November 17, 2009
By CHRIS VOGNAR
The Dallas Morning News
DALLAS — Classmates looking for Katie Featherston at James Bowie High School in Arlington, Texas, usually knew where to find her. "I spent more time in that drama room than I did at home in those years," she says.
It was more of the same when she moved on to Southern Methodist University to study acting: "It was an amazing four years of wearing sweat pants and being trapped in the Meadows (School of the Arts) basement."
So when it came time to star in the hit no-budget horror film, "Paranormal Activity," which unfolds in a claustrophobic suburban home, the 27-year-old actress was already more than familiar with working in cozy confines.
In other words, she's not complaining.
"We loved making the movie and we really believed in it, but we never expected this," Featherston says by phone from her manager's office in Los Angeles. "This is above and beyond what we could have even considered. I haven't even wrapped my head around it."
"It" is a domestic gross closing in on $100 million, magazine covers including Entertainment Weekly and a "Blair Witch"-like buzz for a film that cost $15,000 to make. After a slow-trickle release through 13 college towns, Paramount gradually widened the screen count to meet audience demands.
"Paranormal" is now considered the most profitable movie ever made.
Featherston credits the no-frills film's success to our fear of the unknown: "What's behind that corner, what's in the dark. Once you get finished watching a movie set in a normal everyday home, you have to go back to your normal everyday home. It's easy to bring that lingering fear with you."
And she credits her own accomplishments to her time at SMU, where she graduated in 2005 with a bachelor's degree in acting.
It's no secret that Los Angeles is crawling with aspiring actors. Though Featherston agrees with the conventional wisdom that "you don't have to have a college degree to act in this town," she also knows her formal training at SMU gives her a leg up on auditions, including the one for "Paranormal Activity."
"Having that root and that groundwork laid out for me put me ahead of people who didn't have that opportunity," she says. "The professors at SMU, the student theater productions ... I cannot say enough good things about my time at SMU."
For Michael Connolly, one of Featherston's favorite professors, the feeling is mutual.
"From the beginning here at SMU, Katie had an innate sense of what it was to live truthfully in the moment," Connolly said in an e-mail. "Her challenge as an actor lay in finding her way through complicated text. Once she had knocked the text down to its smallest moments and linked those moments together, she got free. In her freedom, she was exuberant, present, and totally available to her partner and the moment. There were few better 'listeners' than Katie."
That ability came in handy on her "Paranormal" audition in April 2006. The audition was entirely improvisational. As soon as she sat down she was asked the big question: "Do you think your house is haunted?" She immediately had to explain why she did.
She was convincing enough to score the part. Shooting commenced on her 24th birthday, Oct. 20. Now she just has to get her head around it all.
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