Insidious: Chapter 3, the latest movie in Blumhouse's beloved horror franchise, centers on Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), a young woman who, in desperately trying to connect with her dead mother, makes contact with an evil spirit that latches on to her soul. But underneath of all the demon-battling drama is an incredibly modern young woman — and that's what captivated Scott from the very first time she read the script.
"Quinn is an authentic teenage girl. She's not the girl in her bra who has one makeout scene, gets scared by a ghost, and then murdered," the 18-year-old actor told BuzzFeed News over coffee at Hugo's in West Hollywood, California. "Quinn has pain and she's not just one thing; there are so many layers to her. I get so many scripts where the girl is just the sidekick or the love interest and that doesn't do anything for me. It's amazing that I get to be in this business at this time, [to be] part of this new movement of women who are really taking the lead and being real. It's so important for girls growing up and watching these movies to know that they can be more than the sidekick."
Scott's determination to play realistic female characters stems from the fact that she was doing the exact opposite during her three years on Disney Channel's A.N.T. Farm. "It was hard being a preteen and having to sugarcoat everything all the time," she said of playing bratty queen bee and stereotypical cheerleader Lexi Reed since the hit series began in 2011. "That's one of the hardest things, not being able to express myself in a certain way or being stuck having to promote something or say something you don't believe in. It's kind of hard after a while when you are feeling things and having a rough time in your personal life and you can't express your emotions through your work."
When A.N.T. Farm came to an end in 2014, Scott "snuck out the back door" of Disney Channel. "I wanted to tell stories of troubled girls where everything isn't perfect all the time. I didn't want it to stop there and be labeled as 'a Disney girl,'" she said. "I quickly realized I wanted to do more."
But it seemed like her résumé would make it difficult to move on. "If you've been on a Disney show, people target you as being the 'sitcom funny girl' who can't take herself seriously and doesn't really have true emotions because they have to be perfect and pure — not shattered and torn in any way," Scott said.
She was determined to find realistic female characters to play, and ones that would exhibit what she was capable of as a performer without resorting to the hypersexualized roles so many House of Mouse alumni have taken on in an attempt to shed their Mickey-approved images.
"It's not that I wouldn't do projects that are edgy, but I think the project has to have purpose and meaning and tell a real story and not just be me topless at spring break smoking," Scott said. "I really think the universe worked it all out for me … because I got to show emotions instead of boobs."
Scott found the authenticity she was craving in a pair of high-profile films, both due out this year. First, of course, is Insidious: Chapter 3 — and Quinn is not just Scott's first lead role, but also the character she's been waiting years to play. So it was particularly important to Scott that she make the most of the opportunity, throwing herself headfirst (sometimes literally) at all the challenges this role afforded.
"I did all my own stunts," Scott said, noting a particularly harrowing possession scene that sees a black-eyed Quinn shatter the casts encasing her broken legs and tread over the razor-like remnants while screaming profanities and brandishing a razor blade before being thrown across the room and lashed to a bed. "I was smacked on that bed 50 times; it was definitely grueling, but it became a joke. Everybody was like, 'Oh, what are you doing today? Getting the hell smacked out of you again?'"
Though Scott said it was "really draining" working 15 to 17 hours a day during the very physical Insidious: Chapter 3 shoot, she was "so grateful to be there. ... To be able to do that work and to be trusted, I get so giddy talking about it. It was the most amazing summer of my life."
The benefits of Scott's "amazing" 2014 will continue to pay off in 2015 with the October release of Jem and the Holograms, a live-action adaptation of the popular '80s cartoon. She plays Kimber, Jem's (Aubrey Peeples) sister and one-fourth The Holograms along with their foster sisters, Aja (Hayley Kiyoko) and Shana (Aurora Perrineau). The film not only offered Scott a complex character to dig into, but also the opportunity to mix two of her greatest passions. "I grew up doing musical theater and I've always written songs, but I don't think it's my thing to be a pop star," she said. "That's not my goal in life. But I love to sing, so I love when I can combine the two."
The Jem cast was enrolled in a rock star boot camp to ensure they could convincingly look like a band — another physical challenge Scott enthusiastically threw herself into. "I lived for the performance scenes, so those were some of my favorite days," she said of the weeks spent learning keyboard and hairography.
When the Jem trailer was released earlier this month, some fans loved the grounded approach to the campy cartoon, while others complained it lacked iconic elements from the original series, like The Misfits or Synergy — details Scott promised are in the finished film. But for her, again, it was the rawness of her character that mattered most.
"I love that they let us be sweaty, have messy hair, and wear cool clothes from Wasteland. Nothing was glamorized," she said. "They didn't powder our faces every five seconds, so we look like normal girls and I feel like you need that with such an outrageous cartoon. The movie really is the cartoon, but I feel like we needed that to ground the story. I am really proud of that movie because they didn't make it so perfect and sugarcoated."
After chasing that feeling of professional pride for quite some time, Scott feels like 2015 is the year she finally found it. "It's like I graduated high school and am now in college where it's more about finding myself and portraying the real version of me rather than being in high school where you kind of go along with the crowd," she said. "Now I'm just free."