[Interview] Justin G. Dyck and Keith Cooper for ANYTHING FOR JACKSON (Part 2)
Courtesy of RLJE Films
A film that tackles grief, comedy, and terror in one go, ANYTHING FOR JACKSON is definitely a must-see for anyone needing a proper horror movie fix. In ANYTHING FOR JACKSON, after a tragic car accident that took their grandson’s life, Audrey and Henry are unable to go on without him. Following the guidance of their ancient spell book, the elderly couple decide to abduct a young pregnant woman with the intention of performing a “reverse exorcism” to channel their grandson’s spirit inside her unborn child. But when it becomes clear the ritual has called upon more than one spirit, the couple realize they have summoned more than they bargained for and must put an end to the evil entity they’ve invoked.

For Part 2 of our discussion with Director Justin G. Dyck and Writer Keith Cooper, we dove more into the discussion of the specific auditory/musical aesthetic in ANYTHING FOR JACKSON, the exploration of grief in horror, and the preparation that went into researching the more ritual-based things in the film. If you missed out on Part 1 of this conversation, you can go here. As a general disclaimer, there are spoilers featured in this interview.

I wanted to ask about the soundtrack as well, because I’m a huge fan of old-timey music being used for creepy effect, especially the way it comes back at the end of the film. Did you have specific songs in mind going in? Can you talk a little bit about choosing that and the idea behind it?

Justin G. Dyck: Yeah, go for it, Keith.

Keith Cooper: Yeah, I mean, we always did. We’d known that we wanted it to — Justin had mentioned the idea that he liked — I think it was your grandparents, right, Justin? You’d said when you’d gone over there, they’d always had that kind of feel.

Justin G. Dyck: Yeah, my grandmother was a singer in World War Two over in Ireland. So I loved listening to their records because they would be listening to stuff from the ‘20s on old records all the time whenever I was in their house. So, to me, that said “grandparents.” So I put that request in. And Keith is a musician. I don’t know much about music, so I sort of leaned on him a lot there. And I said, “This is the feel I want. How do we make that happen?”

Keith Cooper: Yeah, so then we just went through and, you know, I mean: low-budget movie, we had to kind of find stuff that we could afford as well. So I actually ended up singing the opening song, the “Daisy Bell” song. And I was lucky, I had my friend Marlon who helped us out and did some piano. And of course, John McCarthy just knocked it out of the park. I mean, he did all of our score for us. Talk about punching above our weight. That was crazy, like, John coming on board just because it was his sister. I know his agent wasn’t happy about him coming on board. [laughs] But John was just so excited to work on it. So it was just, it couldn’t have been easier. And so John just made everything sound that much better. You know, I had a couple ideas. And then Justin had a couple ideas. And John just came back and said, “Here, what do you think of this?” And we’re like, “That’s way better than we ever could have expected.” So — but the song at the end credits, though, I think that was one that Justin had found. And it worked perfectly. I love that song. I can’t think of the name of it right now.

Justin G. Dyck: “I Have a Bonnet Trimmed with Blue.”

Keith Cooper: That’s it. Thank you.

Justin G. Dyck: Yeah, that one. And then the metal song is a band, right?

Keith Cooper: Oh right! Yes!

Justin G. Dyck: And that’s a friend of Keith’s as well.

Keith Cooper: Battle Scarred. And I wanted to make sure I got that right. Yeah, my friend, Kyle [Hunt], he’s got a bunch of very, very talented guys that just happen to do death metal. And it works so great. I was like, “Hey, we got a death metal scene.” And he sent us off two or three songs right away, we sent them the scene, and we’re like, “That sounds exactly like something Ian would listen to. So that’s perfect.”

Still from ANYTHING FOR JACKSON

It sounds like everybody was really all hands on deck. And when I was talking to the cast, they mentioned that, as you were finishing, that’s when lockdown came down. Can you talk about rushing to finish and still getting it done the way you wanted to get it done?

