abel Plenkov/the Ripper, the production selected RAÚL ESPARZA, an established theater actor who had been nominated for a Tony for his performance in Speed-the-Plow. Of his interest in the project, he reflects: "When I read the script, I could tell this film would be more unsettling than your typical slasher picture. I went in and tried a lot of different things with the multiple personalities, and I thought I would either make a complete fool of myself or that Wes would like it. After I had finished, he told me, ‘That was brilliant,' and two days later I had the part.”

Esparza knew he had signed up for something powerful. "You wouldn't expect Wes to make your regular horror film. You know he's going to take it and twist it again and see what else he can do with it. He has this extraordinary ability to play with what really frightens us. In A Nightmare on Elm Street, he hit on the terror that parents have of someone hurting their child. With My Soul to Take, he's playing with the reverse: the complete horror of a man faced with the fact that he is capable of hurting his family and how monstrous that is. He's hitting the most primal level of what scares us as humans.”

Sideway's JESSICA HECHT, who plays Bug's guardian, May, has long been interested in complex mental issues. She offers: "I read the screenplay late one night and became completely engrossed. My father is a psychiatrist and deals with multiple personalities, so I found the villain's character fascinating.” Although Hecht hates to be scared as a moviegoer, she fell in love with her character. She laughs: "I told myself to stop being such a sissy and jumped in.”

Throughout filming, the cast found Craven's focus on their characters' arcs and story lines quite inspiring. Hecht notes: "When working with Wes, you have to totally give over to him, but in a great way. In his mind, the psychology of all these characters is worked out, so when he speaks to you about it, he gives you these wonderful little details about what's happening. We are all a vehicle for which to tell the story for him and you just hope that you are flexible enough to do this part that he has created.”

With the key cast now in place, the filmmakers relocated to Connecticut to begin filming the terror that the Ripper would wreak upon those unfortunate enough to live in Riverton.

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