Charleston's Florence is a scream
The pipes are prepped. Bring on the monster.
In the grand tradition of Fay Wray ("King Kong"), Elsa Lanchester ("The Bride of Frankenstein") and Janet Leigh ("Psycho"), actress Margaret Anne Florence will summon a blood-curdling scream for Luis Berdejo's "The New Daughter," a feature-film adaptation of a story by horror novelist John Connolly.
The Charleston native returned to the Lowcountry set this week, willing and able to give her contemporary screamers — Nicole Kidman in "The Others," for one — a run for their money as well. It is, after all, the signature moment in a horror picture.
"I'm really looking forward to it," says Florence, relishing the prospect. "But it has to be believable."
Kevin Costner stars as a man who grows increasingly concerned when his young daughter begins experiencing episodes of self-loathing. A strange burial mound near their new home may hold the answer. Florence plays Alexis Danella, an archaeology graduate student at the University of Charleston who becomes enmeshed in the mystery.
"The archaeology professor she's working with is interested in these burial mounds. Alexis goes with the professor to the mounds to begin an excavation. And she's very into the historical aspect of everything. But after she leaves the professor at the site to take some samples, she doesn't hear from him again."
Florence plays the part in her normal accent — "or lack thereof," she says — but "the scream" is in a universal language. She has an advantage, having years of voice training. Though Florence, 29, happily is getting a foothold in features, her first love remains musical theater.
"That's how I started, with the Charleston Music Company and on through college. Loving musical theater is what brought me to New York in the first place. I am still trying to accomplish that goal of making it to Broadway."
Florence studied locally with former Broadway vocalist Nancy Stedman, dance impresario Bob Ivey and College of Charleston music professor Deanna McBroom. Her mentors sing her praises.
"They were life-changing people for me. Especially Ms. Stedman, who is the most positive, loving person I've ever met and has such a love of music and performing. Mr. Ivey gave me tons of opportunities to perform. They were all so encouraging to me. In this business you have to be thick-skinned. Having the approval and support from people I respect and the people who have taught me, means a great deal."
In 2002, Florence was the classic young woman landing solo in Gotham, imbued with dreams and eager to work. Having a couple of girlfriends already in the city helped make it all a little less daunting. The 2001 College of Charleston grad married 2 1/2 years ago, but not before earning a master's degree in music theater performance from New York University.
"Going to NYU was the best thing I could have done. It was a great way to have a school structure and develop my skills. I have a great voice teacher here now, and have put good audition material together. This past fall I did a show in the New York Musical Festival, which is a way for new work to be presented to a live audience. It was also a chance for me to meet more people in and out of the business and learn from them."
Making movies was not an unexpected development, but Florence is pleasantly surprised at how this area of her career is taking off. Her previous screen credits include "Doris" (2006), "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" (2006) and a starring role in "Chronicles of a Skatergirl," an independent film in post-production. Also in post-production is the sports-themed film "Our Lady of Victory."
"I was always interested in film. I just didn't realize it would come to forefront as soon as it did," says Florence. "I had no idea how to get into movies when I first came up here. Now I really want to do both theater and film."
Florence has garnered additional experience in commercials and daytime television, with several episodes of "The Guiding Light" on her resume and more to come. She absorbs something valuable from each outing, commercials included.
"Learning to be on a set and understanding the actual business side is useful. You can pick up all kinds of things doing commercials. Commercials are fast-paced, so you have to be prepared and have to get it right and be ready to adjust. It's all done in one day. Soap opera is the fastest thing I've ever done. The principal actors may have a morning rehearsal. But not every cast member does. You arrive, do your bit and then go."
The pace of work, which slowed with the writers' strike, is brisk again.
"I'm auditioning again. There are some TV pilots coming up, and more 'Guiding Light,' as well as the features. "I'm busy, and that's all I can hope for."