Culture: A Hole World of Opportunity; She Made Her Name in American Beauty, but Her Latest Movie Sees Thora Birch Getting to Grips with the Role of Demure English Schoolgirl, Says Alison Jones

The Birmingham Post (England), April 17, 2001 | Go to article overview

Culture: A Hole World of Opportunity; She Made Her Name in American Beauty, but Her Latest Movie Sees Thora Birch Getting to Grips with the Role of Demure English Schoolgirl, Says Alison Jones


Byline: Alison Jones

Thora Birch was last seen ducking flying asparagus as a member of the family that became a benchmark for dysfunction in American Beauty.

Though it was Kevin Spacey who won the Oscar for his performance as her emotionally unfulfilled, food throwing father, the film was something of a career milestone for Thora, who had been one of Hollywood's most in-demand child actors.

'American Beauty became my transition piece. It took me from kids' roles and more towards adulthood. It's given me a lot of opportunities to try different types of parts.'

She was wary, however, that it would typecast her as some kind of world-hating teen with a fondness for damaged young men.

So it came as a surprise when the next role she was offered was that of a demure English schoolgirl in The Hole.

'The character was totally intriguing. It was something I hadn't seen for a girl my age.

'I assumed all I would get were offers for very dark, sullen, meek young women, yet this one has such a broad range of emotion. There are many layers to her and she has a huge gamut to run.'

The story is a teen horror movie, yet one that avoids the usual cheerleader-stalking, mask-wearing psycho cliche.

It is adapted from a short book called After The Hole , written by Guy Burt when he was just 17.

Four teenagers are locked up in an underground bunker by a classmate until only one emerges alive. What happened to them is left strictly to the readers' imagination.

In the movie version, director Nick Hamm provides two visual interpretations. The first is the deluded memory of the only survivor Liz (Thora Birch) who is too traumatised to recall her friends' fate.

The second is the grisly and terrible truth which is revealed by the boy who imprisoned them.

The design team created two bunkers - the first Liz's fantasy version, the second the dirtier, darker, smaller reality.

The weeks they spent working in these grim, confined surroundings left their mark on the mildly claustrophobic Thora, even though she had always been in the company of co-stars and a camera crew.

'If I was by myself I might stay in the first one again for a dare; it was a little cleaner and the lights were a little better.

'If I ever got a look at the second hole I don't think there would be any way anyone would ever get me down in there now.'

The director rather cruelly played on one of Thora's greatest fears in order to heighten the tension.

'I have arachnophobia so Nick insisted it was absolutely essential to the plot that we have massive tarantulas crawling around all over the the place. We also had these big fat flies that kept landing on the two lights we had and casting huge shadows.

Thora decided to take the direct approach when it came to confronting her phobia.

'I killed the spiders. They kept releasing more and I kept trying to kill them.'

Apart from battling arachnids, this was a particularly challenging film for the California-based actress because she had to convince audiences that she was English.

'That gave me a lot of pre-production stress, wondering whether I would be able to pull it off. …

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