In the modern era of digital distribution and viewership its hard for a new independent horror film to find an audience without getting lost in the massive sea of choices. But Pitchfork is not only swept up the festival circuit to become a darling among horror fans, the twisted film has also found a place in the digital plays OnDemand in more than 40 to 60 million homes becoming a best seller across the board! A large part of the film’s success comes from the characters of Ma and Pa Holister, the twisted couple stealing the show. So to celebrate the film’s success before it hits retail shelves on May 5th we sat down with Rachel Carter and Andrew Dawe-Collins who play The Holisters to pick their brains on becoming the new twisted family of horror:
Ma and Pa were such intense characters that many actors would have reservations about playing, what drew you to playing them?
Ma: I have always been drawn to characters that are more complex. In my twenties, I was often type cast as the girl next door/Julia Roberts type, but over time, and particularly in theatre, I was able to delve into roles that were more three-dimensional. I have also been fascinated by psychology since high school and ended up with an undergrad in psych/minoring in theatre. I find the nature versus nurture argument compelling. So, when the role of “Ma” was offered to me it provided the opportunity to delve into this age-old debate. In addition, I have an acting “bucket list” and one was to play a villain.
Pa: When I answered the casting call ad on backstage.com I didn’t know much about Pa at all. Only after having a brief email and phone chat with the director Glenn Douglas Packard did I start to get an inkling of how messed up Pa was. The more I heard about Pa the more I wanted to play him. I really can’t imagine having ANY reservations about playing a character like Pa. I just love the fact that he is so damn far out there. When Glenn called me to offer me the role he flat out asked me if I was ok with doing the things he had so far outlined Pa’s character to do. I was like “Oh hell yes!” I mean as an actor if you can’t have fun with Pa or get excited about what he is capable of? I don’t get that at all. I still can’t understand anyone who would turn down the Ma or Pa roles?
I am sure everyone has asked about the house and the basement scene, were there any hesitations with performing some of the acts that the characters committed?
Ma: I had zero hesitations. I revel in the challenge of being taken outside my emotional comfort zone. I will say, that a big part of my comfort in performing these scenes, was knowing the integrity of the director (Glenn Douglas Packard). Despite this being his first film, I knew as an actor that I would be taken care of on set. When you feel this way about a director, it allows you step outside yourself knowing that they are there to bring you back. A good director is like a rock, a foundation, and it allows you to let go of inhibitions and take risks.
Pa: Ha,ha,ha, I get asked that a lot! Man, what was it like doing that stuff in the basement? I had ZERO hesitation or reservations doing anything Pa did in that basement…or will do in the future? I honestly really enjoyed the challenge of being Pa.
These characters are twisted is more ways than I can count. What was the process for getting into character?
Ma: I start by analyzing the text and creating a history for the character. Then I build the emotional life required by the text and the screenwriter(s) ideas, which required conversations with both Glenn and Darryl. I was trained in the Meisner Method (William Esper Studio, NYC) so I thrive when I am interacting and playing off other actors in the moment, but I show up on the set with some very clear choices about the character. For “Ma” I also wanted to create some physical characteristic such as how she holds her mouth, uses her eyes, her laugh, the tic of hitting the side of her head, and her cutting. This takes practice and I spent hours working on these mannerisms and incorporating them into the scenes.
PA: I started developing a back history for Pa almost as I was reading the script for the first time. But what really helped me nail Pa down was meeting the rest of the Holister clan for the first time at the full cast read through. Daniel and Rachel and I spent the majority of the day together, we stayed away from the rest of the cast, we would have some conversation with Glenn or some crew members but not the cast. Daniel had told us what he was doing to stay in character so we just went with it. Daniel and Rachel are brilliant actors and talking about the Holister clan with them, bouncing ideas and history about our family off each other was amazing. Spending the day together, away from but not out of sight of the rest of the cast, really helped us feel like outsiders together, well for me it did anyway. And when we finally all settled in and did the reading I thought to myself “Damn Andy, this has potential to be something special.”
Did you look at other famous families of horror for inspiration?
Ma: I do not watch many horror films, although I am a huge fan of the 80’s slashers. Glenn did provide a list of movies to watch for inspiration. I wanted to create my own vision for “Ma” so I was careful about not watching too many, but it did help me to understand the various horror genres and the extent to which I could create a horror villain.
Pa: Actually, No, I didn’t. I love horror films and I am very familiar with some of the iconic families of horror such as those in Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Devils Rejects. I wanted Pa to be different. I wanted him to be interesting, but kinda annoying in his voice and mannerisms. A character that bothered you so much you couldn’t forget him. I think that worked.
