[Fantasia Interview] Rebekah McKendry, Ph.D. for GLORIOUS

[Fantasia Interview] Rebekah McKendry, Ph.D. for GLORIOUS
GLORIOUS l Shudder
Spiraling out after a bad breakup, Wes (Ryan Kwanten) ends up at a remote rest stop miles away from civilization. His situation worsens after he finds himself locked inside the bathroom with a mysterious figure (J.K. Simmons) speaking to him from an adjacent stall. As Wes tries to escape, he finds himself an unwilling player in a situation bigger and more terrible than he could possibly imagine in director Rebekah McKendry’s GLORIOUS.

After the world premiere of GLORIOUS at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky chatted with director Rebekah McKendry, where they discussed how the team conceptualized the specific vaginal, sea-creature-esque design of Ghat to setting GLORIOUS at a rest stop, and talking the specifics of what McKendry aptly described as the ‘blood rain’ sequence.

I know a couple of people worked on the script, but I have to know how did you guys decide upon a rest stop as the place for an existential crisis?

Rebekah McKendry, Ph.D.:  That was in the original script that was sent to us. So we read it during the pandemic. This was very much a pandemic project. [Around the] third week of the pandemic, my friend, Jay Goldberg, who’s also a producer on the film, sent Joshua Hull’s script over to me, and it was a guy in a rest stop who thinks he’s talking to God, and we loved that concept. There’s something so charming about that.

We optioned it and started expanding on it, and really putting in a lot more of the pandemic in it. We pushed existentialism. We pushed the philosophy of [our] own personal health a little bit more, and then started taking it out. But yeah, that was in there. What really drew us to that was that we drew a lot of inspiration from Repo Man, and kind of the idea of the existential crisis, the element of the philosophy of existing anywhere and that philosophy can come out in some of the most unlikely places. And so, we really took that with us as we moved forward with it. We were like, okay, a rest stop. This is beautiful.

But that’s part of the reason that we were able to get this made so quickly and efficiently during the pandemic because it was one contained location with such a small cast. Really, as we were shopping it around, people were hitting with the script. They were hitting with the concept and Josh and David [Ian McKendry]’s really clever writing. But what was also a really good selling point was that it’s one location and basically one actor for the chunk of the movie.

[Fantasia Interview] Rebekah McKendry, Ph.D. for GLORIOUS
Ryan Kwanten – Glorious – Photo Credit: Shudder
When it came time to cast for GLORIOUS, how did Ryan Kwanten and J.K. Simmons become involved?

Rebekah McKendry, Ph.D.: Right after we finished our draft of the script, I started to send it around to just really close friends. We were still deep in the pandemic. Nobody was shooting anything at that point. I sent it out to my regular DP in Los Angeles, Pietro Villani, and I was like, “Hey, Pete. I know we’re not allowed to shoot anything right now. But maybe if we all quarantined for two weeks, we could maybe try this on a soundstage in Los Angeles, because it’s such a small cast. Maybe even my garage?” I was desperate to shoot something, and just be creative and around people again. Pete immediately responded back and was like, “You know, who would love this?” He had just finished working with J.K. Simmons, and he had gotten to be really good friends. And he was like, “J.K. loves Lovecraft. He loves weird stuff. I want to send this over to him just to see what he thinks.” And I was like, “You’re gonna send my glory hole movie to J.K. Simmons. You serious, man?” And he was like, “Just trust me on this.” Literally 48 hours pass, and we get an email back from J.K.’s reps that he loves the script. He thinks it’s clever. He loves the style of it, and he really wants to do it. Let’s talk.

Immediately, my husband and I were like, holy crap! J.K. Simmons read our script and really liked it. And so, he was such a great inclusion because as we had been talking very preliminarily about how we needed to cast Ghat, our God in the movie, it always came back to the fact that he could not sound scary. He could not sound, as soon as he started talking, like he was going to devour Wes’s soul. It had to be somebody who feasibly sounded like he could be in the next stall over in a bathroom, and it had to be cordial. It had to be somebody who sounded polite. There had to be a very kind of social obligation to respond to this person. And if he sounds scary, Wes isn’t going to do that. He’s just going to bolt but the fact that he sounds like an everyman, like an actual person who’s in there, is why Wes feels obligated to respond to him.

Once we had J.K., we started looking at what we needed in Wes’s character and we knew that Wes had to be incredibly likable. He had to be charming. He had to be funny because he uses his humor as a defense mechanism and so, it does become a huge part of the charm of his character. And we had to believe him as kind of a schlubby everyman like he’s down on his luck. He’s doing really bad right now. He’s really drunk. He’s not pretty at the moment. He’s quite unkempt in a bathroom drunk off his ass, but at the same time, we have to buy him as a likable character.

