Earlier this year, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with several folks involved with the slasher comedy Tragedy Girls while in Austin at SXSW 2017 (which is where it celebrated its world premiere). But now that the film is set to enjoy its theatrical run this Friday, courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky, we thought we’d catch up again with co-writer/director Tyler MacIntyre, as well as with one-half of the film's titular anti-heroes, Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse, Straight Outta Compton), to talk Tragedy Girls one last time.
During our interview, Shipp and MacIntyre discussed their experiences collaborating together and digging into both Shipp’s character McKayla as well as the dynamic between her and her BFF, Sadie (played by Deadpool and The Exorcist TV series' Brianna Hildebrand). They also chatted about managing the tone of the wildly unhinged teenagers and what they’d like to do if there happens to be a Tragedy Girls sequel in the future.
After seeing Tragedy Girls a second time, what really cements the crux of why this movie works as well as it does—because it could have been very easy for these characters to go in a direction where they could lose the connection with the audience—is the relationship between you and Brianna's character. I would love to hear what it was that you saw in McKayla initially, when you were first coming onboard, and then how did you work up to establish that camaraderie?
Alexandra Shipp: I feel like, for me, it was McKayla's obsession with Sadie that really drew me to her. It was that friendship, that real love. Significant others come and go, but your friends are always there for you. And regardless of boys or sports or cheer, whatever, it was always the two of them, and it's always been the two of them. I love strong female leads, and for me, just to be able to encompass that friendship and show that love, and then for them to be totally nuts on top of it, was like icing on the cake for me. Not only are they strong and powerful and confident, but they are ride or die for each other. They will kill someone for each other, and kill someone with each other, and there's that twisted kind of mindset that, for me, I loved.
Then, getting on set and building on that with Tyler and mixing it all around during rehearsals before we started shooting, that was really great. And once you get on set and you're in your hair and makeup and wardrobe and you're seeing all the set pieces, and you're seeing everything decorated, it's like static is in the air. Everything comes to life. And I feel like me and Bri just fell right into Sadie and McKayla really naturally. Sadie is so straight and McKayla is so wild and crazy and colorful and all over the place, and I just felt like we were just this figure eight on screen, just the two of us.
And Tyler, for you, was it a huge challenge to master the tone of this film, and help craft these anti-hero characters that are doing these really awful things, but yet, you can’t stop rooting for them?
Tyler MacIntyre: Oh, yeah. For me, I love anti-heroes. But anti-heroes in a horror movie are usually quite morally fu**ed. So there's something we needed to avoid in going too far with that, and we knew that as long as we could keep people identifying with their relationship, that would be key. So for me, it was trying to find performers that had confident enough individual voices, but that would also find the opportunities to create that conflict, and then giving them the space to do that.
We kind of fell into this rhythm where we would get things as they were written, for safety, on the first couple takes, and then if we were going to push things a little further, we had that time and we could do that. So that's where a lot of these options, a lot of which made it into the movie, come from.
And it's important for me, as a director, to gather that stuff because it allows you to control the tone, and that's ultimately what turns people off if it gets too silly, then people really tune out. Or if it gets too dark, then they're like, "I feel dirty watching this." So it was good to be able to lean on Brianna and Alex to bring their own personality to it, because not only does it personalize the narrative to them, but it also gives me the material I need to balance the tone in something as difficult as this.
Alex, you mentioned that Brianna plays something of the “straight man” in all of this. But your character gets to do some really crazy stuff, like with Kevin Durand, or the scene with Big Al in the gym, or even the ridiculous scenes with Josh Hutcherson. How much fun was it for you to play in these really wild and different scenarios?
Alexandra Shipp: For me, creating a character arc is the most important thing, and for McKayla, going from her just wanting to strangle people to then actually hopping on Craig [Robinson]’s back in the gym, it's fun to be able to show how twisted she can actually get. Her power comes from the wackiness and the craziness, but it's still way more raw.
I think that where Brianna's character comes from is a little bit more collected, a little bit more calculated. And McKayla's like, "Why can't we just stab them all?" And Sadie's like, "Well, because we can't just stab them all." So it's that kind of back and forth that we get to have where Sadie's the calculated one, and McKayla's just ready to take a chainsaw to the whole damn school.
Tyler MacIntyre: Yeah, totally. We talked about this in rehearsal, but it hasn't really come up much since, but there was this idea that maybe Sadie was born a little bit more predisposed to this type of behavior, like she's always been a little cold and detached. That's part of her personality. She's very precise and a little more subtle, whereas I think McKayla came to this world essentially out of her loyalty to Sadie.
Tragedy Girls has been making rounds for a little over six months now on the festival circuit, and now it's coming out in theaters. What's been the most exciting aspect of this whole process? And what are you hoping fans are going to take away from this when it's out this weekend?
Tyler MacIntyre: I'm really overwhelmed by the fact that the response has been mostly very positive everywhere the film has played. People are really picking up the stuff that we were sewing in there, and they're really seeing some of the subtlety to it, and I'm hoping that it pushes people to take bigger swings with horror in the future and take more risks.
Alexandra Shipp: This is going to sound so bad, but I want this to inspire young girls [laughs]. It’s just that, typically, as a character we never get to be crazy. We always have to be taking care of shit or dying in, a very sexual, overdramatic way. And I want this movie to not inspire young girls to kill people, but to inspire young girls to be their true selves. I want people to see this movie, or women to see this movie, and be like, "That's hilarious. I can be funny, I can be a little crazy. I don't have to be like all of the other girls in my school. I can be my own different type of individual, but also I can find my strength in whatever I do." Now, if they go that way with the message of the film, that would be awesome to me.
Have you guys thought about where the Tragedy Girls would go from here if you get to do a sequel?
Tyler MacIntyre: Yeah, we have some ideas. We've been chatting about it, and we definitely have some college narratives that we're batting around, and we have some cool ways to kind of take everything to a crazier place, actually.
Alexandra Shipp: And what a fun franchise this would be, right? It would be so much fun, and I think that there's not a lot of movies like this. There haven't been movies like this, in my opinion, for years, since like Heathers and all of that. But I love this tone, I love this narrative, I loved all the people that we worked with. It felt like summer camp. It was really great, and it would be awesome to do it again. I've been throwing out the idea of ninjas, though, just because I would love to work on my samurai [laughs].
In case you missed it, check here for our previous coverage of Tragedy Girls, including Heather's live Q&A with co-star and producer Craig Robinson at a Los Angeles screening of the film this Saturday.