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Running the Course

By Carita Rizzo | August 1, 2016 | Articles

Because Isabelle Fuhrman made such a lasting impression at the age of 9 as the star of the horror film Orphan, it is easy to envision the actress stuck in the same eternally young shell as the character that made her famous. While the now 19-year-old certainly still has youth on her side, Fuhrman is all grown up, and this summer the Atlanta-reared actress is showing audiences that she is far more than just evil Esther. On Sept. 11 she returns to Showtime’s Masters of Sex in her awards-buzz-garnering role as the rebellious teenage daughter of Virginia Johnson, played by Lizzy Caplan. In the coming-of-age movie Dear Eleanor, directed by Entourage’s Kevin Connolly, Fuhrman travels back to 1962 to flex her comedic muscle next to Jessica Alba and Luke Wilson, and in Cell, the post-apocalyptic movie based on Stephen King’s novel where cellphones turn unsuspecting people into killers, she’s kicking zombie ass alongside iconic actors Samuel L. Jackson and John Cusack. But her on-screen endeavors are just part of what makes Fuhrman so intriguing. The day we catch up with her on set in Los Angeles, she has just returned from Iceland, where she participated in a special project with Nike, its Run Club and athletes from all over the world. “It was one of the best weeks of my entire life,” gushes the starlet, who even surprised herself with the athletic abilities that piqued Nike’s interest. “The reason I got into running is because I decided that I wasn’t going to sit and wait for something to happen—I was just going to make it happen for myself. You have to be the person that curates your own life.” There seems to be nothing stopping the multitalented actress, who was happy to share her journey to becoming a strong woman in the entertainment industry and beyond.

Let’s start from the very beginning. You landed the lead in Orphan when you were only 9 years old. How did that impact your life?
I convinced my mom to take me to Los Angeles so I could be an actor. We made a deal that if I didn’t book something within a year, I would wait until after I was 18 years old to pursue acting. I was really fortunate that Orphan came along, and I really worked [hard] for that audition. As scary as it is, I felt like I understood the character. I understood that she was looking for love. That’s really the most important part of people—things that drive us in life.

How did you know at such a young age that you wanted to be an actor?
It’s the feeling you get when you’re doing something that you love and you feel like that’s what you’re meant to be doing. When I was on the set of Orphan, and I was doing a scene with Vera Farmiga, she really pushed me as an actor. It was amazing—the feeling where I was so out of body and not within myself at all. I was just completely Esther in that moment. I love really getting to become somebody else completely for a few minutes and just disappear into another person and be that character.

Esther was a dark and very particular character. What was the success of Orphan like professionally for you?
A lot of horror films came my way. I’ve been really careful not to do any strict horror films or play a bad person recently, even though it’s so much fun, because I can do so much more. I’ve been working on curating a career for myself where I can learn something from whatever I experience. That way, whether it turns out or not, I’m still proud.

Were those first few years difficult?
They were a little bit, but I think that there’s something really important about having time to yourself. I really wanted to focus on school and have time to be a young person. As far as stereotyping, I didn’t really become a child star. I did a few really amazing things as a young girl, and, now, as a woman, I get to take that experience into my career as an adult, rather than having to feel like I need to cross some line.

The next major project you did was The Hunger Games, only a few years later. What was that experience like for you?
That was actually really funny. As everybody does when they read the story, I immediately related to Katniss. I wanted to play Katniss very badly. I wrote a letter to [director] Gary Ross, went in and auditioned. [Casting director] Debra Zane called my agent and said, ‘Can she come back for Clove because we already cast Katniss?’ I ended up getting it, and it was probably one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. I made such good friends. We’ve all gone on to work on really great projects. It was so cool to be a part of that family and be a member of it still.

Jennifer Lawrence has spoken out about equal pay; Amandla Stenberg is outspoken about social issues. Do you feel like you are part of a generation that doesn’t accept boundaries, glass ceilings and labels the way previous generations did?
Yes, I think people more and more are seeing that they don’t have to just be defined by one thing. I mean, I’m an actor. I’m also a writer. I wrote a play that I’m hoping to have made next year. I’m a director. I’m an artist. I never considered myself to be an athlete, and this year, I’ve been working with Nike a lot. I’m working on a short film today, where I get to play somebody who’s sexually fluid and isn’t sure if she’s gay or if she’s straight. I think that’s the beautiful thing about our world right now. Nobody in my generation wants to be stuck.

