Exclusive Interview: Actor Kyle Gallner’s HAUNTING BODY of Work

An archive interview from The Gingold Files.

By Michael Gingold · July 9, 2019, 3:55 PM PDT
Kyle Gallner HAUNTING IN CT

Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on July 9, 2009, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.


Over the course of modern horror history, it has become fairly commonplace for young actresses (from Jamie Lee Curtis to Angela Bettis) to work their way up through the genre and establish positions of prominence within it. Rising young male actors making a significant mark in fright fare have been less common—but one current exception is Kyle Gallner, who stars in the recent hit The Haunting in Connecticut, appears this fall in the much-buzzed-about Jennifer’s Body and tangles with Freddy Krueger in next year’s A Nightmare on Elm Street remake.

The 22-year-old Gallner had amassed a lengthy résumé of TV credits and a number of supporting parts in features before Haunting beckoned with the central role of Matt Campbell, a teenager suffering from cancer who moves with his family into a new home to be closer to his treatment center. In this fact-based story, Matt becomes plagued by angry spirits dwelling within the house, and his parents (Virginia Madsen and Martin Donovan), already under stress from Matt’s medical condition, find themselves confronting this supernatural dilemma as well.

The film is partially inspired by a documentary less definitely monikered A Haunting in Connecticut, though Gallner notes that he didn’t significantly look to it in his preparation for playing Matt. “He’s not very heavily featured in the documentary,” the actor says. “It’s more about the mom and the situation in the house. So for me, it was about trying to break down what it would be like to be Matt’s age and have cancer, and understand what the family had to go through. A lot of my research went into what’s it like to go through radiation treatment, and where I was in regards to how I felt that day [in the screen story]—am I a little stronger, am I a little weaker?”

The role had its physical demands as well, in the scenes where Matt is overtaken by the ghosts. “It’s a weird thing to have to sit down at a table and pretend to be possessed,” Gallner says. “It’s pretty exhausting. You sit there and tense every muscle in your body, and you’re shaking and all that for 40 seconds at a time. You definitely feel it.” Certain moments also required him to sport extensive body makeup, as the malefic presences carve words into Matt’s skin. “That took probably two hours, with three or four people working on it, doing everything by hand,” he recalls. “It took a long time.”

The same could somewhat be said about Haunting’s journey to the screen; it lensed back in 2007 and went through a few release dates before settling into March 2009, when it wound up becoming a box-office hit. Gallner says that despite the lag time, there wasn’t a significant difference between the movie he made and the one that wound up on screen. “They did put some stuff in a different order, which helps the story flow a little bit better, and it also took time to complete all the special effects,” he says. “There was also a big debate of whether it was going to be a PG-13 or an R. That kind of took a long time.” The PG-13 camp wound up winning out (though Lionsgate is offering an unrated version on disc), and Gallner reveals one of the nasty bits that got trimmed: “I know the cutting of the eyelid was a major concern. That was a big fight between the MPAA and the people who made the movie.”

Among those people, Gallner has fond memories of director Peter Cornwell and stars Madsen and Elias Koteas, the latter playing a reverend who consoles and consults with the troubled Matt. “Peter’s a good director, he’s very visual. He had everything very well planned out and ready to go, which made for a nice shooting experience. We were making a fairly big movie on a budget that didn’t allow us to mess around, and if it had gotten too out of hand, we would have been in trouble. But that never happened; we got everything done and Peter knew what he was doing. It was a good time.

“Virginia is amazing,” he continues. “She’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met and Elias is just one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. They were ridiculously giving. Watching Elias was cool because he’s an older actor and it was great to see his whole process. He sort of stayed in character on set and off. He was very soft-spoken the entire time and very much in that headspace; then the day we wrapped, we all went out and it was like night and day. Suddenly he was like, ‘Hey! What’s up, guys?’ and we were thinking, ‘OK, we were obviously wrong.’ ”

Madsen has suggested in interviews that the Haunting shoot was subject to genuine spooky stuff, and Gallner seconds the observation. The hotel where the cast bunked up “was really, really old, and absolutely the kind of place where you would expect creepy stuff to happen; it was like THE SHINING. I had something happen in the room when I was sleeping where it felt like someone had lifted up the covers and crawled into bed with me, and then it got very cold. I’d be in the shower and it sounded like doors were slamming all the time, and I’d constantly have to get out and check if anything was wrong. Just weird, weird stuff. I was sleeping another time and it felt like somebody under the bed had touched the bottom of it. Truly bizarre. I don’t think anyone actually saw a ghost, but I know people were definitely complaining of weirdness happening in the rooms.”

