IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN GET OUT THIS INTERVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!!
The morning of the SAG Award nominations Allison Williams was jetlagged after a trip to London. She was in bed watching as they were announced. She says that she said Daniel Kaluuya’s name like a mantra as the nominations in his category were being announced and, “so far it has worked. I have to do it every time now.”
I tell Allison about my initial hesitation to watch the film just because I dread horror films and we talk about what scares us. Williams plays Rose, the seemingly perfect girlfriend to Kaluyya’s Chris. She takes him to meet the parents. They’re white, and that’s not all they are. Williams and I caught up to talk about crafting the perfectly wicked Rose and how she played the character she would never want as a friend.
Your character is so likable to start with and by the end, well, she’s not. What was it like to get that script and read this as an actress because she’s quite a role?
It was so thrilling and gratifying to be a part of the film. I was always amazed by an actor’s ability to lay out a character in a matter of minutes before the story really takes off. I had years on Girls for people to get to know Marnie and who she was. I was always looking for something that was different enough from Girls, and something that felt urgent and interesting and relevant to today. I got this script and I knew Jordan wanted me to play the part of Rose.
As I was reading it, the script seemed interesting and this character seemed great but she’s pretty loyal and nice and then I get to the part where she becomes far more interesting and I thought, “Oh my God this character is so twisted that I simply have to play her.” I don’t know what that instinct says about me, but it was just so appealing to encounter someone so purely evil with zero redeeming qualities who is evil to her core.
Marnie got a lot of hate for being judgmental but I don’t think anyone would have called her evil. I was fascinated by who Rose might be and how to layer the performance without giving it away. All of those challenges were things I was so excited about right off the bat. Filming it was an absolute pleasure and it’s just so much fun to talk about. It’s really been a dream.
She is a great femme fatale protagonist. Did you draw inspiration from anyone as your built her?
I didn’t. I built her with the help of Jordan and Gina Rattan who was the associate director on Peter Pan. I built her from the ground up. We started by figuring out what do we know about her and who she really is. We worked off of those assumptions. We figured at her core she probably stopped maturing at a young age because she’s been in a constant cycle of characters. What would you be like if you stopped becoming yourself in middle school? That’s where the clothing, and obsessive-compulsive attention to how many sips of milk and bites of cereal. That’s where that all came from.
The personality came from thinking who would I have to play to woo this very cool, young photographer. I’d have to be chill, relaxed, supportive and funny. It was a process of starting from the bottom and building the character much like Rose would have. Figuring out what to put in the movie in little glances that would be imperceptible the first time, but the second time would be incredibly creepy because you know those looks and expressions have two different meanings. That was really a fun part and Jordan would say, “Maybe we see an evil smile.”
If I played too much into what was going on under the surface, any moment it could throw off the storyline of the movie and the experience. It was something we had to be very deliberate and careful about and I really loved the specifics and attention to detail. It was really fun to prepare.
I didn’t draw from anyone I know. I would like to think that if I ever met Rose, I would immediately report her to the police. I don’t know what I would report her for. I think I would say, “This person shouldn’t be among us.”
She’s not the friend we want in our lives.
Oh God, no.
What about the conversations you had about the relationship with Rose and Chris?
When we moved to Alabama to shoot the movie, Jordan, Daniel and I worked together a lot to get the dynamic down and we did a lot of improv together. Improv is a big part of our training background for both of us, so that part was easy. What we were trying to come up with, again it was about in real time adjusting the levels. If she is too perfect and if she makes all the right decisions and if she immediately believes him and or never believes him, any of those things could give it away. If you or anyone you know were in that situation, Daniel’s thought was that Chris would make all the decisions you would make. So, when he sits down with her mom, even though the audience knows like he does, it is his girlfriend’s mom so you’re not going to say, “Fuck off I’m going back to bed.” You probably have to sit down with her even though you might be freaked out by it. The same goes for Rose. You’re not going to immediately explode at your family, but you might want to bring it up. Again, you can’t give anything away. That’s what I mean by the real-time adjustments.I think that it also lends itself to a relationship that on camera looks pretty healthy and balanced and not a thing that the audience has to worry too much about.
A lot of people said to me, they thought I was going to be killed on the way out of the house. You set up a lot of decoy arcs. We set those things up so the audience would think about where their relationship was going, but in reality, it was going in a different direction.
You mentioned it, but let’s talk about the Froot Loop scene. What’s your take on that scene?
It wasn’t in the original script, it was something we added. The idea was we wanted to know what Rose was up to while everything was going on in the basement. It gives us a chance to see that she and her alter ego are different.
In the original script, there was no costume change or personality change, she just drops the act. We get to see Rose for who she truly is and it became an opportunity for freaking people out. This is what she does when she gets to be herself. Nothing makes her happier than sitting on her bed and listening to a song when she was younger and fond of and eating almost in a regimented controlled way, but also in that finicky kid way. She sits there with perfect posture and is researching her next victim. That’s to indicate it’s a cycle, this is something she does and she’s good at it and her family needs it.
