Betty Buckley will do anything to work with M. Night Shyamalan. “I love working with the best people, and Night is a master filmmaker,” says the actress, who is best known for her performance as gym teacher Miss Collins in the classic 1976 horror film Carrie. “He’s a uniquely gifted filmmaker, and I love watching him work.”
Buckley proved her dedication when she was cast in Shyamalan’s 2008 film The Happening. “I’d been up for roles in two or three of Night’s previous films, and I really wanted to work with him,” says Buckley. “I got to know Douglas Aibel, Night’s longtime casting director, and he sent me sides, scenes from the script, and he wanted me to record the audition and then download it to a Mac system, so they could look at my audition within twenty-four hours and make a decision.
“I was at my ranch in Texas, and I went to this camera store in Fort Worth and bought an expensive camera for the audition,” Buckley continues. “The guy at the store told me we could use it to download the audition. We did the audition in my kitchen, at my ranch, with my assistant holding the camera. I was outside with my horses when Cathy, my assistant, called me and said she couldn’t download it.
“We took the camera back to the store and asked them to download it. They couldn’t do it. I said to Cathy, ‘Okay, let’s pack up the camera and take it to the nearest Federal Express location.’ I sent the camera to Douglas, who called me the next day and said he’d only been joking. He thought it was so funny that I would do something like that, and when I met with Night, he also thought it was hilarious that I mailed the camera to them. I asked them to return the camera, which they did, and I had a great time working with Night and Mark Wahlberg on that film.”
In Shyamalan’s latest film, Split, Buckley plays Dr. Fletcher, a psychologist who specializes in split personality disorders. Fletcher’s most challenging patient is Kevin, played by James McAvoy, a man whose fractured psyche holds more than twenty different personalities. “I try to help Kevin manage his various personalities and integrate them into one being,” says Buckley. “I try to help Kevin figure out who he really is.”
Buckley did intense research for her role in the $5 million film, which was produced by low budget horror specialist Jason Blum. “I met with a psychologist and did research about this, because I wanted to get everything right,” says Buckley. “I wanted to research the complexity of multiple personalities. Fletcher believes that severe DID [Dissociative Identity Disorder] patients like Kevin have the ability to change their body chemistry through their thoughts. She’s written papers on this, which her colleagues have dismissed. Fletcher knows that Kevin is in trouble in the film, but she has a willful apprehension about Kevin, in terms of how dangerous he really is. She doesn’t see the Def-Con stage that he’s really in.”
Although Split was filmed in Shyamalan’s native Pennsylvania in the fall of 2015, the end of filming wasn’t the end for Buckley. “Night has been continually tinkering with the film since we finished filming,” says Buckley. “Throughout 2016, I’d be traveling, I’d be in New York, and Night would call me and tell me he wanted me to record some new dialogue. He’s a perfectionist, which I really admire.”
Between the big budget The Happening and the contained Split, Buckley doesn’t believe that Shyamalan has changed as a filmmaker. “I think he’s as good as he’s ever been,” says Buckley. “We shot The Happening in Philadelphia, mostly at a studio, and it was the same with Split. When I arrived, we had a script reading, one week of rehearsals, and I met James, who was very humble and down to earth, which is refreshing to see from such a big star.
“I think Night has thrived with these low budget films because he hasn’t changed his approach to filmmaking,” continues Buckley. “He keeps most of the same crew with him, so there’s a lot of consistency. I loved his last film, The Visit, which I thought was a master example of filmmaking. I saw The Visit in a theater, and I was amazed by how he was able to maintain suspense and tension while interjecting humor. I think The Visit is one of the great scary movies of recent years.”
Buckley has similar expectations for Split. “I think James is absolutely amazing in the film, in terms of all the different personalities he portrays in the film,” says Buckley. “We have several therapy scenes in the film, and those were some of the most exciting, intense scenes I’ve ever been part of in a film.”