February 2022 is a great day month for fans of horror icon Barbara Crampton, who has a pair of beloved releases debuting within weeks of each other in the eerie Alone With You and the unconventional comedy King Knight. I spoke to Crampton about the films, shooting during the pandemic, difficult scenes, and playing harsh mothers being disapproving over Zoom.
I really enjoyed Alone With You, and I thought it was a really tense and imaginative film. It surprised me that it was filmed during the pandemic. How did you get attached to it?
Barbara Crampton: A casting director who worked with me before, he sent me the script and said that this young couple was doing this movie. He had read it and thought it was really good, and [asked] would I like to read it? I did, and I really enjoyed the script. I thought it was really full of dread. I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen in the script. I read a lot of horror scripts and I think I know what’s around the next corner, but I really didn’t in this and it caught me by surprise.
It was going to be an interesting exercise for me too, because they said ‘we’re going to mail you some equipment in the mail, and you’re going to set up your own camera… and you’re going to be your own camera person, your lighting designer and your own makeup.’ That’s something I’ve never done before, and I took it as a challenge! It turned out pretty wonderfully, except for the time that I didn’t plug the mic in and they lost money.
It was a learning curve for me, and some things that the DP, Justin, told me about to set up my camera and everything were really interesting to me, and fun! I was able over Zoom, because Zoom became our number-one friend over the pandemic, to rehearse with Emily for a few days beforehand, we ran our scenes together. It seemed to go surprisingly well! They put it together, and I watched one of their first cuts and I was like, ‘okay, you have a real movie here… this is not just, you know, a ‘Zoom movie.’ I mean, they mostly shot in their own apartment, but they were able to go outside for some scenes and flashback scenes and kind of opened up the world a little bit. And I think they created a nice little movie.
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Absolutely. It kind of reminds me of the film Host, where everyone had to do their own effects, shoot their own segments… what was it like for you to have to put on all those hats?
BC: I basically banished my family from the house… I set everything up within the kitchen and my little home office, and my family was going away because we have a place in Tahoe, which I’m at now. I said ‘why don’t you guys go up to Tahoe, I’ll work on this,’ because it was going to be a day or two that I was going to be filming it. It was just me alone, by myself. It made me realize you really can create your own content, you don’t have to wait for anybody else to do it for you.
I was really impressed with those guys having figured [it all] out beforehand, and really giving me a lot of instruction about how to set things up, and we just sort of flew by the seat of our pants but I feel like they were really prepared. They also filmed me through the computer, so I was on Zoom with Emily… and then I had some footage from my own from my own camera that I sent up near the computer. So they are kind of back and forth between the two.
Was it challenging as a performer to have your interactions bet pretty much digital-only?
BC: Not really, because what’s going on inside of me is the same whether you’re seeing me digitally or, you know, if somebody’s filming me and I’m with another performer in the room. I mean, I’m used to acting with a sock on a T-stand, you know, something for a person who can’t stand by the cameras [and] they need to do just closeup of me and maybe another performer can’t stand there. I have to look at a piece of tape that’s actually on the camera when somebody is filming me and just react as you would [with] what’s going on inside of you, trying to be as authentic as possible.
I think maybe in my early career it was a little daunting at first because the person wasn’t right there, but now it just feels kind of normal. It’s just part of the whole process, and and of course Emily was right there and I could hear her voice speaking to me. She’s so good in this movie… she’s so full of emotion, and fright, and terror, and empathy that it was really easy to work off of her.
I do think you both have really good engagement despite the digital interface. I want to briefly shift gears to talk about King Knight a bit, another of your recent outings. The character you play in that is not that dissimilar from the character you play in Alone With You.
BC: It’s true. I’m playing two very judge-y mothers, it’s funny they’re coming out within a week of one another. I’ve always been a fan of Richard Bates Jr. I love all of his movies, and Excision was the first one I saw, I think that was the first one he ever did, but I found him to be really a filmmaker like no other. He’s just… he just has his own style. I think he’s a true auteur, and I thought that this movie was a kind of a departure for him because normally his movies are a little dark. This movie was really a celebration of life, and a movie about being true to yourself.
Even though I’m playing complicated characters in both of these films, you know, their messages of each are different than the characters I’m playing. I’m just a piece of the puzzle and trying to illuminate the true meaning of what the filmmakers are trying to say. It was a pleasure to to work for Ricky and to play Matthew Gray Gubler’s mom. The person who was most excited about that was my daughter, she had watched him on Criminal Minds and she was like, “Oh, my gosh, Mom… you’re gonna play Matthew Gray Gubler’s mom, can I can I meet him? My daughter was a real true fan. I said ‘I know, you can’t come to the set, you can’t meet him… maybe another time.’ But it was very exciting to her, and she kind of feels like she’s related to him now.
BC: He’s so charming. I really love this movie, too. You know, Matthew is a person who’s really good at using himself. I find that the best actors are really good no matter what part they’re playing. You know, you really want to see the person inside. And I feel like he did that so well, and in this film… you really fall in love with him in the movie. I think that’s the point about being true yourself and who you are, and he’s so charming, so lovely, and I think I really came across.
I really loved that film, it’s hard not to be charmed. Which of these films would you say was more more difficult for you as a production process?
BC: Interestingly enough, I would say maybe King Knight in a way because I had just one scene in the movie where we’re had to be… it was almost like Matthew’s character was kind of on a trip, and he was he was he was imagining some things that his mother was saying and doing. [I had to] bark out all of these words and it was kind of difficult to shoot, and I wasn’t exactly sure what was in Ricky’s mind for it. I just kind of had to go for something and I really wasn’t acting opposite anybody… I just had to be sort of doing this thing that Matt was imagining me doing and in a trippy way. That’s always a hard thing to do, I think. I didn’t even have a piece of tape. You have to have something to grab onto, because acting is reacting and there’s needs to be something there really wasn’t anything. And so I say [King Knight] just because of that one scene.
We did shoot that movie before the pandemic, so I was in a room with people. I don’t remember really remember what that’s like… although I have shot a few things since then, but with masks, and really being careful, but we were all together in a few different rooms, crowded in, and that was a good experience. But I can’t call this a challenge. I was actually on a Zoom call in Ricky’s movie and on a Zoom call in Emily and Justin’s movie, so maybe this is a new thing going forward. I’ve been watching that series Archive 81, and the main character is watching footage on tapes, and listening to things and reacting, and I think it’s really effective. It’s like the new found footage, in a way.
Alone With You is available on digital and on demand.
King Knight will be released February 17th in select theaters and on demand.