Directed by Jeff Wadlow and produced by Jason Blum, the supernatural thriller Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare follows a tightly knit group of friends – Olivia (Lucy Hale), Lucas (Tyler Posey), Markie (Violett Beane), Brad (Hayden Szeto), Penelope (Sophia Ali) and Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk) – on a trip to Mexico for their last undergraduate getaway, before they all go their separate ways. While there, they play what they think is a harmless game of Truth or Dare, but the game follows them home and forces them to keep playing, leading them to reveal truths that could turn their worlds upside down and carry out life-threatening dares, or they’ll suffer the consequences.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Hayden Szeto talked about why he was excited about making Truth or Dare, why creepy is often scarier than gory, bonding as a cast, how he related to his character, and whether he’s someone who prefers truth or dare, when it comes to playing the game. He also talked about filming the pilot for the TV version of What We Do in the Shadows, what it was like to be directed by Taika Waititi, the heavy amount of improv and why expanding the variety of characters will make the TV series even more interesting than the movie, along with the upcoming AMC series Lodge 49.
Collider: I have to say that I very much enjoyed this movie. I had no idea what to expect going into it and I had a lot of fun with it.
HAYDEN SZETO: Good, I’m glad!
It seems like it would be so much fun to make movie like this because you get to do all kinds of crazy things that you don’t normally get to do. When this came your way and you read the script and you saw what you’d get to do in it, what were you most excited about or most looking forward to getting to do?
SZETO: The supernatural element of it really excited me. It lets me get creative, acting with an invisible force, which is fun. Whenever I audition for the horror genre, it’s quite awkward. As if it’s not awkward enough already, but acting in a room with sides in your hand, in front of ten people while you’re trying to pretend something is talking to you and happening to you, for the first time, is very strange. I was very excited to actually put it on screen and see what they would do with it, and the end result really, really, really pleasantly surprised me. Especially when you’re in the movie and you know what happens, the fact that it still managed to surprise me was a very good thing.
What did you think when you saw what the possession would actually look like and how it would change and distort everyone’s face just enough to make it really creepy?
SZETO: It’s really interesting because you hear them talk about it. (Director) Jeff [Wadlow] told us that it was gonna be like a Snapchat filter. I was like, “Oh, I think Snapchat filters are cute!” But then, when they had us do it on set, it felt silly, honestly, ‘cause we just tucked our chin and smiled. It felt like something a little kid would do, when they did something bad or they took something from you. It was kind of cute. Then, when I saw the end result, it just left a very weird feeling in my stomach. It just doesn’t feel right. I was like, “I guess that does look good!” Yes, it is kind of like a Snapchat filter, but they made it look so realistic. Your face actually has the real estate to make that face, and it comes across as real and believable, which just made it worse. It’s great because that’s the effect that they wanted to achieve.
This film has such a creepy tone to it, without actually showing that much blood and gore. Do you, personally, find that to be scarier, or do you get more scared when it’s outright gore?
SZETO: I find that when a horror movie forces you to use your imagination, that’s when it’s the most effective. It’s like when you read a really good Stephen King novel and it just makes your mind go places. Sometimes the mind is a scarier place than what you see before you. When we hear a sound at night, our mind just goes, “It could be a rat. It could be a wolf It could be a murderer. It could be an alien.” I think that makes it worse. It’s a very effective way of conveying a supernatural force. When we don’t see the violence, sometimes it’s much more effective, in my opinion.
I also liked how the friendships in this seem real because they’re not perfect. You can tell these friends care about each other, but they also bicker and fight a little bit, which makes the friendship between them much more realistic.
I know you guys took a bonding trip to Mexico. Did you have a moment when you realized that dynamic was really going to work?
SZETO: Oh, my gosh, yes! We were very fortunate that we got a long because I’ve been on sets where they force the cast to hang out, and sometimes it works, but sometimes it really doesn’t. When you’re on a movie set, you have a little family for a couple months. It’s like summer camp, where you don’t necessarily like the people in your camp, all the time. You tolerate them. It’s like high school. You didn’t go out to look for these friends. You’re forced to hang out with them. But fortunately, we’re still in a group chat. We are so happy that not only did we get to make a movie, because just being able to make movies, as an actor, is such a thing to be grateful for, and not making friends, on some sets, is such a small price to pay, but for this one, it was such a big bonus that everyone was awesome and we’re gonna be lifetime friends from this. I remember Lucy [Hale] saying, “This movie is great, but meeting you guys was even better!,” and we all totally agree.
