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Scaredy Katie! Holmes after filming Guillermo del Toro horror flick: 'I sleep with the lights on'

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New York Daily News
By Ethan Sacks
8/21/11


If Katie Holmes looks terrified in almost every frame of the second half of the horror film "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," opening Friday, it isn't all just acting.

The story, co-written by producer Guillermo del Toro, creeped her out: a spooky house full of little creatures with raspy voices and sharp claws that flitter barely seen in shadows.

"I for one don't enjoy animals of that size, so this is particularly personal for me," the 32-year-old actress says with a grin.

But what really crawled under her skin was the central story of a child, Sally (played by 11-year-old Bailee Madison), who moves with her workaholic father (Guy Pearce) and his live-in girlfriend (Holmes) into a manor that houses a centuries-old deadly secret.

As a mother herself, Holmes couldn't help but get sucked into a story line that preys on every parent's fear of having a child endangered by forces outside their control.

It probably didn't help that Madison bears a passing resemblance to Holmes' own daughter, Suri Cruise.

"When I read this script, I was scared and I had to turn on all the lights in my house," she says, perched next to Del Toro in a sparsely furnished, dimly lit conference room at the Waldorf-Astoria that sets the right gothic tone for an interview on the movie.

"I thought I heard noises. And I held my child really close.

"Guillermo created a very real world with people that seem normal with real problems, so they are very relatable. They can be any one of us. So therefore, the monsters, the creatures could invade any of our houses, which makes it scarier."

If the concept of rat-size ­homunculi that stalk children to eat their teeth seems far-fetched, it's not like Holmes' real life would come off as any less surreal to the average person. Married to Tom Cruise, one of the most famous men in the world, she's subjected to armies of paparazzi every time she heads out for a cup of coffee.

Holmes has kind of gotten used to it. She knows that being a celebrity isn't all Champagne, yachts and red carpets.

"Some days you can go straight to that Starbucks [without being bothered] and some days you have to switch cars, and it's something that becomes part of your day," she says. "You kind of figure out how to go with it or fight it.

"I am still a kid from Ohio, but this is part of my life now. My husband has made incredible movies that have impacted the world, and therefore I'm a part of that now. And I'm proud of it and it's okay."

It's been a long time, however, since she was just a kid from Toledo. Holmes was about Madison's age when she visited New York for the first time with her family. She swore back then after seeing a Broadway show that she'd be a star one day, maybe with her own signed photo at Sardi's, right next to Kermit the Frog's.

"I immediately wanted my own apartment," she says, laughing.

It probably sounded like a child's fantasy to her parents, but within a few years, Katie returned to New York for a modeling competition and signed with an agent.

In 1997, she landed her breakthrough role on television's "Dawson's Creek." In 2008, she made her Broadway debut in a revival of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons." Over the years, she has lived off and on in the city, another check box filled in on her list of dreams.

"I love New York City," says Holmes. "And it's poetic to me that my first movie was here, I did the marathon here and Broadway. I just get so inspired by this city, there are so many great artists ... there's culture on every single step ofthis city."

Del Toro and his protégé, ­director Troy Nixey, had their own checklist for "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark."

It was, after all, a labor of love for Del Toro: a remake of the 1973 television movie that scared the stuffing out of him as a kid in Mexico. Not boasting a mammoth budget, the movie would stumble down into the wrong kind of dark abyss if they didn't nail the casting.

They needed good actors who could ground the characters and lend the picture a little star power. Holmes and Pearce were at the top of their wish list, says Del Toro.

"A good horror film is a great ­opportunity for any actor," says the man behind "Pan's Labyrinth" and "The Devil's Backbone." "When you think about 'Rosemary's Baby' and Mia Farrow, or if you think about Gregory Peck in 'The Omen' or you think about Nicole Kidman in 'The Others,' Ellen Burstyn in 'The Exorcist,' Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining' - there are great roles to be had in this genre."

So Holmes found herself rolling around the floor of a house outside Melbourne, Australia, confronting all her phobias as she stared at the gaffer-tape x's on the floor where CGI creatures would be added in postproduction.

Nothing prepared her, however, for how scary the final product would be when she saw it the day before at the red-carpet premiere at Lincoln Center.

Now, she says, "I usually sleep with the lights on."

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