High school is the perfect environment to showcase the beginning of the strain between different societal classes, and the drastic and cunning measures people will take in order to boast their reputation. While the repressed will often rely on calculated scheming in order to bolster their societal standing, even at the expense of further expanding their vulnerabilities, those confident in their place amongst their peers will easily garner admiration and protection from their friends. That continuous battle between the suppressed tormenters, led by actress Sami Gayle’s portrayal of the vicious Mia, and natural leaders is humorously and emotionally portrayed in the new action fantasy comedy, ‘Vampire Academy,’ from helmer Mark Waters. While the director first garnered fame for his realistic of the hardships of modern adolescence in the hit teen comedy, ‘Mean Girls,’ his latest film, which was shot in London, moves the action to the supernatural world of a vampire boarding school.
‘Vampire Academy,’ which is based on the book series of the same name by Richelle Mead, follows best friends Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry) and Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch). The two 17-year-old girls attend a hidden boarding school for Moroi (mortal, peaceful vampires) and Dhampirs (half-vampire/half-human guardians of Moroi). Rose is a rebellious Guardian-in-training Dhampir who’s determined to protect Lissa, a royal Moroi vampire. After being on the run for over a year since Lissa’s family was killed, the two friends are captured and returned to St. Vladamir’s Academy, the place where they believe their lives may be in most jeopardy.
As the two are thrust back into Moroi Society and high school, Lissa struggles to reclaim her status, while Rose trains with her mentor and love interest, Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky), to guarantee her place as her friend’s guardian. Rose will do anything to protect her best friend from those intent on exploiting her from within the Academy walls, including their classmates, led by fellow Moroi, Mia (Gayle), who are eager to bring her down. Rose also has to protect her friend from the Strigoi (immortal, evil vampires), who hunt her kind from outside the sanctuary.
Gayle generously took the time recently to sit down during a roundtable interview at New York City’s Crosby Hotel to talk about filming ‘Vampire Academy.’ Among other things, the actress discussed how she thinks Mia is manipulative, but it was also important for her to look at her characters’ layers of insecurity; how it was also vital for the cast and crew to be very dedicated and true to the book for the fans, but also infuse the story with their own sense of humor; and how she enjoys the fast shooting schedule of her CBS police procedural-drama series, ‘Blue Bloods,’ but also likes having a longer period of time to explore a scene on a movie set.
Question (Q): Your character is blond in the film. Being a brunette, what was your life like as a blond?
Sami Gayle (SG): It was so fun to change it up for the summer. I’ve always been a brunette, so this was the first change I’ve ever had my hairstyle. The change in color did help me feel as though I was really becoming Mia as I was playing her.
But I had to go out in hats a lot, because the producers didn’t want anyone knowing what they were doing with my hair until they started releasing material that had to do with the film. So I would walk out in every sort of hat you could imagine. I couldn’t even post any pictures online, but it was still fun.
I didn’t keep the blond hair after I finished shooting, though. After I finished on the set, I flew to L.A. over the weekend to shot Teen Vogue, and then flew back here on Sunday night to continue shooting ‘Blue Bloods.’ My hair stylist met me here, and somehow got it back to the right color for the show. I then started shooting the next day.
Q: What was the experience of getting into Mia’s bitter mindset as you were shooting the film?
SG: I think Mia is a manipulative girl. But at the same time, what was really important to me was seeing her as not just the mean girl, but also looking at her layers of insecurity. She wasn’t just a girl who was mean; she put up these mean walls to mask her insecurities about her upbringing and social status, as well as her feeling of being threatened by the princess’ social status, and the hierarchy of St. Vladamir’s Academy. That was what drove Mia to commit all of those mean acts.
Her sense of insecurity is really relatable for both adults to look back on and kids my age. We’re all struggling to find ourselves and be accepted in our communities.
I drew on finding her redeeming qualities, because no one wants to watch someone who’s just a mean girl for the entire duration of the film. Even if it’s one second or two minutes, you want to see that second where you can sympathize with her, and understand she is the way she is for a reason. You want to see that she is just an innocent girl who just doesn’t know what to do with herself, but she is trying to find herself. This is how she channels her energy, even though she may be better doing it a little differently. That’s how I learned to love her-to recognize that she’s like any teenager.
Q: Mia did have some funny moments, like when she was punched by one of her classmates.
