Today is the day! Another great Mama on set feature has popped up, this time by folks on Shock Till You Drop. Check the highlights:
ShockTillYouDrop.com is checking in on director Andy Muschietti, who is orchestrating a feature-length spookshow called Mama, based on his short film of the same name. The short focused on two young girls and a malevolent spirit – it was three minutes of tightly-wound terror that was all about stylistic execution over story. The feature film, however, will provide more narrative substance. The tale tells of Annabel (Jessica Chastain) and Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a couple who welcome two young girls, Lily and Victoria – found living alone in a cabin – into their home. As Annabel tries to introduce these youngsters, Lily (Isabelle Nelisse) and Victoria (Megan Charpentier), to a normal life, Annabel starts to believe an evil presence has permeated her home.
Mama marks Muschietti’s feature directorial debut and he’s able to pull off his endeavor thanks to executive producer Guillermo del Toro.
Question: Jessica, what’s it been like working with Andy, a new director, and, of course, Guillermo? Did Guillermo’s name help convince you to sign on for this project?
Jessica Chastain: Well, of course. I’ve been such a huge fan of Guillermo’s and he’s one of the first people I met actually when I came onto this project that I was surprised, because I had knee problems. I came on to the meeting in crutches and was like “They won’t want me after he sees me in crutches…”
Del Toro: A broken leg. I said, “I will break the other one if you don’t do it.” [laughs]
Chastain: And then I met with Andy and Barbara and I was really impressed with his ideas and how creative he was and how emotional he wanted the story to be and how important relationships in this story were to him. I always get a feeling about something and I had a feeling about Jeff Nichols with Take Shelter. I really just go on instinct and I loved the story. I think the script is really well written and of course I love Guillermo and I have a feeling about Andy and working with him, he’s been great. He is so collaborative, so inventive, and just good energy on the set. He’s a kind person.
Question: Can you tell us a little bit about Annabel?
Chastain: Yeah, it’s a fun look. I love working with kids. Sometimes I like working with kids and animals more than adults, because they are so surprising and really playful and inventive and this was another opportunity to work with kids, but in a different kind of relationship. Annabel is a woman who, you know, when the film starts she is someone who never ever imagined she would ever, ever be around children. It’s not something she wants in her life at all and she becomes, I guess, the unwilling protector of these girls and by the end she kind of grows up. It’s like Andy said to me in our first meeting, he said “She becomes a hero of people.”
Question: Who is she? This is a character who isn’t in the short, so what does she do?
Chastain: Well she plays bass guitar in a punk band and she lives with her boyfriend who is an illustrator. The way I’m approaching her, she’s this woman who doesn’t really ever want to grow up. She never really has any responsibilities. With the octopus [tattoo] she probably sees herself like an octopus, when the tentacles get caught then they detach and then they grow back. She’s very anti-responsibility. I don’t know what to say without giving away much of the story, she is just stuck. She ends up stuck with these children that she doesn’t want in her life and it’s a complicated relationship, because the children are stuck with something else.
Question: What’s your background as a fan of supernatural thrillers or ghost stories or horror films?
Chastain: I’m the biggest scaredy cat ever. I even just got goose bumps when you talked about that, because I’m thinking of horror film. Every time we did a scene yesterday where I’m opening the closet door and it’s like me ten years old walking up the stairs. I really love it. When I first met with Guillermo, he was talking to me about the different style of acting like the great actress from The Orphanage – what was her name?
Del Toro: Belen Rueda.
Chastain: It’s just this level of intensity that you really have to sustain almost to where your muscles hurt after, because of the tension. That really excited me to think like “Okay, this is an opportunity to learn how to do it or see if I can do it.”
Del Toro: And there’s a great tradition of actresses. I mean, let’s say it’s not the norm. You can have just a scream queen or you can have a sexy actress in a horror movie, but there is also a very beautiful rarified layer of great actresses that find their best part in the genre like Mia Farrow, Ellen Burstyn. Belen for me is a fantastic actress for the genre and everything else. Naomi Watts, Nicole Kidman in The Others. It’s seldom thought about like that and I think when it’s done right and for the right reasons, on Mama there’s a good chance it may come that way.
Chastain: It’s also, I was really surprised when it was first introduced to me, the script, because I thought “I am so not the expected choice” and even that gave me more faith in like “Well that’s really interesting. If you think I might bring something to this part…” Because you know like I’m also used to watching a lot of horror films like where you say when there’s the girl in the tank top in the rain and crying, so I thought this would be really interesting.
