When HBO's zeitgeist-shifting series "Girls" concluded last month after six seasons, star Allison Williams might have fretted about being pigeonholed in roles in the vein of the show's Marnie Michaels.
But Williams didn't need to worry, having already preemptively "flipped the script" on any typecasting with her performance in "Get Out," the low-budget thriller from writer-director Jordan Peele that deftly blended the horror genre with some trenchant cultural commentary on race and sex and went on to become one of the highest-grossing and best reviewed films of the year.
With "Get Out" arriving on home video (out now), Williams connected with Moviefone for a deep dive into both the creative and career-minded choices she navigated while making the film, and her hopes that her future projects spark as much conversational back-and-forth as her previous gigs.
Moviefone: How cool is it to have made a really scary horror movie that also says something really interesting? How rare is that opportunity?
Allison Williams: Really, really rare. I feel really lucky to be part of it. I'm just glad it exists. I feel really psyched that I get to be part of it, to put it lightly.
When the material came your way, what did you see in it instantly, and what gave you the confidence that it was going to work? This is a tricky thing to pull off.
To address the second point first, Jordan Peele gave me all the confidence in the world. First of all, his reputation as a comedic genius, and as a mirror of cultural phenomenon preceded him, so when I talked to him about the script I knew I was in for something interesting. Especially after I'd been warned by my agent that it wasn't a comedy, I was doubly intrigued.
Aside from trusting Jordan completely, it was, on its face, a risk, because he, while brilliant and while having had a lot of experience with "Key & Peele," was technically a first-time writer/director with this feature. It's very, very independent, as most Blumhouse movies are.
And it was nearly impossible to describe -- and I know that because I tried describing it to everyone in my life who had been waiting for me to do my first movie, and then when I said "I got it, this is the one, it's amazing," they were like, great, what's it about and who are you playing?" I didn't want to spoil it, so I just basically said, "It's 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner' meets 'Rosemary's Baby,'" and they would kind of look at me quizzically.
And then when they asked about my character, I described the Rose that we see in the first half of the movie. I know that they were thinking, "Wow, it's weird. You talk so much about wanting to play someone different from Marnie, and by the description of it, she doesn't sound all that different." But I just didn't want to spoil anything for them.
So it was one of those things where it was great on the page, and it was a great experience shooting it, and then the first time I saw it all cut together nearly finished, I just breathed a sigh of relief where I thought, "Oh my gosh, this is so good!" I just thought it was good. The performances that Jordan got out of the actors -- Daniel Kaluuya is breathtaking in it, I think, and all of the actors are really, really good. I just feel lucky to have been working with them.
In terms of knowing that it was the the one and choosing it, but I get asked this question a lot and the answer's always the same, which is that, when I look at a script or a project, I ask myself a series of three questions. "Why this? Why now? Why me?" Basically the "why this" is explainable by the quality of the script, and the subject matter, and the tone, and Jordan, etc. The "why now" felt very obvious because it was exactly the right moment for this movie. I really wished it could come out more quickly. And the "why me" was basically that Rose fascinated me, and she needed to be the whitest of white, and very willing and able to step up to the plate in that regard.
Funny enough, Jordan needed someone he thought the audience would trust immediately, and I needed a part that would flip the Marnie that people seem to find difficult to extricate from me, on its head. So we both got exactly what we needed out of me playing this role. So it was really a confluence of wonderful things, and I felt really, really lucky. Even though, playing her at times was incredibly unpleasant, the overall experience was one of the best I've ever had.
There's a scene I love in which, on camera, you're absolutely emotionless, and yet your voice on the phone is filled with a gamut of emotions in that scene. That's such a tricky technical acting thing to pull off. Tell me a little bit about that particular sequence.
Yeah, it's funny. So that conversation, initially, we had thought about it -- or at least I had thought about it -- that Rose would be in character immediately before and immediately after the phone call. You see her kind of out of character, so to speak. Then Jordan said, "I'm picturing it in a new way, where your voice is Rose's, but your demeanor is just completely flat and dead, and that would be really creepy if you would pull it off." And he told me that a couple hours, maybe an hour, before we shot it.
