From executive producer/director/star Rob Lowe, the Lifetime Television reimagining of the iconic 1956 psychological horror film The Bad Seed follows a single father (Lowe) who seems to have everything under control, until a tragedy hits too close to home and forces him to question everything he thought he knew about his sweet, beloved and highly driven daughter. As more and more bad things happen to people surrounding Emma (brilliantly played by Mckenna Grace, with a performance that will give you chills), he begins to wonder just what his own daughter is capable of and what he is willing to do to stop it.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, 12-year-old actress Mckenna Grace talked about her desire to play a villain, what she did to try to understand her character’s behavior and action, studying the performance that Patty McCormack gave in the 1950s cult classic (for which she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress), getting to do scenes with the original Bad Seed, who also appears in this retelling, going brunette for the role, and working with director/actor Rob Lowe. She also talked about her upcoming roles in Troupe Zero, the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, and as young Carol Danvers in Marvel’s Captain Marvel.
Collider: How did this come your way? You’ve played characters that have been so sweet, so did they just think that you also had to have some evil in you somewhere?
MCKENNA GRACE: Well, it’s always really hard doing a remake because a lot of remakes are okay, and they’re never as good as the original. But I loved this original movie, and it was super exciting getting to do that movie. I don’t know why, and this may sound weird, but I’ve always wanted to play a horror movie bad guy. It was hard, though, because I was filming it at the exact same time that I was filming something else, so we’d have to fly back and forth, but I wanted to take on the challenge.
In The Bad Seed, you’re playing a girl who’s very good at pretending to be sweet, but really isn’t very sweet, at all. Is it more fun to play good, or is it more fun to play bad, or did you enjoy the fact that there were both things inside of that one character?
GRACE: There’s not a lot of good in Emma, though. She’s very evil.
She’s just very good at pretending that she’s good.
GRACE: Yes! I think it was fun to play both. She was an interesting and fun character to get to play.
What did you do to get an understanding of who she is, and why she acts and behaves the way she does? Was that something that you found challenging to understand with her?
GRACE: Well, I watched the original a lot, and I tried, as hard as I could, to walk the way she walked or skip the way she did. I wanted to portray her exactly like she did, but I think that this one is a little darker than the original.
We definitely have different expectations for horror now.
GRACE: I talked with Patty McCormack, who played the original, to see how she got prepared, and I talked to her about how Emma, or Rhoda, would act. And then, I just tried to incorporate the little things she did in the original film, like the way she skips or the faces she made. There was this one that I wanted to incorporate so bad, because she like took her hands and cupped them, and it was so weird. She patted her mother’s face so weird and was like, “I have the best mother. You’re the greatest mother.” So, I wanted to incorporate that because it was just so weird, and I loved it.
Well, it’s definitely a very creepy, so you did a great job on that!
GRACE: Thank you!
What was it like to also share screen time with Patty McCormack, knowing that she had been in your role, in the original film? Was it just really cool to have her there?
GRACE: It was insane! I got to talk with her over the phone, but then when I found out that I was going to get to work with her and talk to her in person, it was so cool. It was so much fun. She was so nice.
Was it fun to also get to go brunette to play this character? Did you feel any different with the brown hair?
GRACE: Actually, I was supposed to be blonde for it, but I was also working on The Haunting of Hill House and I had to have my hair really dark for that, so I couldn’t have it light for The Bad Seed, but I thought the dark hair was fun. I can’t recognize myself, now that my hair is back blonde. It took me a few weeks, with the dark hair, to recognize myself. Every time I’d look in the mirror, I’d be like, “Who’s that?!” I think the dark hair makes me look older. It’s weird, it makes me look like I’m darker inside. It just gives off that vibe. I’ve always wanted to have rainbow hair. Maybe I can get a role where I get to have rainbow hair.
How did you also find the experience of working with Rob Lowe, as your dad and as your director?
