The horror comedy Freaks of Nature takes you to the town of Dillford, where everything was business as usual with the vampires at the top of the social order, the zombies at the bottom, and the humans in the middle. But that uneasy balance gets ripped apart when the apocalypse arrives and puts an end to all the harmony, turning things into humans vs. vampires vs. zombies in all-out, blood-sucking, brain-eating, vamp-staking combat, and leaving it up to three teenagers – one human (Nicholas Braun), one vampire (Mackenzie Davis) and one zombie (Josh Fadem) – to team up and save the world.
On September 23, 2013, Collider (along with a couple other press outlets) was invited out to Manhattan Beach Studios to check out filming and chat with some of the folks responsible for making Freaks of Nature. During this roundtable interview with Mackenzie Davis (The Martian, Halt and Catch Fire), she talked about who her character Petra is, how she ended up a vampire, the powers that these vampires have, her favorite day of the shoot, being a fan of gore, the amazing supporting cast, and whether she got to do any improv.
MACKENZIE DAVIS: The movie is not told chronologically, so you don’t see this in a linear fashion, but she starts in the timeline of the world of Dillford being an outcast in high school. She runs with a goth crowd. The vampires are in a higher social order and she’s trying to get into that crowd by dating the highest of the vampires to find a place to be protected in high school and run with the cool kids, so that she can be shielded from the many injustices she’s had to suffer. So, she starts out trying to fit in, in the world, but then she gets bitten by a vampire and turned and cast aside, much like losing your virginity and then having someone dump you the morning afterwards. The movie is her journey to accepting herself through saving the world. And we live in a town where vampires, zombies and humans live, and crazy shit happens, so we have to save the world.
How does she like being a vampire? Does it take her some time to adjust?
DAVIS: I think so. The metaphor is just getting seduced by an older guy, losing your virginity, and then, the second it’s over, being cast aside. And so, right afterwards, she’s just desperately clinging and trying to get him back. She’s really sensitive about it, if anyone brings it up over the course of the movie. But then, she starts to think it’s really cool because she’s strong and helps save the world, after she accepts these new powers that she has. So, she does like it eventually, but like any big change in high school, it takes a little while for her to think it’s cool.
How long have you been a vampire by the time we meet your character?
DAVIS: The movie takes place over the course of five days. It flashes back to high school when everything was normal, and then it goes back to the chaos. If it was a linear story, I’m turned on night 1, and the movie ends on day 5.
Is there any sort of personality shift that comes with being a vampire?
DAVIS: Not really. I did vampire research before the movie, and a lot of folklore research. And I read a lot of Anne Rice books. The vampire thing just seems more incidental. It seems more about a teenage girl who’s trying to feel good in her skin and survive high school. We live in a very crazy world where high school is populated with supernatural beings. I think she’s a dark character. High school hasn’t been very easy for her, so to begin with, she’s very defensive and has a Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice quality. And the vampire thing makes her more defensive and a little bit more in her shell, but it also forces her to have this sense of self that she didn’t have before. So, I don’t think that she goes to this really dark side. In Interview with the Vampire, Kirsten Dunst becomes this horrible child while she’s a vampire. I think Petra becomes a better person who learns how to accept herself. It actually turns out to improve her life.
What kinds of powers do the vampires have in this world?
DAVIS: They have the power to give eternal life and take away mortal life. We don’t really think vampires have special powers. That’s the domain of comic books. In this world, we think they’re just undead beings that don’t have super strength or super speed. But then, we discover that she actually does have super strength. It doesn’t follow the True Blood vampire myth of moving at the speed of light. She can jump really high. She jumps up the stairs and kills somebody really important, so see the movie and find out who it is.
What has been the most fun or weird thing to shoot?
DAVIS: I don’t know. We’re shooting on such a condensed schedule, which is wonderful. On a movie, you usually show up at 7, and then you’re in your trailer for six hours, which seems like a pretty worthless job where you don’t really contribute anything to the world. But on this movie, you’re working every second of the day, so at the end of the day, you’ve just done so much stuff. I got to do a stunt where I was connected to a harness, I jump on top of a zombie, fly up the stairs, grab a character in the movie, pull her head over and mainline blood out of her. There’s this gag where, as soon as I put my mouth on her neck, all of this blood starts spurting in my mouth, but my mouth is still on her neck, so you can just see blood pouring down her neck, and me locking eyes with the camera. As soon as I bring my mouth up, this jugular vein fountain goes in front of my face, and I’m just looking through the blood. That was really fun. That was my favorite day. Anything really awful, I love.
So, you’re a fan of gore?
DAVIS: Yeah. Not to the degree that Robbie [Pickering], the director, and Josh [Fadem], who plays Ned, are. They’re just absolute encyclopedias of movies. I thought I had seen a lot, but I’m a total philistine compared to them. But I’m very interested in gore, in all elements of my life. Have you ever been to the Museum of Death in Hollywood? It’s the best thing in L.A. If you like gore, you should really go. It’s wonderful. Whatever your interest is in death or gore or the inner workings of the body, it’s nice to go someplace where these people built this beautiful place that’s a collection of all the things that they love. The first room that you go into has serial killer memorabilia from prison. The second room is hangings. And then, there are cannibals and cult killings and taxidermy. It’s just the greatest. You can’t believe it exists. It’s my favorite place in L.A.
This film has an amazing supporting cast. Who has been the most fun to work with?
DAVIS: I work most with Ed Westwick, who’s amazing. I’d only really seen him in Gossip Girl, which I loved. I hadn’t really seen him pay other characters, but he’s such a great actor and is so dedicated to this part. He’s really deranged and sick. He plays the senior vampire who wham-bam-thank-you-ma’ams me. The other actors, I haven’t gotten the chance to work with as much. Bob Odenkirk and Joan Cusack play Dag’s parents. They had an extended scene where they just rolled the cameras and let them improv for like 40 minutes, and it was just the funniest. I hope that a lot of my scenes get cut, so they can have this extended sequence with Bob and Joan talking about smoking week together. Keegan-Michael Key is in it, and he’s been so lovely. My favorite person is Werner Herzog, who I do have a scene with that was filmed in two parts. He’s my favorite director, so it was completely surreal to see him in the background, watching Robbie direct a scene. We were all pretending that we weren’t paying attention to him, but everybody was looking over their shoulder, the whole time. And we worked with Patton Oswalt, who was so fun and so game. The coolest thing about this movie is that all these huge comedy stars and really established people are in the movie. We’re moving at a really fast pace and everyone is so ego-less and excited to be here. I’m just so thankful I get to be in this movie.
Have you gotten to do any improv yourself?
DAVIS: A little bit. The comedy people that come in are really adding a lot of texture and fun to the movie, whereas our scenes propel the story forward. So, we get to play around a little bit with it, but our scenes are much more to make sure the story gets told. We can add little flourishes, and there’s always a couple of takes where we get to have freedom with it, but the script is very well written for the main story to be told, so we follow that, more or less.
Freaks of Nature opens in theaters for a special engagement on October 30th.