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.
Continuing Nighmarish Conjurings’s ANYTHING FOR JACKSON interview series, which you can follow up on here and here, Jessica had the chance to speak with cast members Julian Richings, Sheila McCarthy, and Josh Cruddas shortly after the film’s Shudder premiere. They discussed the on-set camaraderie, the film’s depth and nuance, and the journeys each character takes.
The film is walking kind of a tight wire, tonally. I wanted to ask, since it combines horror and humor and a lot of pathos with regard to Henry and Audrey’s grief, what were your first impressions of the script? And how did you handle balancing the tonal shifts and the contradictions within the movie?
Sheila McCarthy: Go ahead. Go ahead. [laughs] You go first this time.
Julian Richings: All right, I’ll go first. [laughs] I read the script and I loved the script. And I thought, “What a great story, what a great point of view.” I also thought, well, it’s a very delicate script, because there’s so much going on. And it really requires the right approach and everybody being on the same page. You can’t have one person kind of acting horror, doing horror acting, and somebody else being naturalistic or whatever. So I was very excited when I heard that Sheila was thinking of doing a part, because it’s — to me, it’s as much about Henry and Audrey as a twosome, as a couple. And…the relationship between the two of them, and the appeasing and the providing, is as much about the other character as it is about the individual. So for me, it was sort of very important to know who was going to be my Audrey or my partner.
Sheila McCarthy: I would just add that, for me, I’m always attracted to scripts about underdogs and, you know, sort of the strangers in a strange land and the sort of: What are the failings of people? Where is their Achilles heel? Where are they vulnerable? And when I read ANYTHING FOR JACKSON…the story of such a somewhat ordinary couple facing an extraordinary situation is what really attracted me to the script. And, you know, there’s a lot of horror movies out there. And a lot of them are gratuitous or they’re horror for horror’s sake. What I loved about this was that it was somewhat grounded in grief and in the loss of a grandchild and the lengths to which people will go to get their lives back. And that’s really what Julian and I really focused on together. And again, when I knew Julian was doing it — we’d only worked together once before and sort of peripherally. And so this gave us a lot to sink our teeth into, on top of the fun of being in a horror movie…which was a blast, but really, the story was good to begin with. And that’s what is important to me.
Julian Richings: Josh? What did you think about us? [laughs]
Josh Cruddas: Sorry, I was just listening to you guys.
Sheila McCarthy: Who did you like?
Josh Cruddas: No, I agree. The same thing. As soon as I read the script, I was like, “This is not a movie that is…you know, it’s not your everyday movie.” And it’s a movie that at its core is about grief and about humanity and about two people dealing with that. And how far, you know, how far to the edge can grief push someone, right? And can grief kind of affect two rational people, and how far they can take that, right? And still remain in their humanity. And so I think if you watch the movie, both of these two — their performances, it’s stunning to me how you still root for these two characters through the entire film. Like there’s not, in my mind, there’s not a moment that goes by when you’re watching this movie and you’re like, “Oh…now I don’t like these people.” It’s like, they’re doing this crazy stuff, this horrible, horrific stuff. But the power of the writing and the power of the performances means that we never lose, we never kind of go to the other team, we’re always on board.
Julian Richings: What’s cool, though, is that with each additional character, it sort of adds value and complexity. It doesn’t even shift your loyalty but it just adds another layer, so Konstantina [Mantelos], who goes from being a victim to being a player, and she is very much in the three-way relationship. And then when Josh enters and even the cop who you don’t, you don’t know how much she knows what’s going on behind the scenes there. So yeah, it’s kind of an additional value each time another character comes along.
Sheila McCarthy: And I would just finally say also that what I always find terrifying is the ordinary, you know, the sort of ordinariness of horror.
Julian Richings: Mundane.
Sheila McCarthy: Mundane to me is what scares me. And I think that this movie has a lot of that.
Julian Richings: Right down to the special effects, the ghosts and the ghouls are —
Sheila McCarthy: Yeah, the little child in a white sheet standing behind the door.
Julian Richings: — terrifying.
Sheila McCarthy: Terrifying. It doesn’t take much, you know, so that’s what I loved about the film as well.
