In an era where feminism is openly discussed and championed, it’s no surprise that film studios are beginning to produce more female-focused work. And it’s certainly no surprise to learn that Nellie Bly, an American journalist known for her investigative and undercover reporting, is one film studio’s newest movie subject. In 1887, Bly faked insanity in order to study a mental institution from within and write a riveting exposé for the New York World. It is this story on which Café Pictures’ film 10 Days in a Madhouse is based. The film opened to a successful premiere earlier this year at Cannes Film Festival, and it has been selected by actress Geena Davis to be the opening film at her inaugural Bentonville Film Festival, celebrating women and diversity. The film has just opened in New York City, and in one week, goes on to a nationwide release. It’s time to introduce Nellie Bly to the public—and, along with her, newcomer actress Caroline Barry.
Born and raised in Colorado Springs, Barry discovered her love for performing at a very young age. She put on puppet shows and plays for her family, and at the age of eleven, started a theater company for the local children. She performed all throughout high school, and went on to attend the University of Colorado’s BFA program for acting. About a month after relocating to Los Angeles to pursue her acting dreams after graduation, she stumbled across an audition posting for director Timothy Hines, who was searching for an actress to play Nellie Bly in his next film. Barry went on the audition, and the rest is history.
With 10 Days in a Madhouse‘s American release date on to horizon, The Hudsucker sat down with Barry to chat about the beginnings of her career, the work necessary to portray a historical figure, and Nellie Bly herself.
The Hudsucker: From your background, it’s clear that performing has always been a part of your life. What lead you to decide to take your hobby and turn it into a career?
Caroline Barry: When I went to college, I wasn’t 100% sure yet that I wanted to pursue acting as a career. I started out as a double major in acting and international affairs. I was a big politics and news junkie, and I still am, so I loved studying that. After my first two years in school, I realized just how much movies, theater, music and art have shaped my life and so many lives around me. That was really the turning point for me, and when I made the decision to make acting my profession.
The Hudsucker: What was the transition to Los Angeles like for you?
Barry: My first few weeks in LA were super chaotic! I was staying with a friend while trying to find a job and an apartment, and all my stuff was jam packed into my car. I got three parking tickets in the first two weeks, and could not for the life of me navigate the highways. During the first week in my new apartment, I had no furniture, no refrigerator, and most importantly, no A.C. in the middle of August! So it was a little wild that first month. After I got on my feet a little more, and bought an air conditioner (hallelujah!), I really fell in love with LA. It’s a beautiful city.
The Hudsucker: 10 Days in a Madhouse is your first feature film role—and you’re playing the lead! How did you feel upon being cast? Did you have any nerves or concerns about stepping into such a large role?
Barry: I was ecstatic almost to the point of believing I must be in a coma and living in a very long, drawn-out dream. I definitely had nerves because I knew that the directors and producers were taking a huge risk in casting me as an unknown, and I was determined to prove myself. My dad always told me that it’s not about being the smartest or the most talented—what sets you apart is the time and work you put into something. That was my motto in preparing for the part. I lived and breathed Nellie Bly every day leading up to the shoot.
The Hudsucker: How much did you know about Nellie Bly prior to getting the part? How much research did you have to do about her and how did you feel about her upon completing the project?
Barry: Before I auditioned, I had never heard of Nellie Bly. Once I got the role, I poured over everything I could find. We were lucky enough to have Brooke Kroeger, the world’s leading expert on Nellie Bly, as a historical consultant on our film. Her book Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist was my Nellie Bly bible! Looking back, I feel so grateful that Nellie Bly came into my life, not just because of the incredible opportunity of this film, but because she has taught me so much about fearlessness, compassion, and determination. She’s really become one of my biggest role models.
The Hudsucker: Tell us a bit about 10 Days in a Madhouse. What can audiences expect from the film and from your character?
Barry: 10 Days in a Madhouse is based on the true story of Nellie Bly, the world’s first investigative journalist, and her undercover journey into the notorious Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum for Women. Nellie Bly, who I play, begins her journey so fearless and confident. She pretends to be a crazy person so she can get herself arrested and committed into the hospital. Once she’s there, she witnesses absolutely terrible treatment of the patients and she fights the whole way through to protect these women. It’s dramatic and heartbreaking, but in the end, Nellie’s story is inspirational and triumphant.
The Hudsucker: Nellie is strong and intelligent, with many different facets. Can you talk a bit about playing her? Some of the ways you got into character or chose to portray her?
Barry: It was really important to me that I portray the many sides of Nellie Bly. Nellie Bly (the journalist), Nellie Brown (her undercover persona), and Elizabeth Cochran—her birth name. That’s who she was when she was around close friends and family. I wanted to really show all those different sides of her, as well as the things all of her personas shared: an irrepressible smile and the subtle ability to listen and relate.
The Hudsucker: Why should audiences go see 10 Days in a Madhouse?
Barry: 10 Days in a Madhouse is about how one person’s fearless drive for justice can change the world. I think everyone can find hope in this story. It’s about what is possible when we look for the best in people and fight for what is right. Our civilization will not move forward without the drive and determination of people like Nellie Bly. I believe we have to work to inspire the trailblazers of tomorrow and never forget the trailblazers of the past. Nellie Bly should be remembered and I hope this movie plays a role in her legacy.
The Hudsucker: What’s next on the horizon for you?
Barry: I’ll be teaming up again with Timothy Hines, the director of 10 Days in a Madhouse, on a second feature! I feel so fortunate to have met Timothy. He’s a director who cares deeply about the stories he tells and the characters in the story. It’s so fantastic to come to set and just click with the director. That was definitely the case with 10 Days, and I’m really looking forward to working on his next one!
“10 Days in a Madhouse” premieres in AMC Theatres all across the United States on November 20th.