[Interview] John Gallagher Jr. for COME PLAY

Actor John Gallagher Jr. is no stranger to the horror genre, having had memorable roles in such films as 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Belko Experiment, and Hush. This year, not only did we get to see him encounter a terrifying creature in the aquatic horror film, Underwater, but now he must go head-to-head with a supernatural entity trying to kidnap his son, in Jacob Chase’s upcoming horror film, COME PLAY.

For the release of COME PLAY, I had the chance to chat with John Gallagher Jr., where he discussed his character’s struggles and parenting style, working closely with the puppet creature known as “Larry”, and what made him decide to take the role.

Hi John, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today about COME PLAY. To start things off, what can you tell us about your character Marty?

John Gallagher Jr.: He’s a dad who is struggling to make ends meet, working several jobs, trying to keep an independent business afloat, it’s not quite going the way that he envisioned. He’s also trying to provide for his eight year old son who has autism and his marriage happens to be falling apart at the same time. So he’s up against a lot and doing the best that he can but kind of falling short of some of his familial goals. And then in the midst of all that, just when things couldn’t get worse, suddenly finds himself contending with a supernatural entity that lives in computers, tablets, and smartphones and is quite actually trying to come and kidnap his son. So Marty’s having a tough time to say the least.

How was it working with writer/director Jacob Chase and what type of research/help did he give to help educate the cast on autism?

John Gallagher Jr.: It was great working with Jacob Chase, this is his first feature film and I just love working with the next wave of young, excited, hungry genre filmmakers. There’s such a great wealth of… I feel like we are going to see over the next few years a lot of these filmmakers make names for themselves in the genre. I’m always game to jump in and play with that new roster of talent. Jacob Chase wrote this lead character with autism coming from a very real and respectful place. His wife works with children on the spectrum and so it’s a condition that he’s very familiar with. He was able to provide a lot of literature, a lot of materials through his wife to help us get a better understanding of what it would be like to raise a child on the spectrum. I didn’t do any real hands-on research but Azhy Robertson, who beautifully plays my son, Oliver, in the film, an eight year old actor playing a child on the spectrum, it’s such a heavy task and a tall order and he really just did it so wonderfully. He actually did get to work with some kids and go to a school and meet a group of children on the spectrum. It was amazing to see him do that kind of research and bring it to the set with such skill and such nuance. That was a really helpful resource to have Jacob help us make sure that we were doing it justice, that we weren’t using it as a dramatic device and that we were using it in a respectful way. Hopefully a way that you get some representation and some acknowledgement out there into the world.

(L to R) John Gallagher Jr. as “Marty”, Azhy Robertson as “Oliver” and Gillian Jacobs as “Sarah” in writer/director Jacob Chase’s COME PLAY.
Credit : Jasper Savage / Amblin Partners / Focus Features

We learn rather quickly that Marty and Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) have very different parenting styles. Why do you think Marty struggles so much more than Sarah? 

John Gallagher Jr.: I think Marty is a good guy, his hearts in the right place, but, you know, I think he himself is in a little bit of a state of arrested development. I think he’s a little childlike himself, so he’s kind of almost on a level with his young son. He has kind of a more optimistic attitude and then ultimately becomes, I think, skeptical. It’s a little bit of a trope but he becomes the one saying “Oh my goodness, my wife is flying off the handle. She needs to get some sleep. She’s imaging things that aren’t there” and, of course, that’s just not true. If he would take the time to listen and take it seriously, then he might not end up paying some of the costs that he ultimately pays for doubting that this Larry monster exists in the first place. His hearts in the right place, I think he’s just got some growing into maturing that he needs to do.

One of the scariest moments of the film has to do when we see your character working the night shift as a parking lot attendant and is confronted by Larry. Can you talk a bit about filming that scene? 

John Gallagher Jr.: The fun part of that was seeing our electronics teams and all of the crew time figure out how to get these big parking lot overhead lights to turn off in a certain order. That was a really exciting task to see them accomplish. I felt a lot of pressure to film that scene because Jacob Chase did a short film first before he made this kind of proof of concept. It’s only about five minutes long and it did basically that scene. It was this kind of unknown guy working the night shift as a parking lot attendant and being the only person there on the nightshift and suddenly finding himself interacting with this mysterious unknown entity. In the feature I kind of felt a need to get it right and it had been so beautifully filmed in the short film that I wanted to be able to do it justice. That was a really fun night on set because it was just me. I usually like to have scene partners but my scene partner was the unseen character of Larry in those moments. It was also a night shoot, so we were actually out in the parking lot from like 7pm until 6am filming that which can be a kind of a crazy experience, but that was a fun scene to shoot.

Speaking of Larry, how was it working with this unseen presence? Did Jacob use any specific cues to help you know where Larry was?

John Gallagher Jr.: Yeah, it was funny, Jacob would kind of fill in the blanks. He would be like, “Okay, I’m going to be over here, making the noise that you’re supposed to respond to.” If it was ever a moment where you’re not actually seeing something he would try to give me something to react to. They actually did build a big puppet for Larry who was operated by two puppeteers from the Jim Henson’s Company. That was exciting to get to work with them and to see them in action and to see them operating this puppet. That was one of the things that sold me on making the movie with Jacob. I had an online audition and Skyped with him and he talked me through the movie and we talked about the role. I said, “How are you going to make this Larry character. By the end of the film, you do see quite a lot of this monster, is that going to be CGI’d post production?” and he was like “No, no, we have a puppet, they’re working on it right now. It’s going to be on set with us. I want it to be old fashioned, I want it to feel like an Amblin movie of the eighties. I want it to feel like the creature is really there.” I was sold when I heard that because that’s a bit of detail that you don’t see on sets these days. It’s easier, a little cheaper, a little faster, to just go the CGI route. I was impressed that Jacob wanted to do the old school route for this movie. That was really exciting cause it gives you something to play off of as an actor, which is just so helpful.

COME PLAY arrives in theaters on October 30, 2020.

Disclaimer/Editor’s Note: Nightmarish Conjurings doesn’t endorse seeing movies in theaters at this time due to the pandemic. Please consider VOD and/or Drive-In options and, if you go to the theater, please be safe.

Shannon McGrew
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