Dear Eleanor, the movie about two girls who set out on a trip across the country to find Eleanor Roosevelt, has been a passion project of yours for a while. What was it about the movie that made you stick with it for so long?
Dear Eleanor was actually sent to me while I was filming Hunger Games, and I fell in love with it. My character, Max, is unlike any character I’ve ever played before. She really doesn’t like her life the way it is and makes a conscious choice to change it. She decides that every day she’s going to be a different movie star or a different person in history that she admires in order to make her life as good as it can be. I think that’s a really beautiful thing. It’s also a movie about two girls sticking together.

In what way did you relate to your character Max?
I was always very goofy as a kid, and I felt like I lost that working in this business. It was so beautiful for me to read a movie where there’s a teenager who doesn’t want to grow up. Max wants people to see her as a kid. She’s so content being young. And through Max, I really felt like I got to relive being young again. Moving forward, I have to remember that I don’t need to be so serious all the time.

You started your career at 8, whereas most people start pursuing theirs in their 20s. That must require a lot of discipline?
You have to manage yourself like a business, and you have to know what you want. And you have to be very firm. Being a woman in the film industry is hard. Sometimes you work with directors who don’t even listen to you because you’re a woman, and that’s really difficult. So you have to become friends with your male cast member and be like, ‘Hey, can you bring up this suggestion that I have because he won’t listen?’ When I turned 18, that was the first time that I really had to deal with these things on my own, and it really was a growing experience for me. I am a lot stronger than I think that I am. And the only way that we’re going to change the industry is if women in the industry make a conscious decision to stay firm on what they believe and what they need and what they want. And I think that’s happening more and more.

What was the experience of shooting Cell like back in Atlanta?
That was the first time that I’d been back to Atlanta for three years. It was such a deja vu experience because we were filming in places that I went and hung out at as a kid, places I used to walk around and go to with my parents. It was really cool to be in my old stomping grounds and see my friends, and being able to have my friends come visit me on set. I think everybody thinks being on set is this fancy thing. And it’s really not. My favorite thing to do in the world is go to work, but it’s still a job.

As Tessa on Masters of Sex you get to explore a rebellious but also more sexual character. How has that experience been for you?
I feel like I’ve learned so much being on that set. I’ve had to film some sex scenes and some scenes that are kind of uncomfortable to do, and I know that moving forward, when I have to do scenes like that, I feel like I understand how to go about it in a professional way. Because in a strange way, it’s the most unprofessional thing you can do at work, but it’s part of my job. I feel so much more confident in myself.

You have worked with a lot of amazing actors, like Caplan, Farmiga, Jackson and Cusack. What kind of advice have you received along the way?
How do you get through that rough patch? To be a young person in this business is really difficult because there are only so many parts, and everybody goes after the same one. I’ve always felt very mature, so I’m at this stage where I want to play the woman that’s 23 or 24 and figuring out her life, but I’m still 19. And the only parts that are out there are for somebody that’s 16, fighting with their parents. The advice that I have been getting is, just do what you want to do. That’s why I started writing. I directed some music videos for my sister, and I’d like to do more of that. You have to make your life what you want it to be.

As a strong, intelligent woman who is also body-conscious, how have you managed to wrap your head around beauty ideals in the entertainment industry?
I think that if you take care of your body with a healthy mind, you have a strong mind. I’m a firm advocate of whatever body you have. Be proud of it; embrace it. I auditioned for a movie once where I was told straight up in the room, ‘You’re not going to get this part because you’re not pretty and skinny enough.’ I remember thinking, ‘I will never want to work with you. I’m confident in my body, and this is just your opinion.’ And I think it’s important that people know that. I mean, I still went home and cried, and it really made me upset. But the truth is, moving forward in my life, it’s not going to matter. Now, I look back and it makes me laugh.

Styling by Marissa Peden with Jed Root
Hair by Michael Duenas with Tomlinson Management Group
Makeup by Kristee Liu with Tomlinson Management Group


Photography by: