By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Before heading off to the titular freaky institution in BOARDING SCHOOL, young Jacob (Luke Prael) has to deal with night terrors and a home life with a very high-strung mom played by Samantha Mathis. The actress speaks to RUE MORGUE about SCHOOL, her upcoming projects and a fright film from her childhood in this exclusive chat.
Mathis, familiar from genre fare like AMERICAN PSYCHO and TV projects such as SALEM’S LOT, UNDER THE DOME and THE STRAIN, makes a vivid impression as BOARDING SCHOOL’s unbalanced Isabel. The film, which opens in select theaters and on VOD/digital this Friday from Momentum Pictures, is one of a trio of new scare features featuring the actress, also including the Blumhouse movie ALL THAT WE DESTROY and the serial-murderer psychodrama THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER.
One of the interesting things about BOARDING SCHOOL is that your early scenes could be part of a domestic drama, separate from the horror material. Was there more of that in the original script?
Not much, no. That was the way it was sort of bookended, if you will. That was the structure of the script.
How did you get into the headspace of Isabel, who’s a little hysterical and unhinged?[Laughs] Boaz and I had long conversations about what was informing that, the way that she was raised. I mostly took my notes from Boaz and what was on the page. I could see she was a woman who was sort of desperate, and trying to hold things together. A woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, if you will!
How was it working with Luke Prael as your son?
I loved working with Luke. It was really his first project, and he had a sort of raw openness. His face is extraordinary; he’s a beguiling character to look at, and Boaz did a great job of casting him.
The film touches on Jacob’s Jewish identity as one of its themes; was that something that informed your performance as well?
Absolutely. It’s pretty clear that Isabel’s mother went through the horrors of the Holocaust, so I did some research into what it’s like to be raised by Holocaust survivors. I can’t speak for everyone, obviously, and all the myriad ways in which that affects people, but there were certainly stories I read about people whose parents went through that, who were raised within stressful homes with a lot of emotional scars in their pasts, and I think that’s evident in the movie.
That’s a level you don’t often see in the horror genre; was that part of what attracted you to BOARDING SCHOOL?
Yeah, I thought it was an interesting combination of things. It was a character I’d never played before, and a unique landscape of storytelling. I was also familiar with Boaz’s work, and excited about working with him.
Are you a parent yourself, and if so, did that inform how you approached Isabel?
I’m not, but this isn’t the first time I’ve played one. It’s not a world I’m unfamiliar with. But she’s a very particular mother, and very fragile and wounded. She loves her son but she’s also trying to survive, and I think the old adage of “love is blind” applies here; she doesn’t want to see what her fiancé may be doing. That’s a real driving force for her character.
What can you tell us about ALL THAT WE DESTROY?
I can tell you that it’s directed by a woman named Chelsea Stardust Peters, who worked at Blumhouse for many years, and Blumhouse has acquired it to be part of the series they’ve set up on Hulu, where they’ll release a movie every month that is related to a holiday in that month. So ALL THAT WE DESTROY will be released next May for Mother’s Day. And I can tell you that I play a mother who’s a geneticist, and I have a very complicated son. We just finished that, and I don’t know how much they would want me to say about it, so I don’t want to give it away.
I also have a movie coming out that I did with Dylan McDermott and Charlie Plummer called THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER [which we previously reported on here]. It’s predominantly Charlie and Dylan’s movie; I play Dylan’s wife, and it’s a coming-of-age story about a young man who suspects that his father may be an infamous serial killer, and is trying to figure out whether his father is in fact that person. It’s a really interesting, twisted little movie [laughs]. Charlie is extraordinary; he’s a very talented, natural young actor, and I enjoyed playing mother and son with him. And Dylan does something in this film that we’ve never seen him do before, a very specific character.
And I have to say, watching it, I was delighted and also really scared by the movie; it is very upsetting. Which is great, inasmuch as it accomplishes what it set out to do, and the fact that I’m in it and felt that way speaks to its success—I hope!
Do you tend to get scared even by your own horror films when you see them?
Not generally speaking, if I’m involved in a scene that’s scary. I’m actually a really big chicken when it comes to horror movies, so I don’t see a lot of them! If I do, I sort of have to watch them with my hands over my eyes; I suppose it speaks to my active imagination, and one of the things that makes me a good actress is the fact that I do have an active imagination. I remember my mother [actress Bibi Besch] doing a horror movie when I was 8 or 9 years old, and just being terrified by the suggestion of the monster in it. It was called THE BEAST WITHIN, and I only visited a few times, ’cause I was still in school. Just being on the set, though, and then coming home after work and knowing who the monster was, I could imagine that that monster was in our house. You know, kid stuff. But I still get scared sometimes.