People You Know: Essie Davis on The Justice of Bunny King and Nitram | Interviews

How did you approach working with children when filming harrowing scenes in both this film and “The Babadook”?

I think there needs to be a huge amount of protection because this movie is going to be a memorable part of their lives. There is definitely a huge amount of fun to be had playing, do believe with them. I would do faith stage acting with Noah Wiseman, who played my son in “The Babadook.” There would be times when we would ride along in the car—Jennifer in the passenger seat, me driving, and him in the backseat—and at one point Jen would ask, “Do you ever have tantrums?” Noah said, “No,” so Jen replied, “Really? I have tantrums, and when I have tantrums, I go like this,” and she showed it before asking, “What do you do, Essie?” I said, “Well, when I have a tantrum, I go like this, ” and acted it out. Then we asked him, “Can you do that?” and what he ended up doing is all on camera.

After a scene like that, we’d all have a laugh or a hug, and then he’d go on his rocking horse or play with his Legos. Of course, there had to be an enormous amount of protection on a film like “The Babadook.” I wanted to do certain scenes in several ways. I wanted to do it with Noah while saying other lines. I would do it with him while speaking my lines if I screamed at him and literally ADR them afterwards. Or I’d say something like, “Go ahead, eat dirt,” and then every time we cut, I’d trade with him happily. Then Noah would leave and I would redo the scene with a 20-year-old man on his knees and I would deliver the dialogue live.

On “Bunny King” Amelie was a genius. She had lines to learn and she would do them, but quite often we improvised. When we were in that plastic playhouse, we just played and they had to film us. It was absolutely wonderful because we got on so well. She could go in and out of the lines and into our play. I had Bunny play with dolls and act like they were our family in our own little home. She just loved me and I loved her. We have the great moments where she touches my face and when they go to take her away she throws a tantrum but it played. It felt real, but it wasn’t traumatic. She wouldn’t stop playing with me. As magic as it can happen, especially with children who love to play and be in the moment.

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