Hannah Emily Anderson spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about The Purge’s elegant Jenna Betancourt, Jigsaw, upcoming film The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw, and the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the acting industry.
The Purge’s ember haired First Lady, Hannah Emily Anderson, portrayed the courtly yet troubled Jenna Betancourt on the inaugural season of the TV series adaption. A naive optimist at heart, well meaning, and distracted by a volcanic love triangle. Jenna turned a blind eye to the true cost of doing business for too long… Until it came literally knocking on her front door.
Few TV scenes have aged as well and stayed as culturally relevant, as Joe’s “guilty by association” verdict of Jenna during her husband’s mock trial in Season 1’s Finale. The Natural Aristocrat reflected on one of horror’s most criminally underrated scenes with Hannah Emily Anderson, jolting back into the fierce, edge of your seat intensity.
A visually stunning set piece that demands your full, undivided attention. One that sparks immediate panic and fear in any language, even if there wasn’t a single line of dialogue. Survival mode. A universal diorama even for those with no prior interest in the genre. Leaving you wondering, ‘What would I do in the same situation?’
This interview contains spoilers for The Purge TV Series and Saw film franchise.
The Natural Aristocrat [Nir Regev]: Have you been worried as an actress about the professional implications of the Coronavirus? Do you feel there’s pressure to work in a less than optimal health environment due to Acting being an ultra competitive industry? As in, “If I don’t do it, someone else will take my job.”
Hannah Emily Anderson: Yes, definitely! There’s just no precedent for this. Our industry is a giant machine that waits for no one, and I’m a little worried we’re all jumping back in before we’re really ready. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had another shutdown, though I’d like to be optimistic. It definitely makes me think twice about what i’m auditioning for. It has to be worth the risk.
On the other side of the coin, however, isolation has been a chance for me to sit back and take stalk of what’s really important in my life. So actually, though I’ve missed it, it’s been a blessing in disguise to put acting on the back burner for a bit.
The scene in The Purge’s first season in which Joe Owens gives Jenna Betancourt a pistol and a choice: Shoot her husband Rick dead or both of them (and her unborn child) perish, while simultaneously holding a gun to Jenna’s head, is one of the most underrated pieces of horror cinematography. What was it like shooting that moment?
AGREED! I remember needing a couple runs at it to really get the momentum and intensity going, so at the start there was a bit of panic that I wouldn’t be able to find it. But once we hit on it, it was SO satisfying and exhilarating. Colin Woodell and Lee Tergesen were right there with me. We made it as real as we could for ourselves, and everything else faded away. We were in our precious little acting bubble. Those are the best moments.
Joe originally judges Jenna to be ‘guilty by association’, despite knowing nothing of her husband’s business dealings with him. The concept of ‘guilt by association’ has perhaps, never been more culturally relevant than now. Was it actually forward thinking by The Purge all along?
I think one of the coolest elements of The Purge is that it’s always been politically relevant. A big part of this show to me was the commentary on class, race, and power. If you’re white, if you have money- or even if you don’t- if you’re on the “right” side politically, you have power. The Purge night is an opportunity for those in power to abuse it, get rid of those they deem beneath them, to further their own political agenda, and to pat each other on the back for getting away with it. The satisfaction of the show for me is the retaliation.
I remember being asked back then if we could see The Purge becoming a real thing. We all said-under the current “leaders”-absolutely. I think the scariest thing is that The Purge already exists in a way, but it’s not just one night, it’s every day, and it’s more subtle. It starts with discrimination and ends with police killing innocent BIPOC. And it’s taken a lot of us a long time to see what’s really happening.
Do you partake in emotional recall or method acting often when crafting a character?
I usually start a project from a more intellectual, analytical place and then I’ll pull from my own memories and feeling. It doesn’t have to be a real memory either. Often, scenarios I’ve imagined can be far more powerful.
In a 2017 Jigsaw film interview, while complimenting the franchise as meticulously detailed & smart, you made a lighthearted joke. “Whoever came up with this premise is messed up!” Do you feel there’s some truth to art imitating life in this respect? Does that thought ever impact your own creative process in portraying a character?
I think it’s eerily true that art imitates life. The characters on The Purge are consumed by fear and death. With Jenna, she has NO idea what’s going to happen at the beginning of her story: there’s an innocence there. Halfway through filming, my mom died (after a two year battle with cancer) and I felt like the lines between me and Jenna became very blurred at that point.
All of Jenna’s feelings became MY feelings and vice versa. Death was suddenly so real for me and I was then consumed by it. I remember looking at footage from the first episode while we were still filming and thinking-I’m not that person anymore. It was so surreal.
Jenna’s earlier breakup with Lila Stanton similarly forced her into making a choice. Despite being a relatively indecisive character on the series… There’s no hesitation when Jenna stabs Lila or pulls the trigger on Rick in the Season 1 Finale. What do you attribute to this dynamic when push comes to shove?
At the end of the day, it’s about survival. Survive at all costs. Protect her unborn child at all costs. In those fight or flight situations, something more powerful and immediate takes over.
Jenna comments, “I think the moment we decided to take money from the devil, whatever the reason. We opened the door to this.” Do you feel the best of intentions inevitably become stained due to being preyed upon by those with means? As in, the Dreamer vs the Investor.
It depends on the people involved. It depends on the investor. Relating this to the film industry: I think creatives-aka the dreamers-come up against this idea a lot. It’s a strange world where art and business collide. We’re different breeds entirely. Actors, writers, are floating around with our hearts on our sleeves looking for big business to care what we have to say and help give us a voice.
I think sometimes the best idea or the best person for a job can get lost in the mix. Whoever has the money has the control and usually gets the final say and that can be really unfortunate. BUT, when I look at people like Bill and Melinda Gates, for example, I’m filled with hope and optimism. They’re the dreamers AND the investors. They use their power for good, they make s**t happen.
Does Karma always have a way of finding a return address?
I sure f**king hope so!
Were you expecting to be in The Purge’s second season or potentially make a return in a now-cancelled Season 3?
I had originally signed on for five seasons but knew there was no guarantee and that it might become an anthology series. I was hopeful, but at the end of season one I really didn’t see where our story lines could go. It felt like the end. Plus, I couldn’t imagine doing it without my Colin Woodell and Lili Simmons!
Would you be open to a cameo as Eleanor Bonneville in the upcoming Saw sequel, Spiral?
To work with Chris Rock? Hell yeah. Sign me up.
What can you tell us about the character of Bridget Dwyer in your upcoming film, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw?
She’s a solemn and devout Irish mother and wife who’s overtaken by grief and descends into madness. So… basically a romantic comedy.
Will The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw still be released on its original release date, October 6, 2020? Considering film & television production has understandably slowed to a crawl all over Hollywood.
Unfortunately I’m not sure on this one! I know it’s premiering at a couple festivals but I’m not sure I can talk about that yet 🙂
Follow Hannah Emily Anderson on Social Media:
– Get the latest updates about Hannah Emily Anderson’s latest film, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw on Twitter! The film is set for a world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival, (* a virtual film festival this year) running from August 20, 2020 through September 2, 2020.
– Relive Jenna Betancourt’s journey with The Purge Season 1 Blu-ray on Amazon!
Read & watch more exclusive interviews with The Purge’s cast:
Check out in-depth coverage of The Purge TV Series in The Purge articles section!