Tate Taylor isn’t exactly the guy you’d expect to direct a psychological horror thriller like Ma, which makes its debut on digital streaming and VOD platforms today.
The director is probably most associated with films like The Help starring Emma Stone (Zombieland) and for which Octavia Spencer won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Honestly, though, that’s exactly why he wanted to take on the challenge of Ma, and he sat down with iHorror to chat about the journey from script to screen.
***This interview contains some spoilers for the film. You have been warned!***
Taylor had been hearing from Spencer that she was being offered the same type of roles over and over again, and he admits he was feeling a bit boxed in himself when he found himself chatting with Jason Blum aka the man who built Blumhouse.
“Jason and I are friends and we were talking about what we could possibly work on together,” the director recalled. “He likes to dip his toes into dramatic waters from time to time and he was trying to get a feel for what I wanted to do. So I told him I wanted to do something really, really fucked up. I want to play in that sandbox with all that craziness.”
Blum was surprised but immediately thought of script he had just gotten from Scotty Landes (Workaholics) and he gave it to Taylor to read.
By the time the director had finished reading the script, he was on the phone with his old friend Octavia.
“I told her I’ve got a script and you would be the lead,” he said. “I told her it needed work and then I told her about the story. She said she didn’t even need to read the script. She would do it. So I called Jason and told him I would do it and Octavia was on board.”
Taylor admitted he was ready to “let the wheels come off” and play within the space of the film. He also said that having known Spencer for so long made creating her character so much easier when it came time to roll cameras.
“We were roommates for six years so to call what we have a shorthand is really an understatement,” he said. “What is really comes down to is trust. An actor, even though they have that script, they have to trust the director. We have that.”
What he loved most about Ma was the emotional connection he found with the material, an element that he was grateful did not end up in the trailers for the film.
In Ma, Spencer’s character Sue Ann was mercilessly bullied as a child and in high school and those emotional scars never quite healed. When she makes a connection with some of her bullies’ children years later, something inside her snaps, and she begins doing terrible things.
“This couldn’t just be a slasher with a crazy lady and I decided to really lean into that bullying and the marginalization of certain people and certain cultures,” Taylor explained. “I think a fun tagline for this film would be ‘Be careful who you bully.’ Sadly that’s reflected in society today…Ma is a cautionary tale.”
Taylor also says it was important to him to infuse some humor into the film. The director spent time in the famous Groundlings in Los Angeles when he was first forging his career and he wanted nothing more than to become a cast regular on Saturday Night Live.
It was during this time that he really learned how laughter and humor can amplify even the horror space and as we talked I mentioned that John Carpenter himself had said something the effect of “No wants to laugh more than a horror audience. They need that break in tension to breathe.”
“I think bringing laughter into anything heightens the drama,” he said. “It makes it real and accessible to the audience. Not only was he [Carpenter] right about people needing to laugh, but that laughter becomes an emotion that can heighten the horror.”
Ultimately, Tate Taylor had a great time directing Ma and after seeing the film, I can’t help but hope that he makes his way into the genre more often.
Ma is available today, August 20, 2019, on digital streaming platforms and VOD. Check it out and see if you don’t agree.