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.
Concluding our ANYTHING FOR JACKSON interview series, Jessica speaks further with cast members Julian Richings, Sheila McCarthy, and Josh Cruddas shortly after the film’s Shudder premiere. In Part 2 of the cast interview, (you can read Part 1 here) they discussed what continues to draw them to horror, the eerieness of Canada shutting down last year, and Josh’s desire to one day play a Christmas elf.
I was gonna ask about Justin — a lot of press focus has been on the fact that, outside of horror, he’s a pretty prolific director of Christmas romance movies. And that kind of ties into how ANYTHING FOR JACKSON is kind of a subversive holiday film. Is that something that informed the way you approached it at all? Because it’s been billed as kind of the anti-Nativity film…was there that subversiveness?
Julian Richings: We never played that…that’s an added delicious element to the whole thing. But really what comes through from all that is his pragmatism. He understands editing, he understands shooting under pressure, and there’s no wasted footage. Like, he knew what the shot was going to be and what the value of each scene was. And we went along with it. You know, we were all on the same page.
Sheila, I wanted to ask you a question about your character. We had talked about balancing the tone. And Audrey really kind of dances a knife’s edge between delusion and reality. You know, objectively, she’s doing something that’s pretty horrific. But, as Josh said, you never stop sympathizing with this woman. You never stop feeling for her or identifying with her. Can you talk about your process or any challenges you had with the role?
Sheila McCarthy: No, I — Thank you. it’s almost like you’ve answered the question. No, for me, it’s like when you want to leave a relationship. You don’t often leave a relationship because you want to leave, it’s that you can’t stay. So to me, it’s always those flip sides of, you know, Audrey’s knee-jerk reaction to what she’s doing is that she hasn’t really thought about down the road and what will happen. I think she so desperately is so blinded by her grief of, first of all, you know, causing a horrific accident, and then desperately her heart wanting her grandson back. It’s “Be careful what you wish for.” Without really thinking it through about a year later, a year from now, what will our lives be? Will we be able to live with the consequences of our actions? So…I just tried to sort of go in with Audrey with, you know, baking cookies and making tea and keeping the status quo and keeping everything as normal as possible and sweet as possible to get the result I wanted, without really knowing what would happen in the end to our marriage, between Henry and I, to the fallout of our actions. And so…you can say there was a sort of a naïveté to Audrey that I wanted to capture. I hope.
I have seen pretty much nothing but rave reviews for the film. The horror community has really embraced it. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a sense, because I feel like we’re seeing a resurgence of films dealing with grief and showing people who aren’t just teenagers or twentysomethings. Were you expecting that warm, welcoming response from the film community and the horror community for this? Did you know it was special?
Sheila McCarthy: No, well, I mean, I thought the one element that was incredibly special was casting two people in their 60s to be number one and number two on a call sheet of a movie, because it doesn’t happen very often. And so that original idea of having grandparents at the helm of a horror film, I thought was just fantastic. So I hope that people would appreciate that and they have.
Julian Richings: I agree with you totally, Sheila, about that. There’s also — there was just one element of resonance that kind of captivated me and I understood it through reading it, and now it’s kind of magnified. And that is the idea of an older generation treating the younger generation poorly. And I think that that is something that is resounding now culturally, with politics, with Brexit, with so many different things, where, you know, elders with all the best intentions in the world are enforcing their own beliefs or their own desires or needs on a younger generation. And I think there’s something in there. I don’t think the film is about that. But it’s a resonance. It’s an echo in the film. And I think other people have caught other kind of resonances to this film, because it’s just such a beautiful piece of writing. It’s so specific, and yet it kind of spreads outward from the center.
Josh Cruddas: Yeah, exactly. The writing…as soon as I read the script, I was like, “Well, this could be something that’s really, really a beautiful film.” Yeah, I think the biggest surprise for me and the reaction, it’s not really a surprise, but I’ve had so many of these reviews that friends of mine have sent me where they all are basically surrounding the fact that they mention that my hair is the worst hair in cinema history. [Julian laughs] I look at them and I’m like, “That’s so great,” because (a) we were trying to make him look like he was…I’m going to use a bad word: fucked. But also…I was like, this is how I, you know, in a way have to wear my hair. [laughs] And so I was like, my just natural hairstyle is the worst hairstyle in cinema history. [laughs] I was like, “That is, that’s great.” [Sheila laughs] And so really, I’ve had a blast. I’ve had a blast just hearing the reactions from people, because you hope people see what you do. And you hope people connect to it. And this script, as soon as I read it, I was like, “Yeah, I mean, I’ll play a tree stand in Justin and Keith’s next movie, if I have to.”
