Q&A: Taissa Farmiga Talks the Standout Satirical Slasher “THE FINAL GIRLS”Fearful Features,Home,Movies/TV,News Michael Gingold
Todd Strauss-Schulson’s THE FINAL GIRLS may be a completely on-point riff on the conventions of ’80s slasher fare, but there’s a strong beating heart at the center of the bloodshed: Taissa Farmiga as heroine Max. The AMERICAN HORROR STORY actress sat down with FANGORIA for this exclusive interview.
Opening in theaters and on-demand tomorrow from Stage 6 Films and Vertical Entertainment, THE FINAL GIRLS has a great high concept: A group of teenage friends go to a revival screening of CAMP BLOODBATH, wind up sucked into the movie themselves and have to use their knowledge of kill-flick tropes to survive. Amidst the knowing and often hilarious situations in the script by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller (the latter a former child actor with credits including NEAR DARK and HALLOWEEN III) is an unexpectedly moving central plotline: Max’s mother Amanda (Malin Akerman), who died three years before, is the star of CAMP BLOODBATH, and now Max has the opportunity to reconnect with her deceased mom—but Amanda, in character, has no idea who Max is.
Directed by Strauss-Schulson with great narrative finesse and technical imagination, and featuring a pitch-perfect supporting cast including Adam DeVine, Thomas Middleditch, Alexander Ludwig, Alia Shawkat, Nina Dobrev and Angela Trimbur, THE FINAL GIRLS (reviewed here) is a must-see for both those who love slasher flicks and those who don’t—and Farmiga admits she’s in the latter camp…
FANGORIA: How well-versed were you in the conventions of slasher cinema before you did THE FINAL GIRLS?
TAISSA FARMIGA: I didn’t know too much about them. I don’t really love horror, and I don’t do too well with gore, and in slasher movies there’s too much blood flying everywhere. I’m a little bit of a chicken; I’ll just close my eyes and won’t look. So this was a fun way to jump into it, and when Todd would explain the jokes and say, “Oh, now we’re making fun of this movie,” and “This is an ’80s reference,” it was a learning experience.
FANG: Did he have you watch any of those older films, to orient you regarding what THE FINAL GIRLS is riffing on?
FARMIGA: We had a movie night early on, with the first couple of actors who were there, the writers and all the crewpeople. I think we watched the first FRIDAY THE 13TH—I don’t remember for sure—but Todd didn’t make me watch too many because he knew I couldn’t take them. He was nice to me that way.
FANG: As someone who’s not a major horror fan, how did you come to be in THE FINAL GIRLS?
FARMIGA: They sent me the script and I liked it, but I wasn’t 100 percent sold, because I had just finished AMERICAN HORROR STORY and didn’t know what I wanted to do next. Todd wanted to sit down with me, and I went into the meeting kind of wishy-washy and not knowing whether I really wanted to do it. Then I met him, and I walked out of that meeting like, “I need to do this movie!” I worked so hard to kill the audition—no pun intended—and do a good job, and it worked out, and I was so happy.
FANG: FINAL GIRLS seems like it was a technical challenge in a number of ways, and also in terms of the storytelling, the way it plays with the timelines. How did Strauss-Schulson deal with all that?
FARMIGA: He was super-prepared. One of the things I loved when I sat down with Todd was that he knew what he wanted; he had a vision, and it was kooky and weird and interesting enough that it could work, you know? If he had just been too serious about everything, it wouldn’t have been such an entertaining movie. He handled it very well; he was prepared, and knew what he wanted. There’s something attractive about someone being confident and knowing what they want that makes you feel like, “I want to make this with you!”
FANG: Your own character becomes more confident and empowered as the movie goes on, and takes on Billy Murphy, CAMP BLOODBATH’s villain.
FARMIGA: Yeah, which was great, because we did the big fight scene toward the end of the shoot, so it was nice to get all my frustrations out. It was a lot of night work and being scared, and it was hot there, and then I got to beat up on this huge stunt guy.
FANG: Did you do a lot of stunt training for that?
FARMIGA: Yeah, I trained for the machete work in the fight scenes, and they had me practice a few times in the harness that would yank me backwards, so they could figure out how hard and fast they could pull me in it. That was pretty fun.
FANG: Was it tricky to navigate Max’s relationship with Amanda, who doesn’t know that she’s talking to her daughter?
FARMIGA: I think it was harder on Malin, because as Amanda playing Nancy in CAMP BLOODBATH, she had to be this one-dimensional, ditzy kind of girl, and then incorporate these emotions where she doesn’t understand what she’s feeling, like, “Why do I feel connected to this girl?” She had a lot of nuanced stuff to do, while for me as Max, it was just about not giving anything away, and having to hold my tongue.
FANG: Was it a bonding experience to make the movie on your middle-of-nowhere location?
FARMIGA: Yeah, absolutely. We shot in Louisiana outside of Baton Rouge, and they put us up in this gated apartment complex, so we were all within walking distance, a few hundred feet of each other. So I would, like, go over to Alexander’s and say, “Hey, man, do you have any milk? I need some milk for my cereal.” We became such a family, we’d go to New Orleans every weekend, and then as the weeks went on and the characters got killed off, people started leaving, and it was like, “No, man!” and our group kept getting smaller and smaller. It was hard, because they felt like best friends, and we had gotten so close in that short time, and then they just started leaving.
FANG: When it cames to the film’s comedic element, did any improvisation go on?
FARMIGA: Oh yeah, quite a bit with the comedy people, like Thomas Middleditch and Adam DeVine and Alia Shawkat. Todd would just let them riff on the scenes; after we got a few takes of what was scripted, he would just let them run with it. So for the straight people, like me and Alexander… There’s the scene in the diner with us and Thomas and Alia, and they were doing that sibling-rivalry banter, and they were so funny—Alexander and I were trying not to crack up, and we couldn’t even look at them.
FANG: Were the writers around to help add new material on set?
FARMIGA: Yeah, they were on set a lot, which was great. They were always giving us alternate lines, saying, “Try this” to all the comedy people. It was nice having them there, because they’d been with the project for so long, so if I was like, “Hey, what is Max actually thinking in this scene?”, sometimes the director was so busy with the technical or camera aspects that it was cool to have the writers there, so I could say, “Talk to me, help me!”
FANG: Did any scary stuff happen on the camp location while you were out there?
FARMIGA: Actually, Nina and Alexander had a scare war going on, and I just tried to stay out of that! Nina would get you at the most inopportune times; you wouldn’t know when she was coming. Alexander would always scream like a little girl, and she would get such satisfaction out of that. So I would try to stay on her good side, and be like, “Hey, Nina, you want a coffee?” [Laughs]
FANG: Any other memorable moments from the shoot?
FARMIGA: The first day, we filmed all the stuff with the van, when it loops around after when we first get into the movie. It was nice to do that right at the beginning, because we were able to bond together in the middle of the woods. There was no cell service, so we couldn’t be antisocial on our phones.
Then there’s that scene where we’re in the house setting up Operation Booby Trap, to try to catch Billy Murphy, and the camera was on this huge robotic arm. It was very technical, because the camera would fly up and then spin around and go over there… It was one long shot, the majority of it, so performance didn’t even matter at that point; it was just get to your mark on time, don’t get hit by the camera, wait a second here. It was awesome; Todd was super-excited about that, and it was so much fun to see the director get all giddy on set like a little child.