This weekend, M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin arrived in theaters and asked audiences everywhere – would you sacrifice someone you loved for the greater good or would you fight for your family? The trio of performers at the center of this conflict are Ben Aldridge, Jonathan Groff and newcomer Kristen Cui who play a family that must make an impossible decision about the fate of humanity, as poised by Dave Bautista, Rupert Grint, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Abby Quinn.
During a recent press day for Knock at the Cabin, Daily Dead had the opportunity to chat with both Groff and Aldridge about their involvement with Shyamalan’s latest feature, and the duo discussed the secrecy surrounding the project when they were first approached to audition, their experiences collaborating with Night as well as the rest of the cast, how Knock’s youngest cast member – Kristen Cui – repeatedly stole the show, and much more.
Hey, guys. So great to speak with you today. I would love to start off at the beginning and talk about how all this came together. Was there something in particular about this project, whether it was reading the script or just being approached by Night where you were like, “Oh my God, yes, I need to be a part of this?”
Ben Aldridge: It's an interesting one. I wasn't allowed to read a script until I'd auditioned for it twice and then he offered for me to become part of making the film with him, so it was weird. I'd put all this work in and I guess I had to fight for the role, but not knowing what the film was yet about. So reading it, turning the pages for the first time on that script, was so shocking and overwhelming. And I suppose the draw to it was that I love some of Night's films. The Village is one of my favorite films. He's a master at what he does and just signing up for going on that journey and finding out how he makes one of his films, how he's such a master at suspense and such a visual master, I was so up for learning from him and learning from the experience.
Jonathan Groff: Yeah, for me, the initial draw in a similar way was all about Night – growing up, watching his movies and always remembering the experience in the movie theater when I would see a Night movie, like who I was with when I saw them. So the opportunity to get to work with him was exciting. In the Zoom audition that we had, he was also very warm and very kind and I was really attracted to the gentle way that he was speaking, which I didn't necessarily anticipate because of the intensity of his movies. So I was drawn to his gentle demeanor. Then the movie itself gave me a feeling of sickness in the pit of my stomach throughout reading it.
And I felt connected to Eric. There's definitely a believer that is alive and well in me, or at least a part of me, that always wants to believe in something, so I felt like I could tap into that and do something with that. And then the great wonderful surprise of the connectivity and chemistry with Ben and with Kristen and with the entire cast is what sent the experience into the stratosphere, as far as a working experience is concerned.
I'm curious also too, because of the nature of the questions at play in this story, did the material challenge you in ways that you weren't expecting coming into this project?
Ben Aldridge: Yeah, I think the material was challenging. I think knowing what, and knowing or not knowing what the message of the film was, or what the takeaway of the film was, that was something that we weren't quite in on with Night. That was something that he was quite private about. But also the intensity of the film is something that I found really challenging. I found being in that cabin and jumping on that runaway bullet train and every scene required so much commitment and so much acting muscle that from the moment we started, it just increased its intention constanty. There are hardly any scenes that are light or easy and you just knew that it wasn’t necessarily going to be this pleasurable experience. I mean,it's always a pleasure to even be employed to act, but it was going to be taxing and exhausting in a way that I'd never done. I've never played anything quite so intense as this. This was just so emotionally and also physically exhausting, weirdly, just the state that the constant stakes that you had to play were a lot.
What I loved about this too is that it is a very theatrical experience. Of course, the enormity of the things happening outside the cabin are right there, but also the way that everything sort of unfolds between your characters and the four it almost feels like it could be a stage play in a lot of ways. And I really loved that. And I'm curious if you could talk a little bit about how night worked with you guys in terms of building these performances in that back and forth. Because I just think it's really fantastic the way everything plays out.
Jonathan Groff: I would say that there are a couple of similarities. Obviously, like you've said, the location, the intimacy and that it all takes place in one room is very play-like on the page. But in the actual shooting of the movie, we shot a lot of it in chronological order. So we, unlike lots of films where you do everything all mixed together, were starting at the beginning essentially and going to the end. So we got to really layer in each beat and know what had just come directly before as we moved on to the next scene. But I would say the thing that made it most feel like a play is that we all showed up every day pretty much at the same time and went into that cabin and acted together as an ensemble because the stakes were so high and because the scenes were so extreme. Even when the camera wasn't on you and you were performing for somebody else's coverage, you still had to give at a 10 because they had to be at a 10, because what was happening was so intense.
So it really gave us a lot of respect, I think, for each other as actors and we continually inspired each other. And when it was time for Abby to do her big monologue and cry in front of us, we were all standing there or sitting there tied to the chairs being like, “Okay, here we are. Let’s all go through this together.” We really formed quite a tight ensemble and Night was the puppet master there supporting us and making it happen. I don't know if I've ever done a film or a television show where I felt so connected to the entire cast of the film from start to finish. We were a real unit working together.
I was also going to ask about Kristen because she is adorable, but she really holds her own in these scenes. And so much of the heart of this story comes from your family in this movie. Can you talk about working with her?
Ben Aldridge: Yeah, she's holding her own and she's stealing scenes. – she's so good. And this was her first-ever acting job as well so she is totally fresh to this kind of an experience. I think it was amazing. We were given this two week rehearsal period in which we really did bond as a family. We spent time together hanging in the park, we played the PlayStation, went ice skating, and just really got to know each other. She is incredibly engaging, super smart, very intuitive, very fun, and has a wicked sense of humor. She's so disarming in a way. And I think I remember you [Jonathan] saying one day in the park, I think when we were near that frog statue, how spending time with an eight-year-old makes you start interacting with the world differently or a bit less sensible and a bit less guarded as an adult.
But she would make us do karaoke in the car on the way to rehearsal, and other fun stuff like that, and I think it just made us bond really quickly. We did become this little family unit without too much effort. Also, she was being taught how to act from Night. She was being coached and he was extremely hard on her because he requires that from everyone, so he was just fine-tuning this performance out of her. But with his coaching, I think he was saying things to her like, you don't have to pretend. You just have to believe in what is happening. And it would kind of be a reminder to the rest of us as actors, too. We would be like, “Oh yeah, that's what we got to do” (laugh). But we really did see her flourish and blossom. We saw Kristen go from learning about acting to just being this full out performer who had the chops to do this movie. I think she's so good in the film and I love her so much. I'm so full of pride when I watch it and when I see her. She's just this amazing little human.