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'Orphan' star Isabelle Fuhrman: 'People don't actually grow up'

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Isabelle Fuhrman plays Esther again in "Orphan: First Kill." Photo courtesy of Paramount+
Isabelle Fuhrman plays Esther again in "Orphan: First Kill." Photo courtesy of Paramount+

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Isabelle Fuhrman said she felt more childlike making Orphan: First Kill, in theaters, for digital purchase and streaming on Paramount+ Friday, than she did making the original film as a child.

"I just think people don't actually grow up," Fuhrman told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "Now, I feel way closer to 10 years old than I do to 25."

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The 25-year-old Fuhrman reprised her role as Esther in the new prequel. In 2009's Orphan, Esther terrorized the family who adopted her.

The twist was that Esther was really a 33-year-old woman with a glandular disorder that made her appear childlike. Fuhrman was 10 when she made Orphan and looked the part of Esther's young alter ego.

Fuhrman said she was anxious to please her director, Jaume Collet-Serra, and co-stars on the first movie. With 13 more years of credits behind her, Fuhrman said she felt more protective of Esther in First Kill.

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"On this one, I was able to have the freedom to get to say, 'No, I don't think Esther would do that,'" Fuhrman said.

Fuhrman, who is an associate producer on First Kill, said she welcomed the challenge of making herself look 10 years old for the chance to play Esther again.

"I'm the one who created this character," Fuhrman said. "I trusted [director William] Brent [Bell], I trusted our costume designer Kim [H. Ngp] to make the clothes fit me the right way and Karim [Hussain], our D[irector of] P[hotography], to make the lighting work so I looked younger."

Behind the scenes, Fuhrman said, she did not look convincingly like a 10-year-old girl. Playing Esther again at 25 required camera and lighting tricks.

"On set, I think it's very clear I'm a grownup wearing kids' clothing," Fuhrman said. "Day to day, I just look like a grownup in pigtails walking around."

Some of the simple tricks that made Fuhrman appear childlike were oversized props such as sofas, beds, forks, spoons and plates. Body doubles Kennedy Irwin and Sadie Lee stood in for Fuhrman in wide shots, but they sometimes switched places with her in the same scene to make the illusion more convincing.

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"I think the most effective and the simplest trick was I wore contact lenses for the movie," Fuhrman said. "When you're a kid, your pupils are much bigger. Every day, I would just pop those in."

One scene in which Esther drives a car did not utilize an oversized vehicle, Fuhrman said. She said they dug out the seat so she would appear to be sitting below the steering wheel.

"I had to drive that car just out of the frame just a couple of feet," Fuhrman said. "It was so terrifying because I couldn't see over the wheel."

Since Orphan was her first movie in a leading role, Fuhrman said she remembered being nervous about impressing the grown-up crew and co-stars. She said she took her work too seriously as a child as she put on a mature front.

"Now, I'm such a goof on set, I love to play and have a good time," Fuhrman said. "I think it keeps me present and keeps me on my toes."

Fuhrman said she only developed this levity on the eve of her 21st birthday. She attended a 10-day silent meditation retreat, at the end of which she realized she'd missed out on acting like a child.

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Fuhrman is making up for that now, not only in Orphan: First Kill. In intense dramas like The Novice, she said she goofs off between takes and is able to quickly decompress from heavy emotional scenes.

"I actually don't think I would have been able to play this role had I not discovered that about myself," Fuhrman said. "I would have been far too serious to be childlike as a 10-year-old."

Orphan: First Kill allows Fuhrman to relish in Esther's ruse more than the original. Now that her secret is out from the beginning, Esther acts like an adult when the grown-ups aren't looking.

"You get to play into the fact that everyone's in on the secret," Fuhrman said. "You can make fun of the fact that she looks like a kid and she's smoking a cigarette in a car that she stole -- with lipstick on. She's letting loose, having the time of her life."

Knowing the secret also changes the dynamic between the audience and Esther, Fuhrman said. Now that we know she is an adult, one wonders if impersonating a child is really worth all the trouble, as evil as Esther is.

"She's not really sure if this is all worth it, if impersonating another person's kid is really worth it to her," Fuhrman said. "You're like, 'Why are you doing this to yourself?"

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In her real life, Fuhrman makes time to go out dancing and run marathons. She said she no longer defines herself by her career, though she enjoys the roles she's getting to play.

"We're all still big kids," Fuhrman said. "It's important to remember that we're all young at heart. You've just got to let yourself play sometimes."

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