Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on October 30, 2014, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.
There’s a lot going on and a number of varied supporting characters in Horns, Alexandre Aja’s adaptation of Joe Hill’s novel, but the person the story hinges on isn’t even alive as it begins. She’s Merrin Williams, murdered girlfriend of protagonist Ig Parrish, played by the luminous Juno Temple; FANGORIA got the chance to speak with the actress about her pivotal role.
Horns stars Daniel Radcliffe as Ig, who is widely believed responsible for Merrin’s death. While dealing with all the unwanted attention and false accusations, he begins sprouting horns on his forehead that compel anyone Ig speaks with to reveal their darkest secrets—a new power he employs to help root out the true killer. Meanwhile, flashbacks reveal how Ig and Merrin’s relationship developed—and ultimately that there was more to her than we’re initially aware. At 25, the British-born Temple already has a long résumé of films big (The Dark Knight Rises) and small (Little Birds), light (Maleficent) and dark (Killer Joe). And while Horns is her first true horror film, she has previously done roles in such intriguing, genre-inflected projects as Sebastián Silva’s Magic Magic, Bradley Rust Gray’s Jack & Diane and Gregg Araki’s Kaboom.
One of the interesting things about Merrin in the context of Horns’ storytelling is that she’s a character who only exists in flashbacks. We see her from the point of view of Ig and how he remembers her. How did that play into your interpretation of the character?
It was part of the reason why I wanted to do the movie, because it’s such a magical thing to play a memory. You know, memory is so important to people, especially of your true love, and the big thing for me was that she is remembered as this extraordinary sort of light that came into people’s lives, so it was important to play her like that. In people’s memories, things like that can be heightened a little, and that played into the way they shot me, but at the same time, when you hear Ig’s parents talking about Merrin, they loved her that way as well. I was quite honored to play that memory for Ig, though I also really liked that there are times when you don’t quite know who she was, and you suddenly have these moments of questioning that, and it almost becomes a puzzle.
As we learn more about her, we do discover that she had a sort of hidden side; how did that affect playing Merrin as Ig remembers her, since he doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge any dark side she might have had?
Well, I think the key is that you can’t give anything away. Playing those flashbacks, it was almost like treating them as if they’re real life—so there was nothing to be given away in that sense of the story. The other thing that was key was getting to know Dan and being honest with each other about who Ig and Merrin were as kids and what happened to them, because that meant there was an openness between us that was key for these characters. They’re supposed to have been in love since they were 10 years old, and that’s a long time to know somebody and love somebody.
And it’s the first romance for both of them too.
Yeah, they grew up together, so Dan and I spent a lot of time hanging out and getting to know each other. Our chemistry was so great, I felt, because we really trusted each other.
Did you interact at all with David Morse, who plays Merrin’s father?
No, I didn’t have any time with him, actually. I never even met him, because I was shooting another film at the same time, so I had to jump in and out of this one a little bit.
Did you have sufficient time to prepare, considering you were alternating Horns with another film?
Yes and no; yes in the sense that you make time, and no, because I couldn’t be there as much as I wanted to. Horns was in Vancouver and the other movie was in England, so they were very far apart, but anytime I was on Horns, it was about being completely invested and spending as much time as possible with all the people I was working with, and I had gotten to hang out with Alex Aja before. The minute I got there, Alex, Dan and I went out and had a big meal just to get to know each other. Things like that are really important, because trusting the people you’re working with allows you to let go and give the best performance you possibly can.
Had your and Daniel Radcliffe’s paths ever crossed before?
Briefly, when I was younger. One of my best friends in the entire world has known Dan for a long time, and we went to see him in Equus. I remember thinking he was so brave, in all senses. Just being on stage is a huge thing that I’m always impressed by, because I’m still quite nervous about the idea of that—though I definitely want to try it someday. But also because Dan was in the thick of Harry Potter at the time, and to be brave enough to do a play that was so different and so raw, I was like, “Fuck yeah.”
And Horns is a departure for him too.
Huge, but it’s the same with Kill Your Darlings; he was wonderful in that. He’s making so many interesting choices. It was another reason I was drawn to this movie, because he’s making such bold and brave choices, giving such amazing performances that I wanted to be a part of that bandwagon, you know [laughs]?
Were you inspired to read Joe Hill’s book beforehand to get more of a handle on your role?
No, because I believe sometimes it’s important to let yourself create your own character, and because I didn’t actually have the time beforehand. But I had also spent so much time talking to Alex about Merrin, I wanted to do justice to his idea of her.
Aja is known for doing gory and over-the-top films…
Yes, The Hills Have Eyes scared me so much, and High Tension too!
Was he as invested in all the performances as he was in creating those extreme moments?
Absolutely. Oh my God, he’s such an actor’s director; he loves working with actors, and he’s incredibly patient, and truly creates the world you have to go into. He’s really big on that. That scene I have with Max Minghella in the forest, we shot in the deep woods of Vancouver, in the middle of the night, it was freezing and raining and that just elevated the whole thing, and made it scary and much more real. I am so thankful to Alex for doing all of that, the entire way through the film; he so believes in the world he’s creating, it’s like sometimes you forget the camera’s rolling, because you’re so wrapped up in this universe.
It’s so exciting, but at the same time, he’s very much there to protect you. The locations were such a big part of the film, and they definitely heightened moments for me and for my character—because when you’re out amidst that kind of nature, you’re not in control, nature’s in control, and that’s always great. I remember one day when I believe a bear got into craft services; that was pretty cool.
You’ve done a few genre-oriented films in the past, and the two that stand out, Magic Magic and Jack & Diane, are both kind of experimental in the way they approach that material. Did either of those experiences play into how you tackled Horns?
Not really. I haven’t thought of comparing the two in any way; I believe each experience is its own. Jack & Diane was a different kind of thing where we were telling the story of when you’re first falling in love with somebody, and how when you’re young and you don’t know what being in love and in lust are all about, it’s almost like you do want to digest that person. You’re so obsessed with them that you want them to be a part of you, and that was an interesting take on young love that I really enjoyed.
I do think Magic Magic is similar to Horns in terms of the location being key. Magic Magic being deep in the middle of Chile was a big part of why my character feels so lost, and nature definitely helped with that role. And again, I so trusted Sebastián Silva, the director, because that was a hard part to play for a good seven weeks. It was a tough headspace to be in, and he made me laugh, which was important. At the end of the day, I would be so wrapped up in it, and he would be like, “Hey Juno, we’re making a movie! Let’s have fun, let’s drink Pisco!” I don’t think I would have jumped off that cliff in a raincoat for anybody else [laughs].
Magic Magic had a bumpy road to production; did that affect your performance or preparation at all?
It was a crazy thing where we were told it was going, it was going, it was going, and then suddenly it happened very quickly. [Magic co-star] Michael Cera was already in Chile shooting Crystal Fairy with Sebastián while they were waiting for Magic Magic to come alive. So once we got going on Magic Magic, we had time to rehearse and we talked a lot. We were all living close by where we were filming, so we were able to hang out and work together and get into that headspace.
One of the fun things about Horns is how dense it is storywise; there’s a lot going on, and it’s longer than the usual horror film. Was there anything significant that you shot for it that didn’t wind up in the film?
I don’t think anything was cut from the movie—not that I remember—but I also definitely agree that this isn’t your average horror movie. There are a lot of different things going on in it.