Fits: Anna Rose Holmer Debut Featuring Child Actress Royalty Hightower

Anna Rose Holmer’s debut feature, The Fits, centers on Toni, a quiet, bright girl in Cincinnati, torn between two worlds, naturally and beautifully played by Royalty Hightower.

Every day, she works out with her older brother and the tough boys in the boxing gym, throwing punches and picking up towels.  She watches the flashy girls on a dance squad with a mixture of fear and envy, desperate to be part of their team but afraid of failure.

“She’s always questioning herself,” says Royalty Hightower, who is now 11. “She doesn’t know what she wants to be, and it’s like a roller coaster, because she wants to dance, but she also wants to box.”

The director found her star after just eight girls auditioned. “She had this amazing capacity to listen and absorb, not just from me but from her teammates, and that’s a big part of Toni’s role,” Holmer said. “She was just 9, and I was putting the weight of the film on her shoulders, since she’s in almost every frame. It was her first film and my first film, too — and we were taking a leap of faith together.”

Highwater is a Cincinnati native whose acting had been limited to mimicking scenes from the “Chucky” horror films.  For her, the hardest part of the film was pretending to be a bad dancer: “After you’ve been a dancer for so long, it’s hard to act like you don’t know how to dance.” 

In the film, the dancers begin suffering inexplicable “fits”: spasms that leave them writhing on the floor. Is it a contagion or mass hysteria.  Toni, like the audience, tries to figure it out.  She still can’t explain what caused the events of the film. “I don’t know what it is.  It was scary, even though I know it wasn’t real.”