Flowers in the Attic tells the twisted story of the Dollanganger kids who, after the unexpected death of their father, are convinced by their mother Corrine (Heather Graham) to stay hidden in the attic of their wealthy grandparents’ mansion so that she can reclaim the family fortune. As the years go by and the children endure unimaginable treatment at the hands of their intensely scary grandmother (Ellen Burstyn), the eldest children, Cathy (Kiernan Shipka) and Christopher (Mason Dye), turn to each other for comfort.
While at the Lifetime portion of the TCA Press Tour, actor Mason Dye spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how this came about for him, how he’s learned about the popularity of the book and the excitement for the movie, how he was able to relate to this story and character, the time they got to spend bonding, the most challenging day and the most fun day, working with this talented cast, and whether he’s already read ahead to prepare for the sequel, Petals on the Wind, which is already in development. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
MASON DYE: Thank you. That means a lot.
How did this come about? Did you just read the script and audition for it, the normal way?
DYE: Yeah, I actually did. I had never heard anything about Flowers in the Attic, then I got the audition for it. Immediately, I read the plot summary and I was like, “This is interesting.” So, I looked it up online to see everything about it, and I found out that it’s based on a book and how successful the book was. Then, I read the whole script. I watched the 1987 movie while reading our script, just to check out the differences. I’d been told that our script was going to stay very, very true to the book. After all that, I knew that I really wanted this one. I really wanted to get this.
It’s funny because it is such a popular story, but it’s not one of those feel good stories.
DYE: Yes, that’s true. That is very true.
Was it a gradual process to learn what kind of following this has? Did you start to hear more and more of the excitement?
DYE: Yes, there’s been a lot of excitement. Besides just people finding out that I got it and people freaking out and thinking that it’s the coolest thing, ever, because they loved the book as a kid, I’m finding a lot of it out on Twitter. A lot of people are contacting me through Twitter, saying, “Oh, my gosh, I heard you got the role. I’m a huge fan of the book. I can’t wait to see you as Christopher.” So, it’s really good to go on Twitter and any social media site, like Facebook and Instagram, and really connect with a lot of the fans who are just diehard fans of the series of books.
Was it hard to find things to relate to in this story or with this character, or did reading the book and watching the other movie really help with that?
DYE: It honestly wasn’t, in the sense that Christopher is very intelligent, he is a momma’s boy, and he’s also very optimistic. He always has to, especially with Cathy, let her know that everything is going to be alright. He’s always saying, “We’re gonna be fine.” So, in that sense, I completely related to him. I’m a momma’s boy. I don’t want to say that I’m smart, but I’m not dumb. In that sense, I completely related with Christopher.
Not just with the brother-sister relationship, but there’s so much in this that seems it would be so hard to personally relate to.
DYE: Yeah, and it was, but as an actor, you have to find a way to go about it because, at the end of the day, you have this role and you have to perform and give a good performance. So, my way to go about it was just to find something that relates to relationships in general. I thought, “What’s a relationship that you know you shouldn’t be involved in and you know is wrong, but for some reason, the love is so strong that it just attracts you and you can’t deny it?” Then, I thought, “Say I had a best friend that had a girlfriend. I would know that it’s wrong, but if I loved her that much and she loved me, we eventually couldn’t deny it. That’s how I approached the relationship part.
DYE: Yes, for sure. A lot of that, you have to take into account. I could talk for days about it because the things that are going inside their heads, the tragedies that they’re put through and everything that they go through, there’s a lot that wears on these kids. When they go in the attic, Christopher is only 14. A tragedy happens at the start of the movie, and he’s forced to grow up. He’s forced to be the man of the house, at only 14. A lot of people don’t have to go through that, so there are a lot of things to take in to account. And if you isolate yourself from the world, the sun and everything, and you’re starved, it starts to take a toll on you. I can’t even imagine.
They’re very much forced into a parental role, so I would imagine, over time, they really do feel like they’re already parents.
DYE: For sure. They are forced to grow up very fast. They’re four innocent kids thrown into a very bad situation.
This is such a difficult story to tell, and the relationships are so important. Did you guys get to spend time together to bond?
DYE: We did, actually. Before filming, the director, Kiernan [Shipka] and I, and Max [Kovach] and Ava [Telek], who play Cory and Carrie, got together and had play dates where we would just play with toys and play games. We would play Marco Polo and limbo, and games like that, just to really bond and get to know each other. We all hung out quite a bit off the set, too. We’d go out to eat a lot. We would go bike riding. We spent a lot of time bonding because that’s a major thing about this film. Once the four kids enter the attic, they form a family unit of their own. It’s a big part of it. And to show the chemistry, we knew that we would have to be close.
