A few weeks ago I got to chat with Jamie Bernadette the the star of I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu, which hit Blu-ray recenly thanks to Ronin Flix. When I first reviewed the film, I called her performance “fearless” and I didn’t realize how on point that description was until I got to speak with the ambitious young actor. Jamie, who is also a fan of the genre was very candid in discussing the process of making Deja Vu and its clear she was more than up for the challenge of working with exploitation icon Meir Zarchi on his follow up to one of the most notorious rape/revenge films even made. Jamie not only discusses her process of crafting her gut-wrenching performance as you’d expect here, but how she is also looking to get behind the camera in the future in an upcoming horror vehicle, she’s not only writing, but directing and producing as well.
Warning spoilers below to the the film below:
Dan Tabor: First off, congrats on Deja Vu. I really dug it. So, after reading a bit up on your career, I was happy to discover you’re a pretty big horror fan. So, other than Spit, what would be your dream horror franchise to be part of?
Jamie Bernadette: Halloween.
Since I was a child, I would have loved to be part of that.
Dan Tabor: Same, I am a huge Halloween fan. Now for I Spit on your Grave, had you seen the original before getting involved in the sequel?
Jamie Bernadette: Yeah, I did actually. I saw it before they ever even posted about the sequel. So when I saw the casting notice, I knew the film. I had just seen it, maybe a year and a half before that.
Dan Tabor: What was your first viewing like? I remember when I first saw it, I was like kind of shell shocked for like a couple of days afterwards.
Jamie Bernadette: Yeah. It’s definitely shocking. I mean, it feels so real. I felt like the original wasn’t glamorized at all, it was so raw. I thought it was absolutely brilliantly done if it can create that effect on an audience. I mean, there’s something genius about that.
Dan Tabor: Now getting into that world, what was the audition process like for Deja Vu?
Jamie Bernadette: I didn’t think that I fit the character. She was like a supermodel. I never saw myself as a model, so I almost didn’t submit. And then I thought, well, I will just for fun. So I did, and then I got asked to tape an audition. It was the restaurant scene, towards the beginning of the film, it’s quite a long scene about five pages. Then I got a call back to go in person and I thought to myself, if I just meet Meir Zarchi, like I’ll be good. You know? So, I was still thinking, I that I wouldn’t get it.
Then I went in and, and Meir was there, so I was thrilled and he worked with me for about 40, 45 minutes. So, you know I could tell at that point there was interest there. And as an actor, I think, you know, when an audition goes well, so I felt pretty confident about the callback. Like I started to think, maybe I have a chance at this? Just because I remember the scene that it was, it was a couple of emotional scenes and I cried, my emotions were there that day. I felt connected to the work. I left and I was at the elevator and Terry, Meir’s son came out, and he asked to take a photo of me. Terry said, he knew from the first line that I was the one, it was Meir who was kind of going back and forth between me and a couple other girls at that point.
So, I didn’t have it yet, and then I was called it back for a third audition. I was there for five hours and I read with a bunch of other actors for the other parts and they wanted my opinion. They were strongly considering me and I think wanted to see who I was connecting with, so I had had a say. Maria Olson, I had worked with before, though we weren’t like close at all. I didn’t know her that well. She auditioned and I just thought she was perfect. So, I know, I really pushed for her to get it. I really thought that she would be awesome and her audition was fantastic. I read with a bunch of the other actors for the other characters and I left and I didn’t hear that for maybe a couple of months after that.
And then I saw another casting notice for the role, and I thought I didn’t get it. I was going to cut my hair for some reshoots I had to do for the movie Killing Joan. I was trying to let it grow, because Terry had told me before he wanted me to let it grow, as long as we can get it basically. It was super short when I auditioned. So, I thought, you know, I’m going to cut my hair, and maybe 10 minutes after seeing the ad, Terry actually called and he was like, in case you see this casting notice, I want you to know that you’re still in the running, we’re just looking at all options. They saw hundreds and hundreds of actors for a handful of parts with casting lasting several months.
