I recently sat down with Florence Hartigan to talk about her role in Phoenix Forgotten, produced by Ridley Scott. The film centers on a group of friends investigating a UFO sighting. Hartigan plays the role of Sophie in the sci-fi film based on a true story.
The film was inspired by the real-life story of a group that went into the desert after mysterious lights were seen by hundreds of thousands of people on March 13, 1997 in the sky above Phoenix, Arizona. Known as “The Phoenix Lights”, the event is the world’s most famous and widely viewed sighting in history.
The film centers on 3 teens who who go out into the desert shortly after the incident, hoping to document the strange events occurring in their town, but were never seen again. Now, on the 20th anniversary of their disappearance, unseen footage has been discovered, chronicling their final moments.
Hartigan had this to say…
Horror Fuel: “Can you tell us a little about your character “Sophie”?
Hartigan: “Sure, so my character is a documentary filmmaker that grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. Her brother went missing when she was very young, she was six years-old. When he mother decides to sell her childhood home she goes back to try and recapture a little of the memories of the brother she has lost through her medium of filmmaking. Her character is really someone who is sort of a truth-seeker and also someone who has grown up is the shadow of the tragedy over her life because her brother went missing when she was so young. Her parents never recovered. It’s this weird thing because she was too young to remember him clearly, but it’s been such a big part of her life. She’s been living with a ghost.”
Horror Fuel: “Did you do anything in particular to prepare for the role?”
Hartigan: “I did a lot of preparation for the role actually. A lot of the script was improvised because the goal of the film was meant to feel like a documentary and there are some real events in the movie and there are some real people that we interviewed about those events. We blended that in with a fictional narrative. It was really important for me to know my stuff and the facts of the case that we were creating. The fictional elements, I was very secure on those, but also I tried to do the research that my character would have actually done. I actually wrote a few proposals for documentaries that my character would have made to get funding and I did a lot of research of things like missing persons protocols in that part of the world and these kinds of cases. I researched into possible explanations what would have happened to these kids and why they were never discovered. It was kind of super fun actually, to get into the documentary frame of mind. On top of all that, to do someone who is a character version of someone who has had this big trauma in life and had traumatized parents living in the wake of that tragedy. There was a lot of preparation that went into it. I met with Clint [Jordan] and Cyd [Strittmatter] who play my mom and dad in the movie to make sure that we had the basics of the facts together so we could improvise together with the same facts and place. To make sure we felt like we had the basis of a family relationship. Yeah, a lot went into it before shooting the film.”
Horror Fuel: “Wow, that sounds intense. It’s impressive that you did all of that for your role. I’m sure it will show in your performance.”
Real Billboard For Missing Kids (1997)
Horror Fuel: “Did the fact that ‘Phoenix Forgotten’ is based on a true story affect you in any other way?”
Hartigan: “The true part of it is that there was a UFO sighting and everything else is sort of a fictional narrative. The Phoenix Lights were something that happened in 1997 and it was the biggest UFO sighting in history. Hundreds of people saw these lights in the sky. So yeah, I guess that the fact that it was real leant a real spookiness to it. There are sort of real things that have happened around the events. The governor at the time really denounced the lights and said that it was a hoax during the press conference where they had this guy dressed up in an alien costume and kind of poo-pooed the whole thing. Years later he came out and said he had actually seen the lights that night and believed that it was an extraterrestrial object. That whole thing makes it feel like like ‘Well, what if?'”
Horror Fuel: “That’s crazy.”
Horror Fuel: “What do you believe happened in real life?”
Hartigan: “I think they were probably military flares. We interviewed a lot of experts for the movie and that seems to be everybody’s consensus. But we know that there are a lot of believers too. I’m somebody with an open mind, so who knows. There was never a concrete, 100% explanation. ”
Horror Fuel: “I watched some videos about it. It’s definitely an interesting case.”
Phoenix Lights 1997
Horror Fuel: “What was it like to be out there in a remote area in the desert filming?”
Hartigan: “For my part of the film I didn’t do any night shoots in the area. The film was shot in two parts. It’s shot in two time mirrors so that we can have footage of the missing kids and my stuff which is trying to figure out that mystery and unravel it. Shooting in the desert was beautiful. Until I moved to this part of the world I had never really had a clear understanding of what the desert is. I kind of thought it was a bleak wasteland, but now I spend a lot of time there. I go out there to unwind and go out to Joshua Tree a lot. It’s so beautiful. It’s like being on the moon. It’s teaming with life and it’s amazing. Where we filmed there are these beautiful rock formations and canyons. It was otherworldly.”
Horror Fuel: “‘Phoenix Forgotten’ seems like a bit of a departure from your most recent roles like Comedy Central’s ‘Bro Dependent’. What drew you to ‘Phoenix Forgotten?”
Hartigan: “I have done a lot of comedy lately and my background is in drama. Growing up, all the stuff I did was dramatic. What drew me to this role was that I was actually involved in the project from the very beginning. I worked with Justin, who was the director on a couple of other projects I had previously done. Then he and T.S., who was the writer, asked me to be part of shoot they were doing for a possible sci-fi movie. I started doing that and I was really drawn to the effects in the project. I love projects that are really grounded, and real, and allows me to feel like a real human in a real situation. I know that’s how it is supposed to be, but something that feels subtle is really my wheelhouse I think. So the fact that this was sort of a documentary style project and the fact that I also would get to use my improv was really exciting to me. The fact that I got to be so involved was really cool.”
Horror Fuel: “Were you nervous to work with Ridley Scott, a man known for his alien films?”
Hartigan: “I was pretty nervous when Ridley Scott became involved. But in the end the work is always the same no matter what. You just do your job.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s a great way to look at it.”
Horror Fuel: “Your next project coming out is ‘Malevolent’, can you tell us a little about it?”
Hartigan: “Sure. It’s an animated horror movie where the premise is kind of like ‘Saw’ meets ‘Groundhog Day’. It’s very gory and pretty fantastical. It has a sci-fi lean to it too. It was cool. I actually my first voiceover feature. It was really cool to get to create a character just with my voice, especially when it had so much physicality to it. It was a really cool challenge. Morena Baccarin, William Shatner, and Ray Wise are in it. Animation takes a while but they are finishing it up now.”
Horror Fuel: “I’ve heard about it and it sounds great. I look forward to seeing it. ”
Be sure to see Florence Hartigan in action in Phoenix Forgotten, now available on iTunes and Amazon. And don’t miss her performance in Malevolent .