Entering a creepy and eerie location with a frightening rumored past has the potential to lead to disastrous results. But when your family is set to move into a new house, which has long been abandoned after a series of gruesome murders of a young family reportedly occurred, can be even more horrifying, particularly for a young teenager struggling to fit into a new town. The harrowing experience is heightened when the sole survivor of the last family who lived in the house immediately comes lurking around, and her evil demeanor is slowly but surely revealed the longer she prowls around the house. That scary occurrence is explored in first time director Mac Carter’s independent horror film, ‘Haunt,’ which is now available on VOD and is playing in select theaters.
‘Haunt’ opens with a father frantically communicating through a peculiar vintage radio before facing a disastrous death. The story then movies forward to the day the Asher family moves into the father’s ill-fated home. The family is immediately met by Janet Morello (Jacki Weaver), a pediatrician whose husband and three kids died one-by-one in the house before she finally agreed to sell it. Janet tells the Ashers she forgot something in the house, which turns out to be a portrait of her teenage son that she left in her attic.
The Ashers’ teen son, Evan (Harrison Gilbertson), decides to make the attic his bedroom. There he finds the Morello family’s most important possession: a wind-up radio that’s built to communicate with the dead. Sam (Liana Liberato), one of the Asher’s neighbors from across the woods, befriends Evan while hiding from her abusive father, and the two decide to test the machine.
Weaver generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Haunt’ over the phone from Canada. Among other things, the actress discussed how she was drawn to play the character of Janet because not only had she never starred in a horror film before, but she also thought the script was shocking and frightening; how she planned not to reveal the antagonist’s true evil nature in the beginning of the story, as people’s true personalities aren’t clearly evident when you first meet them in real life; and how she thinks VOD is an important platform for audiences to see independent films like ‘Haunt,’ as lower budget movies don’t have as wide a release as bigger studio releases.
Question (Q): You play Janet Morello in the new horror film, ‘Haunt.’ What was it about the character, as well as the script overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
Jacki Weaver (JW): I thought it would be great fun to do a horror film, because I have never done one before. I don’t even go see them, because I get too frightened. But I thought it would be fun to do one. I thought the script was terrific. I was pretty shocked by it, and I didn’t guess how it was going to turn out.
I met the director, Mac Carter, and thought he was fantastic. I thought it was a great story. So I had a great time doing it.
Q: Speaking of working with Mac, what was the experience of working with him on the movie, since he made his feature film directorial debut with ‘Haunt?’
JW: It was great. I really liked Mac, especially since he had a pretty clear vision of what he wanted. But he was also a great collaborator, and he was open to suggestions. He’s a very good collaborator.
Q: How did you get into Janet’s mindset before you began filming ‘Haunt?’ Did you do any particular research before you began filming, since you mentioned you haven’t made a horror film before?
JW: Well, I think like a lot of evil people, you don’t realize she’s evil, until her true colors show. I did some research about what it is to be a pediatrician, because she was one. I’m also old enough to know about people who have had tragedies in their lives. I gathered tidbits from all over the place, and made a viable woman out of Janet.
I think it would have been a mistake to make her a wicked witch from the beginning. I think it’s pretty important that you don’t realize how it’s going to turn out.
Q: Speaking of the fact that you didn’t want to reveal how evil Janet is right away, did you create a backstory, or plan in advance that you wouldn’t reveal her true personality right away, before you began filming?
JW: Oh, yes, I always create a backstory. That’s always something that we learned in drama school. One of the big lessons at school is to not play the result. We don’t give away how things are going to turn out. In real life, that’s never obvious.
But of course, when I play the very old Janet, all of the evils she’s done has already happened. So those things were always in the back of my head. So apart from that, making up the character was just imagination.
Q: Harrison Gilbertson plays Evan, a teen who moves into Janet’s old home, which has a history of death and grief. After experiencing paranormal activity, he enlists his neighbor, Sam, portrayed by Liana Liberato, to help uncover what is going on. What was your working relationship with Harrison and Liana on the set? Were you able to have any rehearsal periods with them before you began shooting?
JW: Oh, I loved both of them. I think they’re both such good actors, and such terrific young people. They’re really committed and hard-working. They were both great in the film.
Q: The rooms and property of the house were spread throughout Salt Lake City, where the film was shot. What was the experience of filming at so many different locations? Did it influence your acting at all?
JW: Well, once you’re on the set, it feels very real. There was one set that was in a studio, but the others were in actual houses. The dungeon in the basement was very a frightening, dusty and scary place. The actual house where we shot a lot of the scenes did have a very unhappy feel about it; there was a sadness coming out of the walls.