None of you are strangers to horror. And obviously, it seems like you had a wonderful time on set. What is it that draws you to horror specifically? Not that you only do horror, but what is it that draws you to it? Obviously, it seems like if you had an opportunity to work with Justin and Keith again, you would do so in a heartbeat.
Sheila McCarthy: Um, employment? [laughs]
Josh Cruddas: I think it’s the hair for me.
Sheila McCarthy: No, I love it. I love a good horror movie. And it’s just, you know, they are so much fun to do. You know, it’s an incredible playground to be in a horror movie, so, yeah, anywhere, anytime. It’s just the way…I would also say, horror audiences are so passionate about their horror. Like, really until I did this one — I’ve done a couple of others, but it hasn’t had the sort of scope, you know, the success and I’m just delighted with how passionate horror fans are about their movies. It’s great.
Julian Richings: I love the medium. I like working in horror. There’s a couple of reasons. First is that I love a medium that discusses our fears and our phobias rather than our fantasies and our soap opera pretend lives, that it goes underneath. And then the other thing is that I love working in a medium where it’s all about the rhythm of the story, whether we’re going to get a jump, whether we’re going to increase the claustrophobia, because we’re all on the same page trying to do the same thing. And every artisan, every department becomes important in the telling of that story, whether it’s the way you look, whether it’s the way it’s lit, and we’re all on the same page together. Park your egos at the door, and you go in on set, and we’re all telling the same thing.
Josh Cruddas: Yeah. But you know, I just, I can’t watch horror movies. Like, I’m so scared of them. And I have never really gotten over it. Jump scares, can’t do it. Tension, can’t do it. And so when I watched this movie back — you know, I’m obviously in it and I read the script I don’t know how many times, but I’m still sitting there, like, pulling my own hair out trying not to look. And I don’t know. That’s, to me, that’s the mark of a movie that, if it can do something to you physiologically, that is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. So it’s cool to see those kinds of movies, that’s for sure.
And a lot of the tension in the film, there are so many wide shots and just slow pushes in. It feels like you had a lot of room to breathe in the scenes rather than a lot of quick cuts.
Josh Cruddas: Yes!
What was that like?
Sheila McCarthy: I think, because the house itself was such an incredibly important character, that those wide shots, you know, they can be terrifying, as opposed to here, because you don’t know what’s going to happen in that room and you expect something to happen in that room —
Josh Cruddas: In the corners of the room.
Sheila McCarthy: So that was incredibly deliberate, I think, on Justin’s part and our wonderful DP [Sasha Moric]. So yeah, that’s a theatrical aspect of the film, too. It’s like a pros arch stage: you get to see all the corners.
Julian Richings: And we got to play the entire scene as a whole, the whole nuance and rhythm of the scene rather than bit by bit by bit by bit.
Yeah, it does. I know you’ve done quite a bit of theater, and it does feel very theatrical. Is that unusual compared to a lot of other films you’ve been on?
Sheila McCarthy: Um, you know, directors have all got their own styles, I think. You know, I’ve worked like that before. And I must say that we as actors, during the process, I’m never really aware of that. I try not to be aware of it, of the technical [aspects]. So now I see it and I go, “Oh, yeah, I didn’t realize that that’s the way that was being shot.”
Julian Richings: But I agree with you, too, Sheila. You know, we were much more subjective. We sound very wise now, but that’s because we’re looking at the final product, you know. Like, at the time, we’re just in there doing what we do.
Josh Cruddas: I remember being shocked. There was one scene where it’s, you know, a four- or five-minute scene of Ian just basically walking around the room, and it’s a bit of a monologue. And I was shooting a couple of other scenes that day. And I just remember walking in and Justin was like, “Okay, yeah, we’re gonna do this in one shot, we’re just gonna have you and we’re going to follow you around. These are your nine marks on the floor.” And it’s good. That kind of stuff keeps me on my toes, because it does take you back to the theater. It takes you back to, “Oh, there’s no faking this.” You’ve got to, you know, you’ve got to do it and still do everything else you wanted to do. So yeah, it’s a joy when you get to just play like that.
Is there anything that you hope that audiences take away from ANYTHING FOR JACKSON? I always wonder when actors are approaching the project if they’re anticipating or hoping for an audience reaction.
