One of my favorite films from this year’s Fantastic Fest was, without a doubt, Vincenzo Natali’s IN THE TALL GRASS, based on the novella of the same name by Stephen King and Joe Hill. The film boasts superb performances from the entire cast and gave us Patrick Wilson in a role not often seen from him. Drenched in horror and dread, with a Lovecraftian nod that easily drew me in, IN THE TALL GRASS positioned itself as one of the most unique films I have seen this year. While attending Fantastic Fest, I had the esteemed pleasure of not only interviewing writer/director Vincenzo Natali (which you can read here), but also the cast (minus Patrick Wilson and Avery Whitted) about what it was like to bring this film to life. For those not familiar with the film, the following is a brief synopsis:
“When siblings Becky and Cal hear the cries of a young boy lost within a field of tall grass, they venture in to rescue him, only to become ensnared themselves by a sinister force that quickly disorients and separates them. Cut off from the world and unable to escape the field’s tightening grip, they soon discover that the only thing worse than getting lost is being found.”
Seated in front of me in a room that looks as if it came from the set of The Walking Dead are actors Harrison Gilbertson, who plays Travis McKean; Rachel Wilson, who plays Natalie Humboldt; Will Buie Jr., who plays Tobin Humboldt; and Laysla De Oliveira, who plays Becky DeMuth. Laysla De Oliveira kicks things off by telling us what it was about the film that interested her in the role of Becky, “I’m fairly new [to the scene], so I feel like most jobs I’m like, ‘I want to be part of it!'” she laughingly remarks. “But, to be fair, when I read the script I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is something really special.’ All the characters in this are so complex and that’s what makes the movie so special – everyone can relate in a way.”
What I couldn’t help but wonder, though, was what it must have been liked to work in a field with grass as tall as it was for the film. “What you see in the film is what we experienced,” laughs Harrison Gilbertson. “All the day stuff is in an actual farm and the grass is some kind of bio-grass – they harvest it there and grow it for bio-energy, I think. It’s called switchblade grass so one side is fine and the other side…”, before he can finish, De Oliveira jumps in with, “Is not fine! It gave us lacerations!” Rachel Wilson takes the reigns and explains that, “We filmed in a small town in Ontario, Canada so the grass was grown there. Then they transported the grass to a sound stage for the last part of the film, for the night scenes. They took all the earth and the grass and the crickets.”
Moving grass is not an easy, or neat, job – something that these actors learned very quickly as they found themselves constantly tumbling through mud and dirt as well as being lacerated by engineered grass. “We had to shower on set because we were so dirty and we couldn’t get in the car to get home so it was kind of nice when you were done [filming] you could just take a shower,” explains De Oliveira. And though the thought of filming in mud and rain makes many cringe, there were some benefits to it. “As a female actress, there’s a huge freedom in not worrying at all about what you look like,” explains Wilson. “In earlier parts of my career, you’re always worrying about what you look like so it was awesome to come to set and literally have somebody dump mud on your head and mud on your face and be like, ‘That’s good, you’re good to go!'”
With a cast so small, it was important to make sure that each of the actors had a genuine chemistry with one another. Though it was clear that this group got along swimmingly, I was curious to know what it was like to work with Patrick Wilson, considering his character, Ross Humboldt, plays a major role in the devastation that befalls each and every one of them. For Will Buie Jr., he found having Patrick Wilson’s character for a dad something that was extremely cool. “He was so nice and so professional and if I ever needed help he would always be there to help me out,” stated Buie. For De Oliveira, it was about studying the talent that Wilson had to offer. “I always love working with a very experienced actor, I just try to be a sponge and soak up as much acting knowledge as I can,” she explained.
Harrison Gilbertson found himself going toe-to-toe with Wilson, something that he looked back on fondly. “He’s so well versed in stunts due to the work he’s done in other films,” explained Gilbertson. “It’s very safe with him because you know that he knows how to grab you by the hair without actually yanking your hair out.” But Gilbertson admitted the most important part of working with Wilson was, “Going home and saying I got dumped in mud by the guy from The Conjuring.” Rachel Wilson also echoed Gilbertson’s sentiments in regards to working with Patrick Wilson on the more physical aspects required for the role, “I just had a great experience because I was really well taken care of, he’s amazing with stunts, with set safety, with creative collaboration and how to make everything look the best it can. He was a 100% consummate pro.”
As we wrapped up, our conversation began to turn towards the writing of horror master Stephen King. Since they had now completed their first film based on a King story, it only made sense to ask, outside of IN THE TALL GRASS, what King adaptation would they want to be in. “Carrie!” both De Oliveira and Wilson were quick to say, though Wilson also admitted The Shining as she considers it to be one of the scariest movies made. As for Buie, who’s halfway to his 13th birthday, he remarked, “IT” and assured us that though he’s not of age, his mom would take him to see the new sequel.
All in all, talking with the cast of IN THE TALL GRASS was one that I’ll always remember due to their genuine excitement over being in the film. It’s clear that the cast is like a family which adds an even deeper layer to the film when you watch it. For more on IN THE TALL GRASS, check out our review here and make sure to see the film, now streaming on Netflix.