It’s a long, treacherous road for child stars. Many don’t make it to adulthood unscathed, and rarely with a respected career to show for it. Much like Kristen Stewart or Daniel Radcliffe, however, Jena Malone has comfortably moved into a mature body of work that runs the gamut from auteur-driven indies (to stay relevant) with a smattering of popular studio fare (to stay afloat).
Once a precocious kid who brought unexpected gravitas to box office hits like “Contact” (1997) and “Stepmom” (1998), Malone successfully transitioned into arty indie darling with her turn in “Donnie Darko” (2001). Since then, she’s excelled in everything from horror to sci-fi to period comedies, bringing her unique screen presence to “The Neon Demon” and “The Hunger Games” without missing a beat.
So, what’s her secret?
“Maybe I sold my soul to the independent film devil, and I’ve been moderately sacrificing my blood every new moon or something. That would be really wild,” the actress said during a recent video interview with IndieWire. “I don’t know. I’m stubborn and I know what I like. I’ve never needed a career. I’ve never needed to achieve this thing next, then what you do you do next, that never felt linear. I feel like my linear focus is just like, I love exploration. When that exploration is exciting, I’m so down to give it everything.”
She added, “I have a pretty decent work ethic. I’m a good worker, recovering grind culture perfectionist. I think if you do good work, people will want to work with you again.”
Malone continues that exploration in the new feminist horror “Consecration,” in which she plays a woman haunted by demons from a childhood she barely remembers. When her brother dies mysteriously at a convent, she’s drawn into the religious sect’s devilish fear-mongering.
Written and directed by British horror maven Christopher Smith (“Black Death”), Malone appreciated the script’s critical lens on societal fears of empowered women.
“I really loved the idea that throughout time, empowered women were … possessions, it’s evil, it’s the devil. Any sort of empowerment or superpower femininity has ever had, it’s instantly bad,” she said. “I think it’s so interesting to explore a re-imagining of a second coming as a feminine vessel, that of course, everyone thinks it’s this negative thing, but really it’s just an empowerment of creation, of being able to give life, take life. It’s a real feminine apparatus, in a way.”
Having worked consistently throughout the last three decades, Malone has an insider view into how (if at all) depictions of women have changed in Hollywood.
“I think the short summary is that when someone gets it, they get it, and it’s exciting, and it’s new. It sits on your tongue in a way that it’s a new understanding of something that’s very old,” Malone said. “We’re shifting our understanding of abolishing binaries, and stepping into reexamining different aspects of masculinity, femininity, and just humanity. We keep thinking that we can just put one element, and it changes the whole thing, but really what we have to do is we have to start with the element we want to explore, and then build a new apparatus around that.”
As for conditions for women behind the scenes, though she sees room for improvement, she is patiently optimistic.
“I’m always optimistic. Even 10 years ago, I was optimistic,” she said. “I think the things to be optimistic about is building language, learning to add words and vernacular to things that have not been well languaged in the past, learning how to build allyship, specifically for your own well-being. I think that’s a really cool byproduct of where #MeToo started and is now veering into because of the pandemic. It’s a really beautiful awareness of not just power structures, but also, ‘Honey, we need rest. Let’s have better hours on set, let’s be kind to each other.'”
Proper rest seems a particularly apt concern for someone who started her career at eight years old, though she has nothing but good things to say about her time growing up on a film set.
“I grew up on sets. It taught me so much,” she said. “Being not so involved in school, and fourth [through] sixth grades were very awkward times of transformation for me. Being able to be in a type of apprenticeship where my voice was heard, validated, respected. … I was brought to the table. I was maybe 10 and everyone else was older, but my voice was still as interesting and valid. I think that there’s something really unique in that. … For me, I had a really beautiful experience getting to play in that world. I was still a kid, but it was really beautiful to have a voice and be respected.”
“Consecration” arrives in theaters on Friday, February 10 and VOD on Friday, March 3.
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