The special effects, though, so much of it seems like it was done in-camera. Like you said, the simple sheet over the trick-or-treaters and the contortionist who kind of terrorizes Shannon. What was it like working with so much in-camera, not having to act opposite perhaps like a green screen situation or something like that?
Sheila McCarthy: Well, it was great. It was practical, because, you know, nothing was CGI’d six months later. And when you have a limited budget, you have to be creative, and [work] with what you’ve got and with the sort of tactile, tangible elements. And in fact, that can be, as I said, more terrifying. So it seemed natural in the process, didn’t it? I mean…the contortionist really was so spooky. This guy…what he can do with his body? And he really does it. You know, it was amazing.
Julian Richings: Yeah. There was a collective gasp when he did his stuff. And the same with Marianne [Sawchuk], who was the flossing ghost? When she appeared, you know, we’re all going, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” Like, there was no kind of CGI stuff posted in. It was like, “That is horrific.”
Josh Cruddas: Yeah…Troy [James] was the contortionist, you know, and it’s always a classic thing. They’re the loveliest people, and they’re so — you know [laughs] they’re playing these monsters, but they’re always so, so lovely. And yeah, I think it just helps everyone, helps the actors…it also probably helps Justin [Dyck] and Keith [Cooper] on the day, too, because they can see exactly what they’re dealing with in the moment and they don’t have to kind of think, you know, six months ahead, as Sheila was saying, about what the movie is going to be and…if it’s going to be successful. So yeah, it’s fun to play in the real world.
Sheila McCarthy: We could react to the real thing. Reacting to the green screen, which is always, you know, challenging. So that —
Josh Cruddas: Tennis ball on a stick.
Julian Richings: And very strategically placed ghosts, too, and effects like the one big effect, I guess, which has to do with a snowblower. We won’t talk anymore about it, but it took place in the writer’s own backyard. And there was a real sense that he could construct a reality that he was in control of the elements. Even if the effect required a bit of magic, you know, cinematic magic, he could plan it and be in control of it. The same with the use of the elevator and the same with the use of the child and the sheet over her head.
I have an individual question for each of you. I wanted to kind of dig into specific scenes or specific aspects of your characters. Julian, I’ll start with you. I wanted to talk about the scene with Shannon when you’re kind of laying your soul bare, so to speak. You’re talking about your motivations and coming to grips with what you’ve done and all the sacrifices that you’re making for Audrey. And honestly, it’s probably my favorite performance of yours, because it’s so nuanced and it’s so devastating. So I really wanted to hear about what it was like working on the scene and what it was like preparing for that.
Julian Richings: Well, Sheila and I had already done all the work, really. I mean, we’d already voyaged through the movie pretty well consecutively as we’d gone through the movie, and we’d built up our rapport and our understanding and our relationship. So it wasn’t hard to have that scene when we did it. And to explain to another actor why I have a commitment to this actor or this make-believe character, I guess, but truly an actor who shared this voyage with you all the time. And it’s a clear assertion of our trust of each other…and it’s interesting, I mentioned earlier that each new character adds value. Well, Konstantina’s character, Shannon, really adds a kind of complexity. And she’s struggling for the loyalty between the — she knows it’s her only way out. And it’s Henry’s way of saying, “Audrey and I are all the way, we’ve been through so much.” And that was the way we approached our shooting of the movie: we shared everything and we kind of made decisions pretty well together. I mean, we had our own, you know, modus operandi, and we had our own privacy. But we also were very sharing in the way that we approached everything. So it really wasn’t that difficult. And it’s a beautifully written scene. It’s always beautiful to have a script that looks at the underbelly of horror, that isn’t just about one dimension. I always feel that there’s sadness underneath horror or laughter or violence. So beneath violence, there’s vulnerability and frailty. And I feel that that scene encapsulates all that.
Sheila McCarthy: Happy wife, happy life. Just keep Audrey happy.
Yeah, I’m always fascinated with cast dynamics, especially in a situation like this one, where it seems like Shannon kind of exists in one reality, at least at first, and everyone else exists in another. What was it like working with Konstantina and keeping those character dynamics in place throughout shooting?
