'Happy Death Day' Star Israel Broussard on Making a Horror Film That's Relatable to College Students

Happy Death Day is not your typical horror movie. Sure, you might jump or scream out of fear, but mostly you’ll be laughing or hanging on to the edge of your seat in suspense. The Universal Studios film, which was released Oct. 13, focuses on a sorority girl named Tree who gets killed on her birthday. She then wakes up and relives the same day over and over again, dying every time.

Tree tries to figure out who is killing her and why—all she knows is it’s a creepy hooded person with a baby mask. After being killed by everything from a shattered bong to a knife stab, she wakes up day after day in a dorm room that belongs to Carter, a helpful college guy.

Israel Broussard, who plays Carter in Happy Death Day, was initially drawn to the film because of the fun script and relatable character he portrays. He really likes Carter because he’s homey and “overall just a good kid. I kind of wanted to attack that role and see what I could do with it,” Israel tells Her Campus. 

Photo Credit: Patti Perret/Universal Pictures

Since the plot is similar to the movie Groundhog Day, Israel says he was skeptical at first. “I wasn’t sure what I was about to get into, but when I read the script, it actually had a lot of humor, had some heart, had some suspense and it had some horror,” Broussard says. “So I feel like it was a big package.”

The 23-year-old actor grew up in Mississippi before Hollywood agents discovered him in 2008. He moved to Los Angeles and has since starred in Flipped and The Bling Ring. Now he’s acting alongside Jessica Rothe, who plays Tree in Happy Death Day.

But Israel actually isn’t a horror or slasher fan himself. “That was another thing that was interesting about doing this, though, because I wanted to know how a horror film is made because I’ve always been turned off by them,” he says with a laugh. Broussard watched It when he was 11 years old—needless to say, it scared him for a long time, turning him away from the genre. “But then I saw Paranormal Activity, which I liked because there wasn’t anything too gory or there’s not like a devilish face popping out at you.” He also enjoyed the suspense in The Strangers. “I love stuff like that. But when it comes to horror like Saw or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I can’t handle stuff like that.”

Happy Death Day, however, incorporates more humor, with references along the lines of, “What does my tuition even go toward?” when the electricity goes out in the sorority house, or when two sorority sisters say “byeee” to each other in an annoying, nasally voice. Israel likes that the comedy really appeals to our younger generation. “I feel like it doesn’t take itself too seriously,” he says. “It was important to us on set if there was a line that just didn’t click with our generation, it wasn’t going to go in.” Since the movie takes place at a college, the team wanted to keep it natural and relatable. “That’s kind of where we went with the stereotypes. We generalize a lot with this movie, but at the same time the stereotypes kind of have this center around them that I think everybody can relate to a little bit."

Israel’s favorite scenes to film took place in Carter’s dorm room, where every day in the film begins. He liked establishing the characters. “We knocked that out first so I feel like that’s when everything started clicking,” he says. However, filming in the dorms was a little tedious because the dorm room was a set, so they took one wall down and switched to the other. Even though the film repeats the same day, same outfits and same sequences, Broussard says they kept it original during every scene and take. “It was actually a lot easier than anticipated, creating each new day because naturally when somebody responds different, so do you,” he explains. “We knew what our guideline was, we knew what we had to say, but we had room to spice it up a little bit, and we had fun with that.”

And Israel didn’t have too much trouble getting into character for Happy Death Day because he’s also a little timid like Carter. “Carter is kind of painted as the good guy in this film. He’s got his shy flaws and whatnot, but he doesn’t have the narcissistic tendencies like a lot of the other characters do—which I think everybody’s got a little ego in them. I think Carter is even almost a little too good to be true, but for the most part, he’s the one I’d relate to the most. I like being respectful to people. I don’t like imposing myself on anyone else. I am shy. So with those aspects, I can relate to him.”

 

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While we’re all laughing and screaming our way through Happy Death Day, Israel will be working on other films. He's starring in Extinction, which is about a dad having recurring nightmares about his family. “Next thing you know there’s aliens coming and annihilating him, and it’s the story of him trying to figure out how to save his family and where the dreams are coming from. It’s a really cool story.”

Also on the horizon is To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, based on the 2014 YA novel of the same name, about a girl’s love letters being exposed. “We just finished filming that in Vancouver in July. That was a fun set,” he says. “I saw a rough cut of it, and it’s a lot of fun. I really hope the fans enjoy it.”

Between aliens, romance and horror, it looks like we'll be seeing a lot more of Israel. Both Extinction and To All the Boys I've Loved Before are set to be released in 2018.

Happy Death Day is in theaters now.