Zelda Williams stars in Lifetime thriller Girl in the Box. She shares why she is drawn to dark roles and what it is like to play Janice Hooker in this dark psychological drama.

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Girl In The Box is a fictionalized retelling of Colleen Stan’s real-life abduction nightmare. The then 22-year-old was kidnapped in Red Bluff, California by a young couple who imprisoned her under their bed in a box the size of a casket from 1977 to 1984 before her eventual escape. Be forewarned: This is not your typical feel good Lifetime movie.

The daughter of the late Robin Williams, Zelda Williams plays Janice Hooker, who is one of Colleen’s abductors but eventually helps Colleen to escape from her husband. She is a producer and actress and is known for her performances in Were the World Mine, Nine Months and House of D. Fiercely independent, Zelda worked hard to get to where she is, as she never wants to rely on her father’s reputation.

TT: WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION ON THE STORY OF COLLEN STAN?
Horror. Fascination. Empathy and awe at her survival.

TT: WERE YOU FAMILIAR WITH COLLEN’S CASE PRIOR TO THE FILM?
No, it was a bit before my time, but doing research on it did lead down some interesting paths. When depravity like this is exposed, these cases have always swept entire nations, some of them even being reported on worldwide. It’s incredible to think that so many people were suddenly privy to the suffering of a woman who’d spent nearly a decade in fear and isolation. The thought of all of it is overwhelming.

WHAT MADE YOU TAKE ON THE ROLE?
Truthfully, as I’ve grown older and started to work more, I’ve found I really enjoy playing characters who fall into a moral grey area. This role especially isn’t a super villain in a comic book movie. Janice was complicated, a woman simultaneously complacent and complicit in a very dark decision, who was living in a marriage where she too had been beaten. She felt, to me, like this complex, dark bridge between the humanized, innocent victim and the psychotic villain in the script, and that’s what fascinated me most.

HOW DID YOU APPROACH THE ROLE OF JANICE HOOKER?
I tried to do research on her, but truthfully, she’s the person least discussed in the history of this case, and certainly wasn’t the focus of much of the press coverage. Knowing that moments in the script are also fictionalized, I didn’t want to go in doing an impression of someone who I would never meet and who I never even got to see footage of. Mostly, as I don’t take my work home with me, I showed up to set every day and I tried to put myself in her shoes, tried to understand why a human would make the choices she made.

TT: DID YOU MEET COLLEN OR JANICE TO PREPARE FOR THE ROLE?
I met Colleen briefly on set when she came to visit, but as far as I know, Janice is in witness protection.

TT: HOW DOES THE ROLE CHANGE YOU AS AN ACTRESS AND AS A PERSON?
For me, acting is a profession, and while I mainly play darker characters, they’re not actually me, even if I’ve added pieces of myself in to flesh out who the characters are. I don’t take them home with me when I leave work at the end of the day, and I don’t let them affect or mould my reality, so playing this part was just another fun, challenging job, for which I’m very grateful. As for how the story affects me as a person and as a woman however, hearing about any woman in distress, knowing that so many people are out there are being held against their will as we speak, will always affect me. At least in this case, unlike so many others, there was a happy ending for Colleen.

TT: WHAT ARE THE MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE FOR YOU ON SET?
The most memorable experiences for me were definitely getting to work with my friend Addison, as filming with people you already love and think the world of is so fun, and also meeting the various babies and little girls who played my daughter in the film. I’ve never gotten to have an onset, in character child before. That was a blast, and they were all so cute and talented!

TT: WHAT WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING ROLE TO FILM?
In terms of the environment, the whole cast in the crew was lovely so none of that was a challenge. As for the logistics of filming, hard to say. I remember hating that car we picked Addison’s Colleen up in, as it was barely working and I’m terrified of cars! It’s also sometimes harder to cry than others. In this film, I found those moments quite hard, as many of them were not attached to a scene that evolved into crying naturally, which I usually prefer. They were just shots of me crying alone, such as in the church. Pushing yourself to suddenly sob when no scene is happening, no moment is going on, and you’re just around 30 people watching you in silence, will always be incredibly weird.

TT: WHAT ROLES ARE YOU DRAWN TO?
Not to sound desperate, but I’m truthfully drawn to everything! I love dark roles, but I also find bright, perky people so fun. I’m obsessed with sci-fi and fantasy and hope to do one someday, but I watch and enjoy every genre so that appreciation is also certainly not limited to any one thing. Not unlike in the rest of my life, I’m very open to trying and learning new things at every turn. Why would I limit myself?

TT: LET’S TALK ABOUT HOW YOUR MOVIE CAREER GET STARTED. HOW DID YOU BECOME AN ACTOR?
Reading. I was (and still am) obsessed with books. Growing up, I’d read and reread books like Lirael or Shade’s Children by Garth Nix, Richard Matheson’s short stories, and Lord of the Rings. I started collecting editions of Alice in Wonderland and the Little Prince every time I passed a bookstore. All those fantastical adventures, I knew very young I would never get to actually live out in real life, but having visited Dad on sets growing up, I knew when you worked in movies, you sometimes got to PRETEND to live them. I found my love of cinema and fascination with films after I was already working in them, but my love of the ink and paper stories my imagination got to fill and run away with growing up is what got me here.

TT: WHAT UPCOMING PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON RIGHT NOW?
I recently directed my first short film, which I’m absolutely ecstatic about! Hopefully, from there, I’ll get to direct a feature someday soon! A girl can dream, haha. But otherwise, I still keep up with my voiceover work, I write every day, and I just wrapped up a new movie called Locating Silverlake.

TT: WHEN YOU ARE NOT WORKING, WHAT’S A TYPICAL DAY LIKE?
I hang out with my dogs, usually, write for a couple hours, run errands and then see friends. Epically exciting, I know, haha.

Girl in the Box Collen Stab

COLLEN STAN SHARES HER HARROWING ORDEAL © LIFETIME

Kidnapping survivor, Colleen Stan, tells the disturbing story of her seven-year ordeal in Lifetime movie Colleen Stan: The Girl In The Box. The then 22-year-old was abducted in Red Bluff, California by a young couple while hitchhiking and held captive under their bed in a box the size of a casket from 1977 to 1984. But the nightmare continued long after Colleen’s escape. When she eventually took the stand at her kidnapper’s trial, she found herself portrayed as a willing participant. Nearly 40 years later, Colleen bravely explains how she leaned on faith and family to reclaim her identity in a 2-part documentary.

Colleen Stan: The Girl In The Box airs Saturday, 17 December, at 9pm on Crime + Investigation (StarHub TV Channel 403), with a repeating screening on CI on 21 December at 8.05pm and 23 December at 9.55pm