K A T I E   H O L M E S :
The Girl Next Door

Motherhood was a big revelation for Katie

The Times Leader
By Amy Longsdorf

Motherhood was a big revelation for Katie Holmes?. The actress, who has a 5-year-old daughter, Suri, with husband Tom Cruise?, says becoming a mom changed her life in ways she never could have imagined.

“I think a tremendous amount of strength is revealed when you become a parent that you didn’t know you had,” says Holmes, who is also a stepmom to Isabella and Connor, Cruise’s adopted children with Nicole Kidman?.

“You also experience this tremendous burst of love that you didn’t know you were capable of feeling and giving. Both of those things were such a surprise, but they’re the best (emotions).”

Being a mom has been on Holmes’ mind quite a bit lately thanks to “Don’t Be Afraid Of the Dark,” her new film, which opens Friday in area theaters.

Adapted by Guillermo Del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) from a 1970 TV movie, the film centers on a young girl named Sally (Bailee Madison) who goes off to live in a Victorian mansion with her father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend Kim (Holmes). While Alex and Kim are distracted with efforts to restore the house, Sally sets out to investigate the dark corners of the estate.

Soon, rasping voices are calling out to Sally from the basement begging to be set free. After the youngster gives in to her curiosity and unleashes the nasty goblins, she has to try to make her family believe they’re in grave danger before it’s too late.

It was the film’s examination of a woman slowly warming to motherhood that initially drew Holmes to the project.

“What I loved about this character is the journey she goes on,” says the actress, 32. “At the beginning of the film, she really rejects being a mother and being close to Sally.

“It’s hinted at that Kim has a tough childhood, and so she doesn’t want to be a mom. And I think through listening to Sally, she becomes her friend, and it’s then that she makes the choice to really pay attention and take care of her.

“Almost without any effort and, in spite of herself, she becomes a mother. And that really culminates at the end. “

Another lure for Holmes was the opportunity to star in a horror movie in which the emphasis was less on gore and more on character development and old-school chills.

“I just fell in love with these characters,” admits Holmes, a veteran of the horror shocker “Teaching Mrs. Tingle” with Helen Mirren. “Kim is such a strong female character who makes real, definitive choices in the movie. That was very exciting.

“And I like the genre of classic horror movies, especially ones that have characters and stories that can stand apart from the use of the creatures. I thought this one did that so beautifully.”

Before production began, Holmes reacquainted herself with classic frightfests such as “The Exorcist” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” She also watched films fueled by intense family dynamics such as “Kramer Vs. Kramer.”

Horror movies, Holmes notes, are ideal devices for catharsis. If you’re feeling stressed out, go see a spine-tingler and scream your head off.

“I agree with Guillermo, who believes that audiences like to have a release. Whether it’s through laughter or tears or being frightened, you need to get those emotions out.

“There’s nothing like a film that really delivers great tension and gives you that thrill of not knowing what’s coming next. There’s really nothing better than going to the movies and identifying with those people up there. They’re you.”

With Blackwood Manor, the film’s swanky yet sinister setting, the filmmakers attempted to construct an oddly inviting house of horrors.

“I didn’t find it too creepy,” Holmes says of the house, which was built on soundstages in Australia’s Melbourne Central City Studios. “I actually thought it was beautiful. It was important that the house looked very nice because (restoring houses) is this couple’s job. “You want to believe that they’re good at their jobs because that helped explain why (Pearce’s character) was so distracted and not available to Sally. … I actually found the locations in the house quite beautiful.

“I was excited about it because I could feel sort of that juxtaposition of something beautiful set against something incredibly terrifying. I really loved that aspect. The house had this wonderful fantasy element to it.”

While Holmes doesn’t have many scenes with the creatures who live in the dark and feast on the teeth of children, she admits she was impressed by the beasties the special-effects department conjured up.

“I was blown away,” she says. “They were so cool-looking. They were totally creepy and totally disgusting characters. I was impressed.”

Holmes also was impressed, in a different way, by 11-year-old Bailee Madison.

“It was wonderful working with her,” the actress says. “She is so professional and so talented and really loves acting. … She comes in with great ideas. She’s not afraid. She has a point of view, and she’s willing to discuss it with you.”

Holmes was only a few years older than Madison when she first came to prominence as Joey Potter on “Dawson’s Creek.” After the show went off the air, Holmes set out to prove her versatility by starring in twisty thrillers (“Go,” “Abandon”), edgy dramas (“Ice Storm,” “The Gift”), comedies (“Wonder Boys,” “Pieces of April” ) and action flicks (“Batman Begins?.”)

When her daughter was born, Holmes initially scaled back on her workload. But last year she got busy in a big way, shooting three movies back to back to back.

In addition to “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” she’ll pop up in two films set for autumn release: the comedy “Jack and Jill” with Adam Sandler? and Al Pacino, and the thriller “The Son of No One” with Channing Tatum?, Juliette Binoche and Pacino.

Asked if she has difficulty prioritizing motherhood and career, Holmes says, “It’s always a question of balance and just making it work and figuring it out.”