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First Omen Star Nell Tiger Free on Her Bold Performance and Love of Horror

First Omen Star Nell Tiger Free on Her Bold Performance and Love of Horror

“Free the tigers,” as animal activists might say. But horror fans might instead think of a certain rising star when they hear this kind of chant. Nell Tiger Free started as a child actress and ultimately took the spotlight in M. Night Shyamalan’s hit Apple TV+ series Servant as the mysterious Leanne. Years later, she’s back in a leading role, but this time it’s on the big screen. In a similarly supernatural vain, The First Omen is Free’s latest project, with her leading-lady persona possibly playing a part in the birth of the evil child, Damien.

One might remember the classic 1976 original where, you know, Gregory Peck tried to stab the “poor boy” to death in a church. But how did it all start? Years earlier, a young woman from Massachusetts (played by Free) is sent to Rome to serve the church, but ultimately realizes there’s more than what meets the eye as she gets to know her fellow nuns and priests…

We recently caught up with Free in Hollywood to learn more about her star-making role and what it means to her that this chilling performance of hers is being so well received. She also dished about her love for the original film and how Servant paved the way for this new project. Watch our interview above or read on for more.

Starring in The First Omen ‘Is a Bit Surreal’

The FIrst Omen poster

The First Omen

Release Date
April 5, 2024

Bill Nighy , Ralph Ineson , Nell Tiger Free , Sonia Braga , Tawfeek Barhom

Kiwii, Phantom Four Films

MovieWeb was in attendance at the recent Los Angeles premiere of The First Omen, and certain moments inside the theater spawned rapturous applause and cheering. The common denominator? Free’s presence on-screen. No spoilers here, but there are at least a few sequences of hers that might just leave you speechless — especially moments that almost got the film an NC-17 rating — and in a good way.

“It’s a bit surreal, to be honest,” Free told MovieWeb. “Hearing everyone say such lovely things is quite overwhelming. When everyone clapped in the screening, after [a particular] scene, I just burst into tears. I was crying my eyes out, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, some of this makeup took forever, I gotta keep it good!’ But it’s everything you hope for. So far, the reactions have been really lovely. So it means the absolute world.”

As a rising star who has tackled the horror genre on more than one occasion at this point, Free was candid about how she approached some of the more vulnerable and revealing scenes in The First Omen and with horror in general. “Honestly, I am convinced that I can’t do it, like, right up until we start rolling, genuinely, honest. It’s like, before, when I read it on the page and I’ve got it in my head, I think, ‘There’s no way I’m gonna be able to get there. There’s no way I would be able to do this.” She continued:

“And then, when the pressure hits, when the cameras are on and everybody’s in the room, and everybody’s watching you,
it’s like you have no choice. You have to get there.
And so you just do it, and it just happens. And honestly, I think people wanting to try acting and wanting to do it — all of that self-doubt, that’s okay. That will pass, hopefully, at some point. But once you get up there, and you start doing it, if it’s meant to be, if you’re meant to do it, it just comes.”

And with this exciting and terrifying new addition to the Omen franchise, we were curious if Free already has a favorite film from the canon (besides hers, of course). “The original is fantastic,” she said, in reference to the late, great Richard Donner’s masterpiece. “The original Omen is just kind of a perfect film, to be honest.”

Related: Exclusive: Young Stars of Imaginary on Embracing Terror with New Blumhouse Film

Scaring the Hell Out of Her Omen Crew

In addition to looking terrified throughout The First Omen as Margaret, Free has to provide some of the film’s scares herself (without giving too much away). But what exactly goes into genuinely scaring your colleagues and co-stars during any given intense scene? “I was like, ‘If I can scare a member of the crew, who I’m really good friends with at this point, then maybe I’ll be able to [scare the audience],'” Free told us.

“Before we even started shooting, I was positioned to be shot underneath this big church, and I just kind of positioned myself in the center of the church. And I just sat there and I stared. And then, one of my really good friends came over to me and was like, ‘Hey, do you want any water or — [scared look] — I’m gonna leave you to it. I’ll leave you be.’ And he walked away.
And I thought, ‘OK, if I can do that, then maybe I can do this

“And I had [director] Arkasha there, and she just guided me through it,” added Free. “And then it ended up working, I hope. It was honestly incredibly challenging, but my favorite thing to shoot.”


The Omen: Every Movie and Title in the Franchise, Ranked

The Omen franchise is known as one of the scariest in all of horror. Here are all five movies, plus the television series, ranked.

How Servant Paved the Way for Nell Tiger Free

And those familiar with Free’s previous work on Servant will be able to note similarities on a supernatural level with her new film. “Servant definitely prepared me for the role of Margaret. I couldn’t have played Margaret when I was 19, when I first started Servant,” she told us. “I couldn’t have played it to the extent I played her now because there were so many things I hadn’t learned yet, things I hadn’t tried, you know?” She added:

“I’d done quite measured roles before then. And Leanne was measured and centered and quiet, she was an observer — but she got quite erratic towards the end. And the energy that kind of started to feed off of her, it was a challenge to play. And it really lent itself into helping me kind of move into playing Margaret.”


The Omen May Be Scarier Than The Exorcist, and Here’s Why

The Exorcist has long been known as the scariest film of all time. Recently, fans have thrown other movies in the running, The Omen being one of them.

Given Free’s hot streak of starring in these high-profile scary projects, we had to ask if she’d welcome the unofficial title of Hollywood’s next scream queen:

Sure. If they’ll have me, I’m happy to do it!

And looking ahead, one has to wonder if Free is interested in tackling any other canonical horror projects. “Right now, I’m focusing on this one,” she said. “But listen, if it happens, it happens. I’m happy to give anything a go. I love the genre. I do really enjoy being part of it.

And we enjoy seeing her in it. From Fox Searchlight Pictures, The First Omen hits theaters Friday, April 5.

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