Justin G. Dyck: Yeah, we didn’t add any — it didn’t take any days or anything away. It was just weird dumb luck that we were planned to wrap on March Friday the 13th. And that was the day lockdown started coming in, in the Toronto area. So that last week, we were like, “Things are getting weird out there, guys. Like, you know, the world is starting to change a lot. And we’ve got, you know, four more days on this thing. Hope we can get it done.” And then by the time we wrapped on Friday, they were shutting down all the film sets. So it was close enough that we were — as far as we knew, we were still clear and safe to be working on that Friday. But then by the time we wrapped, we’re reading the news like, “I don’t think we can go for drinks. I think everyone just has to go home now.” So it was literally down to the minute that we had to go. You know, that being said, I would love five more days. (laughs) This was a very low-budget movie and we worked fast. I think we had over 90 setups on the final day. Which was pretty bonkers.

Keith Cooper: It was crazy, yeah.

Justin G. Dyck: But, you know, hats off to Sasha Moric for making it work with his incredible team.

Keith Cooper: Everybody really worked so hard, especially on that last day. Yeah, my favorite thing about that, just to speak to how great everybody is: I remember Julian coming to Justin and me at the beginning of the day, because it was a very heavy day for Julian. You know, the whole ending, you can picture what he had to go through for that. And he just said, “Hey, guys, no matter what, I’m here. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be here all day. I’ll stay as late as you need me to.” Like, I mean, we couldn’t have gotten luckier and just a more beautiful man — like, he’s absolutely incredible. And everybody, same thing. Sheila had said the same thing. It was amazing. Yeah. Except Josh. Josh didn’t want to do anything. [laughs]

Justin G. Dyck: Josh is a magnet for ridicule. Well deserved. [Keith laughs] Yeah, and I think Sheila said something very similar. And I remember we finished filming one scene with her and then she looked at me and said, “Is that it? Am I done?” And I had to say, “No.” (laughs) “We have one more scene, but we have to go shoot this exterior before the sun goes down.” And you know, she didn’t mean it as if she was done and wanted to go home. But she just said, “Okay, no problem, no problem.” And then we get back and she and Julian are there laughing in the corner and she’s telling me about some game they’ve come up with. They’re going through pictures in their phone, and they were just having a great old time. And just someone at the level of Sheila and Julian, they both went out of their way to make us feel better about going over by an hour or whatever it was. Which I think just spoke to how much they believed in the project and wanted to make it what it could be.

Yeah, that really comes through both in the film and when I spoke to them last week. I mean, they’re all such lovely people and obviously have amazing careers, but you could tell how much they really cared about the project and really believed in it. And that does come through in the finished product as well.

Justin G. Dyck: Yeah, we kept getting lucky on this one.

Keith Cooper: Insanely lucky.

Justin G. Dyck: And all those people are the majority of that luck.

Keith Cooper: Absolutely.

Justin G. Dyck: Yeah, no film could be done without its cast and crew. But this one especially — we could have gotten it done with a cast and crew. But this one, you know, I think, is why it is as successful as it is.

Yeah. And one of the things that I loved about the movie that we spoke about was that — I’m seeing a resurgence of, as we talked about a little bit earlier, about exploring grief in horror. But also I’m enjoying that we’re seeing more horror recently, especially with this one, where it’s not just twentysomethings or teenagers making up the majority of the cast. Was it important to you to show these grandparents or these people outside of the stereotypical age range in a horror film?

Justin G. Dyck: It became so. I think the first — that car ride home, I think it went to, you know, “Well, who would want it, you know, who would need to do this, to move on with their life?” And it’s parents. Keith and I are both parents. So we can relate with that. It would be parents. But that’s expected, and there’s too many expected things in…we had to turn ideas on their head, and that was one. So, I think Keith, you were the one who pushed it into grandparents first. And then once you suggested that, that’s when I wanted to cast Sheila. So how did you get to that point?