Question: Talk about working with Andy…
Chastain: Yeah, when I first got here I went to his office and there was this beautiful…he just draws on the walls, so there’s me and the girls, but I came in one day and I found out he had stayed up until like 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning drawing the storyboards, so everything he has his hand in. We just started filming in the girls’ room and Nikolaj [Coster-Waldau] said, “Well…” because Nikolaj’s character is an illustrator, he’s like “I feel like I would have done something for the girls,” so then Andy’s there. It’s great. He really feels like a renaissance man, You feel like this whole team, everyone is good at more than one thing.
Question: You were saying that this is not like anything you’ve worked on before, but it seems like you’ve worked on so many different kinds of movies. I’m curious, is it the horror that makes this different? You are saying there are short takes. What is so different?
Chastain: Well the character is different and I think it’s easy for me to bond with children and I just love kids and so to play a woman who really doesn’t know even how to touch a kid. She doesn’t want anything to do with them. That’s different, the character, but then definitely the genre and you know for example Take Shelter we shot that movie so quick and sometimes we’d have three takes for one scene with tons of dialog, so I’d come to set and it would be Mike Shannon and I talking about the structure of the scene and where we had to get and what that was, like a play. This is different in that it’s like “Okay, all we are getting right now is me walking to the closet and opening the door.”
Del Toro: With the camera pushing this way or the ballet of the camera and the actor, yeah.
Chastain: So, it’s a different way of working in that I don’t warm into something like a play does where you just kind of follow this way, it’s as soon as it starts you have to be ready, you have to be where it is in that short moment and so that is really exciting and interesting thing for me to tackle, because it’s unlike anything I’ve done. We talked about it a little bit yesterday.
Del Toro: It seems like you and the ghost are both protecting the children, but are sort of at odds with each other. How do you get to the point where you are giving empathy to something that you are so scared of? Does that happen?
Chastain: You know it’s funny, because we haven’t really shot the scenes with me and the ghost yet and I don’t know how much you guys know, so part of me is like “What am I allowed to say?” It’s an interesting dynamic, because another really cool thing I remember Guillermo said to me the first time we met was you know the idea of a ghost is when the ghost dies, if they are in an extreme state when they die, they stay in that state. If this woman was in a state of protecting a child or being like this maternal thing, the ghost that she is is that and so if anything threatens her connection to what she feels is her children, that will always be there. It’s not like I think Annabel is fighting because she wants to be like the best mom, I think it’s just she becomes a threat, because in any way that the children start to connect with Annabel who’s actually alive and warm, then it pulls them away from her, so it becomes like that dynamic, but we haven’t shot yet. I’ve seen…I don’t know what I’m allowed to say.
Del Toro: They’ve walked around the building.
Chastain: Okay, so you guys know Javier is playing Mama? He is amazing. I saw him in his outfit and he is just… physically what he can do is beyond and we have one scene where I just kind of look in a mirror and I just kind of catch a glimpse of him and that’s all we shot. It’s like two seconds together and it’s so… it really makes your skin hurt.
Question: As a self professed scaredy cat, are you concerned about your scenes with Mama eventually? Are you going to be terrified on set?
Chastain: Well I have to be, so yeah. [laughs] I’ve gotten a bunch of scary films that I’ve put in my trailer and I’ve taken a lot of them home and it’s like “I have half an hour? Okay, I’ll just put it on for the sound and the atmosphere.” I’ve tried so many times to watch REC, it’s just not going to happen.
Del Toro: That’s a great movie. What’s really funny is also at its base level I believe that horror came from fairytales and when you think about… At the most metaphorical level, the movie and what I loved about how clean it is, is a mother wrestling with a mother instinct in order to grow and I told Andy, “This is so fabulous for me, like literally you are making a serious struggle that she is going through. If ultimately that’s the story of her making peace with or not, maternity, we are going to have her wrestling with the epitome of motherly instinct, which is great.”
Question: What’s your relationship then Jessica with Andy as a first time director and also I guess working with Barbara, his sister, as a tag team?
Chastain: It’s great. It was so moving actually to meet them, because family is really important to me and I just see a lot of sacrifices that they both have made and they are a really good team that supports each other.
Del Toro: They are like the dream brother and sister.
Chastain: I know.
Del Toro: My brother used to beat the shit out of me. [laughs]
Chastain: I will give you guys a little bit. We were talking about Halloween costumes and what we are going to be and everyone was getting ready and [Barbara] was like “We are doing the brother and sister theme.” I said, “Great.” She goes “I’m going to be Skywalker and Andy is going to be Princess Leia.” They were working it out Andy had no idea.