SG: That was so fun. We shot that day one and two, which was great for me. It comes out as funny in the film, but for me, it was a very emotional scene before the punch happened. So I was a little frightened going into that, because I knew that would set the tone for Mia for the entire duration of the film.
But at the same time, it was great to get that out of the way. I felt that I saw who Mia truly was in those scenes. I was then able to build on that, and layer the meanness over that, rather than finding her sympathetic nature after doing the cruel scenes.
She comes across as being vulnerable, just like many teens at this age; I even feel vulnerable. It’s about finding yourself and going from that awkward stage of innocence to mature adults.
Q: Speaking of younger kids, like you mentioned earlier, most of the cast is playing characters their own age.
SG: Yeah, it was very fun for me. I’ve been homeschooled since I was in sixth grade, when I started Broadway. I’ve never really had the opportunity to work with a huge group of kids and young adults my age. So it was my indirect experience of going to high school. I’ve gone to high school online for the last four years.
Q: How did you and your co-stars bond on the set?
SG: It was great because from the beginning, everyone, including the producers and our director, Mark, focused on forming that familial unit. On day one, we all went out to a great restaurant in London, and we sat there for five hours, talking and getting to know each other. It was great to instill that familial relationship between us before we even got to the set.
It was so fun to work with Mark, who was there for the actors. Our screenwriter, Dan (Waters, who is Mark’s brother), is one of the biggest film mentors in my life. All the actors really became a family, and were present for each other in the scenes. That’s how you make the best film you possibly can.
Q: What are your thoughts on Daniel’s screenplay adaptation of Richelle Mead’s novel? Was there much of a difference between the script and the book?
SG: I think it was important for Dan and all of us to be very dedicated and true to the book for the fans. But at the same time, we also wanted to add our own special touch, so that we could add our own mark, as well.
I think it’s important when doing a film like this to obviously think about being dedicated to the fans, but at the same time, also be true to the character. If you worry too much about what everyone else is thinking, then you’re not worrying enough about who the character is as a person. So I feel that if I’m being true to the character, then hopefully everyone else will also be happy with it.
Films and literary works are very different and similar things. I think we did a very good job at staying dedicated to the book. I think the fans will really enjoy the film.
Q: You have worked with so many talented directors over the course of your career, including Mark, Tony Kaye (on 2012’s ‘Detachment’) and Darren Aronofsky (on the upcoming ‘Noah’). What’s your collaboration process like with the directors? Do you speak with them to help get into your characters’ mindsets?
SG: I do a multitude of things. I have a long discussion with the director, and how we both view the character, to collaborate on how we’re going to portray the character.
Also, Tom Selleck, who’s the patriarch on ‘Blue Bloods,’ has given me advice on how to figure out the motivating factors of my characters, including her financial and emotional intentions. I then fill out these complex charts for each category. That allows me to see on paper who the girl really is.
Tom’s the greatest mentor I could have ever hoped to be given the opportunity to work with. He’s so invested in my film and television career and my education. I feel like I can go to him with any question, and he’ll give me the answer in less than a second.
Q: How do you like the pace of doing movies over television?
SG: It’s fantastic and different. I love having the ability to change things up. In TV, obviously, the script is constantly changing and evolving, and you only have eight days to shoot one episode, if you’re on a drama. Then you’re onto the next script.
With film, you can have one day to shoot just one scene, which is great. Then you can feel as though you’ve exerted every option with a scene by the end of the day. But for shows, you only get three or four takes for one scene. But the great thing about the TV show is that the script is constantly changing. So both of them have their benefits, and I enjoy doing both equally.
Q: ‘Noah,’ which is being released on March 28, is heavily anticipated. What can you say about that film?
SG: I can’t say much about ‘Noah,’ other than the fact that I had the greatest time working on it. Darren is such an intellectual and inspiring man to work with. I only worked for about a week-and-a-half on the film. But he’s one of my favorite directors I’ve ever worked with. He and Russell Crowe were so inspiring to watch, and I can’t wait to see the final film.
Russell was in my scene, and he’s an incredible actor, and so present. All my stuff was shooting all through the night, but he was still so collaborative. He was so eager and excited to be there. That really set the tone for the rest of the set.
Q: Do you have any plans to go back to the theater?
SG: I hope so. It is difficult to work it in with television and films, but in an ideal world, I would be doing it all at the same time. I would shoot TV and films during the day, and performing in a play at night. There’s nothing like a live audience. I love being on stage.