Two years ago, Cassidy Gifford said goodbye to her home on the East Coast and headed to California to follow her dreams. And despite her name recognition—the 21-year-old stunner is the daughter of TV legend Kathie Lee Gifford and football great Frank Gifford—Gifford says she still had moments of uncertainty, and was waiting for her turn in the spotlight. “There were a lot of times I regretted the move, thinking, am I making the right decision,” she says now. “Then I ended up booking a couple of smaller things and I was like, OK, you know what, it’s worth it.”
Little did she know, her big day would come soon, care of the upcoming horror movie The Gallows. The film stars Gifford as Cassidy Spilker, a high schooler who learns the hard way that messing around with a haunted, 20-year-old play may not be the best idea. Here, Gifford dishes on how she landed the role and her real-life horror movie moments.
You grew up with parents in the public eye. Did that influence your decision to become an actor?
No, it was actually kind of the opposite—and my mom didn’t play any role in it at all. I obviously grew up around that, but when I was born my mom wasn’t an actress anymore, she was on a talk show. There wasn’t any pressure to go into it at all, but when I was at school, my favorite part of the day was always going to play practice and doing the shows. We did The Three Little Pigs when I was in first grade, and after that I kind of just got the bug for theater and it just kept growing.
So, how did you get from The Three Little Pigs to The Gallows?
For the rest of the cast it’s been a four-year process. My role was cast actually a year and a half after they had all shot the movie almost in its entirety. Then [producer] Blumhouse came on board and decided we had something great, but that we could make it that much better, so they started putting money into it. Different things happened and we ended up re-shooting pretty much the entire film. So, when I came on board, I was with an entire cast who were already friends and I felt like the new kid. It was a total improv audition, and they told us they just wanted a scene and we all just kind of clicked. I could tell right then and there if I don’t get the role, at least I made a couple of new friends. I love them and I hadn’t even been in L.A. for a year so for me to find a bunch of kids I really felt like instantly I have this connection with was kind of surreal.
Is The Gallows different from everything else you’ve ever done?
Completely. The way we shot it is such a guerilla style; this was a low-budget film and we were shooting sometimes 18 or 20-hour days. It wasn’t anything overnight, but we all just became like a family on set. We were spending every hour of every day together doing something crazy because we had input in it—and so much of it was improv. We got to say a lot of our lines, we got to hold the camera, we fixed the lighting. We got to see so many different aspects of it. Normally you’re on set and you do this and you do that, but for us it was like we were a part of it from the ground-up. I could have never dreamed it would be where it is now. I’m just so grateful.
All of the actors share the characters’ first names. What’s that about?
We really wanted to bring a level of realism to [the movie] using our real names. If someone called out my name, I’d instinctually turn my head and react to that. It gave us the freedom to constantly be ‘on.’ One of us could pick up the camera and start rolling and that was footage we could then use later. So when we finally saw the movie it was funny to see that a lot of it was stuff we never even thought would get put in. It added a little bit of chaos, which ultimately made it scary.
What was it like seeing yourself on the big screen for the first time?
It’s weird. It’s honestly a very humbling thing to think about where we started and how we had no idea where things would go. The first time I saw the movie, I was with my mom and my best friend and I hadn’t seen it all together before, just little bits. I was scared! I was jumping. I didn’t even know how it ended. I just walked in there and I felt like I knew as much about it as the person sitting next to me.
What was your favorite scene to film?
The one I’m happiest with is ultimately my death scene. That’s the one I felt I put the most work into. We shot it so many times, and every time we went back to re-shoot I would get frustrated and every time we would have to do it again. I was ultimately so happy with it because every single time we put more effort into it. We really got to make it what we wanted.
Have you had any real-life horror movie moments?
Absolutely—I did on set. We shot in this massive, old building that was always echoing. It’s old, things are always breaking, lights are always turning on and sounds are always coming out of creepy little hallways. I was sitting there one of the first days—all I had to do was sit in the bathroom for 10 minutes—and about five minutes in, nothing had happened and I was like, this is ridiculous, I’ve proven myself, I’m not scared. Then, I swear, the toilets started running and a bunch of the faucets turned on. It is such an old building and for me that’s how I rationalized it, but in the moment I was terrified. I bolted out of the bathroom as quickly as I could. For the rest of shooting every time I went back to re-shoot you wouldn’t catch me dead somewhere by myself.