Bringing Hilary’s Alters to Life

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One of my favourite memories from making When the Devil Knocks is really a series of memories about how to make Hilary’s “alters” (other personalities) come alive.

I was there when Hilary sat down with her therapist, Cheryl Malmo, to watch some of the videotape as different personalities emerged during therapy. Hilary found it really difficult, and somewhat freaky, that the alters all looked like the middle-aged woman she physically was. This was NOT how they appeared in her mind’s eye.

For example, Tim – probably her favourite alter – was a rambunctious 12-year-old boy. He was even left-handed. Oh, and Tim didn’t need eyeglasses but Hilary did in “real” life. Tim behaved very differently from Hilary but he still looked like her – and that just didn’t sit right with Hilary.

So while I was cogitating about how to visualize her story, I asked Hilary how she’d feel about helping me cast actors to play some of her key alters for some very abstract reenactments. This was early on, when she was still feeling a little afraid of the filmmaking process – understandably! But when I asked for help with the casting, she absolutely lit up.

By the time we got to the casting sessions, some months later, Hilary was anxious about whether she knew how. With Cheryl by her side, though, it was better than a breeze – it was a wonderful breath of fresh air for all of us. Hilary had such a click when the right person walked in the room. We rapidly realized that it was all about the energy. We were auditioning for another character when “Tim” walked in the room and Hilary knew instantly. In fact, she was somewhat reluctant to let him go!

It was the same when we were filming the reenactment scenes with the alters. Hilary liked to be around for those shoots because she realized that, now that she was whole, she missed having the alters exist separate from her.

If that thought makes your mind fry, it was even a little much to take in for Hilary. When we were filming the kite-flying scene with Tim, Hilary said to me, “I wanted people to see him as he was all along, and now they can. I feel like saying ‘I told you so, it wasn’t imagination, it was real and this proves it.’ But of course, that’s ridiculous.”

That’s how real the alters were to Hilary. Even as a whole, integrated person, she remembered them as if they were a real family of children that she had known and nurtured.

– Helen Slinger

Watch the auditions

2 Responses to “Bringing Hilary’s Alters to Life”

  1. Ones

    🙂 🙂 🙂
    Yeppers, they real as anybody.
    Who says who is `the real one’!?!
    And they not ‘gone’ they became ***part*** of the whole.
    ‘Cept she gone now, but i reckon they all in heaven so thats ok.
    That Hilary, she got guts for sure.
    I hope that show will come on my TV.

  2. Sophie Duke

    I just watched the film, and some of the extras on the website (like casting the alters). I was deeply moved by Hilary’s story of abuse and recovery. I wept when I discovered at the end that she had passed away. How tragic for her partner and children. I should no longer be shocked at the evil some people perpetrate against children, but grateful I am that alters brave the abuse to protect the survivors. What an amazing person Hilary was! And thank you for telling her story.


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