As someone who has been a longtime fan of Christopher Landon’s directorial output over the years, his latest film—Freaky—is yet another home run for the filmmaker behind other genre entries like the Happy Death Day series, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. Co-starring Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn, Freaky follows an unassuming high schooler named Millie (Newton), who ends up the latest target of the infamous Blissfield Butcher (Vaughn), but instead of becoming his victim, Millie ends up switching bodies with him after he attacks her with a ritual dagger, and the race is on to get her personage back before they’re both stuck living out the rest of their lives inside each other’s bodies.
During the recent press day for Freaky, Daily Dead spoke with Landon briefly about his latest project, and he discussed the collaborative process he shared with co-writer Michael Kennedy as well as with the film’s co-stars, the importance of representation in movies, and more.
Look for Freaky to hit theaters this weekend on Friday the 13th of November, courtesy of Universal Pictures.
So great to speak with you again, Chris. I really, really loved what you guys did with this movie. Truly. I think the way you guys are able to blend the genre elements, the body swapping elements, but also give it this heart, really makes it feel like something very special. And I think what I've always appreciated about the films that you do is that you clearly love the genre, but you're also really committed to good characters. It's weird to say that feels unique, but it does to me. So really first of all, congrats on that.
I would love to start at the beginning in terms of coming into this project and this script. When you were working with Michael, was the majority of the pieces in place already? How did you guys work out the script beats for Freaky?
Christopher Landon: Michael and I, I think we just were so in sync from the very beginning, so when we sat down to write, obviously we had the concept. And Michael had figured out who this cast of characters were. I think where my skill set comes in was that I really understood the beats, and how to really beat the movie out, especially the emotional components of the movie. So, we just hammered out a rough outline over the course of a couple of days, and then really got down to the business of actually writing the script together, shortly thereafter. I think all in all, it took us about three weeks to write our first draft, and it was pretty close to what we ended up with on screen.
I don't want to get into too many spoilers, but there's a scene in this movie with Booker and The Butcher, and what I really loved about it is if this movie had been made in the '80s and by somebody else, I feel like that scene would have played for laughs and played for a completely different reason than how it plays here. I was wondering, can you talk about that? Because I think what I really appreciate about where we are today with storytelling is that we're really welcoming a lot of people into the fold who maybe haven't seen themselves represented before. And I think Freaky does a great job of opening that door a bit.
Christopher Landon: That was one of the first scenes we did. Actually, when Michael and I first met and talked about the movie, it was one of the first scenes I pitched him, was this beat between Booker and Millie in the car. And I always knew from the get-go that it was not a scene that I would ever want to play for laughs. I wanted to make it the most honest, authentic, sensitive moment in the film because it was more about this girl feeling seen for the first time, and the irony of that happening when she's in someone else's body. And that was really profound because I think that's what everybody's yearning for. Whether you're a misfit teenager or a grown-ass person, you want to be seen and you want to be appreciated for who you are on the inside. And that was the best possible way to do it.
So when we shot that scene, I had initially planned on doing traditional coverage of it, but then I ended up in this two shot that had this very slow push on it and I realized, this is a genuinely romantic scene, so we didn't play it for laughs. I had one opportunity to test this movie before everything was shut down. It was a very rough, rough version of the film, but that scene was in it, and hearing the audience's reaction was one of the highlights of my career, because people were cheering in the theater.
I realized they weren't cheering because they were mocking it, they were cheering it because they wanted this to happen. They were so happy that they were actually seeing it happen, and that we didn't cop out. And it was awesome. It was great. But yeah, I totally agree with you in terms of this new era of representation that we're starting to see, because people do want to see more of themselves, and different kinds of people.
I'd love to talk about Kathryn and Vincent because they're both hilarious, but they're both very endearing in very different ways here. Can you discuss working with them on the physicality of these roles? It all just plays out really well.
Christopher Landon: I am a big fan of rehearsals and really dedicating time to figuring these things out early. So right off the bat, I worked with Kathryn first and created these video diaries where I just followed her around with the camera while she was in character as Millie. It was all non-scripted stuff. It was just her walking through life, and then talking about her life's experience up to that point.
Then I was able to give that to Vince, so he had something to study. So not only was he able to start to learn her mannerisms, because Millie is a very shy, nervous, co-dependent person and she's a nail-biter, she tends to hide her face with her hair, there's a lot of physicality to the role that he was able to study. But then he also was able to start getting into her head and vice versa. So that was a big advantage, I think. Vince also has really strong instincts, and he really understood The Butcher and was able to convey a lot of that stuff, especially the physicality, to Kathryn.
He was very instrumental in getting Kathryn to a good place with how The Butcher carries himself, and how he assesses people with his eyes and is constantly in this Terminator mode of “Who's next?” Just having the benefit of two amazing actors who were willing to fully commit to the roles, and not in a way that felt like cheap impersonations because I wanted them to be authentic and to really go for it, I think that's part of why the movie works as well as it does, given its concept. It's such a heightened world that you need actors and people who can ground some of this a bit. Otherwise, if everyone is dialed up to 11 and just doing bad impersonations, then you just don't give a shit.
I know we're pretty much out of time, but I just want to say again, congratulations on Freaky. And also, just because I keep up with you on Twitter, it's nice to see that maybe perhaps Happy Death Day 3 isn't a totally complete lost cause. I know there are so many of us holding out hope, and I'd love to see you get to fulfill your vision for this trilogy. And I know I’m not the only one.
Christopher Landon: Well, maybe. I'll keep begging Universal [laughs].
Well, if we all collectively beg, do you think that would help at all [laughs]?
Christopher Landon: I don't know. I don't know, we'll see. But I hope so, too. I think it would be really fun, and I think it'll happen one day, I just don't know when.
Check here to catch up on our previous coverage of Freaky!