Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on September 21, 2012, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.
If there’s a message to be gleaned from actress Kristen Connolly’s two horror films of 2012, it’s that staying home is the safest course of action. Her trip to The Cabin in the Woods leads her to face to 57 varieties of monstrous threat, while a vacation to The Bay puts her in the path of parasitical infection.
The Cabin in the Woods, from director/co-writer Drew Goddard (see interview here) and producer/co-writer Joss Whedon, was Connolly’s first big-screen lead after a number of supporting roles and TV work, shot in 2009 for MGM but held up by the studio’s bankruptcy until Lionsgate snapped it up and released it. The Bay is a found-footage eco-shocker by director Barry Levinson and the producers behind Paranormal Activity that world-premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and next plays the New York Film Festival. Fango spoke to Connolly about both movies, plus her brief early-career excursion into M. Night Shyamalan’s territory.
Was it a relief to see Cabin in the Woods finally come out after three years?
Oh yeah, definitely. It was a long time to wait, and I think some people were like, “Is this movie ever really going to come out?” And I would say, “Yes! It will! It’s awesome! It has to!” It was exciting to have Cabin finally open and to have that [premiere] screening at South by Southwest, which was awesome.
How was the experience of watching the movie with an audience for the first time?
It was so great! That screening was especially amazing, because it was all fans of horror movies, so they got every little reference, every little joke. They were right there with every small turn the movie took, and they were really pumped up. It was so much fun to be there for that.
What was the process of winning your role in the film?
On the first audition, I went on tape at my agent’s office, and the unusual thing was that the audition sides were fake, so it didn’t really make sense. It was sort of bizarre, because my scenes had pterodactyls and underground tunnels and all this stuff in them, and I was like, “What does this have to do with a cabin in the woods?” But then I flew out to LA and met Joss, Drew and Fran [Kranz], who had already been cast, and they gave me and Fran the last scene of the movie to audition with. It was just us in a room, and that was very cool. Some auditions you do, there’ll be a lot of people in the room, and that can be a little intimidating. But this was very intimate and fun—just Joss, Drew, Fran and I.
Were you a fan of Whedon and Goddard’s work before you auditioned for Cabin?
Yeah, I knew who they were and had seen some of their stuff. I had seen Cloverfield and some of Buffy, but I didn’t really know just how brilliant these guys were—which was a good thing, because I would have been nervous in the audition and probably wouldn’t have gotten the job.
How about horror films in general? Were you a fan of them before Cabin?
Yeah, I’d seen Scream while I was in high school, and loved it. But I saw a lot more different kinds of horror movies [after being cast]. I had seen more of the stuff with, like, masked killers, and [Whedon and Goddard] introduced me to other movies. For example, I had never seen the Evil Dead films, and Drew gave me those to watch while we were deep into shooting. I watched the first one in my trailer one night when we were filming outside, and I came out and we were at the actual cabin, and I was like, “Oh, look at that! It looks just like the cabin from Evil Dead. I see what you guys are doing there. Cool.” [Laughs] I definitely have been exposed to a lot more horror movies through those guys.
How was it working with Kranz on the film itself? You two have really good chemistry.
Oh, he was wonderful. We had so much fun. There were so many times where things were just crazy, and we would look at each other like, “What the hell is going on?” It would be 4 in the morning, and there would be a guy with blades coming out of his face walking by. It was nuts. I feel like we’re war buddies, in a way. It was hard, but very rewarding. Fran’s a great guy and a great actor, and there’s nobody I would have rather done Cabin with.
How about the then-future Thor, Chris Hemsworth?
Oh man, Chris was wonderful. He was so funny, positive and nice. We all had a ball. The whole group of us got to be very close, because we were all living in a hotel and none of us were from Vancouver; we had all come in from New York or LA or New Zealand. The first two weeks especially, because we weren’t shooting, just doing preproduction stuff during the days and hanging out at night. It was kind of a special thing that helped us all get to know each other, and the central friendships you see in the movie came out of that. Chris was hilarious. I would ruin so many takes because I would just look at him and start cracking up.
One of the reasons Cabin works so well is that none of the characters act like they’re in a horror film, or like they know they’re trapped in one. They’re played very straight, without any kind of meta edge. How did you pursue that approach while playing the role?
