Alyssa Brooke Levine is your typical 14-year-old teenage girl, yet with a quiet, unassuming nature to her.
However, come this April 5, this quiet, unassuming young Montrealer will be terrorizing moviegoers as Zelda in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1983 bestseller “Pet Sematary”.
This is the second film version of King’s horror novel (the original version was released in 1989 and starred the late Fred Gwynne, who was best known for his role of Herman Munster in the 1960s CBS sitcom “The Munsters”). Starring John Lithgow, Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz – and directed by the team of Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer – “Pet Sematary” takes place in a small town in Maine, where Louis Creed, his wife and their two children move into a home in a rural part of the state, where a nearby eerie pet cemetery holds their fascination. But when their pet cat is tragically killed, Creed decides to have it buried in the mysterious pet cemetery, where thanks to a number of frightening circumstances, finds out that dead is better.
This is not the first time that Alyssa has had some acting experience in front of the camera. Since the age of four months, she and her identical twin sister Amber have appeared in a number of TV commercials and TV series, including the French language soap opera “Un monde a part” and as the twin sisters from “The Shining” on the French Canadian series “Mes Petits Malheurs”.
The story of how Alyssa landed the role of Zelda in “Pet Sematary” began last April, when she was in an orthodontist’s office waiting for Amber to get fitted for braces. “She was getting a bit bored, so I snapped a picture of Alyssa goofing around in the dentist chair, with her legs behind her head because she is very flexible and can twist herself into a pretzel,” said her mother Cheryl Levine. “A month later, I saw a notice online that a young female acrobat/contortionist was being sought for a speaking role in a feature film that was going to be shooting in Montreal that summer. So I sent in the picture that I took of Alyssa in the dentist chair with the caption ‘Is this what you’re looking for?’”
As a result, Alyssa was called by the casting agency to audition for the part of Zelda with 50 other girls. From there, she got two other call backs, this time auditioning with 10 other aspiring Zeldas and then four other actresses who competed for the part.
“I got a final callback, but we arrived an hour late because my mom mistakenly wrote down the wrong time for the final callback,” said Alyssa. “But the casting people patiently waited for us because they wanted me to do the audition first. Later that same day, they called me back and offered me the role of Zelda in Pet Sematary.”
To prepare for the role of Zelda, Alyssa watched clips from the 1989 movie version of “Pet Sematary” that featured Zelda, and had her father Warren tell her how the story was told in Stephen King’s book (which she got the entire cast and crew to autograph a copy of a recent paperback edition of the novel that she brought with her to the set). “I have to admit I am a little bit scared of horror movies, and they sometimes give me nightmares,” she said.
As well, Alyssa had to endure the long, grueling process of movie makeup effects so that she can perform the role of Zelda. First, she went through the 45-minute process of having a cast made of herself in the East End studios of Oscar-nominated makeup effects artist Adrien Morot (who did the makeup for the X-Men and Night at the Museum movies); and when shooting took place, Alyssa spent up to six hours in the makeup chair each day having the head-to-toe prosthetics put on her throughout the five days she spent on the set of “Pet Sematary” last summer, both in Mel’s Cite du Cinema and on location in Hudson/St. Lazare.
“When I had the prosthetics on for the first time, I saw myself in the mirror and I was shocked, because I looked so creepy,” she said. And the unrecognizable, nightmarish look of Alyssa as Zelda appears (but rather mysteriously) in the film’s main theatrical poster and advertising.
And even her sister Amber got involved in the production of “Pet Sematary”; first as one of the masked children who regularly brings the bodies of dead pets to the cemetery, and also as Alyssa’s stand-in.
As well, Alyssa admits that her experience shooting “Pet Sematary” has changed her perception of horror movies in general. “Ever since then, I have become less scared about watching horror movies because now I know how they are made behind the scenes,” she said. “I don’t get that many nightmares anymore because now I am going to be in everyone’s nightmares!”
“Pet Sematary” opens in theatres everywhere on April 5, with the world premiere on March 14 at the prestigious SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas (where Alyssa will be in attendance with the rest of the movie’s cast).