I loved that this is not only a fun film that’s full of creative moments and twists, but it also touches on some serious subjects, especially with your character coming out to his dad. What did you most enjoy about getting to explore that aspect of the story and the way that it was handled, especially in a horror movie, where you wouldn’t expect that?
SZETO: Right. I related to Brad quite a bit ‘cause I grew up the black sheep of the family, as well. I happen to be straight, so I don’t know exactly what it’s like to have a secret of that magnitude. I’m not quite sure what coming out to your parents is like, but I do know what it’s like to feel different and have a secret. I just wasn’t sure how to be around my peers. I grew up in a very Chinese/Canadian neighborhood, in a culture where exploring the arts was so rare, or non-existent. My aunts and uncles are all doctors. My family are all in the sciences and politics. I felt weird coming from a family where my dad is an artist. My dad’s a painter, and I always felt weird. At school, I would get teased and they’d say, “Oh, he’s the artist’s son.” I’d get teased and made fun of, for wanting to watch plays and be in theater. I remember applying to college and I told some of my friends that I wanted to study theater and they were like, “Why would you want to study theater, you weirdo!” So, to that extent, I know what it’s like to be an outsider, and not feeling safe to tell my friends and family what I wanted to do in my life. I was afraid to talk about my own dreams, which fortunately had a happy ending, obviously. When I told my dad that I want to be an actor, he paused for a second because he was worried, but he knew what it was like to be an artist and he said, “Just promise me that you’ll pursue it, and not as a hobby, but as a career. You make sure you do a good job, and you make sure you succeed.” He told me, “If I can paint in the modern era and raise a family, you can act and be an actor and support yourself.” I think that was the most liberating feeling I’d had, when I got my family’s support, even though my mom was like, “But can you still get your college degree?,” which, I did. So, that’s how I related to Brad.
When it comes to the game of Truth or Dare, are you somebody who prefers truth or do you prefer to carry out dares?
SZETO: When I was younger, I enjoyed dare. I remember playing, when I was in my early teens, and I did dares, more to impress the girls and also to be macho in front of other dudes. I was like, “Yeah, I can do that! I can walk outside in my underwear! Why not?! It’s just Canada! It’s cold!” But as I got older, the truth became more interesting and human character became more interesting to me. I’ve had a thirst for truth, more recently. Especially being an actor, I enjoy seeing people vulnerable. The human experience is more interesting to me than just doing something disgusting or having someone say, “Here, drink my spit!,” or something ridiculous like that. The human experience is more interesting to me now.
You also did the TV pilot for What We Do in the Shadows, right?
SZETO: I did!
What was it like to be directed by Taika Waititi, because he just seems like so much fun?
SZETO: Oh, my god, I’m so glad you asked that question! I had the most fun on that. I felt like a 10-year-old. Taika and I vibed, really, really well on set. We practically did our own writing, on the spot. There was so much improvisation. We would just start making up the scene, on the spot, and we’d see where it would go. He’d give us a bare skeleton of the scene and tell us where it needed to go, and then he’d just let us riff with all the other actors. It was just brilliant. And he’s so encouraging, as a director. With everything you do and everything you take a risk on, he encourages you. He’ll laugh and he’ll tell you, “That’s good. Now expand on it!” It was an actors dream, really, because you get your ego fed right, but I don’t think he’s doing it to manipulate you. He’s genuine. He’s just a kid at heart and he’s having fun, and when there’s that kind of energy from the captain of the ship, the whole crew was in on it. It’s very inspiring. He was not stressed, so we were not stressed, or at least he didn’t show it to us. It was just a playground. Him and his crew are so on it. They know exactly what Taika wants. They know exactly how to follow you, which is difficult for the DP and the cameraman because when it’s improvisation, you have to pan to characters whenever you feel like they’re gonna deliver something funny, and the cameraman has to have a sense of comedic timing, as well, which is very impressive. So, everyone that was working on set – not just Taika and not just the actors, but everyone – was just on point. I had so much fun, and I hope it does really well.