I was filming a movie called Smothered by Mothers in Florida, when Terry called me. I was in my hotel room and he told me I got the part and I was like crying and beside myself, cause I knew what it meant to be part of a classic iconic franchise like this and in the lead role. I was very, very grateful.
Dan Tabor: Your casting and hairstyle choice is so spot on because you look a bit like the actor Eron Tabor [no relation to the author] in the original. So, like when I saw your character at first, I kind of thought of that, and then when it came out later on you were his daughter, I was like, that’s pretty great foreshadowing.
Jamie Bernadette: Yeah. I definitely played that into my character too, that I came from him and he’s a beast. You know what I mean? So, I definitely played it super dark. When I switched at the end and I put his hat on, you know, it’s as it if I am saying, there’s part of him in me. So I wanted to play it darker than the other actresses and the other films when they played that Jennifer Hills character. I wanted to go even darker with it because he was my father. Because I have part of him in me, I love that aspect of the character and it was a chance for me to do something different with it.
I liked too that my hair was short. I actually hated it when we were filming, but I also think that plays into my character because all the other Jennifers have this long, long hair and I’m Johnny’s daughter, I’m different. There’s more levels to my character and I just liked that the hair is almost a symbolism of that evil, if that makes sense. I’m glad that it was that way now.
Dan Tabor: So how did you prepare yourself for this film? After you got the script and you got the role, what did you do to prepare yourself? What did you draw upon as an actress to put yourself in the mindset to be Christy?
Jamie Bernadette: I watched, a lot of videos, documentaries, YouTube interviews with victims of rape and abuse for months to put myself in that headspace of what it’s like to, to go through something like this. It was very dark, that’s for sure. I rewatched the original, I read the script so many times. I think the key to getting into that headspace was listening to the individual accounts of rape and abuse victims like Elizabeth Smart, she was one that I researched and there were many, many others.
Dan Tabor: Deja Vu is surprisingly dense, now when you got the script, is that pretty much what ended up on screen?
Jamie Bernadette: So what ended up on screen and what was in the script is exact. Meir wanted it exact, the dialogue and everything, like there was no changing the dialogue. Yeah and from the draft that I read, it really didn’t change much. I mean, this had been something I think he had been considering for 40 years.
So yeah, so a lot of thought went behind it. I think he knew exactly what he wanted.
Dan Tabor: How much of a voice did you have in your role given that you’re very emotionally and physically vulnerable in the film?
Jamie Bernadette: I had seen the original as you know, and I knew that it was going to be really, really rough. It wasn’t basically set how we were going to do the rape scene. The rape filming lasted four days.
Dan Tabor: Wow.
Jamie Bernadette: So yeah, that wasn’t like set in the script exactly how it went down, you know? I had to be open to basically work with Meir, whatever he wanted, which I knew the original, so I thought that he went very light on me. I was actually like, wow, that was nothing. Like I was shocked.
Dan Tabor: Yeah, because Camille’s talked about some of the horror stories she had with filming that portion of the original.
Jamie Bernadette: It was a rough four days. It was emotionally intense on everybody involved, cast and crew, when you’re filming stuff like that. But I just thought we had talked about it, to be open, to do whatever happened on the day, you know? Like if they all wanted to rape me five times then fine, you know, and I expected that based on the original. The only one who raped me in the film was Jonathan’s character, so I got off easy.
Dan Tabor: It’s still pretty gut-wrenching to watch, because you still have that inciting event that ignites your character through this trajectory of revenge and it has to be extreme for the payoff to be what it is. But to do a scene like that nowadays, what are the logistics even like? Because this is a much different time and you definitely had to make sure that everybody feels safe and comfortable.
Jamie Bernadette: I know that I brought up things like safety, like when you have two actors that close, physically. So, the costume designer, designed pieces so that we were covered, you know? So it wouldn’t show in the back. So it was just in the front because then, you know, things can be transmitted. I don’t know that in the seventies, if they talked too much about that or thought about it, I have no idea, but I would imagine that they didn’t. I would imagine that it was just kind of like everybody was naked and they just pretended when they did the scene there was contact.