A more enticing experience was “getting to work with the beautiful Megan Fox” on Jennifer’s Body, the Karyn Kusama-directed, Diablo Cody-scripted horror/comedy (opening from 20th Century Fox September 18) that has won all kinds of attention for casting the Transformers babe as a cheerleader who becomes a demonic maneater—or boy-eater. “Colin, the role I play, is this small-town Goth kid, the type of guy who tries really, really hard to fit in,” Gallner explains. “I had all these crazy clothes and eyeliner and piercings and jet-black hair, and I speak rather bizarrely. He’s very big and theatrical, and intrigued and obsessed by death, but if someone were to tell him he’d have more friends and be popular and at the head of his group if he dressed hip-hop, he would just change immediately. He’s just a confused weirdo who has a crush on Jennifer.”

Whether Colin is able to fulfill his desire for the teen queen turned monster is something Gallner won’t discuss. “Stuff happens,” is all he’ll let slip. “I don’t have a terribly big part in the movie, so I’m not going to say.” He will discuss the fact that Jennifer’s Body offered the rare experience, at least in the horror genre, of being on “a very female-oriented set: a female director and writer and two female stars, and those two are heavy hitters, Megan and Amanda [Seyfried, who plays Jennifer’s best friend]. It was cool to be part of a movie that very heavily relies on two female leads, especially a horror movie. Most are a big ensemble—like Friday the 13th, with 10 kids sent to slaughter—but this is heavily reliant on Amanda, Megan and my buddy Johnny [Simmons]. It’s very contained.”

While his roles in Haunting, Jennifer and Nightmare are all distinctive, they do have one thing in common: Each puts Gallner at the mercy of some malefic being or force. The young actor got the chance to take on a more antagonistic role in last year’s Red, as one of a trio of heartless teens who shoot the beloved dog of war veteran Avery (Brian Cox). Less a horror film than a disturbing drama in which Avery’s quest for justice leads only to more violence, the film nonetheless has a strong genre pedigree: It’s based on a novel by confrontational author Jack Ketchum, was scripted by The Grudge’s Stephen Susco and was directed, in part at least, by May’s Lucky McKee. For reasons that still haven’t been fully explained, McKee was replaced at the helm with Norwegian filmmaker Trygve Allister Diesen, but the former wins Gallner’s emphatic seal of approval.

“That was never quite explained to me,” he says of McKee’s dismissal. “It may have been budget issues, maybe something else, I don’t know. But I love Lucky. He shot almost all of the film, and he was awesome. I felt bad because the movie was his baby, and he worked very closely with the cast. He’s a total actor’s director and just amazing, so when that happened, my heart broke for him. I only had one scene left when we came back to finish the film, the one where we kill the dog, and I did all my other stuff with Lucky. It was a crazy situation. I’m just glad we got to finish it, because I didn’t think we were going to come back. I thought it was dead in the water, and then like eight months later, or some crazy amount of time like that, we got to wrap it up.”

A constant pleasure on the Red shoot for Gallner was the chance to share scenes with veteran actor Cox, who has one of his very best recent roles as the determined Avery. “Brian’s amazing; I learned a lot just being able to go toe-to-toe with him. I was a big fan of Brian’s before Red, and when I heard he was doing it and I ended up booking it and knew I was going to do scenes with him, I was so excited. I remember one of my first days on set with him was the long scene in the office with Avery and my [character’s] dad, between Brian and Tom [Sizemore]. Noel Fisher, who played my brother, and I were just sitting there waiting to go on, and we were looking at each other wide-eyed, like, “Oh my God, he’s amazing.” Then we got thrown into the scene, and I was just watching Brian and completely forgetting what I was doing. I completely destroyed the first two takes, I was just so, ‘This is amazing, this is happening.’ Brian knows his stuff; that scene where he has a 10-minute monologue is like a one-man show. He’s unbelievable.”

A few years before Red, Gallner took Wes Craven’s Red Eye—which also co-stars Cox. The two never shared the frame, though, since Cox remains earthbound as the father of Rachel McAdams’ heroine, while Gallner is a passenger on a plane where she is held hostage by a villain (Cillian Murphy) forcing her to be part of an assassination plot. “That was an interesting experience,” Gallner recalls. “I had three lines in that movie and had to sit in that airplane for a month, but it was cool to watch Wes. I was sitting a couple of seats away from Rachel and Cillian, and got to watch him direct them in this very contained environment. It was literally just two people sitting next to each other, and that’s a hard thing to make interesting, but Wes pulled it off, and Rachel and Cillian were just great. It was cool to see a seasoned director at work, someone who has been around for as long as Wes has.”

Gallner’s next film sees him returning to the bad side; he plays the abusive boyfriend of a teenaged girl (The Grudge 3’s Johanna Braddy) who escapes into a fantasy world in the indie drama Unicorns, the debut feature by writer/director Leah Meyerhoff. (Author’s note: The movie eventually emerged as I Believe in Unicorns, starring Peter Vack and Stranger Things’ Natalia Dyer.) With Nightmare wrapped, he currently doesn’t have another horror project in his future—with the exception of the new DVD version of Haunting. “I’m curious to see what’s on the [unrated] cut,” he admits. “It was so long ago that there’s definitely stuff I know I’m forgetting, and it’ll be cool to see all that pop up. It’ll be like watching the movie for the first time all over again.”