That was a lot of Drew pushing us in that direction, because we had read the script and were aware of this whole other section of the film that wasn’t our stuff, and the references to other movies. We all went into our roles wondering how to play it, and Drew was very clear from the beginning that he wanted us to do it straight. He didn’t want us to wink at the camera in any way. There wasn’t a sense of irony. He just wanted us to play a group of friends who go to this cabin looking for a good time, and crazy stuff happens. One of the things Joss and Drew did so well was have fun with it. Even though these characters become stereotypes, they aren’t actually those stereotypes in the beginning; you see them become that way through manipulation by the other characters.
In that sense, one of the interesting touches is that Dana is set up as the group’s “good girl,” yet you find out early on that she’s just had an affair with one of her professors.
Yeah, I know! It was crazy, because in the script, that professor was married, but I guess when they screened it for test audiences… I asked later on and Joss and Drew were like, “Yeah, apparently audiences don’t like characters who sleep with married people.” So they cut that out. So she isn’t a goody two-shoes; she develops into this virgin character throughout the rest of the movie.
As far as working with the creatures, how many were live on the set and how many were added via CGI later on?
Most of them were on set. There were a couple that had to be CGI, like the giant snake or the dragon that we didn’t get to see. There was also a live puppet alien that was just not working. It looked kind of lame and nobody really wanted to say anything, but I guess somebody else eventually saw it and it didn’t make it into the final movie. But most of them were there; Joss and Drew were very clear that they wanted to have as many real things as possible. They didn’t want the whole movie to look CGI’d. It helped us, too, because it’s a totally different thing to have—although you know it’s a person in a suit—something that looks like a scary monster in front of you instead of a taped ‘X’. It makes the job a lot easier.
Did you have any favorites among the creatures?
That’s sort of tough… I mean, everybody loves the merman. I know all the audiences went crazy for it. I have a really soft spot for the Evil Molesting Tree. There was just something extraordinary about it. I also love the dragon bat, just because I didn’t get to see it until I actually saw the movie, and every time I see it I imagine Drew off-camera yelling, “Dragon bat!”
Can you tell us about your character in The Bay?
I play a young mom on vacation with her family, and we come to this small town and all this bad stuff happens. For me, it’s largely about the relationship between me and Will Rogers, who plays my husband, and we had a lot of fun playing with that relationship. It’s funny, because he and I were in an indie movie that same summer, and we just happened to be cast opposite each other again. That film is a really sweet one called Certainty, and it’s about a lovely relationship, and in The Bay, it’s not lovely at all. It’s like, “Uh-oh. This is what happens when Certainty ends. The Bay begins, and horrifying things happen.” I’m excited to see The Bay, because I actually haven’t yet. I haven’t read the full script and I only know what my scenes are.
Since The Bay is a found-footage film, how much of an actual script was there, and how much did you improvise?
There was a script, and all of our scenes were written. I mean, a few scenes had a jumping-off point, and Barry Levinson, the director—who was very collaborative, a smart guy and a wonderful director—wanted us to say things the way we would say them. He wanted it to feel as real as possible. It was a great experience, unlike anything I had done before. I also got to hold the camera for some of it, which was pretty cool, because it’s supposed to be me and my husband and our baby on a little trip, so we’d control the camera and tape each other. Every now and then, the DP would want a specific shot and tell us, “Let me take the camera away from her. She doesn’t know how to do that.”
How does the experience of making a documentary-style feature like The Bay compare to a much more structured film like Cabin in the Woods?
They couldn’t have been more different in just about every single way. The only thing they have in common is that they’re scary movies. For The Bay, if you added up all the days I worked, it was maybe a week, whereas with Cabin in the Woods, we were all living together for two or three months. And the grittiness of The Bay is totally different from Cabin. There’s no comedy in The Bay—unless there’s black comedy in the scenes I’m not in, and I don’t think there is.
Did you work with any CG creatures in The Bay?
There were things that were CG, but nothing I was up close with, and some of it looks really scary from what I’ve seen. But it’s a little different from Cabin when you’re in an elevator, staring at monster after monster.
You have an early credit in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening as “Woman on Bench.” Were you the one who stabs herself with her hairpin in the opening scene?
No, I was her friend. I played her reading companion.
What was that experience like?
It was really hot. It was the middle of August, and it was the steamiest day ever. I think it was actually M. Night Shyamalan’s birthday, and it was a scorching hot day in Central Park, but it was great. He was wonderful and so creative, and just smart about doing all his stuff. And it was wonderful to shoot in Central Park, in this iconic space, for my little scene.