When Brendan told you about his vision for the story, how did you think you wanted to help him achieve it?
For Brendan, working with directors who wrote the script is totally different because they know every nuance, every aspect of the script. It was easy for me to ask him questions about the story and the concept. Just walk up to him and say, “How does this equation work mathematically?” And he’s like, “Here I have the diagram.” Compared to the symbols above the doors. When we were getting into the nitty-gritty, he was so well versed in it all, because it becomes mythical and mathematical.
We also had great conversations about how, tonally, it was going to be. That kind of muted atmospheric vibe was going to be front and center. I started to realize very quickly that the house itself was becoming a character, more than I imagined. So yeah, I think it can only help if you have a director who knows all the facets of the script, like he did. It was great.
Did you talk a lot about “The Haunting” and “The Innocents”?
Yes, we were talking about those. We were talking about your mood. I could already tell too, when we got to the set, how the shots were prepared by him. He is patient. We have so many nice, slow, beautiful shots leading up to this really intense ending. So it starts here, and it builds and builds and builds and builds and builds. So knowing before I went in that it was going to be a slow build was great for me to follow, in terms of the script, where I was going to be physically and emotionally.
Besides, everything was there, right? I mean, this set with all the people from the third act is very impressive.
I think whenever you don’t really have to put your imagination into it when it comes to green screen, it was so much easier to have the Leviathan guy there. There’s a scene that’s no longer in the movie, but when I’m under the table, there was a shot through the door where the Leviathan creature’s hooves smash through the screen. I was under the table seeing this visually for the first time and then obviously jumping up and stuff. There was so much going on in those catacombs and in those tunnels. We were really in the Irish countryside in these tunnels.
You talked about getting a sense of Brendan’s pacing for the story, the scares. Is acting at this pace similar to acting for you?
You can definitely correlate comedic timing with jump scare timing, of course. What all films, television have in common with the actors and the camera: there is always a dance, isn’t there? Even though we’re doing the simplest scenes, there has to be some sort of focus on the actor and the actor has to know when it’s going to play. I think timing comes in so many different ways, and it’s all about timing, always, always.
[For tone] “Happy Endings,” for example, when you’re doing a comedy or even “The Ranch,” when you’re doing a sitcom, your demeanor and tone are so much higher. And then when I walk into a movie like “The Cellar” and you get into the Keira Woods vibe [Editor’s note: Keira Woods is the name of Cuthbert’s character]everything needs to be a little more focused, a little more thoughtful and flowing.
You can’t walk into a movie acting like I would in “The Ranch.” So it’s good. It’s nice to go from figuring out how to act in front of a live audience to then coming back into a feature film and having to go into yourself more.
I imagine now Alex [from “Happy Endings”] in this kind of horror movie scenario, though.
She would probably like the guy, the beast. She’d be like, “Wait a minute!”