Actress Jamie Bernadette (NCIS: New Orleans, 4/20 Massacre) talks about her tough but outstanding performance in the new I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu, the direct sequel to the controversial and previously banned 1978 film which reunites original actress Camille Keaton and director Meir Zarchi.
Set 40 years after the first film, rape survivor turned author Jennifer Hills (Keaton) and her daughter (Bernadette) are targeted by the families of Hill’s previous victims who she killed following her attack. As expected, the new film is bold, shocking, pulls no punches and pays plenty of homage to the original “video nasty.”
Available as a standalone Blu-ray and DVD, as well as part of I Spit on Your Grave: The Complete Collection boxset, with every title in the franchise, the films are presented together for the first time. So, whether you’re an old fan or discovering them now, there’s never been a better time to dive in.
Here, Jamie Bernadette gives us an exclusive look into this bold sequel and the legacy of one of the most notorious film franchises ever…
How familiar were you with the original 1978 I Spit on Your Grave?
I was totally blown away by it! It’s shown and taught in film schools all over the world, so it’s clearly seen as an important, significant film. When I saw the casting notice for I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu I was surprised. I really never thought I’d get it, but I submitted anyway, just for fun.
Can you talk about the audition process?
The role was for a model and I thought “there’s no way I’m getting this.” But I sent in a tape and it was for the restaurant scene. Meir Zarchi wanted his script pretty much word for word. Surprisingly, I was called in later and thought that if I meet Meir, I’m all good, because I’m such a fan of the original. It was a lengthy audition and I had to do an emotional scene and cry. I find auditions way more stressful than being on set, but I’m glad I was connected emotionally and was able to bring that.
Later, I had a third audition which was five hours long with some of the other actors and I was asked to give input into all the characters. However, after this I still hadn’t been officially told I got the role! Sometime later, I got a call and was offered the part and I cried. It was such a rollercoaster of emotions.
With such a challenging role, were you reluctant being part of it?
No, I was gung-ho. I wanted to be part of this iconic franchise, so there was no question in my mind. I’ve always wanted to do a film such as this, an extremely difficult role. It’s hard to explain. I was attracted to the challenge and I don’t take the easiest parts. There was no one telling me I shouldn’t do it, and no one could have talked me out of it!
Right at the start, I didn’t know how long the rape scene would last and I actually thought it would be worse than it was, based on seeing the original film. Either way, I was still down with it 100%. I’ve turned down nudity in the past, yet this was my first topless and nude scene after around 60 films in my career, because it was important in the film. I don’t take it lightly, and I choose my roles very carefully. Since I got cast, there’s definitely been a positive shift in my career.
How do you prepare for something like that?
It starts long before I arrive on the set. I go into my own little world to get myself there emotionally and I think it’s important to stay in it, even between takes, to keep focus. I think it’s more real and the audience can see the difference. That’s how I work.
We filmed over 30-31 days and shot consecutively. It was intense and I had maybe 2 lighter days, the rest were pretty heavy. There was a much longer post-production process and Meir Zarchi really took his time crafting the finished film.
You have an intense rape scene which is really hard to watch.
That scene lasted around four filming days and I just prepared myself the best I could emotionally, so when the camera’s rolling, I’m ready to go for it. It was very rough, but it’s rough on the crew too and it was a very respectful set. There were tears on the set, people who had been raped or knew someone who’d been raped. It was an emotional ride for everybody, but it’s work and we got it done. I think these are the toughest films anyone can do.
Are you a fan of exploitation films generally?
Yes, I’m a fan of the genre and I think these films help women heal, especially those who’ve been victims of sexual assault. They talk about this in Terry Zarchi’s documentary, Growing Up with I Spit on Your Grave. It’s an important sub-genre of cinema and any art form that can help this conversation is very powerful.
What was it like working with the original star, Camille Keaton?
She’s one of my best friends and I do feel like her daughter, just like in the film, but we’re more like close friends or teenagers. We clicked right away, and we get together whenever we’re in the same town. I loved our time together and she was very generous in telling stories and sharing her experiences from the original film. It’s something I’ll never forget.
How was it working with original director, Meir Zarchi?
It was really fun working with him, and I was so pleased he was back directing the sequel to his own film. He had a vision and stuck to it, and he knew exactly what he wanted. He made a film with a much longer running time than today’s standard movies, but that’s how he wanted it. He was thinking outside the box, which is exactly how he made the first film. I think more artists should take audiences outside their comfort zone, which is rare today.
I also got along really well with his son Terry, who produced Deja Vu and directed the great Growing Up with I Spit on Your Grave documentary. They’ve welcomed me into their home like family.
Some people see I Spit on Your Grave as exploitation, others see it as feminism. Where do you stand on this?
I don’t see these films as misogynistic at all. The first film was inspired by true events after Meir Zarchi rescued a woman who’d been raped, so I don’t think it’s exploitative, it’s empowering to women. That’s what I love about Meir’s work, it doesn’t glamorise anything and even the grittiness of the cinematography shows the tone of what’s happened.
Statistics show that in the United States 1 in 5 women have been raped, so the truth is that it’s a very real and worldwide issue. Most of us know someone who’s been affected. When a movie takes on a subject like this, I think it’s very brave.
Does the censorship still surprise you? (the original film is still not available uncut in the UK)
It’s a hypocrisy. We can go on the internet right now and see porn, which children can easily access, but we can’t show a portrayal (i.e. it’s not really happening) of someone being raped which is a real issue. I believe art can wake people up, especially something that makes a statement.
In Hollywood, most producers tell the director what to do. The studios are the boss. In Deja Vu, Meir didn’t have any company backing him and he used his own money, simply because he didn’t want to take other people’s financing and work for them. I really admire and love that. It means the filmmaker can make the movie they want to make. A lot of people told him the film was too long, but this is a true director’s cut, it’s the story he wanted to tell.
I would love to direct a film one day and Meir’s approach really inspires me. More people should work that way and follow their intuition. He made the original film in 1978, it got banned, he spent three years finding a distributor, and here we are 42 years later releasing his sequel and people are still talking about these films. That’s powerful.
Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment presents I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu and I Spit on Your Grave: The Complete Collection out now on Blu-ray and DVD. Order via Amazon.