At this stage in her young career, 18-year-old India Eisley is best known for playing Ashley Juergens, the younger sister of Shailene Woodley’s character on the ABC Family drama “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” That show has been on the air since 2008, and Eisley’s quasi-Goth character over an 83-episode arc was fascinating enough to inspire a book, The Secret Diary of Ashley Juergens.
After an uncredited role in a 2003 made-for-TV movie and a bit part in a 2005 low-budget 2005 horror film, Eisley caught her first big feature-film break with “Underworld: Awakening,” in which she plays a half-vampire, quarter-human and quarter-Lycan hybrid who could be a pivotal character in the “Underworld” franchise. On one of the bonus features on the “Underworld: Awakening” Blu-ray, the producers talk about how her character, Eve, is going to be featured prominently in the next film.
So when the opportunity presented itself to do a phone interview with Eisley, I jumped at the chance. And between replacing a toilet seat and mowing the lawn—the life of a movie critic is so glamorous—I picked up the phone and heard Eisley’s charming British accent on the other end . . .
“Hello . . . how are you?”
. . . and then the questions began:
I was going to ask if you were a fan of the original “Underworld,” but then I realized that the film was rated R and you were 10 at the time. Did you go back and look at any of the first three installments before agreeing to play Kate Beckinsale’s daughter in “Underworld: Awakening”?
I mean, there wasn’t much agreement involved. I had always loved Kate’s work, so the idea of working with her was really nice, right off the bat. And as far as R-rated movies, I saw “Pulp Fiction” when I was nine, so . . . [laughs]. But once I did book it, I did go back and watch the DVDs of the first three, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. It’s all very exciting, and I wanted to do a good job.
I was going to ask what attracted you to the project, but you’ve kind of told me. But I was wondering, still, was it the chance to play anyone BUT Ashley Juergens?
Yeah, that was a really nice change. I’m not a huge TV fan, as far as work is concerned. Personality-wise, it’s not really—at the moment, anyway—something I enjoy. And [“Underworld: Awakening”] was just really fun. It was a really unique character, and the idea of doing any kind of action film is fun, immediately [laughs]. Yes, it was great fun.
What kind of preparation did you do to get ready for this role?
Umm, there really wasn’t much preparation involved. I know that a lot of the other actors had to do quite a lot of stunt training with the stunt team, but with me it was mainly—because I was under contract with another job at the time, and I really wasn’t allowed to do a lot of stunts—but the couple that I did do it was mainly, like, on the day of. They gave me a quick run-down of what it would be, and then just took it from there.
Can you talk about those few stunts that you did?
Yeah. It was mainly just with the big fight scene at the end with Stephen Rea, who I loved working with. I wished I could have worked with him more. And it was not . . . obviously not getting my head slammed in a car door, which I think got cut out of the final cut. And then there was that bit where I was on the wires and I went up to the top of the security camera, and that was great fun. I didn’t actually get to fly up there. It was mainly like halfway up. They pulled me up halfway and made it seem like I jumped from the ground. So it was stuff like that.
Were you brave enough to watch yourself in daily rushes?
I didn’t really do that anyway. I was pretty focused on what I was doing at the time, and then I saw it at the premiere at the screening.
Well, what were your thoughts when you first saw yourself on screen looking like a little monster?
Umm, yeah, I mean . . . I don’t really like watching myself. No. But I think it’s, you know, if I do something like, Ooh, I don’t really like what I did there, then I won’t do that on the next thing. You know, it’s mainly just for educational purposes [laughs]. But I would never go out of my way to just watch myself.
So are there any nieces or young family members who are a little spooked that you’re now doing this role?
Not really. I mean, everyone seems to be happy. You know, because it’s a really good group of people and it wasn’t a bad experience, everyone’s been encouraging.
What was it like on set? Was it a loose set, a lot of joking?
A bit. Everyone was a bit stressed about the 3D and not making it jumpy or hokey in any way. With lots of the cameras it took longer to film, in general, because it would take like 45 minutes to change a lens, and stuff like that. But for the most part it was, again, just a really great group of people and it wasn’t too bad, as far as stress.
Do you have to do anything differently, or do the filmmakers have to do anything differently when involved with 3D?
Umm, yeah, I mean there’s some level like, okay, this hand movement has to be a little bit bigger just to add to the overall look of what we’re doing. It’s little things. But for the most part, I guess on the actor’s end, it was pretty much the same. And then, you know, instruction takes care of the rest.
So there weren’t more takes involved?
No, not really. I mean, unless something went wrong with the cameras and then we’d have to re-do it. But, no.
Now, do you take college classes or anything?
That was a pretty quick no . . . and a happy one, too. So did you decide to go right from . . . I’m guessing you were tutored, rather than coming right from high school?
Yeah, I didn’t really . . . it’s because I was on that show . . . . To begin with, I was home schooled anyway. I started home schooling in 8th grade, and because it was auditioning and stuff it was really difficult to keep up with anything—not that I was too interested [laughs] in keeping up with it. I was not a model student. But yeah, I started home schooling in 8th grade, and then just straight on through.
So is this a role that’s a magnet for guys, or does it function like a garlic necklace?
[Laughs]. I’m not really sure yet. Because I’m playing much younger in the film, I don’t know.
I mean the guys who approach you or ask you out.
Most people don’t really recognize me.
Which I guess is a compliment.
Do you wear a rubber nose and a shawl?
I mean, obviously, I wouldn’t want them to say, “Weren’t you that crazy creature in ‘Underworld’?” Yeah, so, I don’t really get recognized. But once in while they’ll say, “Weren’t you in . . .?” Yeah, and then that’s over and done with.
Your first acting part was an uncredited role as an English girl in a Mother Teresa biopic starring Olivia Hussey. Two years later you had a bit part in the low-budget horror film “Headspace,” also starring Hussey. Was she the reason you got the part?
My mother, you mean?
I didn’t realize that was your mother. I guess that helps, doesn’t it?
Well not really, actually. I still had to audition like anyone else—not for those things, those were just fun things, like, well, I was on set and I was bored and I was a little girl and they were like, “Oh, do you want to be in the background?” and I was like, “Okay.” But it wasn’t really like a job job.
I think there’s this perception that if one of your parents is in the business, then it makes it easier, but if anything it makes it more difficult, because 1) you’re automatically compared to them, and 2) people immediately think “Oh, she probably thinks she’s going to get off easy, because of her mother or something.” You kind of have to wipe that idea away from them.
Did your mother have any advice for you when it came time to audition for this part?
Not really. I mean, she’ll run lines with me, mainly for memorization. But not really. I pretty much go in and do what skills I . . . . Of course, if I have any questions, she probably would—hopefully—give me some kind of tip. But I never do, so . . . .
I’m sure everyone asks this question, but what is your ideal role? What are you hoping happens some day?
I’d like to do some kind of period piece. I mean, I’m open to anything, but some kind of period piece would be nice.
Whose work have you admired in that regard?
Oh, there’s so many. Actually, Kate did a lot of period pieces that we’ve seen that I really enjoyed, and that was long before “Underworld.” There’s plenty of people. There’s a lot of actors who jump back and forth between period pieces and modern day, which must great fun and obviously just a job for them, but great fun for the rest of us.
So are you talking Jane Austen? Is that on your to-do list?
That would be nice. Or something completely different, like maybe the ‘20s to ‘40s would be nice. I really felt that that has a really nice feel to it. But you never know. I’m open to anything.