When Texas native Katie Featherston moved to Los Angeles and took the lead role in the low-budget found-footage experiment known as Paranormal Activity, she had no idea that anyone would ever get a chance to see the movie let alone that it would spawn a blockbuster horror franchise and Halloween tradition. Featherston's character, also named Katie, returns in Paranormal Activity 4 in theaters on October 19. Since Paranormal Activity 3 was a prequel to the first two movies, the last time we saw Katie in the PA timeline she had just killed her sister, Kristi, and her sister's husband and took off into the night with her nephew, Hunter. Possession: it doesn't do the family good.
In real life, Featherston is as friendly and likable as her character in the first Paranormal Activity before all the supernatural shenanigans started. Although she was tightlipped about her character's fate in the latest sequel, the actress chatted candidly about the horror series' impact on her life, if she believes in ghosts, and her scary tendency to accidentally steal things.
Fandango: How did you get the part of Katie in the first Paranormal Activity?
Katie Featherston: I had recently moved out to Los Angeles and it was one of the first auditions of my professional career. I found the posting on this site called L.A. Casting. I went in and started improvising. Then I had a callback with Micah [Sloat] and that was it. We shot it over about a week and then, years later, it finally came out. It was a very long process between being cast, filming it, and it finally seeing the light of day in theaters.
Fandango: Did you have any idea that such a low-budget project would birth a blockbuster franchise?
Featherston: No, not at all. When we made the first movie, our only goal was to make the best movie we could possibly make. We were having such an amazing, creative time doing that. For me, anything that would have happened afterwards would have been just icing on the cake. We never knew if people would even see the first movie, let alone it being successful enough that we'd be sitting here talking about a fourth one. It's a testament to the fans that we have, because the sequels would not have been made if the fans weren't excited and the first one wouldn't have been seen if fans didn't demand it and spread the word.
Fandango: Did any strange activity take place on the sets of any of these movies while filming?
Featherston: One of our co-directors, Ralph, was carrying a camera and filming a walkthrough of the house. Our director of photography put on a really scary mask and leapt out when Ralph turned the corner. He nearly dropped the camera and was screaming. I was watching from the monitors and laughing. It wasn't scary, but it sure was funny.
Fandango: Paranormal Activity 4 is set in the present after the prequel, PA3, was set in the '80s. How did the filmmakers try to keep the latest entry fresh?
Featherston: They have to keep the same tone and honor where the movie has come from, but you also have to present the movie in a way that will keep the audiences engaged. They continue to grow the mythology, tell the story in interesting ways, and use the technology of the present. I think they've done a good job of balancing all of these things.
Fandango: What is Katie's mental state in Paranormal Activity 4? What does she want with her nephew, Hunter?
Featherston: I think that's a wonderful question that hopefully will be explored if not totally answered by the end of this movie. That's something people will have to figure out for themselves as they enjoy the movie. I'm telling you, a Paramount ninja would fly down into my hotel and take me away if I said too much. I'd be gone forever.
Fandango: Paranormal Activity has become a Halloween tradition for the past few years. Do you think there is more to come?
Featherston: Oh, I don't know. Whenever I'm doing one of these, I always think of it as my last one so I really enjoy it and have fun. They'd have to have a good story to tell and make sure fans were still excited. If all those things were in line, there are huge possibilities where the story could go from here. But I don't know if it will happen. We'll have to wait and see.
Fandango: Do you believe in demons or ghosts in real life?
Featherston: I don't spend a lot of time thinking about scary demons, but I think that there are things in this world that are unexplainable that are mystical or paranormal. The possibility is there, definitely.
Fandango: Since the success of Paranormal Activity, there has been an avalanche of found-footage movies and TV shows like The River, in which you also appeared. People assume that the found-footage technique is easier, but is it actually more difficult to shoot than people imagine?
Featherston: I don't know if it's more difficult, but it's just as difficult. It has its own challenges involved with acting in that kind of way, especially with the improvisational nature of these movies. It's definitely not easy, but it sure is fun.
Fandango: You've become a central figure in a now iconic horror franchise. Did you enjoy the genre before you took the role in Paranormal Activity?
Featherston: Well, I loved growing up and going to haunted houses and being scared. I loved watching The Exorcist, Candyman and all sorts of scary movies. To be a part of a scary movie that really gets under people's skin is really validating, but I never imagined that I would be a part of something that would become so big to people. I am very thankful. It's exciting to be on the other side of it.
Fandango: Did these movies mess with your head at all? Like, when you hear a strange noise at night, do you have flashbacks?
Featherston: [Laughs] It's not quite as scary filming them as it is watching them, so I don't have flashbacks. But, I live alone, so I do get creeped out sometimes if the lights are off at night and my puppy dog barks at nothing. Like, "Why are you barking?" I turn the lights on and scare myself.
Fandango: What is your dream role?
Featherston: I have plenty of dream roles because there is so much I want to do, but my dream year would be to be in a single-camera comedy and then, on my hiatus, film a little low-budget indie drama. That would be a dream 12-month period. A dream role depends on having good material and working with people that I can learn from. Those would be the top criteria.
Fandango: Since you're a Scream Queen, what is your favorite romantic comedy?
Featherston: I have a twofold answer to that. My first is old school—it's called The Sure Thing starring John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga. My newest favorite is Celeste & Jesse Forever. I really love that movie—it's so sad and funny and slice of life—and the kind of movie that I'd like to be in. It had a great soundtrack, too.
Fandango: People know you as Katie from Paranormal Activity. What is something people would be surprised to know about the real Katie?
Featherston: I've twice accidentally stolen something, and both times I went back and paid for them when I realized I had done it. Will people be surprised of this? I don't know. But I'm honest about it. I was at Banana Republic the other day and I bought a bunch of clothes and I liked this bracelet, so I tried it on. When I got to the register, I forgot about it, so I went home and saw it on my wrist. I thought, oh my God, I'm the worst human being. I went back the next day and said, "Hey, this might sound weird, but I actually stole this. Can you just charge me for it?" You've got to keep good karma.