Frida Farrell exclusive: From model to sex slave, Apartment 407 star and producer talks survival

Farrell survived an unimaginable ordeal. Pic credit: F. Farrell
Farrell survived an unimaginable ordeal. Pic credit: F. Farrell

Art has imitated life horrifically for Swedish-born actress Frida Farrell, who has turned a nightmarish abduction in London into a cathartic and hopefully useful piece of cinema, Apartment 407 is a film that underscores the dangers of the modern world, namely human sex trafficking.

This is a very big problem, to the tune of $32 billion a year in estimated revenues. Even more sobering is that less than 2 percent of those abducted and sold in sex slave trading ever make it out.

It happens to women and a lesser degree young men. There are Nordic victims, Asian victims, South American and Mexican, even North America’s trafficking victims are climbing thanks in great part to the unwitting advertising by unwary and ill-informed girls via their Facebook and Instagram accounts looking for validation. It’s a direct conduit for a predator looking to fill a request or order for a type.

Apartment 407, now in theaters and soon to be a Blu ray and DVD release, is Frida’s harrowing true story.

At age 24, she was approached by a respectable man who presented himself as a legitimate agent in London.

Frida as Isobel being tortured psychologically by Peter. Pic credit: Gravitas Ventures
Frida as Isobel being tortured psychologically by Peter. Pic credit: Gravitas Ventures

Her film, Apartment 407, however, is set in New York and tells the story of Isobel (played by Frida), a young mother whose life is forever turned upside down as a handsome articulate stranger named Peter who invites her to take part in a photo shoot.

Instead, Isobel is kidnapped and sold into the sex trade.  Cut to being locked in a windowless room with no hope of escape, and being raped by clients brought in who paid the man who kidnapped her, we see how she must fight to escape.

After remaining silent about her own real-life horrific experience for fourteen years, Frida transformed her pain into art not only for personal catharsis and to bring issues of gendered violence into the open. The film has received 18 film festival nominations.

Frida now is an activist for human rights.

Making the film reflect the nightmarish chilling atmosphere was provided by cinematographer Stefan Ciupek (Slumdog Millionaire). Directed by Rudolf Buitendach, the film stars Frida Farrell as Isobel, Gabriel Olds, and Matthew Marsden.

Monsters and Critics: What are the attributes or things these people look for in abducting women as you were in London?

Frida Farrell: Well not so much like more attractive, it’s more talking about how a vision of a sex trafficking victim is more kind of the poor girls and then the foreigner, the one doesn’t speak the language. So that we can easily put the whole sex trafficking industry far away from us, when really, it’s really close to us because they take anyone.

They go to Orange County and take teenagers from there because they’re worth a lot of money, because they’re from good families and they’re like virgins and they’re not touched.

They don’t just want the foreigners who don’t speak the language, and don’t have passports and are vulnerable people. They want those girls who are blonde, and who are blue eyes, and who are from good families.

So, you can’t really any more hide behind that, the thinking that it’s just people who come into the country and are vulnerable. It’s anyone.

M&C: Right. You were sort of suckered in by very legit looking, a work opportunity?

Frida Farrell: I think that people go, and it’s work opportunities that are created to create a safe space. You go and often they’re so good now that there are no red flags and you don’t see [anything amiss].

Even if you’re a smart person and you’ve checked them out, and everything seems legit, there are no red flags and you go there and you get screwed.

M&C: How would you counsel someone who genuinely wants to break into modeling, or be an actor, or do something in that realm? What would be the safeguards that you would recommend to prevent something like this from happening?

Frida Farrell: Use a legit agency, a big agency that’s well known. Get all your appointments through there. Don’t do any appointments outside of the agency no matter how attractive the money is, thinking oh yeah, I can save 25 percent not giving it to my agent. It’s not worth it.

I tell you what, if you get stuck in a situation like this, you’d rather pay 50 percent to your agent, not to. That’s number one, and then, always let people know where you are. So if you go to castings, just let your friend know.

Even just if you have a schedule for the day, email it to your friend, or your boyfriend, or your mom or your dad. Just say “Hey I’m going here today. Just so you know where I am.” Just check in during the day so you know.

Or if you can, if you’re going somewhere I feel like, I don’t know is dodgy? Is it not? Because sometimes, and it sounds weird now saying it out loud, but sometimes these appointments or auditions are set in hotel rooms. It could be in a hotel suite. It could be a nice hotel…and you don’t think of it twice.

You think, oh yeah, because you see guys and girls coming to read for this part with a director, and a producer and all that stuff, in a hotel room. So you think, oh, of course, you go.

But you don’t know if they just lock the door behind you, drug you, and put you in a box and ship you out to China. What do you know?

M&C: How many days, was it three or four days that you were actually held against your will?

Frida Farrell: Three days.

M&C: Three days. Your escape, not Isabel but in real life, how did you facilitate your escape?

Frida Farrell: After three days of in and out of drugs, men coming and going, the man who abducted me came running in and he seemed really, really stressed. He was like “Oh get ready, get ready fast. Someone’s coming now.”

I was like “Oh, okay.” And he kind of just said “Get ready, get ready.” And he rushed out and he slammed the door, and he didn’t lock it.

I didn’t hear the click. I instantly became sober. I don’t know if you’ve been drunk and just had one of those sobering moments where you’re like “wait a second.”

I just was just “Wait, wait, what? There’s no click? I’m not locked in?” I became all cold, and I stood up, and I walked slowly to the door. At this point I didn’t know, I was thinking, is he playing a trick on me? He’s gonna stand outside with a knife again and be like “Haaa you’re trying to escape!”

I was like, I don’t know. Is he going to cut me? I didn’t know if he was just checking and teasing, or playing.