GRACE: Oh, my gosh, it was amazing to get to work with him. He was so nice to me, all the time. He was a great director. It was crazy because we’d be doing a scene, and then after the take, he’d have to go watch it. That must have been so stressful, but he just made it so much fun. He was so nice. We still talk now. He wants me to come and name his Koi fish.
You posted a photo on your social media about having to cut your hair off for another role. Do you enjoy being able to really get lost in a character like that, with your hair, the wardrobe, and creating a whole look?
GRACE: Yes! My hair is really short right now. I had to have uneven hair for Troupe Zero, so one side was almost at my shoulder, and one was up by my chin. Christmas is one of my all-time favorite characters to get to play, besides Mary (in Gifted). Christmas is really weird, and I love that about her. The entire time I was there, I tried to not wash my hair and not maintain myself too well because I wanted to look crazy like Christmas does.
You also have The Haunting of Hill House, which will be available at Netflix on October 12th. How did you find the experience of doing that and working with Mike Flanagan?
GRACE: Mike Flanagan is like the Wes Craven of his generation. He is amazing! Beforehand, I watched his horror films because I love horror movies, and I was like, “Oh, my god, I get to work with him!” I’m not going to say where it is because it’s an Easter egg, but he put the Oculus mirror somewhere in it, and I freaked out and took a photo in front of it. It was so much fun to get to work with him. He’s so nice.
What kind of character are you playing in that?
GRACE: I’ll try to describe her as much as I can without giving too much about her away. She’s always cold. It’s weird because she’s always wearing sweaters and gloves, during the middle of summer. Those gloves were very important. She’s very sophisticated. She’s very mature and more like a 40-year-old than an 11-year-old. She’s the complete opposite of me. She’s very anti-social, and I love making friends. She doesn’t like other people. That was hard, on set, because I’d end up wanting to talk to everyone. I’m just going to give one thing away about her. She has a very special ability. That’s all I’m going to say.
That sounds very cool! We also know that you’re in Captain Marvel, playing the young Carol Danvers. Especially after having worked with Chris Evans, who is Mr. Captain America himself, how cool is it to now get to be a part of that whole world?
GRACE: Oh, my gosh, I’ve always dreamed about and wanted to be a Marvel superhero. When I found out I got that, I screamed. I did it while I was shooting The Haunting and The Bad Seed. I’d go from The Haunting to The Bad Seed, and then on the weekend, I would go fly to L.A. to train and learn how to do stuff for Captain Marvel. I feel very grateful and thankful because I’ve gotten to work with Captain America (Chris Evans) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), and I got to play young Captain Marvel. I love Marvel so much. Every time a new Marvel movie comes out, my dad and I go and watch it. On Troupe Zero, we had a whole poll going, where I was Team Captain America and all the rest of the kids were Team Iron Man. I don’t understand it. When we would go and ask people who’s better, Captain America or Iron Man, most of the people said Iron Man, but I know that’s not true.
When and how did you originally fall in love with acting?
GRACE: Oh, my goodness, I wanted to be like Shirley Temple. I’d seen all of the Shirley Temple movies, and I wanted to be one of those kids on the Pee-wee Herman Show because I love Pee-wee Herman. He’s amazing! I wanted to be like him because he still plays with his toys.
You’re a very busy young actress, but you also clearly like to just have fun and be silly, like anyone your age should. How do you find that balance? Is that something your family makes sure that you have?
GRACE: Oh, yes! It just comes naturally. I’m always having fun. Whenever I get time off and I get to go back to L.A., my dad and I hang out. We just recently got a chess board, so we’ve been playing chess a lot. We watch scary movies together. Well, not my mom because she gets scared. We just play and hang out. I get to see my friends. When I’m working, my best friend and I call each other on FaceTime. I play with stuffed animals, all the time. My parents say that, even though I’m working in a grown up world, it’s important to stay myself.
The Bad Seed airs on Lifetime on September 9th.