And so, I had been a big fan of Ryan Kwanten. I’d always seen him as just this beautifully comedic actor who had not really gotten to push that yet. I’ve seen him in a ton of Joe Lynch projects where he gets to be comedic and bonkers, and I’d seen him just shine in those. So, as soon as we started talking about it, I immediately made the connection that one of our executive producers on the film, Barbara Crampton, had just been in Joe Lynch’s episode of Creepshow with Ryan Kwanten. And I was immediately like, “Hey, Barbara, do you think Ryan might be interested in checking this out,” and she was like, “I’m just gonna send it straight over to him.” And 48 hours later, I was on a Zoom call with Ryan and he got the project. He got the humor behind it. He understood the nuances of Wes. He was really into the idea that Wes does have this duality, where he does have this likable quality. He seems like a dude that would just be fun to hang out with. But, at the same time, he has this other side as well, that he really works hard to kind of contain. We knew that he was going to be great for this from the start.

And then, from there, it was just getting the two of them together for rehearsals. We did a ton of rehearsals because it was a pandemic, and we had time, and we had Zoom. So we had a lot of rehearsals between J.K. and Ryan going into the film.

That may or may not answer a question I had about whether or not J.K. recorded the audio ahead of time for GLORIOUS or if there was a fusion of pre-recording and in-person talking.

Rebekah McKendry, Ph.D.: So we kind of did a mix. We literally had a couple of months where we were waiting for COVID to die down before we could go shoot the film. We had originally thought about shooting it in January. But the original shoot date, numbers blew up, and everybody was like there’s no way we can shoot right now. And so then we had to hold for another two months while COVID got a little bit better. During that time, we were able to do extensive Zoom rehearsals with Ryan and J.K., talking about the script, talking about the philosophy, talking about characters, and then just actually running it like reading the script over and over.

So, by the time that we actually got to set, we knew J.K.’s delivery. We knew his tenor. We knew the cadence that he was giving to the lines. We knew his delivery style. And so, we had one of our producers, Morgan Peter Brown, who’s also an actor, reading it on set, but he was following those many rehearsals we had done with J.K. so that we were emulating his actual style of delivery and what he was doing with it.

And then, we did our recordings with J.K. We did a couple via Zoom online so that I was not in the actual same room with him. But then the big last one that we did, we were all in the same room in Los Angeles and it was just this beautiful moment because we had been working together for six months at that point, but we’d never met in person. So it’s just this beautiful moment of, oh my god, it’s you! Finally! And then we got to do that big last recording session together in person.

[Fantasia Interview] Rebekah McKendry, Ph.D. for GLORIOUS
BTS, Ryan Kwanten – Glorious – Photo Credit: Shudder
You mentioned earlier that you guys use the soundstage. While watching GLORIOUS, I was trying to figure out what all was shot on location and what was the stage. I assumed a stage was used once you guys started to break the set.

Rebekah McKendry, Ph.D.: To a degree. The entire bathroom was a soundstage. That was an entire creation. We did three days at an actual rest stop. That is a rest stop on the Natchez Trace, about an hour outside of Jackson, Mississippi. We shot that in June and it was hot as hell and I have never felt humidity like that before in my life. But it was a wild time and it looks absolutely gorgeous. It was just a beautiful rural location.

So we did three days there and then the rest of it was on a soundstage in Jackson, Mississippi. We created the bathroom from the ground up and we knew we had to. There’s something gross about filming in an actual rest stop. My OCD side immediately was like this is really fucking disgusting. And so, we knew additionally, just purely from a filmmaker’s point, that I needed to be able to fly walls out. I needed to be able to put lights where I wanted them. And because there was so much of it that was written into the script that we needed to be able to control, we needed him to be able to climb into vents, to stand on urinals, to rip a urinal out of the wall at points, to have the sinks broken, to have the mirror shattered.

It was so specific the elements that we needed in this bathroom that we realized we were really going to have to just build our own, and I was also so particular about the colors I wanted in it, [about] the patterns I wanted on the floor, where even just the drain [was located] because we have a lot of blood [in this shoot] and I knew I wanted the blood draining in the floor at one point, [so] where that drain was located versus the stalls [was important]. It was all just such minutiae that was written into the script, so we had to build. It gave us so many options. Every single wall in that bathroom was removable. We were able to take down the stalls very quickly. They had made them so that we could pop those things out within three minutes if I wanted a shot that was very particular. We could back them up and put them back in the ground four feet away so I’d still have a wall behind somebody, but I had more space in front of them. We could shoot through the glory hole.

A lot of it we knew we were going to have to do from the start because when you make a film in a small space, anybody who’s ever shot in a bathroom before, it’s a nightmarish thing, because everything’s reflective. In any bathroom you walk into the tiles are reflective. The mirror is reflective. The toilet has a glossy sheen to it. It’s gonna reflect lights. Even the faucets are reflective. So that was another thing of we have to be able to control the world so we can use non-reflective surfaces, dull everything down, break the shit out of that mirror, and cover it in a dulling spray. So that helps as well.

You mentioned the blood, so now I have to pivot to GLORIOUS and its use of fluids. How many takes did you guys have to do for the blood-sploosh scene and also the vomiting?