Keith Cooper: Honestly, I think it was just a lot of that I actually originally started writing it from Shannon’s point of view, from Becker’s. And I just started feeling like it was, you know, we’ve seen those movies before. And I’ve seen those movies before. And again, ultimately, I’m just — it’s all very narcissistic. I just want to watch a movie that I want to watch. So I’ve seen that movie. And I thought, “Well, I haven’t seen anything from the parents’ point of view.” And I thought, “Wait, what if they’re grandparents? Like, that would be even more impactful.” So I kind of ran that idea by Justin. And that’s usually what we do. We do a lot of “What if? What if this, what if that?” And I think it only took a short time there before we said, “Yeah, that would be cool.” And I think even literally, while I was saying, “What if it were grandparents,” Justin said, “Well, what if it was Sheila McCarthy, because I just watched her in this and she’s incredible.” And then I was like, “Well, I’ve always wanted to write something for Julian Richings. And I know somebody who knows somebody who knows him.” I was like, “So, we can at least try. And you know, we’ll see if we fall at the poor man’s Julian Richings and the poor man’s Sheila McCarthy.” And luckily they both came on board. So, we got real lucky again.

Justin G. Dyck: And one theme Keith brings to so many of the genre scripts he and I work on together and something I always just thought was a brilliant take and I think it comes from him wanting to challenge himself — as he says, it’s very easy to feel bad for, you know, the kid with the puppy who passes away. But it’s a lot harder to feel bad for a kidnapper or, you know, insert bad person here. So he always challenges himself to make us feel for someone who’s imperfect. And I think that’s one of the major strengths of his writing. And in all of his work, even if the main character is your classic protagonist, someone in there is flawed, and you’re feeling bad for them at some point in the movie.

Still from ANYTHING FOR JACKSON

Yeah, between the script and especially Sheila’s performance, it’s like you say, it’s impossible not to feel for her. I mean, there’s an element of, “Does this woman have both feet in reality? Or is there some delusion?” But at the core of it is this grief and the love story between the two of them. In addition to her performance, and Julian’s performance as well, it just made it — there’s not really a villain. And that was one of my favorite things about the movie, that you feel for everyone, even who should objectively be seen as the bad guy.

Keith Cooper: Yeah, that’s great. thank you.

Justin G. Dyck: Yeah, that’s definitely what we were hoping to do. And yeah, my wife is a massive fan of Sheila McCarthy after this movie, and she does not like horror movies. But she watched this and she was just like, “Sheila’s the greatest actor I’ve ever seen.”

I had seen Julian in a lot of things before. I hadn’t seen Sheila in as many things before, but I am such a massive fan of hers now. I mean, they’re both phenomenal.

Justin G. Dyck: Yeah, she does a lot of work at the Stratford Theatre, as well, here in…the south of Toronto. It’s the big theatre community in Ontario. And she’s very well known for her performances there. So, she’s able to dabble in both.

Yeah, and when we were talking about it, especially talking about how slow and deliberate the camera movements are, it is more of a theatrical film than maybe the stereotypical, you know, quick, quick, quick cuts for horror.

Justin G. Dyck: Yeah, you have a cast like this, you don’t need to do that. You just point the camera and let them go.

Keith Cooper: You don’t have to hide anything.

I did have a question about the script. I’m always curious when people are writing stories about possession or, you know, invocation of spirits, things like that, what kind of research you do. And I know some people take measures to make sure — I’ve heard on other sets where they took measures to make sure they didn’t accidentally summon something they didn’t mean to. What kind of research did you do and what kind of approach did you take?

Keith Cooper: You know, it’s really funny, because somebody else had mentioned that and I was fine until they said that, and now I’m terrified. I didn’t realize that we were supposed to throw that into the budget, to have a priest come and bless the house or anything. I haven’t seen anything since, so I’m gonna knock on wood. [knocks on wood] I did a little bit of research, as much as I could. Actually, funny enough, the most research I did was into Satanism itself, because I still treat it the same way that I would treat — I’m not a religious person, by any means — but if I was making a movie about Christians, I would certainly do my research [on Christianity] or any other [religion]. So I felt like I owed them the same respect. So I’ve talked to a couple [Satanists] that I’ve met, you know, chatted with online that liked the movie. They seem to say that I got this stuff right, so that was good. That felt nice. But yeah, I mean, you do as much as you can, without, you know, getting into it myself. I don’t know much. So I just researched the best I could. The opening, you know, what do we call that prayer or whatever she’s saying in the little community center there, is an actual one that I found. And somebody had told me, “This is how you would start a meeting,” or something like that. So: the best we could, without becoming Satanists.

