India Eisley’s upbringing prepared her for ‘I Am the Night’ role
It ended up being India Eisley’s good fortune that her parents — musician David Glen Eisley and actress Olivia Hussey – waited until they were in their 40s to have a child. Because they both grew up in the 1960s, Eisley was exposed to the politics, fashion, music and art of that time. That gave Eisley an appreciation for the era that made it easier for her to slip into the role of Fauna Hodel in the TNT limited series "I Am the Night."
The six-part production, starting Monday, is inspired by the life of Fauna Hodel (Eilsey’s role), a white girl who grew up in Nevada thinking she was mixed race. That happened because a wealthy family gave Hodel to a black casino attendant shortly after her birth. Hodel’s efforts to find out the truth about her family lead her into a world of mystery (the Black Dahlia kind) and murder.
The teenager’s investigation takes her from Sparks, Nev., to Los Angeles, where she meets disgraced reporter Jay Singletary (Chris Pine). They join forces to find the facts, an effort that takes them to the infamous Los Angeles gynecologist, Dr. George Hodel (Jefferson Mays).
Most of what Eisley needed to know about the time and story was in the script. She spoke with the daughters of the real Fauna Hodel as background but she was careful not to do too much research.
"Ultimately, I didn’t want the work to feel like she was too aware of everything. She is not stupid by any means but she is very young and has been kind of sheltered from the world," Eisley says. "I didn’t find her to be a shy person. But, she has grown up in this small town so I wanted there to be a real naive aspect to her.
"I got the feeling from her daughters that Fauna was very transient and a loner."
That was a part of the character Eisley had no problem understanding. She didn’t get to stay in school for long periods because she was always traveling with her performing parents. Eisley describes herself as being "very shy" when she did get to attend regular school. She said she can relate to being a loner, having never felt like she belonged.
It’s an interesting description since Eisley has been acting for more than half her life, starting when she was 10. With roles in "Headspace," "Kite," "The Curse of Sleeping Beauty," "Underworld: Awakening" and "My Sweet Audrina," Eisley is best known for her role as Ashley Juergens in the ABC Family television series "The Secret Life of the American Teenager."
Getting past her shyness was critical because the plan was for Eisley to follow her mother’s career path.
"I was a (expletive deleted) student, too," Eisley says with a laugh. "There was a period of time when I studied ballet a lot when I was growing up. There was a point when I thought about being a dancer but I loved acting.
"As a painfully shy kid, my fun time was locking myself away and watching movie after movie after movie. Watching a good performance to me was like getting a new toy. Ultimately, the career of a dancer is very, very short."
Since starting her acting career, Eisley has approached every role she has played, whether a fictional character or one based on a real person, with the same deep respect. That approach was notched up with "I Am the Night" because the real Fauna Hodel died a few weeks before Eisley was cast to play her.
She felt like it was a very "tender spot" to play the role so close to her passing.
There were pressure Eisley put on herself but there were no problems when it came to the cast. She talks about how Chris Pine is a "big sweetheart" and how she adored working with Golden Brooks, who played her mother.
"They are the kind of actors that make your life easy because every take has a life of its own," Eisley says. "There is a great energy and you end up feeling like a big kid."
Projects like "I Am the Night" make her happy that she grew up watching her mother perform. It was decades before she was born that Hussey was stealing hearts with her work in Franco Zeffirelli’s "Romeo and Juliet."
Eisley loves taking on a wide variety of roles but she is extremely quick to state – in no uncertain terms – that she will never play Juliet.
"Never, never, never. Absolutely not," Eisley says. "Plus, I am not a Juliet type."