Samara Weaving was born in Australia, and first gained prominence there in the Aussie TV series Out of the Blue. American audiences have likely seen her work in Ash vs. Evil Dead, The Babysitter and Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, MO among others. With Mayhem, she steps further into genre filmmaking, playing a woman pleading her case at an odious law firm when a rage virus it released in the building. In an exclusive interview with the Sci-Fi Movie Page, she talked about the project and her character.
Question: This project looks like it took a lot out of you physically.
Samara Weaving: Once I realized that we had permission to push the limits of every emotion – that the whole premise of the script concerned a loss of emotional boundaries and an opportunity to engage in extreme emotion – you could really just lean into it and have fun with it. Steven Yeun and I were both on the same page in every scene, and we talked it through with each other. We made sure we were comfortable with whatever happened on screen and got our heads in the right place every day to go where we needed to go.
Q: How do you get into the mindset of material like this?
SW: The director [Joe Lynch] would show us horror movies every night, giving us the kind of tone he was going for. He also talked to me a lot about my character, and the idea that she found herself in these very desperate circumstances through no fault of her own. He prepared us so well. I remember there was a lengthy fight scene with a gang of underlings took us on. That provided a lot of logistical challenges: getting the fight choreography right, making sure we had matching shots, and the like. But we didn’t feel the technical aspects of it. We just worked it out, then let the material guide us.
Q: What do you think the appeal is of this kind of material?
SW: Well everyone has that fantasy about wanting to kill their awful boss. That’s an easy way to get people into this: the catharsis of that. But there’s a bigger catharsis here, at least I hope there is. There’s this idea that you can change your circumstances if you want to. You can get out of a bad situation and find something better if you just look past the material things that you think you want.
Q: How much details of the character did you need to develop before you started?
SW: Joe and I created a long backstory for her. She had a rough time growing up, she got bullied at school, she was into heavy metal. Things like that, that you don’t necessarily see in the film, but help the character feel more rounded. Most of all, she had a mother – a single parent – whom she was very protective towards.
She also gives the audience an in as far as this corporate culture goes. We have Steven and his character, but he’s kind of a part of this horrible organization, this structure that just generates misery. She’s the one on the outside, who hasn’t been corrupted by it. And she’s helpless, at least at first, but she does find someone in the organization who can still be a human being, and who wants to do the right thing. Ironically, I think she believes in people more towards the end than she did towards the beginning.
Q: What do you think the connected is between horror and humor?
SW: Comedy is actually harder than scares in a lot of cases. You have to get to the truth to the situation in comedy for it to work. Being scary is more a matter of technique: timing the bang properly or setting up the right context for the character. But you can cheat with horror. You can use a lot of blood or fun-house shock tactics and get by. Comedy doesn’t work unless you have the truth. You can’t get too dark, or else it’s just sick and you lose the message. But you can’t be too casual about it and treat it all like it doesn’t matter, or you lost the point again. It’s very tricky, and it takes a lot to get just right.
Q: Did you get to choose the props you used?
SW: The nail gun was always a part of it, and there were certain logical reasons for me to have to have it. It’s basically the only long-distance weapon in the movie. But we also wanted to limit that a certain extent, because you lose the immediacy of it. These are characters completely unbound by their higher instincts. They’re reacting on pure emotion. And when you distance yourself from the violence that they’re capable of like you do with a gun or a ranged weapon, you lose a bit of that.
It was interesting because the nail gun really became a part of who she was. It gave her this confidence – this sense that it was all real and that she had an edge – but we had to find ways to make sure she couldn’t just shoot nails into someone until they gave us what we wanted.
Q: Is horror a genre you’d like to do more of?
SW: They’re so much fun to make. I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat when it comes to watching horror movies, but putting them together is just wonderful. I’m an actress and I want to do a lot of different things of course, but the right horror movie – a good script and a director who believes in it – then I’d love to be a part of it.
Mayhem is available today in 4K, Blu-ray and streaming.