And you would want the younger kids to be comfortable with you.
DYE: For sure. They had no problem, though. They were so talented for their age. They’re so sweet and so nice. I would say that, within the first 10 minutes of the first play date that we had, they loved Kiernan and I. Every time we were on set, they would just sit on our laps. We have so many pictures of us on our iPads, with them on our laps.
It’s so weird that this story is so popular because you wonder why anyone would want to voluntarily read a story about incest, but when you start watching it, you just cant tear yourself away from it. Did it feel the same way for you, when you were reading the script?
DYE: Yes. In 1979, when it was published and the word got out about the book, I think that’s what people were thinking. How could you read a book about that? Then, you read it and you realize that there’s so much more to it. Its not just that. And we approach it in a more tasteful manner, in the movie.
What was the most challenging day for you, and which day was the most fun?
DYE: The most challenging day would probably have to be the boiling point for Christopher. Christopher changes dramatically, throughout the story. He’s just this innocent kid, but then he goes through so much, and the attic starts to take a toll on him. The hardest part for me would have been when he finds out that Cathy kissed Bart (Dylan Bruce). He’s just fuming with anger, and he’s heartbroken. There’s so much going on. It’s out of his character. He’s not like that. So, that was one of the hardest things, just showing that he was angry without straying away from the true character of Christopher. That was probably the hardest. The funnest scene would probably have to be the like, even though it’s not shown for very long. That was at 4:00 or 4:30 in the morning, and it was 40 degrees out side. It was so cold. We had a tent and a heater, and we were just wrapped up with blankets. We only had a short time to do it, so we just had to go. I think we got it in two takes. That was the funnest scenes because it was just improv. They just said, “Okay, go.” We just went for it. I remember they said, “Mason, don’t dive. We don’t know what’s in the water. I was like, “Okay, okay.” And then, on the first take, I just dove in. I was like, “I’ve been in an attic for a year and a half. Don’t tell me not to dive.”
What was it like to work with Kiernan Shipka?
DYE: Kiernan is the most intelligent, mature 14-year-old that I’ve ever met. When you talk to her, you would swear that she’s 25. She carries herself so well. She’s so talented, too. It was so much fun to get to work with her, get to hang out with her, and get to know her. And to see such a young girl give a performance like that, at the age of 14, was incredible. It was a great experience.
What was it like to work with a veteran like Ellen Burstyn? Is she somebody that breaks between takes, or did she prefer to stay separate from everyone?
DYE: No, Ellen is somewhat of a method actress. She was just so intense. The presence and energy that she brings, and the ability she has to just suck you in, right when she walks in the room, is crazy. She makes your performance better, feeding off of her, and she gives people a lot to feed off of. If it’s someone else’s close up, she likes to give them a lot to work with, so they can be better, too. It was an honor to get to work with such an iconic actress. She’s incredible.
DYE: Heather and I are actually pretty close, in real life. I love Heather. She’s such a sweetheart. Whenever we had to be close together, we were fine. That wasn’t the problem. But once she had to throw on her mean face, and her grumpy personality, it was hard. It’s hard to see someone that you love and care about so much, do that to you. I felt like I could use that in my performance, seeing someone that I have this close relationship with, breaking my heart and just throwing it out.
It was a really interesting contrast between the grandmother, who is so intense and occasionally has moments where you think maybe she might care, and then the mother who is supposed to be the caring one, having these other chilling moments.
DYE: Yeah, that’s what I really loved about their performances, too. You can see Ellen as the grandmother. She’s just so evil. But then, there are some moments that you just wonder what’s behind the evilness because you can see it behind her eyes. She’s just hurting so bad. Hate stems from somewhere. It’s not just hate. Usually, it’s from something loving. You love someone so much that you hate them. So, it was cool to see her bring that to her performance. Heather did that, as well. They go back and forth to where yo’’re like, “I hate Ellen. No, I like Ellen. I hate Heather more. No, I hate them both.” It was really cool. I thought that was really great on them, to bring that to their performance.
With the sequel, Petals on the Wind, happening, have you already jumped ahead with reading the books?
DYE: I have not yet, but I know quite a bit about what happens. I basically know the whole premise of the rest of the books. I could summarize them for you. But, I don’t know minute details. I do want to read them, though. I especially want to read them, after doing this and getting so attached to it. It makes me want to figure out what dark secrets are going on.
Flowers in the Attic airs on Lifetime on January 18th.