Sheila McCarthy: You know, I would just say that people might think they’re just watching a horror movie and they want a couple of thrills and bumps and jumps, to come away with going, “Wow, that was actually kind of a love story about the loss of a child” and to take away…one of my favorite horror movies is The Orphanage. And that movie? I had never seen anything like it before. What it did is it walked that fine line between horror and I was crying at the end, and I’d never seen a movie like that before. And so that was in the back of my brain when I read ANYTHING FOR JACKSON. I mean, you know, The Orphanage was a superlative film and one could only hope to make a movie like that, but that was that same walking that line between being moved and being terrified. Kind of cool.
Yeah, that’s an interesting parallel. That’s one of my favorite horror movies. And that might be why I loved ANYTHING FOR JACKSON so much, too, because of exploring the grief and not really having any monsters at all. Even though you’ve got all these horrifying creatures in ANYTHING FOR JACKSON, at the same time, the villains aren’t monsters at all. I love that aspect of it.
Josh Cruddas: Yeah, I think…having a character like Ian, who is so clearly — you know, I can say whatever I want about my motivations as an actor, but at the end of the day his job is to further sympathize Audrey and Henry. But also to hopefully be a bit of a cautionary tale about these, you know, you hear about them in the news, these guys who just can’t, for whatever reason, get out of the society that they’ve built for themselves in their mind, and it can get dangerous and it can get really…yeah, I struggled playing the part because there’s some real-world examples of guys like him who I just despise. [laughs] And so it’s tough to do that, but in the context of the story, you know, you see why he’s there and how it’s effective as well.
Julian Richings: And I’ll just add that the element of surprise, I don’t think any of us really have an agenda other than for people to enjoy the story and be surprised on one level or another. And I think that they will be because there are so many qualities to the film.
Yeah, absolutely. When you’re reading scripts, I’m curious, what is it that stands out to you? Are you ever looking for specific things? Or did you have any idea in mind of what you want to portray? How do you react when you’re getting scripts and when you’re getting something like ANYTHING FOR JACKSON?
Sheila McCarthy: Well, we just love, everyone loves a great story. And then as actors, you know…the part of a three-dimensional, you know, a part with integrity or a part with a beginning and a middle and an end is crucial. We don’t always get to choose what we do in our careers at all. So when these parts come along that are so incredibly three-dimensional and heartfelt, you know —
Julian Richings: Agreed, like a journey. A full journey. And I think a full journey is taken by everybody in this film. Whether or not they’re doomed to repeat themselves over and over again, it’s still a meaningful journey. And it all contributes to the journey of the story.
Josh Cruddas: I want to play an elf in a Christmas movie, but no one will ever hire me. That’s what I look for now. Yeah, something my mom can actually watch.
I’ll make that the headline of the interview. So we can just put that out there.
Josh Cruddas: [laughs] That’s right. Yeah.
Is there anything that you haven’t been asked about the movie that you want to talk about? Or that’s surprised you that people have not picked up on?
Sheila McCarthy: Not really. You know, it’s interesting. I would just say that in the world that we live in right now, we made this movie by the skin of our teeth. COVID hit, and we were about two-thirds of the way through. Right, guys? I think it was.
Julian Richings: Yep.
Josh Cruddas: Yeah.
Sheila McCarthy: And we were very concerned about finishing the film. And we finished it on Friday the 13th, March 13th, which is an auspicious day because that really is when in Canada, the axe fell, things shut down, stores closed. Like, we were all told to go home. And we finished the movie that day. So you know, that’s not of any importance other than in the context of the world we’re in right now. We were lucky to make this!
Josh Cruddas: Very lucky. Yeah.
Julian Richings: And the pressure that that had isn’t reflected in the final product. And I think that’s very gratifying, too, and that’s a testament to the director, editor, DP, everybody to make it look so good.
Sheila McCarthy: We just hunkered down, hid in Barrie, Ontario, and hoped nobody noticed that we were still shooting. Carefully.
Josh Cruddas: Very carefully.
Sheila McCarthy: And we didn’t realize, really, I mean, nobody really knew then either what was going to happen in the world.
Julian Richings: We haven’t had our wrap party yet.
Sheila McCarthy: No!
Josh Cruddas: Right!
Julian Richings: Maybe that’s what I want. I want a wrap party!
And, on that note, ANYTHING FOR JACKSON is now available on VOD, Digital, DVD and Blu-ray To learn more about ANYTHING FOR JACKSON, check out our review! For Part 1 and Part 2 of Jessica’s discussions with Director Justin G. Dyck and Writer Keith Cooper, you can go here and here.
All images courtesy of RLJE Films.