MIPTV: Mena Suvari on Indulging her "Sick and Twisted Mind" in Eli Roth's 'South of Hell'

Courtesy of Sonar Entertainment
'South of Hell'

The 'American Beauty' star plays both demon hunter and demon in WEtv's upcoming horror series.

Lounging on a white sofa with the sun-drenched beaches of Cannes behind her, Mena Suvari looks for all the world like the sweet girl next door.

So it's a disconnect when the American Beauty star begins to open up about her latest project: the psychological horror series South of Hell. In the WEtv drama, from horrormeisters Eli Roth and Jason Blum, Suvari plays both Maria, a demon hunter for hire, and Abigail, a bloodthirsty demon who feeds on the souls of the monsters Maria exorcizes.

"I really have a sick and twisted mind, I love horror and gore," Suvari says, giggling. "And I have a special affinity for the supernatural, for ghosts, hauntings, demon worlds. So when I found out I was going to be able to be possessed and have demon fights [in the series], I was in."

Though best known for her role as the teen temptress and object of Kevin Spacey's desires in Sam Mendes' American Beauty, Suvari has experimented with horror before. She appeared in Steve Miner's 2008 zombiefest Day of the Dead and had a recurring role as Elizabeth Short in the first season of American Horror Story. But South of Hell is her first major horror project as lead and also marks the first time Suvari will headline a TV series. In her dual role in South of Hell, she appears in almost every scene.

"It was exhausting, especially because we had to work so fast," she says. "I had to perform with myself a lot — when Maria is talking with Abigail — and I'd never done that before. I work with my stand-in and do a scene as Maria then go change and come back as Abigail and do the scene from the other side."

Asked about her horror film touchstones, Suvari rattles off an encyclopedia of gore, from the classics (Poltergeist, The Exorcist) to the cult and campy 1987 feature Dolls ("I saw it when I was like 7. God knows why I was allowed to, it terrified me") to everything South of Hell creators Roth and Blum and showrunner James Manos Jr. (Dexter) have done.

"I've watched Dexter back-to-back and I love the Hostel, Paranormal Activity and The Purge films," she says. "I've always been the person trying to rally my friends, any who can take it without getting nightmares, to watch the new horror thing."

WEtv put in an eight-episode, straight-to-series order for South of Hell and the shoot — in Charleston, South Carolina — wrapped in January. Blumhouse Television and Sonar Entertainment produced the series and Sonar is selling it internationally at MIPTV. Charleston plays itself in the series as the self-proclaimed "most possessed city in the world."

Matt Lambert wrote the series. Manos Jr. is executive producing together with Blum, Roth, Stewart Till, Erica Motley, Gene Stein and Gerard Bocaccio. Roth directed the first episode of the series. Sonar Entertainment and Blumhouse Television produced South of Hell and Sonar is selling the series internationally.

While there is plenty in South of Hell to satisfy horror fans like herself, Suvari says the series is not just a "demon fight a week. … There is a lot of suspense in the series, a lot of humor. There are some very dark, touching moments. It fits in with a lot of horror series on the air right now, but it's completely unique. I haven't seen anything like this before."

WEtv will premiere South of Hell in the U.S. later this year.