120 x 600

Says Hawke, “It felt entirely unfamiliar to me, because 90 percent of the tools that you use as a performer are robbed from you. It felt almost like a Greek theater piece. I’d go down to this basement set and say all these weird lines, but I’d have a mask on. I was never sure if a scene worked or didn’t work, because one of the most interesting things about wearing a mask is how it makes other people feel. It changes the way other people relate to you… it makes the audience really focus on your vocal performance because they’re looking for any cues of how they can read it.”

The Kids Are All Right

The person whose responses Hawke was most concerned about was Mason Thames, the young actor making his film debut as Finney and thrown into the deep end with this terrifying, disturbing narrative.

“I didn’t really know how to work with a young person, doing such volatile, creepy material,” admits Hawke. “I was nervous about it at first, but this young kid had such a beautiful sense of play… I was worried at first about scaring him or anything, but he was all in. He wanted to go for it. I was proud of him. But you know what? It was interesting how much more he knew about movies than I did at his age.”

“He’s a brilliant actor and a good kid,” concurs Derrickson about his young star. “We read every actor his age that we knew of in New York and LA. Didn’t find anybody that I thought was good enough. He was, I think, in Texas, and just did a self-tape that made its way to the casting director who saw it, thought it was really good, and sent it to me. I [saw it and] thought he was very special. Then I did several online auditions with him and really became convinced that I had found a very unique, raw talent. I think Mason’s going to be a movie star as he gets older.”

Derrickson is equally full of praise for Madeleine McGraw, who plays Finney’s 11-year-old sister Gwen. Foul-mouthed, rebellious, and ferociously protective of her more socially awkward brother, Gwen challenges anyone who pisses her off, ranging from school advisors to police officers to God. “I just saw her audition tape and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s the girl,’” says the director, who adds that he delayed the start of shooting due to McGraw being committed to another project.

“I got the news, they said, ‘You’ve got to recast Gwendolyn Shaw,’” continues Derrickson. “I was like, ‘I’m not re-casting her.’ So I called [producer] Jason Blum and said, ‘I’m not making this movie without her… I want to move to the new year.’ And he is like, ‘For a nine-year-old girl?” And I was like, ‘Yeah, for this nine-year-old girl.’ She was that good. So we moved the whole production about five months just so that she could be in the movie.”

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Carl Walker

Carl Walker

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