How Orphan: First Kill Made Isabelle Fuhrman Look 12 Years Old Again

Warning: This article contains spoilers for "Orphan" and "Orphan: First Kill."

Isabelle Fuhrman solidified her place in horror history back in 2009 when she played the murderous Esther in the killer-kid (?) movie, "Orphan." Fuhrman was only 12 when she played the supposed 9-year-old girl who was eventually revealed to be a woman in her 30s posing as a child. "Orphan" was shockingly inspired by a real-life event, and Fuhrman's ability to convincingly play not only a child, but an adult with the appearance of a child, was downright masterful. Now, over a decade later, Fuhrman is back to once again play Esther in "Orphan: First Kill," despite the fact she's now in her mid-20s. With the advancements of CGI and the ethically controversial de-aging technology, it would have been easy for the filmmakers to simply digitize Fuhrman's face to appear younger, but the team behind "Orphan: First Kill" instead chose to go in a practical direction.

In an interview from the August 2022 issue of Total Film, director William Brent Bell was elated to bring Fuhrman back on board. "I look totally different when I was 25 to 12, but she looked so similar that it could work," Bell said. For the most part, he's right. Fuhrman's face looks very similar today as it did when she was a child, which, when paired with some old-school filmmaking techniques, allowed her to convincingly play a child. As Bell said: 

"We had three body doubles and everything from her wardrobe had to be sized up, but also fit her adult body like a child. Anytime adults were around her the camera would be at an angle to force the perspective–tricks that have been done in Hollywood movies forever."

A matter of perspective

Bell continued by saying that just about everything Fuhrman interacted with as Esther was given the forced perspective treatment. "Whether it be the size of her fork or putting her co-stars on a platform – it's a really fun challenge," he said. Fuhrman echoed the sentiments in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, noting that her childlike appearance was also achieved without any makeup tricks:

"I think that's what makes the movie work, is because you really can't figure out how I look like a [9-year-old], but I do. And it's really creepy." 

Fuhrman also said that when she was playing the role as a child, it was difficult having to convincingly play an adult. Now, the tables have turned. "I'm so thoroughly disturbed right now because I somehow am 9 years old again, and it doesn't make any sense," she said. "I was like, 'How do I revisit this part and then also convincingly play a kid?'"

"Orphan: First Kill" is a prequel to the events of the first film, providing Esther's backstory, who we learned is an adult woman named "Leena." The film will showcase the discovery made by Vera Farmiga's character Kate Coleman in "Orphan," where she learned Leena was a dangerous woman who escaped an Estonian psychiatric facility while impersonating the missing child of a wealthy American family. Fuhrman stars alongside Julia Stiles and Rossif Sutherland. Fuhrman is also the first adult actor to reprise a role they originally played as a child ... while the character is still a child.

The face of a child

"Orphan: First Kill" sees the 30-something character of Leena Klammer escape an asylum before killing an art therapist and using her victim's computer to research missing children that she resembles enough to hijack their identity. After scrolling, Leena comes across a missing little girl named Esther, and realizes she's found a perfect way to get to America. She poses as the child and soon "rejoins" the Albright family. Star Isabelle Fuhrman shared a series of behind-the-scenes videos on Twitter, which include some of the tricks used to give her face a more youthful appearance.

For instance, Fuhrman wore contacts that made her pupils and irises look bigger, which helped give her face a more childlike appearance. The wide-eyed look helped make her face look more innocent, a trait often inherently associated with children. Paired with the knowledge of both Esther/Leena's age and Fuhrman's adult-self playing the role, the wide-eyed appearance doubles as insidious. The childlike eyes on the face of an adult woman inspire feelings of the uncanny valley, which only strengthens the already impressive performance of Isabelle Fuhrman.

In a recent interview with Collider, Fuhrman confessed that she had actually attended the premiere party of William Brent Bell's film "The Boy" to get in front of him physically to prove in real life that it wasn't a completely ridiculous idea to have her come back to play Esther after all these years. "Obviously you grow up, but I always joke that I grew into my face," Fuhrman laughed. "Like my face was always a little bit bigger than the rest of my body, so I still had the same face!"

Fuhrman wasn't the only one with tiny doubles

Scattered throughout the behind-the-scenes video posted by Fuhrman were images of the actress dancing with her body doubles, who were actual children. Given how impressive the forced perspective usage is throughout "Orphan: First Kill," it's jarring to see the juxtapositions in height. Fuhrman herself is only 5′ 3″ (160 centimeters) which was a great help compared to co-star Julia Stiles who is 5′ 8″ (172 centimeters). Much of the cast wore hilariously sparkly platform boots that would make Gene Simmons of KISS proud to give them extra height when standing next to Fuhrman, but she wasn't the only one with a miniature double.

As the video shows, William Brent Bell made the wise choice to set a miniature house on fire for the film's thrilling climax, rather than build an entire house just to torch it. As small of a detail as it is, it helps prove that the "Orphan: First Kill" team prioritized using practical effects over CGI in more ways than just Fuhrman's appearance.

An inverse of similar techniques

When it's revealed that Esther is actually an adult in "Orphan," there is a harrowing sequence in which Esther takes off her makeup to reveal the face of a much older appearing woman. When "Orphan" celebrated its 10th anniversary back in 2019, Fuhrman shared some behind-the-scenes photos and facts on Instagram, including how they were able to make the character come to life. As Fuhrman explained, she "tried sooo many wigs, fake teeth, contacts, and even cut [her] hair" when trying to figure out how to best represent the character, eventually deciding not to change anything about her hair or eyes.

As for the older Esther, the look was achieved with a few custom-made prosthetics and a talented team of makeup artists. At the end of the film, Esther/Leena sports a lot of facial injuries, which according to Fuhrman took a whopping five hours to apply on the days it was needed. Practical effects and old-fashioned movie magic have always been a part of the world of "Orphan" and it's exciting to know the sequel is following suit by creepin' it real.

"Orphan: First Kill" is current streaming on Paramount+.