Sheila McCarthy: Well, it was almost maternal for Audrey and Shannon. It became a mother/daughter replacement, as it were. And, you know, the sort of kinder and warmer and closer we got, then the conflicts arise of how could I be doing this to this girl, which is always what great storytelling has: this great conflict. So it was almost an inadvertent relationship that develops through the course of the film that makes it so hard. But in terms of actor to actor, I mean…we lived in her bedroom for a couple of weeks, I think, shooting. And because we were so used to each other and, you know — oh my God, poor Konstantina locked in that bed. We did let her out to use the bathroom occasionally. [laughs]
Josh Cruddas: Once a month.
Sheila McCarthy: Yeah, but, you know, all that downtime between shooting and stuff was just us hanging around and just getting closer. And really from the get-go, the first read-through of the script, a certain tone was set of kind of almost naturalistic acting, I would say, that we decided…that the story is so huge, the smaller and more intimate we could be, is what the movie needed to have, I think.
Julian Richings: Truth, like a truth of everything that we did.
Yeah, and so much of the movie seems to be about faith, whether it’s faith in the supernatural, obviously, or faith in interpersonal relationships, like with Henry and Audrey being such a close unit. Josh, I wanted to ask you, because one of the things I love so much about Ian is kind of the contrast between when we first see him and then how he acts once he gets kind of validation of his faith that Satan is real and how he takes charge. I wanted you to talk a little bit about that transformation, if you could.
Josh Cruddas: I appreciate that question. It’s one of those things I was saying to a friend the other day that, you know, you do this work, the homework, and then you just hope that someone sees it. And I was super lucky that, yeah, people have been noticing that…there is a transformation. I kind of had it in my script — not to get too in-depth, but I just, I had in every scene he was in, I kind of looked at him like he was a carbonated beverage, if you will, like he has been kind of like in his mother’s basement and he has been shoved down literally in that way and figuratively all his life for believing in stuff. And, you know, he has a lot of issues that have probably been compounded by his online communities. But basically every scene from when we first meet him with Henry and Audrey to the end of the movie when he finally realizes, “I was right all along.” …I just put a note on every scene and every page, what percentage the bottle had been unscrewed, and so by the end you’ve got these little moments where — at first he doesn’t even, you know, he’s not making eye contact. He’s so out of his element. And then once he realizes in his own completely power-crazy and incel-ish way that he was right all along, you know, he’s opened up and he’s cracked the champagne and he’s like, the bottle has erupted, so to speak. And so just having that was, you know, for an actor, was easy to visualize as, “Okay…today he’s here.” Because we were shooting the movie out of sequence and you want to make sure you’re in the right zone. But yeah, and it was easy to work with, you know, having scene partners like Sheila and Julian who — I’ve worked with Julian before and I’ve admired these two for a long time, and Konstantina and Lanette [Ware, who plays Detective Bellows]. And everyone, you know, it’s easy to do work that you’re proud of when you’re working with people who raise the bar and who keep you honest. And yeah, so it was just…I don’t take too much credit for it. But I had a blast.
Sheila McCarthy: And if I could just add Justin Dyck, our director, was very clear and thorough and deep —
Josh Cruddas: Oh God, he’s so good.
Sheila McCarthy: — right from the get-go, about what he wanted. So, you know, he was the master of the ship. And we really all felt that we were in incredibly capable hands.
Julian Richings: And we were all in the same world. Right? Even though it’s an extraordinary world, it was very clear. We knew where we were and where the parameters of our performance laid within that world.
Josh Cruddas: I felt, just to go with what Sheila said…I felt so at ease working with Justin and Keith. Because I knew that they knew what movie they wanted to make. It’s kind of like we were, you know, all filming together [like] friends just trying to make a movie in our house, right? And it was like, it took me back to when I was a teenager…they knew exactly what they wanted to do. And they were so grateful and joyous the entire time. Like, they just were loving it. And so that translated into a confidence that actors desperately — I, anyway, desperately crave. [laughs] You know, feeling that you’re not floating out to sea somewhere, right? So when you’ve got people saying, “We’re all on the same boat here,” it’s really amazing.
Part 2 of the ANYTHING FOR JACKSON cast interview series will drop tomorrow!
ANYTHING FOR JACKSON is now available on VOD, Digital, DVD and Blu-ray To learn more about ANYTHING FOR JACKSON, check out our review!
All images courtesy of RLJE Films.