Just a few weeks ago, Katie Featherston was working as a waitress at a local Buca di Beppo restaurant. Micah Sloat was a struggling actor/computer programmer living in North Hollywood. Now, they're watching the micro-budget horror movie they filmed three years ago develop into a full-blown phenomenon.
The two play the young couple haunted by a spectral force in the breakout hit "Paranormal Activity." The suspenseful supernatural thriller, reminiscent of "The Blair Witch Project," has become one of the year's biggest success stories.
Made for $15,000, "Paranormal" was the No. 1 movie at the box office this weekend, taking in about $22 million, and has earned an astounding $62.5 million since its initial limited release in late September.
Featherston and Sloat? They're just as surprised as everyone else.
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"When the movie opened, we hid behind a tree across the street from the ArcLight (theater) in Hollywood," Featherston, 27, said as she sat in a booth at Buca di Beppo. "The line was huge. I couldn't believe it. It's something you hope for but never, ever expect will happen. I wanted to run over and say, 'Hey, I'm in that!' "
In an attempt to keep the mystery surrounding the movie's story intact, the studio and the film's director, Oren Peli, an Israeli-born video game designer with no formal film training, kept the two actors relatively secluded — they've only recently started to do interviews with media.
The tactic seems to have worked. After the movie's nationwide release, the startling ending to the film provoked a spike in Internet searches by people apparently determined to learn if the facts as presented were true.
It's all been a big leap for Sloat. The 28-year-old, who grew up in Westport, Conn., and moved to Los Angeles in 2005 to pursue acting, was on the verge of ditching the unstable career and giving up on his dream.
Featherston, a Texas native, graduated from Southern Methodist University and also moved to Los Angeles in 2005.
When the two auditioned for the spookfest in 2006, they weren't expecting to be part of a box-office record breaker. There wasn't even a script.
"I remember being in the waiting room and these girls would just kind of walk out shaking their head," Featherston said. "I walked into the room and (Peli) said, 'Why do you think your house is haunted?' Just like that. Boom! So I just threw myself into the character."
And that's exactly what Peli was searching for in casting the characters.
"The whole point is for it to feel natural," Peli said in a recent phone interview. "I didn't want actors who looked like they were acting. I wanted it to feel real, so I didn't want there to be a script. I wanted the audience to think they were watching real life. If you're looking at the footage of their audition and see the way they interact — if you didn't know any better — you'd think you were looking at real documentary footage of a couple."