THORA BIRCH, IN HER OWN WORDS: A CHARACTER RETROSPECTIVE
My earliest memory of seeing Thora Birch on screen is as a pint-sized trick or treater with a big mouth and an even bigger penchant for getting her older brother in trouble. I’m of course referring to the beloved character of Dani from Disney’s 1993 cult Halloween flick Hocus Pocus—the film that, each October, sparks mass DVD sales and multiple showings on ABC Family. And with her wild mane of tangled hair, her bright red pout, and her unwavering ability to spar witty one-liners with Bette Midler’s hilarious HWIC (head witch in charge) Winifred Sanderson, it’s really no wonder viewers just fell in love with little Thora in the early 90s.
While the actress’s portrayal of Dani is obviously one of my favorite characters the actress has played over the past few decades, it’s certainly not the only great one, and for many it isn’t even the one she is best remembered by. In celebration of one of my favorite actresses, I chatted with Thora about some of the many diversified film roles she’s taken on over the years. Below, here is a career-spanning character retrospective—from Thora, in her own words, naturally.
HOCUS POCUS – DANI
That shoot was one of the most fun I’ve ever been on because it was a big production. The sets were just amazing; they actually built the witches’ house on a massive stage. It was like stepping into that kind of world every day. Even though we shot in the summer, it was nice because it was constantly Halloween, which has always been one of my favorite holidays. Dani herself was fun, she was kind of like a smart-mouth and I guess that kind of mirrored my personality at the time, I admit. It was just a lot of fun. Working with Bette was amazing.
NOW AND THEN – TINA
There’s this period in every pre-adolescent girl where they have a lot of energy, exuberance and are just really optimistic and hopeful about everything. She kind of had that exuberance. She had dreams and ambition. She had a larger-than-life personality because of that. That was fun. It was a little more outside of how I was personally, but it was a blast to inhabit that headspace and time period, which was something I was really into at that time. That was my favorite decade when I was that age. That was another one where it was four girls, focused on their friendship. There weren’t a lot of films like that around that time that focused on female bonding, so it was nice to be a part of that.
AMERICAN BEAUTY – JANE
Jane was someone who was in a situation that was incredibly uncomfortable for her. Just being herself was uncomfortable for her. To watch her open up through the course of the film for me was interesting because that transition was something that came about more on the days we were making [the film]. It’s not something I saw immediately when I first read the script. I thought if anything, maybe Jane was a little one-note, but she did have her ups and downs. On that one, it was really about the experience. It was a movie about things that happen in real life. It was a real family, a real every day kind of life they were living. It wasn’t about being kidnapped or being hunted by witches or going on a summer trip, it was none of that. It was just about everyday life. It was one of the darker things I’ve ever done. The role was a good role but it was really the story, the entire story. Being able to work with the director, Kevin, and Annette, and making that break from kid roles to young adult roles… it was a transition. It turned out really, really well.
GHOST WORLD – ENID
If somebody identifies themselves as a “Thora Birch fan,” it usually has
something to do with Enid. It’s pretty cool to have one of those in your back pocket, like “I’m that character!” It’s really about her personality. But Dan’s entire graphic novel was like that, a world within itself, but also it’s really about Enid and Rebecca. When I first read it, I was taken away by the way she looked at the world, how she dealt with it and interpreted it. That was something I thought was very unique as far as being portrayed on screen. I was like, wow, okay, I can’t say that in my real life but if I do this, I get to say that. That’s what made me really want to be a part of Ghost World and I’m glad I was. Working on set with Terry and Dan, their personalities were perfect for that whole experience. And it’s become kind of an offbeat classic, I guess. The people who love it, they really, really love it. Then there’s the other side too, and I can understand that because it’s not for everybody. But the people who like it and get it, they love it—it’s nice to have that kind of devotion behind it.
THE HOLE – LIZ
I really liked that duality element of her personality and the fact that you got to have a little fun tricking the audience for a portion of the film. To me, that was exciting. I can totally understand how an obsession can be taken too far. We shot that in the U.K. right outside of London in the summer. It was really a fast ride and a lot of fun, but it was pretty intense, too.