Here we are, set in an empty quarter of the Hollywood Tower, where stories of hauntings have been ingrained, and continuously advertised, eventuating Disneyland to come up with “The Tower of Terror” ride, and causing many a tenant sleepless nights. Luckily, the ghosts stay on their side this afternoon, as India Eisley, perched on her throne, gets her long marron hair coiffed and her radiant face—“like a baby’s ass,” interjects her publicist—made up beyond her 18 years.
Down in the lobby, the shoot commences. She is instructed onto a velvet couch. Eisley pops up her legs, slightly bends the right one, and points out her toes, forming a 90-degree angle with her upper half. She is double-jointed. And she looks quite sexy for a girl who plays a 14-year-old in the latest contribution to the sci-fi vampire franchise, Underworld: Awakening.
Hours later at the 101 Coffee Shop across the street (where, truth be told, someone ought to 101 them on quiet café civilities, for “Sweet Dreams” on blast during a recorded interview simply won’t do), Eisley shares a funny story, as to how she may or may not have obtained the role as Kate Beckinsale’s vampire/werewolf hybrid child in the movie. About a month after her audition, having heard nothing back, she casually strolled into Starbucks, ordered her coffee, and then joined her mother at a table. “You’ll never believe who stood behind you in the line,” mother said to daughter. “Kate Beckinsale!” Beckinsale was accompanied by her daughter Lily, and her husband, Len Wiseman, the producer of Underworld. Looks were quietly exchanged. Before she knew it, Wiseman was making his way to Eisley, declaring that he remembered watching her audition tape. Later on, Eisley would find out what really transpired: “Kate had said to Len, ‘Oh, you should go up to that girl and ask her if she wants to be in a movie; she’s like a mini-me.’ And he said, ‘Oh my god. I just saw that girl’s audition tape.’ So, it was just a strange thing.”
Eisley, up until now, is best known for playing Ashley Juergens on the teen drama series The Secret Life of The American Teenager. Jeurgens is a sarcastic 16-year-old girl, rebellious and misunderstood. While Eisley believes that the only parallel with her character is their education—having both been homeschooled—thoughts on deeper associations can be nixed. Eisley, it could be said, is more of a worldly teenager as opposed to an American archetype. “I kind of prefer it [in Europe], because normally I’m quite shy, and here, when you’re shy, they immediately think, ‘Oh, she’s rude or snobby,’ so unless you’re like, ‘Hey!’ and you’re big, you’re unfriendly. They don’t realize that maybe it’s just ’cause you’re quiet. They’re more accepting in other places; they don’t just write you off as being just a snob.” Further proof: Eisley’s preference to knit a scarf while waiting on set rather than commingle with fellow castmates.
Timidity seems to be a recurrent topic in the conversation. In fact, insecurity as a topic is what led her to have an incredibly close relationship with her mother, Olivia Hussey, the teenaged Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 Romeo and Juliet. “My mother,” explains Eisley, “she’s had a lot of nerves, and a lot of setbacks in her life, but she’s really just an incredible person, a positive person.” Her mother began acting around the same age as Eisley, and Eisley feels some of the pressures of being a child actress. It’s an “illusion,” says Eisley about putting on a confident face on set. “You just have to go on with your days,” she says, about when it gets tough. There is no place for looking insecure when it comes to the ever-changing and bold Hollywood community.
But that doesn’t stop Eisley from being a quiet animal-loving teen. Together, the actress and her mother are the co-patrons of a charity called Animals SOS Sri Lanka, helping the strays of the emerging island nation. At home, she cares for seven pets, including a wild boar named Albert who “smells like ham” in the summer months due to his inability to sweat.
Much as one might imagine from a porcine enthusiast, Eisley looks to the past. “Ever since I was little, I was [attracted to the 1920-40s]. The entire feel of it: the music, the cars, the movies. I always felt really comfortable in that type of environment,” she says. And that is not all that this “oldies aficionado” likes that is of “age.” Eisley also admits to a crush on the “unattainable pin-up” that is Gary Oldman. “I just think he’s handsome,” she gushes. “He’s talented. He’s all-around fantastic. I tend to like older.”
Older, like the golden-era vestibule of the Hollywood Tower, where Eisley just took a time machine to the past. Like the Mae Wests and John Barrymores and Errol Flynns who once frequented these halls, and may still be peeking in on the photo shoot, checking in on young India Eisley, ready to make her move into their ranks of venerated actors. She’s got a ways to go—those aforementioned actors were slightly less introverted—but she’s got the look and the spirit to melt hearts well into the future.