So I was kind of like, "I don't know if I can do that, but let me see. Worst case scenario, we can shoot it that way, and if it doesn't ring true, I can just do it in ADR." Then I went into my trailer, and I practiced a few times in the mirror. And then, I brought Jordan in and I did it with him, and he got really giggly and excited so I took that as a good sign. He has a real giggle, and it makes me very happy, but it was basically the way he told us when something was crazy in a way that delighted him.
So I felt like I'd achieved it, but it felt a lot like sort of patting your head and rubbing your stomach. This is a weird comparison, but I felt a little bit like a parrot, because I've always been so creeped out by parrots that can talk. They don't emote, obviously, but their voices mimic the inflection of the people around them. So their voices actually have a lot of emotion, but it's just a parrot. So it was a little weird, but I was happy with how it came out.
You've done Q&As for the film, you've had conversations with friends who have seen the movie -- tell me about those conversations that the movie sparked, and what's been intriguing and fascinating for you to hear what people said about the film's themes.
Oh my gosh, there have been so many! I'll tell you something that I heard last night. A friend of mind texted me and said, "I just watched the movie for the third time, and I'm with my family, which is half Puerto Rican and half Italian, and I just want you to know that now we're all having a big conversation about race in the U.S. and about our cultural background thanks to the movie." That was the text I got last night.
I have heard from people that learned a lot about how little time they've spent looking at the world from any other point of view, what it would be like to be the minority at a party. It's not something that a lot of people experience -- a lot of white people, I mean. So the experience of seeing the movie through Chris's eyes, and actually maybe thinking for the first time what that would be like, and gravitating towards the only other black guy at the party, only to find that he is, as you later find out, also a white guy. It's so isolating.
That's where Jordan's writing and Daniel's performance really shone through, because it broke through and created this empathic experience for audiences that, in lesser hands, might not have happened as well as it did. So the reactions have been pretty amazing. People I never would have expected to see it. Long emails from my mother-in-law about things she discovered the second time she saw it in a theater, things that she picked up on. All kinds of stuff.
Every once in a while, I'll get a text from someone that just has thought of something for the first time since they saw it. Like a friend of mine I was talking to recently, he was like, "I realized around a month later that that was an auction." I was like, "You must have been just really overwhelmed by everything if that didn't occur to you!" But it's funny to me how it hits different people in different ways, and in waves, and that's kind of the greatest testament to the movie.
There are so many movies we see, and then they end, and that's kind of the end of our relationship with them. But it's the rare movie that sticks with you, and begs a second viewing, that you end up actually thinking about longer.
I listen to a ton of podcasts -- just this last week I was listening to one called "The Read," which I love, and they were describing something as like an Armitage party. I knew exactly what they meant, from the shorthand, and they've also used the phrase The Sunken Place a lot. So that, when the phraseology from the movie seeps into the lexicon, that's a real win. That's really exciting. That kind of means that "Get Out" has been added to a library of things that, I'm hoping, will stick around for a while.
You mentioned flipping the script on your Marnie image in the kind of performance you gave here. One thing that this movie and "Girls" have in common is some real cultural meat to chew on. Is that what you are going to keep looking for in the projects, whether it's film or television?
Definitely. The cultural reception of it is really hard to predict or have any element of control over. The way I look at it from my vantage point is, by asking the "why now?" and the "why this?" question, will kind of, ideally, always keep me looking at things that in some way, even indirectly, address whatever is happening in a given moment.
That can be done by looking backwards or looking forward. "The Handmaid's Tale" is a really good example of something that was written a long time ago and is set in the future, but seems to be addressing a lot of anxiety that's happening right now.
So there's an electricity to it that feels vital, and I look at what I want to do next, and I think if those intentions are executed well, it does have the potential of something like "Girls" and "Get Out" where it becomes a topic of think pieces and articles and people dissecting it and being taken seriously as art, because I think the act of continuing thought, and thinking about it on a daily basis, and talking about it, doesn't feel fruitless and random, it feels like it's connected to the things that you're dealing with and interacting with on a regular basis.
Of course there's still plenty of entertainment for all of many, many people who wants to use those two hours at the movies to check out, and to not think about the anxieties of the world, or, say, on a Monday night, check out and watch Rachel Lindsay's quest for love on "The Bachelorette." That is an impulse that is still well catered to.
But for the time being, I want to get back into and deal with something that's confronting what's happening inside your heart and in your core, I'm very proud to have been part of something that addressed that for women in a lot of ways, which was "Girls," and sexuality and race with "Get Out."