I don’t know how there wouldn’t be contact, you know, but with me and Jonathan, there was no contact. So yeah, I would imagine the seventies, it would maybe have been more of a free for all. (Laughs) I never asked Camille that question and she wasn’t there those four days. So, yeah, they were very respectful and, Jonathan is great. I just loved to all the actors and adored them and trusted them, you know, and the crew too.
Dan Tabor: Speaking of Camille, let’s change direction a bit to something a little lighter (laughs). What was it like working with Camille since she kind of passes the Jennifer Hills baton to you in the film? What was that relationship like on set?
Jamie Bernadette: When we shot, we totally just connected. I felt comfortable with her immediately and we’re friends. There’s a big age gap, but it doesn’t seem like it, she doesn’t feel like a mother to me, she feels like a best friend. Like we’ll get on the phone and talk for hours. It’s incredible to sit there and be able to listen to her on set and tell these stories. It was just surreal, you know, like I’m listening to a horror icon tell me these things to my face in our trailer.
Dan Tabor: So now, given the way the film ends, would you do a third and has Meir mentioned that at all?
Jamie Bernadette: I absolutely would do a third and there was some light talk about doing another one. We’ll see. I’d like to see where Meir would take it because I do feel like for the sequel he took the story in a totally different place that has a different feel. I think its unique all around compared to other films coming out nowadays in the same genre. When I first saw it at Terry’s house, before it ever came out, I watched it with Marie Olson and I was like, people are either going to love this film or they’re going to hate it, and I called it.
I feel like the critics understand it, the die-hard fans of the film, understand it and the genre fans understand it. It has that seventies type of feel, you know, that camera being stagnant, kind of like a watcher in the room, like a bystander that just sits there, with these long takes like from the seventies. So I think the real film fanatics can appreciate this film, but you know, there’s other people who hate the film and don’t understand it, but I think that he did do something unique and he should proud of that.
He wanted to make what he wanted to make and as time goes on, I’m hoping the film will gain more and more and more appreciation because I think there is a lot there to appreciate.
Dan Tabor: You’re very busy lately, what’s next for you?
Jamie Bernadette: I’m attached to several films and I’m also starting a production company with somebody, I haven’t like announced yet or who it is. I want to start like making maybe five films a year and there’s a script that I’m writing that I want to be my directorial debut and it may just be like me and one other character, like two characters. That’s it. I have a really cool idea, but I’ve told like one person and he’s like, “Oh my gosh, that’s amazing”. I’ve never seen that done before, but so we’ll see.
Once that’s done, I want to direct that and then yes producing, my new partner and our new business and kind of a lot’s happened actually the last couple of months. It’ll be primarily horror that we plan on making. I already have some scripts that we want to make and there’s two on the table right now. So yeah, that, and then I’m finishing up, a very dark poetry book.
Dan Tabor: Wow. You’re quite the renaissance woman.
Jamie Bernadette: Yeah… I hope to finish that by the end of January. I was hoping to get it out this year, but it didn’t happen yet. It’s like my life’s work, I’m pulling poems from when I was very, very young. If they’re decent, I’ve been writing since I was six years old, I have volumes and volumes and volumes. So I’m just basically pulling stuff and editing it and throwing it into my first book.
Dan Tabor: I’m always for more female led horror and we need more female directors in the horror space and more female writers too. I think women bring a refreshing spin and perspective to the genre.
Jamie Bernadette: I agree with you. I think more women definitely are needed in the genre. I produced and co-wrote The Sixth Friend, you know, it was two female producers and two female writers, a female director; and my new company, I’m starting my partner’s a female also. So yeah, it definitely can be an interesting spin and we’ve been a minority in the genre forever, so it’s nice. We do need more representation. So it’s going to be cool to continue on, to be able to represent us, you know, another female filmmaker finally working.