So I put my ear against the door and I’m trying to listen and see if he’s going to … if I could hear him, and I’m trying not to breathe. I’m like, what?. I heard some footsteps but it was further away and I thought, have you gone away? Is it someone else? Is it someone coming?

I thought well, I’ll only get one chance at this, so I slowly turned the handle and just opened the door a little tiny bit. I looked outside, I didn’t see anyone and I opened it more, and more, and more, and I kind of was expecting behind the door … I’ve seen so many horror films obviously but I was like “ohhh.”

Nothing came and I’m like, okay wait, I think I’m alone. I saw a flight of stairs right in front of the door. So I sneaked up the stairs on the side of the stairs because I was scared they were going to creak and he was going to hear.

I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know where he was. I got up one flight of stairs and I saw that it was the same entrance of the house that I’d got into in the first place. The same building.

I thought, oh wow, so he’s just moved me down to the basement flat when I was drugged.

Then, I just ran. I just started running out the, it’s like a revolving glass door, out the glass doors, out on the street. I just turned right and right around the corner, and I just ran.

I don’t know how long. I ran for like 10 blocks. I just ran, and ran, and ran, and ran until I couldn’t anymore and then I found a cab and then I got in the cab. I went to a girlfriend of mine. Wow.

M&C: How long did it take you to physically recover from this ordeal?

Frida Farrell: Physically it was probably, it was a lot faster than mentally obviously. Physically, maybe a couple of weeks just to kind of be back on where I was.

But mentally, a lot longer. I think you never really, really recover 100 percent. I think you get to 98 percent and you have those 2 percent with you always. But you don’t wear them on your sleeve anymore.

I kind of just have them in your back pocket and it’s part of me. You don’t let them define you anymore, you just let them color you and say “Okay, I’ve been through this, it’s fine. I’m a human being and I’m okay. I’m gonna be fine and I can still do what I dream and hope to do in life. I just let them sit there and be.”

M&C: At the end of your film you put up some sobering statistics and it said that less than 2 percent of people like yourself, that find themselves abducted escape. So what happened? Your character Isobel was potentially going to be killed.

Frida Farrell: Yeah. Most of them are. Most of them are because … I remember thinking this too when I was in there, thinking I’m never gonna get out of this alive because I’ve seen his face. He knows I’ve seen his face so why would he let me go? There’s no way he’s gonna let me go because then I could describe him.

So why would they let anyone go? That’s the first thing you stop pleading. As soon as you realize you’re caught, you’re like oh my god. I just closed my eyes and I just said “I’m not gonna say anything. I promise you. Just let me go now. I’m not gonna describe you. I won’t remember you.”

You really try and convince them that you’re not gonna remember them or describe them and stuff, but they know that you’ve seen them so why would they? In hindsight, I’m thinking how ridiculous.

M&C: Why do you think this problem has exploded?

Frida Farrell: Because there’s so much money in it. Because there is a lack of jobs around the world because of technology. So technology takes over and so a lot of people lose their job, and there are no jobs, and then there’s a lot of money to be made in human trafficking.

It sounds so crazy but, we didn’t need to make that kind of money before but the way the world is going, it’s getting more and more expensive to live, and the jobs are disappearing. So how are people going to make money?

If you’re desperate, and you… I mean, I’m not defending these guys, far from it, it’s disgusting but there is a reason for everyone doing something.

So, the reason for these guys do what they do is because they are desperate to. It’s so many layers to these things. The guys who actually snatch the girls from the street, they have been threatened, and their families have been threatened.

If they don’t do it, they get killed and their families get killed. So the people that you have to go after are the ones all the way down underneath the ground at the bottom. Just like a cartel.

You have to go after the main guy. They get the guys who are selling fruit on the corners, if you go after him, if he dies, well so does his wife and his kids. You know what I mean?

It’s so many layers of the same as a cartel, the same as a mafia. It’s sad. It’s sad for those guys too. They probably don’t want to be there but they probably have borrowed money from someone who says, “You owe me but not you owe this guy and you have to work to give back your money, and if you don’t, we will kill your children.”

Or we’ll sell them, or something. So they’re in debt. It’s disgusting. I actually don’t know how to fix it, which is maddening.

M&C: When you were making this film and you were casting Peter, your primary captor, how hard was it for you to go through living theatrically what you did in reality? That had to be, every day it had to be a challenge to get on set.

Frida Farrell: Hardest role I ever played. Hands down obviously, but it was very hard. It was harder than I would like to admit. But yeah, it was a lot of moments on set where I just took a little break and a timeout, and said “I just need 10 minutes. I’m just gonna gather myself.” Run to the bathroom, had a little cry, had a little water and then back on set, and did it again.

The worst scene for me was the capture scene, where he locked the door.

For some reason, that’s the scene that, and that’s the moment in real life, that plays over, and over, and over with me because that’s they what if? What if I didn’t go there? What if I didn’t actually call him?

What if I didn’t speak to him on the street and I wouldn’t have gone there? That’s where everything could have been changed. ‘Cause everything after that, I couldn’t change.

For me, that scene was very hard to do. At the same time, also very easy to act so to speak, because I wasn’t acting, I was just like ugh. It was done fast on set. It was in a couple of takes we were done because it was awful. It was also awful to react, yes.

The rape scenes were obviously awful but I was very lucky. We cast amazing people. The other guys who were playing the rapists, they were so lovely and so wonderful, and so worried about hurting me or doing anything.

They were really beautiful to work with. We laughed more between the takes than with anyone else. We just had a great time between, which was helping.

For more information about Apartment 407, please visit Frida Farrell’s official website.

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