By ROCCO T. THOMPSON
When she was plucked from semi-retirement by Adam Wingard for his subversive home-invasion thriller, You’re Next, Barbara Crampton entered a new, fruitful phase of her career to eclipse everything that came before. Her work since then has elevated her to genre grande dame status, but JAKOB’S WIFE, the sophomore directorial effort from producer-turned-director Travis Stevens (Girl on the Third Floor) sees Crampton forging new paths for herself behind-the-scenes as well as in front of it. Crampton stars as Anne, a shrinking violet pastor’s wife who finds herself awakening to a new sense of self and possibility after a transformative encounter with a centuries-old vampire. Crampton plays opposite Larry Fessenden (Depraved), Robert Rusler (A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge), and an unforgettable Bonnie Aarons (The Nun) in the film, written by Kathy Charles, Mark Steensland, and Travis Stevens. Having first encountered the script five years ago, Crampton has been integral in shepherding JAKOB’S WIFE from page to screen. She sat down with us to chat about the film ahead of its world premiere this week as part of SXSW Online’s “Midnighters” lineup.
This is your first time playing a vampire. Did you jump at the chance?
[Laughs] Well, yes. I mean I’ve always wanted to play a classic character, and who was going to give that role to me if I didn’t give it to myself?
You and Travis Stevens have been working together for quite a while, but did you ever foresee him directing you?
No, I didn’t know that he wanted to direct, although Travis is really quite adept at every aspect of film making, and that was really evident to me while we were worked on We Are Still Here . He knows a little bit about everything and was a very, very hands on producer and really has done some amazing work as a producer and helped shepherd some filmmakers to some wonderful movies over the years. And it was like, “Oh, yeah, of course,” when he directed Girl on Third Floor . It wasn’t a surprise to me, but I wasn’t expecting it. Then the movie was so well received, and it was so good, and it was really around that time that we were looking for a director [for JAKOB’S WIFE]. I said to my partner, Bob Portal, who was my main producer on the movie from Alliance Media Partners, AMP, I said, “Well, we should talk to Travis. You know him because you worked on a movie with him as a producer before as well. And look, his movies are great.” When Travis read the material, he said, “I love this film so much. Don’t talk to anybody else. I really want this to be my next directorial effort. I love it so much, and I love you guys. Let’s just all work together on It!” So, it was an immediate love fest, and, of course, we were just so happy to work with him. He just brings so much to the table.
Is this the most hands-on you’ve ever been in getting a film made?
Definitely. I produced a couple of other movies, but I’ve been with this project from the beginning. I think it won a best screenplay at Shriekfest in 2015, but I actually didn’t see it until 2016. And movies take time to develop and to put all the parts together. It’s like building a car every single time, building a new car from scrap parts: you have to just gather all the people, and work on it, and develop the script. The script came in and was quite good, and we also added some other layers to it. These things take time, and then you have to raise the money, and find a place to shoot, and do the casting. It’s long. I didn’t realize how long it was. Especially with this film. It took five years.
Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with screenwriter, Cathy Charles, who’s credited on JAKOB’S WIFE but also served with you as a co-producer on the remake of Castle Freak. What did she bring to the table here?
She’s a great writer, and she’s become a good friend. I have another script that she wrote that I have in development with Bob Portal at AMP. I just really like her sensibilities about story and about characters. She, and Mark Steensland, and Travis Stevens all had a hand in writing the material, so there was some things she added that were really wonderful.
Did you always intend to play Anne?
I did. I said, “Look, if we can get Susan Sarandon, I’ll just be a producer,” but we weren’t able to get her, so I played the part. [Laughs] I love the material, and if it were a bigger production and we were able to get a superstar, that would have been amazing, but, originally, I really wanted to play this part myself. It kind of related to my own life in a way. I had an awakening to the second round of my career when I did You’re Next  a number of years ago. I had a chance at a second round, and I think that this character resonated with me because it’s about a second chance for life, and it’s about hope, and renewal, and enabling the character of Anne to recapture her youth and gain a zest for life that she never knew she had or would be capable of. So, there were some parallels there with my own life that resonated with me on a personal level, and so I did really want to play the part from the very beginning.
It feels perfect for you because you’ve been outspoken about roles for women of a certain age, and it’s a film about rediscovering who you are as you get older, which is not a story we ever see.
It’s not a story we see, and they don’t make a lot of movies about older couple finding themselves. I do think in my late…middle to late 30s, I wasn’t getting a lot of roles because, really, even 30 years ago, there weren’t that many roles written for women of that age. I wasn’t the young thing anywhere, and I wasn’t the older matriarch at that point, and roles for me had slowed. I think things are different now. I think that there are roles for older women and that things are getting better, that we’re being a little bit more fair in our storytelling. Look at the movie, Relic  that came out, and was about an older woman. I mean younger women and how they related to the older one, but it was still about a woman. Also Anything for Jackson  about a grandparent. We’re not grandparents in this movie, but we’re definitely an older, long-married couple.
It is great, though that JAKOB’S WIFE is not in any way focused on children or an extended family. It’s focused on the two characters’ relationship as they grow into middle age.
Yeah, and I think it’s something that anybody can relate to if they’ve ever been in a long-time relationship and what that does to you, and how maybe you minimize yourself in the relationship. Haven’t we all done that at least a few times? And if you’ve been in a few relationships in your life, maybe you’ve felt smaller, and in some of your relationships then really felt buoyed up. It’s definitely true in some relationships that I’ve been in, so, I think it’s something that anybody can relate to, young or old.
You’re obviously no stranger to effects-heavy sets, but this this may be the most blood and gore we’ve seen you covered in in quite a while. Was that challenging?
It was fun! I love special effects, and I’ve worked with a lot of special effects in my early movies like Reanimator  and From Beyond . I was mostly in slime in From Beyond, but yeah, this is blood. I love all that stuff. I love practical effects, and I think they’re super fun. And they’re super fun to see on screen. Travis loves special effects and working with our special effects team.
Was this your first-time working with Robert Rusler of A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge? Did your paths ever cross in the ’80s heyday?
I never worked with Robert before, and we’ve never met. I didn’t know him. But Travis had met him at a screening for something, and he suggested him for the part. And he really liked him, and I said, “Okay, if you like him, let’s give him the part. It’s fine with me.” So, the first time I met Robert was when he showed up in Canton, Mississippi where we shot the film. And Robert is just such a wonderful actor. I’ve seen him on screen for years, and I knew about him. But he also teaches acting now to young people and works with young people. And he was just so warm and lovely, and just so engaging. It was pleasure to work with him. Really I really loved working opposite him.
What do you hope viewers take away from JAKOB’S WIFE?
Well, I think that in this sort of era where people…with social media, and in the news, and everything else is going on in our lives, there’s a lot of blame going around. People are blaming people for this or for that. And I think in JAKOB’S WIFE, Jakob and myself as Ann, we don’t blame one another for things. Something horrible happened. Something horrible happens to everybody in life all the time, and how can we use these tragic events to bring us together and not separate us? And I think that’s what I hope viewers will look at when they watch [the film] is how we can have a time for hope and renewal, and not destruction.
JAKOB’S WIFE world premieres as part of SXSW Online 2021’s “Midnighters” section on Wednesday, March 17th at 8:00 P.M. CT. For ticketing information, visit SXSW Online here.