Arriving in theaters tonight is Nicholas McCarthy’s The Prodigy, another great entry into the killer kid subgenre of horror. Written by Jeff Buhler, the film is centered around a mom named Sarah (Taylor Schilling) who begins to suspect her highly intelligent son, Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) is being influenced by dark forces, and it’s up to her to put an end to it before she loses her kid for good.
Daily Dead spoke with Schilling earlier this week about her first foray into horror, and the actress chatted about taking on the character of Sarah, collaborating with both McCarthy and Scott, and one of her favorite scenes from The Prodigy (which just so happened to be one of this writer’s favorites as well).
So great to speak with you today, Taylor. What I love about this story is that it goes to some very dark places, but also some very human places, which can be a tough line to walk. And I was curious, from your perspective, what was the biggest appeal coming into this film? Was it the character of Sarah, was it getting to work on this dynamic with the character of Miles? Was it just everything?
Taylor Schilling: I was really sold by the time we started working on the film and the places that Sarah goes to protect her son, or save him, or give him a shot, a chance at a normal life. And the intensity, the ferocity of her desire to protect is really what drew me. I was really shocked by the time I was finished reading the script, though, and I really liked that. But really, it was all about her. It was Sarah.
Can you talk about diving into Sarah and finding those beats to her? There's a really interesting progression that she goes through in this. I'm trying to be vague because I don't want to give away too much for readers, but she heads down a very particular path in that third act of the film.
Taylor Schilling: Yeah, what Nick really chatted about and I thought was such an interesting aspect is that this is a woman who really made the choice to have a family—very intentional. She really wants a child and she had a life before this, but [is] really successful and enjoying her career. But she loves and adores being a mom, and nurturing comes very easily to her. All of her maternal instincts are really on fire and through the course of the movie, during the course of her journey with her son, she's in real time discovering a strength and a ferocity that she didn't know was a part of who she was, who she is. And that real time unearthing of a new part of self really got to me, because the choices she makes are so extreme and so interesting and understandable. Especially when you get on this train of wanting to care for your child. Like most parents do, there’s a tremendous responsibility and desire to see your child flourish at any cost. Her strength runs very deep and I don't even think she knew it did. That's what was so intriguing to me about this part.
You mentioned this character having this life before she decides to start a family. And I think one of my favorite scenes in the whole movie is actually when you and Peter are in the car having date night and just drinking beer. That scene in particular really helps sell the relationship between John and Sarah, but it also shows us that they are still parents who have their own wants and desires, but are still family focused, too, which I think is really something a lot of parents struggle with.
Taylor Schilling: Yes. Absolutely. They each have very dynamic pasts, and they're bringing all of that with them into this new life. Also, they are cognizant of the mundanity of what they're doing with this kid, too, which I think is relatable to a lot of people. There are different layers to it. They are really a team. They're really a team. I really liked that scene, too. It's a very human moment, isn't it? Nick really felt like he was going the extra mile to make the characters' journeys important and real, rather than rest too heavily on the devices of the genre. He really wanted us to take a journey, and I think we did.
With Miles, there is a real struggle there, because he is this sweet kid and the things going on are beyond his control. And I think in that way, Sarah almost becomes the audience, because there's part of you that's like, 'He really needs to be saved,' but at the same time it's like, 'Wow, he's going to some really dark places.' And I was hoping you could talk about building that relationship with Jackson on screen. Because I really feel like there's a tangible affection there.
Taylor Schilling: Yeah, well, he's a really, really sweet kid and a really smart kid. Really a doll, and we had a prep week to hang out and share meals and go to the aquarium and just talk about our characters, talk about the script, talk about what he was excited about, what he was nervous about, and he's really a talent in the way that there's a real effortlessness to him working. He's a kid, he's having a blast, and he can channel this other stuff, too. So, we just stayed close. We just stayed close to each other throughout the shoot, and we were buddies from the very beginning.
There’s a lot of heaviness to what your character endures in this story. Did you carry that weight with you, or was it easy to shake off?
Taylor Schilling: I don’t think I did. think that a lot of that heaviness is just in the writing, and you can rest in the circumstances and separate yourself from it. Her journey is so clearly plotted out and the architecture of the story was so well-plotted that I could trust the flow of what we were making, and that story was what really carried me and Sarah. She goes through a lot, but I don’t think it really hung over me at all.
In case you missed it, check here to catch up on all of our coverage of The Prodigy, including Heather's review and interview with director Nicholas McCarthy!