Justin G. Dyck: The other thing we did is, it’s not really about Satanism. That’s just the group they went to. It’s really about legend. And the book, as Ian says, it’s spread across a number of years, different languages, different religions. So it could be, you know, there could be Egyptian takes on this demon or this god. The Greeks, the Romans, we dove into all that stuff, and history of religions and legends around the world. So what I had in the back of my head was, “There is this demon with a bird head. And he or she has appeared throughout time to different groups through history, he’s appeared throughout history. So depending on who saw him at the time, they create their own legends and story around him. And that is what humans are aware of, but there’s a real story lying underneath. And that’s the creature that is coming into this movie.” So that was sort of the way we went with it. And hopefully, we made it diverse enough that we didn’t, you know, summon any ancient Greek gods to come and put their wrath upon us.

Still from ANYTHING FOR JACKSON

Yeah, it very much doesn’t feel like a [specifically] Satanist movie. It feels like a movie about faith, more faith in people, the faith between Julian and Sheila’s characters, and in their grandson. So I really liked the exploration of them using whatever tools were at their disposal. As you mentioned, the book is very eclectic in terms of what it draws from. So I liked kind of that nondenominational necromancy, I guess you’d say.

Justin G. Dyck: I wish I could be as poetic as that. That’s a great way to put it.

Keith Cooper: That was a perfect way to put it. Their religion was just hope, you know, they just — they just needed an answer. They were just trying to find an answer to bring back their grandson. They didn’t really care where it came from. Whatever one was gonna do it, they were all in.

Justin G. Dyck: And even the people in the Church, as you learn — spoiler alert — they don’t all believe in it either, right? So it’s just one of many elements here to whatever the reality is in this underworld.

Are there any discussions about the movie or any takeaways that you wish were happening that you’re not seeing?

Justin G. Dyck: That’s a good question…

Keith Cooper: There are hidden ghosts in the movie. And I’ve only seen one person point out one. So that was something fun that I know was important to that. When Justin and I were doing it, Justin had these great ideas to hide them. So, on second watch, maybe people should look around, because it’d be very cool to hear people talking about finding the other hidden ghosts that are in the movie.

Justin G. Dyck: Yeah, but from a thematic standpoint, really, there’s so many people talking about this movie that, you know, at the beginning, I was just Googling the name and reading everything I could. “Do they like it, does everybody like it, do people like it?” But yeah, at this point, there’s become so much that I don’t actually have time to read all of it. And that is, you know, a little disconcerting, because I want to make sure everybody likes it, but also very, very nice that so many people are talking about it. So yeah, I can’t keep up, but I feel like there’s a lot of things being talked about. And many of which are small things I really only thought me and Keith would know about, like, “I want to sneak this in because this is for me,” but people are catching it and talking about it. And it’s really nice to see.

Keith Cooper: And just to tag on to that thematically, you know, the idea of privilege was very big for us…just that these, you know, old rich people are just so privileged enough that her baby didn’t matter to her and they can just take what they want. So I know that became a strong point for — I know Justin, Julian, Sheila, everybody was talking about it. It was just a nice thing that we could all get on. So it’s been good. But as Justin says, I didn’t know if people would catch on to the privilege side of things. But there’s a lot of people picking up on stuff. The whole community is smart. That’s what I love about horror movies.


RLJE Films will release ANYTHING FOR JACKSON on VOD, Digital, DVD and Blu-ray on June 15, 2021. To learn more about ANYTHING FOR JACKSON, check out our review!

All images courtesy of RLJE Films.

Jessica Scott
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