I reckon the art department did a great job with the locations. It was easy to imagine the story was taking place in this house.
Q: How does filming at different locations and sets compare and contrast to filming in real homes, like you did for ‘Silver Linings Playbook?’ Do you have a preference of one over the other?
JW: No, I don’t have a preference. Once I’m on the actual set, I believe that’s where I actually am. (laughs) It really doesn’t make much difference. I think it probably makes more of a difference to the crew, because they’re the ones in a small house, like the one we had in ‘Silver Linings.’ You’ve got the entire camera crew, sound department and a lot of other people trying to squeeze into one small place. I think it’s probably harder for the crew than the actors.
But we were on top of each other in ‘Silver Linings.’ I think that may have helped the atmosphere, as we were in this small Philadelphia house where we really would have been living.
Q: ‘Haunt’ was filmed on an independent budget. How did having that smaller budget influence your performance, and did it pose any challenges on the set? Do you have a preference of shooting independent films over big budget movies, or vice versa, or do you enjoy acting overall?
JW: I think for an actor, it’s the same, whether you have a $4 million budget or a $40 million budget. You just want to tell a great story, and make the character seem as real as possible.
Q: ‘Haunt’ is currently playing On Demand and in theaters. Are you personally a fan of watching movies on VOD, and do you think the platform is important for smaller, independent films like this one?
JW: I think it probably is a good thing. It’s good that people can see movies On Demand, if it’s too hard to find a cinema that’s showing the film. That’s especially true for the smaller, independent movies that don’t have good distribution.
Personally, I prefer being in a cinema, and I’ll travel a long way to see a movie in a cinema, any day, instead of watching it on a small screen. I can’t bear small screens, actually, and think sometimes they’re an insult to the director, especially if it’s a beautifully shot film.
Q: Besides films, you have also appeared in several plays in your native Australia, including ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and ‘Death of a Salesman.’ Are you interested in returning to the stage in the future?
JW: Well, my husband recently counted the number of plays I’ve been in over the past 50 years, and I think I’ve acted in about 89 plays. I’ve also been in about 30 films. I haven’t been in a play in about two or three years.
I did a play (‘Uncle Vanya’) in New York a couple years ago with Cate Blanchett. I’ll always love the theater, and it’s where I’ve really done most of my work. But doing eight shows a week gets tougher the older you get. (laughs)
But I’m still being offered a lot of plays in Australia, though it takes me away from America for as long as six months. I’m getting work in America, so I’m reluctant to run away from it. I’m having such a good time.
Q: Speaking of the fact that you have acted in Australia and America, how does working compare and contrast in the two countries? Do you have a preference of shooting in one location over the other?
JW: I don’t think there’s a lot of difference. I’ve always loved film crews, and shooting is the same all over the world. I recently shot a film in Puerto Rico with John Cusack, and the crew there was pretty much the same that you get in Australia.
I also filmed another one (‘The Voices’) in Berlin with Ryan Reynolds recently, and that was with a German crew. They were also very similar to the crews you get in America and Australia. I also did a film last year in Budapest. I found the crew there was very similar, as well. So I don’t think the film communities vary a lot all over the world. I think they’re very similar.
Q: Besides movies and plays, you have also appeared on numerous television shows, including ‘Super Fun Night’ and ‘Satisfaction.’ What is it about television that you enjoy so much? Do you have a preference of acting in plays, films or television, or do you enjoy acting overall?
JW: Well, I’ve actually been in two TV series that were written especially for me in Australia. That’s the kind of thing where you know you’re doing 14 or 15-hour days, six days a week. So I’ve been through all of that in Australia. One was a situational comedy, and the other was a drama.
I am actually doing a TV series, called ‘Gracepoint,’ right now. It’s a 10 episode series, and I’m in Canada right now, shooting it. So I’m quite happy to do television in America, and it’s not like I’m avoiding it. I think this series is going to be fantastic. It also features Anna Gunn, who won the Emmy last year for ‘Breaking Bad.’ So I am doing TV.
Q: Besides ‘Haunt’ and ‘Gracepoint,’ do you have any other projects lined up that you can discuss?
JW: I have three movies coming out, but I can’t really talk about them at the moment. I also have some movies that haven’t been released yet. The Woody Allen film that I did (‘Magic in the Moonlight’) was shot last summer in the South of France. That will be coming out in July. I think ‘The Voices’ will also be coming out soon. I think it may be going through the festival circuit. But I’m not really good at knowing when films come out. (laughs)