Rebekah McKendry, Ph.D.: For the vomit, I never wanted vomit in the movie. So we don’t actually show it. There is no vomit in this movie. That was actually one of the very first days on the soundstage because he rushes in and he immediately vomits [in the toilet], and I remember my AD coming at me and being like, we need to talk about how you want the vomit to look, and I was like, I don’t want vomit. I want blood. I want lots of blood, but I don’t want to see the vomit. So the vomiting was an absolutely wild day just because that was literally him rushing into the toilet for about 30 minutes. And I told him, I want you to feel like you don’t have bones left by the end of it. Like everything, meals from four years ago just came out. And he went with it and [I’d say things like] feel it in your toes. We had so much fun with it.

The blood rain was a completely wild day on set. So, with that one, my husband and I made Gwar videos and we did Gwar electronic press kit stuff. We had worked a lot with Gwar blood effects and how they execute stuff on stage, and a lot of what they do is kind of pressurized sprayers and so for the blood rain, that was entirely practical. It is four lawn sprayers like what you would use to spray chemicals or fertilizer on your lawn. It’s four of them positioned above him in the bathroom stall and we would pressurize them, and then I’d say, “Okay guys. Shot’s up and spray! Action!” And then we would just have this moment of rain.

We ended up going through close to 25 gallons of blood for that scene. It was constant. We were having to send people, to make more, to order more, to get more. We were taking blood anywhere we could get it. Where can we overnight it on Amazon? Because we kept running out of blood. But we knew for that scene that we could do something really fascinating. And I was so particular about the rain. I was like, I don’t want it heavy. It can’t be chunky. It has to be just this beautiful fine mist. I kept calling it my rain ballet. When I was talking about the music that I wanted behind it, I kept saying like a ballet.

Watching that scene in GLORIOUS, I was just wondering how you made the mess so that definitely answers that. Because it is very specific visually and coats everything.

Rebekah McKendry, Ph.D.: Yeah, and with those moments, with blood on any film set, it’s basically like glitter. Once it’s somewhere, it’s everywhere, and you’re gonna find it on your clothes or behind your ears, places that you never really want it to be, it just goes everywhere so quickly. And so, once we had the explosion scene, we basically had to shoot this film chronologically because we knew that halfway through, we’re going to have [things happen] and we’re going to destroy the set. We knew at that point we had to shoot everything that comes before, and then everything that comes after because that was a big turning point with the set.

I did not want to have to keep re-wetting the floor, re-wetting the walls, re- wetting everything in there. So that blood that you see on the walls, what’s hanging off the faucets and things like that, it’s mostly silicone. It was perfectly dry. You could touch it, and it didn’t come off on you. It was mostly caulked. What you would use to caulk a bathroom, we had colored it with blood and then we painted the walls with it so it still had a wet look to it. But it was nothing that we were going to take with us every day.

Glorious – Photo Credit: Shudder

How did you guys conceptualize the appearance of the Lovecraftian cosmic god in GLORIOUS? There are so many possibilities out there.

Rebekah McKendry, Ph.D.: I knew from the start how I wanted it to work. We worked a lot with the Russells, with Josh and Sierra Russell, who are the special effects people on this one, and really dove into how we wanted him to look. I knew I wanted it fleshy. I kept saying, like, vaginal, but not a vagina. There’s a lot of sexual imagery in this one, to be honest. There’s a lot in there. And so I kept saying that I wanted it to have this feel to it, but not be that.

Sierra Russell and I really started looking at all of these different water bodies of mollusks and snails, and all of the anemones and all of these different kinds of water creatures, these annelids and worms, and [how] we could bring that in. I knew I wanted it to have multiple mouths and multiple eyes. I kept saying elephant-tyned feet. I wanted it to have these massive feet that were kind of grounding it in place. And so from there, I threw a bunch of concepts at them, and then they came back with a bunch of different drawings, and then we started hashing it out.

Ghat, the monster that we used for that shot is about three feet tall. So we shot it in perspective. We shot it to scale, and then we comped it into that position, and he’s currently in my living room. At Christmas time my kids put a hat on him. He’s part of the family now. He’s a puppet. His mouths moving and his eyeballs moving around and things like that, that was all actually happening in the shot. You can fully articulate him and make him talk and do a song and dance if you want.

That’s really cool. Now I have to see the puppet just because I love puppets.

Rebekah McKendry, Ph.D.: I know! I should have brought him with me to Canada. Actually, I took him back on the plane because we shot in Jackson, Mississippi, and so I stuffed him in my carry-on because I was scared to death. If he gets lost, if I check him and that bag gets lost, it’s a lot. I kept thinking what if we have to do pickup shots or anything like that. So I wrapped him in saran wrap, and I stuffed him in my carry-on.

Getting through the airport, they searched the bag and she literally looked at it because it looks like a body part wrapped in saran wrap, and she was like, what is this? I was like, it’s the Lovecraftian God puppet. I mean, what do you say at that point? I had to explain that it was a movie prop from a movie we just finished shooting because all you can see are little teeth and eyes sticking out through the saran wrap. I got him through and he is living out his days in my living room now with my kids knowing him as a family member.

GLORIOUS had its world premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival on July 21st. The film will be released exclusively on Shudder on August 18th.

Sarah Musnicky
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