On Monday, May 28 at 8/7c, it’s the world premiere of Lifetime’s Girl in the Bunker, an unsettling movie based on the true story of Elizabeth Shoaf. On September 6, 2006, Elizabeth was abducted by Vinson Filyaw and taken to his underground bunker one mile from her home.
In the movie, Vinson is played by Henry Thomas (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Legends of the Fall, Better Things), a veteran actor who delivers an absolutely chilling performance. Elizabeth is portrayed by Julia Lalonde (Anne of Green Gables, Odd Squad), a young actress who boldly tackles the dark and difficult subject matter with impressive conviction.
Elizabeth is naive and innocent, but she also has an inspiring inner strength and is determined to escape. Julia masterfully depicts this complex young woman and takes the audience on a powerful emotional journey, making it clear that although Elizabeth is alone in a hopeless situation, she is not helpless.
Julia was kind enough to answer a few questions about what it was like working with Henry, the emotions she wrestled with during filming, and the scene she will never forget.
This movie explores some very dark subject matter. Were there any off-camera antics you did to help keep the mood a little lighter?
Not me specifically, but between takes, the crew would always try to make jokes and keep things light. For one of the scenes, I had a chain around my neck that was tied to a post. Between takes, the A.D. would call “Break!” and I would go to leave the set not remembering I was chained to the post. A couple of times, the crew would run off and I was left calling “Hello? Can’t really leave.” Then they would come back asking me why I hadn’t left yet, just joking around. You have to keep things light when dealing with such dark material.
What was Henry like?
Henry was kind, friendly and professional, which was such a relief for me given our characters and the subject matter. Throughout the shoot, he was always super nice and approachable, making jokes with the crew and chatting with everyone. During some of the more intense scenes, the director would call “Action!” and Henry would deliver these incredible, terrifying performances that were scary good. But, as soon as they called, “Cut!” he would switch back to himself, ask if I was alright, and make sure everything was good.
Was it easy to work with Henry?
Absolutely. His exceptional portrayal of the character made it that much easier for me to play Elizabeth in our scenes. I feel pretty lucky to have had the chance to work with such a cool and accomplished actor.
How long did it take to feel comfortable in the role?
Not long. The first scene I shot with Vinson (Henry), was the moment the two characters meet for the first time. It really hit me when I saw him in costume with the glasses and the makeup. It was pretty scary seeing him like this for the first time. There was this moment of “Okay. We’re really doing this.” For me, I always tried to use those small but significant moments of fear or discomfort and channel them through Elizabeth. It was like my safe sneak peak into her realities and what she was really feeling during those times. Having the handcuffs on and walking around in the forest just helped make everything that much more real. I’m so grateful for all the people on this set who were always looking out for me and making sure I was okay. With myself, there was this constant knowing that this is just a movie and at the end of the day, I was going home okay. I believe that’s what acting should be like, having the chance to experience something unseen before through someone else’s eyes, all the while knowing you’re safe because it’s not really happening.
Did you have any fears or concerns after you accepted the role in this project?
My biggest fear coming onto this project was Vinson – the actor who was going to play him and the scenes we would then have to take part in. Having Henry, this pro, talented actor who always knew when to switch on and off the character, was such a relief to me. I think when I saw that this is just another actor playing a character and realized that this is just a story and I’m helping share it with the world, that was my lightbulb moment. Knowing that this was a safe space and that nothing was really happening to me, but yet letting myself be completely affected as soon as the cameras were on. Also, just reminding myself that I am here doing what I love, getting to tell the story of this amazing girl, Elizabeth Shoaf, that I have so much admiration for. At the end of the day, I had such an incredible experience doing this movie.
Is there a particular moment or scene that stands out from all the rest in this movie.
I’ll never forget filming my first kiss on the set with Tristan as I got feedback on the scene from our director, Stephen Kemp, while both our parents watched from behind monitors. [In the film, Tristan Culbert plays Case Palmerston, Elizabeth’s boyfriend.]
Lifetime’s Girl in the Bunker premieres Monday, May 28 at 8/7c. A docu-special called Elizabeth Shoaf: The Girl in a Bunker will air immediately after.