There was never a small scene with your characters, what was it like on set to maintain the energy in the scenes? Was there ever really a break from these characters while filming?
Ma: The basement scenes were tough because so much was going on and we had to shoot so many scenes with different angles and with only one camera … so there were breaks, but brief ones due to a tight 21-day filming schedule. For me I tend to go inward and not interact with others so I can maintain focus. The character of “Ma” is reeled in, even controlled when she’s in “public”, but in the basement she’s her real self. During breaks, I kept my distance and maintained, “control” then on set I could let it out. Sometimes I chose to stay in the basement. For example, before my monologue scene there was a break … I stayed, paced, and muttered my monologue repeatedly for almost an hour (I was told). Pitch remained chained up next to me and Clare stayed taped to the chair … these are ideal moments when you can explore the environment and really make it your own.
Pa: Our first day in the basement was very intense man. Nobody really knew Ma or Pa, or what to expect from us, so there was a very real tension on the set All of us there new that the basement scenes where dark, and very important to the film. That first day was exhausting man! I think that it has been mentioned that this film was done in 21 days with one camera? So yeah, the crew was pretty beat even before we entered the basement. But I have to say right here that all of the crew was amazing, and Rey is a god damned genius with that freaking camera, the film came out gorgeous…back to the basement…that first day when we had to keep our emotional energies and levels up while they moved the lights and camera for different angles and close ups? That was rough, I just kept Pa right there in the front of my mind, staring at him internally. I never left the basement while we were shooting on day one or day 2. So, for me, No, there was never really a break from Pa or from that basement. Pa loves that damn basement.
I know Glenn had the crew and other actors reframe from speaking with Daniel, did he have the same guidelines for you two and were you able to interact with Daniel outside the scenes?
Ma: Daniel, Andrew, and I had some lengthy conversations before filming about our family dynamics and the characteristics that Pitch had inherited from us, such as peeing on people because of MA and licking because of PA. We only had 3 days to film our scenes so when we arrived on set PA and I refrained from speaking to Lindsey Nicole (Clare) or Brian Raetz (Hunter) … we had limited conversation during filming to determine blocking, use of props, etc. We did speak with Daniel during filming although it was minimal.
Pa: As I said earlier Rachel (Ma) and I spent the day with Daniel when we did the full cast read through. So we were able to interact with Daniel while we shot the scenes in the basement. But those scenes being as intense as they were and because we never really left the basement, well most of our interaction with Daniel was still as Holisters and Pitch, not at all as Daniel, Rachel and Andy…it was kinda..GREAT, if that makes any sense at all. Great in a creative way to be so lost in a character like that. But even after we wrapped for the day (well, NIGHT as was the case for those basement scenes.) we would take a bit to slip out of character then head out to the campfire that was the post day mingling place. We’d have some late chow or a few drinks, even then we as the Holister clan would interact a bit with the crew but stay away from the cast. It was very cool.
What was it like walking away from set after some of the more intense scenes?
Ma: One of the reasons I studied Meisner was to be able to walk away from an intense role and not feel used up. With that said, after shooting some of my scenes there is a heightened state of emotions that requires some time to decompress, then a feeling of being emotionally exhausted. There were also many bruises, cuts, and scrapes … Brian Raetz (Hunter) was incredible to interact with … he was fearless and really helped me fulfill the role of MA by allowing me to be so aggressive with him during filming.
Pa: Well, like I said, most of the time was spent on set in character. I can’t speak for the rest of the basement cast (Brian and Lindsey were such pros, they took a hell of a lot of abuse in the basement!) but for me, as excited as I was to film day 2 in the basement, I found it kinda took some effort to reach back in and pull Pa out to play again so soon. On day 2 we were all a little more familiar with each other and we started the day without that tension we had on day one. I think that tension really helped feed the creativity on day one and I wanted it back. We all got back into the places we needed to be for our characters pretty quick though and good thing too, because day two in the basement was brutally long. When we wrapped, I think it was like at 3 or 4am, maybe 5am? We had shot a marathon of something like 14 or 15 hours with minimum breaks. We wanted to get this done so the rest of the cast and crew could get back to the other location and shot there. When we did finish and I walked out of that basement for the last time I just knew it was time to leave Pa alone for a while. I packed my stuff, did I say we were actually staying in the house above the basement?, tossed my shit in my car, said my goodbyes and drove straight home from the set about a 4 hour drive. I cranked up the radio full blast, I mean loud, blasted my favorite Detroit rock, band Dead in 5, all the way home. I was sad it was over. But I was also thrilled because, I’m telling you, I knew it was going to be a very cool movie. And it damn sure is. But yeah, it was emotional leaving that last time.