She gave a generation nightmares with her creepy spider crawl (which she was specially brought in to perform) in the well scene of The Ring Two, and now Bonnie Morgan is back to bring Samara to life once again in Rings. With the seven-day curse coming back to the big screen this weekend from Paramount Pictures, Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to talk with Morgan about returning to the iconic role, her family's horror history, her hilarious Samara TV store prank, scaring the cast and crew when the power went out on set, and more.
Congratulations on coming back to the role of Samara in Rings. You have an interesting background in contortionism. How did you initially get into contortionism?
Bonnie Morgan: I come from a long line of performers. I am of the third generation. My grandparents were in vaudeville. My grandma opened for Frank Sinatra in 1942. My dad was a child star on Broadway and kind of a Disney star, and he’s a stunt man and suit performer himself. He doubled the dog in Cujo, the killer St. Bernard. My aunt Robbi was the first victim in Friday the 13th (1980). So I come from a great horror pedigree.
My superpower of contortion was discovered, more or less when my sister was trying to peel me off of a diving board by my ankles and hooked them over my head. I was like, “Dad, she’s being weird!” My dad went, “Oh, you can make a living with that.” So when my strangeness was discovered it was highly encouraged. And I mostly spent a lot of my childhood creeping out my sister’s teenage friends, perched on the back of the couch like Gollum. Most of my sister’s friends were scared of me, and I thought that was a pretty great time. I didn’t at the time know that I could make a living doing that, but it’s turned okay.
You’ve had quite a track record so far. You got the chance to play Samara in the well scene of The Ring Two, and I was curious how you got involved for that specific scene and how you came up with the spider crawl that gave a whole generation nightmares.
Bonnie Morgan: I’ve been told that I’m actually responsible for contortion zombies, contortion horror. Because you see it all over the place now, in The Exorcism of Emily Rose and things like that, and a lot of people said, "You are responsible for that movement being in horror." And I was like, "I am, really? Cool!" I always thought it was The Exorcist, but I will totally take that credit.
The way it came about, as I said, my father is a 40-year veteran of the Stuntmen’s Association, and the stunt coordinator [Keith Campbell] of that movie [The Ring Two] used to take me to Magic Mountain when I was 12. So I’d known Campbell a really long time. I was a kid actor and worked a lot in my life acting in contortion and all the various strangeness that goes with that, so I got a call out of the blue from Keith. He goes, "Are you still doing that bendy stuff? Here’s the deal, we are trying to do the CG department out of the shot, and it’s a big deal.”
So I took a meeting with [The Ring Two] director Hideo [Nakata], who had directed the original Ringu in Japan, with Sadako instead of Samara. And he said, "I don’t want a CG monster. I see it everywhere, it is boring, I want to see real. Real is more scary. I want something practical, something different." They gave me a lot of leash to play with. The original test footage was actually shot on my living room floor. We just started talking over and working out how she moves. It wasn’t always about finding the most contorted thing, it was about finding the most contorted thing that could move fast, because most of contortion is very static. You can’t move. So it was a matter of finding what could still move and be scary and chase, without looking like a giant butt chasing you.
What was it like to not only find out that you’d be coming back for Rings, but also knowing that this time you’d have free rein over the character for the entire movie?
Bonnie Morgan: It was so exciting because for years, ever since the second Ring movie, there have been rumors flying that there was going to be a third one. When you’ve done something, you always keep an eye on things. Are they going to just do what Hollywood does and just forget all about you and get the hot new flavor of the month, or just go, “Oh yeah, we should have called you.” I always tried to keep an eye on that, but after ten years, I was like, “I don’t think this is ever going to happen again. I guess they’re just going to seal up the well and let it go.”
And then I got a call from one of the producers. She tracked me down out of the blue and goes, “Could you meet us, we want you to talk with our director [F. Javier Gutiérrez].” I went to the meeting and it was like, “Okay, this is happening, it’s on, and we’re glad we found you.”
And they definitely gave me some leash to play with. A couple of times I’d look at them and go, “Do you think we could sneak a leg in here?” And they were like, “Absolutely. Go for it. Have fun.”
And now it’s not the early 2000s anymore. We’re in a new digital age, and Samara now has many more toys to play with when she haunts people who have seen the tape. It will be exciting to see her everywhere as opposed to just the TV in the living room.
Bonnie Morgan: Anything with a screen. I’m really looking forward to the first sequence of the movie, when people get to see how far Samara’s willing to go to get somebody who hasn’t done her bidding.
What was really fun, there was one bit—and this wasn’t even a contortion bit—because they were trying to shoot a part of the face, and the hair is always an exciting character to work with. The wig comes down below my waist and especially in the original spider crawl going through the well, because it was a 30-foot tube I was crawling through—I would get tangled up in it. The hair really has a life and a mind of its own.
We were just really hard time getting a shot [in Rings], and I was like, “I know I’m stepping out of my lane here, but could we shoot it in reverse? Could we close the hair instead of opening it, and get the eye exactly how you want it?” They kind of left me there for a minute, but then they came back and were like, “Yeah, that’s going to work. That’s going to make this a lot easier.” [Laughs.]
We recently saw the amazing TV store prank with Samara, and that was actually you in the hidden camera prank. What was that experience like?
Bonnie Morgan: The shooting of it was a riot. It was guerilla shooting—all right, turn her loose. We shot that in New York, and New Yorkers don’t scare as easy as some other cities in the US might, so I felt like I really had to up my scaring game for them. I felt kind of terrible, one guy just fell over and another girl just kept squeeing. And I’m trying not to laugh, because I’m supposed to be a big scary monster.
[On the set of Rings], I did take a little too much pleasure when one time the electricity went out when our building that we were shooting in got struck by lightning in Atlanta, Georgia. They said, “Everybody hold still, we’ve got to get the generators up and running. Okay, hold still.” So, I’d sneak around the back of Matilda [Lutz], who plays Julia, and start twinging in her hair. And she was like, “Okay, you need to stop that right now.”
Then I could hear the producer going, “Bonnie, hold still. It’s very dangerous, the lights are out.” So I’d sneak up behind our director Javier and whisper, “Javi, what room are you in. What’s your room number? Where are you staying? I think we’re on the same floor.” And I could hear a couple of producers laughing and saying, “Bonnie, you need to hold still.” They could hear me skittering around, and they said, “We can hear you, you better stop that.” And then I said, “Seven days.” It was like God gave me a little gift to play with.
That’s a good way to get into the cast members’ heads, too, because it can transfer to the scenes.
Bonnie Morgan: I’m so terrible about that, because I can’t sit still for too long. The hands, the prosthetics are, really, for the lack of a better term, gross. I’m completely encased. You can’t be claustrophobic and wear that kind of makeup. It’s sensory depriving, but it makes the hands feel really weird, so I’d come up behind people and stroke their cheek.
Is there anything you have on deck that you can tease, and would you be willing to play Samara again if the opportunity ever arose?
Bonnie Morgan: It would be an honor and a pleasure to serve in the trenches again. I would love to. I love playing Samara, and have for a long time. I would absolutely do it again.
And as far as on deck, I have an episode of Hap and Leonard coming up on the Sundance Channel that I’m very excited about. I will be playing Judy Punch, and this time you’ll actually get to see what I look like [laughs].
And I can’t say the title, but I just signed on to a sci-fi franchise that everyone will know, I’m just not allowed to say. But I’ll be shooting overseas and it’s really exciting.