I just love that immediately upon revealing her true personality she pushes her bangs out of her face and goes right upstairs, washes off the makeup and changes out of her clothes and puts the photos up on the wall like her trophies. It’s so eerie, but I think Jordan shot it so well. None of those scenes were fun to shoot but I do get a kick out of watching them because people are so uncomfortably giggling and it’s so far from the character we met buying the pastries at the beginning. Again, that scene buying pastries and that little smile is supposed to be the same smile she gives Chris as he’s strangling her at the end. So, it was all layered and meant to look sinister the second time you watch it.
That’s what I loved about it, all those tells that you miss the first time.
You talk about the outfit. Did you have a lot of say in what Rose wore?
Oh yes. Once we came up with this idea of separating her from the person we’ve come to know. The idea of what she should be wearing became more important. I thought really strongly that she should look androgynous and that she might share her clothes with her brother. There’s no realized sense of femininity or maturity. My thinking was that if you’re constantly in character, the most relaxing thing for you to do is to go back to your factory settings and reset.
I worked with Nadine Haders, the costume designer and we kept trying to come up with a clothing version of that and going back to square one so you could build a character on top of it. I think it looks perfect. It looks like something you could have worn in middle school but had the added bonus of being completely bland and creepy.
I recently went to a party and accidentally wore a white turtleneck with my hair slicked back. Everyone looked at me and I immediately took my hair down and shook it out. It was kind of funny.
I don’t think you can ever wear a white turtleneck again.
Not in public. It’s a small price to pay to bring this person to life.
Have you ever looked into the fan theories that range from the film being an unofficial sequel to Being John Malkovich to The Shining links?
Oh my God! I don’t know anything about them. I need to go down a fan theory rabbit hole.
There’s also fanfiction.
I had no idea. There goes my afternoon. It’s wonderful that people are engaging in the film that way. I don’t know if I want to weigh in on any of them. Daniel and I were just talking about it, one of the strange things about making a movie is that once you’ve done the film, it belongs to the people who watch it. It has a life of its own. It’s like with Girls, we’d film a season, people would consume it and we’d go off and film another season. There was more of a dialogue between us and the people watching the show rather than a transfer of charge which is what happens with movies and it’s been so wonderful to see that people are digging into it as deeply as we wanted and hoped that they would. Jordan is so brilliant that you can go deep into this movie and engage with it because it’s so thoroughly put together. I love those theories.
That’s afternoon reading for you.
The film was made and released in Trump’s America as I like to call it. Did you think it would be so incredibly relevant?
Sadly yes. It was for a different reason. When I first got the script, there was a lot of movement against police brutality in the country, Black Lives Matter was getting off the ground. We were looking back at the Obama Presidency. When I read it, it felt urgent and that urgency for the film to exist.
When we were filming it, we were watching the Republican debates and we were filming it in Alabama which as of recently was very interesting. So, it was always relevant. I remember when we started filming to when it was released, I text Jordan saying how I wished the film could come out now based on different things happening. His response was always the same, that the film would be relevant at any point.
Get Out happened at a moment when we were as a country turning over rocks and seeing what we were really made of, but in that sense, it turned out well. But, at any point, this movie would have been relevant in that sense. I’m very happy that it provided and a new framework with which we can think about what’s happening now. I just knew it dealt with something very fundamental to American and worldwide feelings about race and change and generational divide on all those things.
What was it like working on a Jason Blum production where they move so fast and also working with Jordan?
I’ve known Jason for years. I never pictured myself making one because the idea was so terrifying to me, I get scared during horror films, but we’d been talking about doing something together for a long time and along comes this script and suddenly I’m doing something with Jason.
With Jordan, I was a fan of his for as long as he’s been doing his work. When I found out the script was coming from him and it wasn’t a comedy, I was so intrigued. I was confused because I was laughing and then terrified and thinking about the metaphors of race, supremacy and persuasions, and control. I thought it was so layered and fascinated. It seemed like a challenge for sure, but it was an incredible group of talented people from the top to the bottom. We all moved to Alabama to move so there was this real camaraderie so when you’re working with material like this you end up getting close in a way you might not otherwise.
We were out of our comfort zones and these are friendships I’ll have for life. Yes, we filmed it quickly and it was a low budget but none of it was a prevailing sense that we had. We felt really lucky to be a part of it. We worked really hard and were focused on achieving Jordan’s vision because you don’t sign on to do Get Out if you somewhat believe in this story that he’s doing. IT felt selected to the point that all of us were totally obsessed with doing it perfectly and making sure that everything was right on. So you had a hyper-focused group of people all working toward the same goal. Even though it was his first movie, he was so gifted instantly and he absolutely knew what he was doing.
I had this sense that he was really good at this. He was excellent at communicating with us. We just lived it for the two months we lived there.
Your character is one we’ll be talking about for a long time.
Awww. It is great to look back on. I was explaining what it was like to my friends and family because I hadn’t done a movie and they were all curious. I tried explaining the story to them and they had these looks on their faces when I was saying, “brain surgery” and “putting brains into other bodies.” It confused them, but when they finally got to see it they were able to enjoy it just like everyone else and know what I was talking about.
The best thing I say, “is to get on and enjoy the ride”.
Consider Get Out In your SAG ensemble voting and Daniel Kaluuya for Best Actor in a Leading Role.