Interview: Kathryn Newton and Dan Stevens on manifesting roles and finding the humour in the horror of Abigail

Children can be such monsters.

After a group of would-be criminals kidnap the 12-year-old ballerina daughter of a powerful underworld figure, all they have to do to collect a $50 million ransom is watch the girl overnight.  In an isolated mansion, the captors start to dwindle, one by one, and they discover, to their mounting horror, that they’re locked inside with no normal little girl.

From Radio Silence, the directing team of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett behind the terrifying modern horror hits Ready or Not, 2022’s Scream and last year’s Scream VI, comes Abigail, a brash, blood-thirsty new vision of the vampire flick.

To coincide with the film’s global release this week, Peter Gray spoke with a bevy of the film’s creatives, including stars Kathryn Newton and Dan Stevens, who discussed how they found the funny in their fearful situation.  But first, sounds like Kathryn needs to settle a score with one of her co-stars…

I spoke to you, Dan, a few weeks ago for Godzilla, so it’s lovely to talk to you again.

Dan Stevens: Nice to see you again

Kathryn Newton: Great film.

And Kathryn, I spoke to you a few years ago for Freaky.  You mentioned Jennifer’s Body was one of your favourite films.  Now having worked with Diablo Cody on Lisa Frankenstein, and now being in a vampire movie, do you feel a nice sense of full circle synergy?

Kathryn Newton: I’m feeling like I should start talking about my favourite movies more often…

I think so.

Kathryn Newton: I love Godzilla.  I love Godzilla.

I spoke to Kevin and William just before, and I asked them about what they wouldn’t want to be stuck in a house with, and he said “Kathryn’s going to hate me for this”, and then said golf.  Do you like watching golf? I need to know the context of this.

Kathryn Newton: He said he didn’t want to be in a house with golf in it?

He said TVs with golf playing…

Dan Stevens: I mean, people playing golf in a house would be terrifying.

Kathryn Newton: I take it really personal that he said that.

Dan Stevens: That feels like a direct attack.

Kathryn Newton: It does.  I’m going to actually cry about that later.

Dan Stevens: There’s only one member of the cast who’s golf obsessed…

Kathryn Newton: It’s me.  I’m quite the golfer.  I went like every weekend in Ireland.

I feel like the Radio Silence guys have found that perfect balance of comedy and horror.  I think your characters here are two of the more intentionally comedic characters.  They seem, to a degree, to know what’s going on.  Do you both find comedy easy to navigate?  Kathryn, I’m going to say, you’re a pro at this point.  Do you find it gets easier?

Kathryn Newton: No.  I never know what I’m doing.  I think the only thing that gets easier is that you know you have to do something, which kind of results in doing nothing.  Like, you know something’s going to happen…

Dan Stevens: But you’re just funny.

Kathryn Newton: Thank you, Dan.  So are you.

Dan Stevens: You do nothing and you’re funny.

Do nothing and get everything done by doing nothing.

Kathryn Newton: Yes, you’re right, but because it’s an ensemble, I know that it’s not all on me.  I know I’m going to be caught.  Like, I know if I say something, Dan might say something that’s even more funny than what I said because it’s set-up.  You’re throwing a ball and someone’s going to catch it.  It depends on the cast, right?  You want to support each other and give people something to work with.

Dan Stevens: I feel like, on this, a lot of people were throwing improv lines around.  Just trying to make each other laugh.  You know, the setup is kind of ridiculous.  We’re all bad people in our own way and they get brought together and locked in this house.  Then they get all sorts of crap thrown at them.  Somehow, it’s funny.

Kathryn Newton: You just have an opportunity.  Like you come in the room…I remember when I have the onions, or the garlic and I think it’s onions?

Dan Stevens: You think (the onions) are garlic.  It’s supposed to be garlic.

Kathryn Newton: It’s a lot of that.  Those were the little things that I would react to that wasn’t in the script.  But we’re set up to do something (like that).  Our directors gave us the freedom to try it.  They never said no.  They never said it was bad, even if it was bad.  They gave you the confidence to try it.

I feel like whatever you both did, and whatever the Radio Silence boys did, it all created just… I’ve seen about 100 films this year, and this isn’t just me saying it, but Abigail is up there.  I had so much fun with it.  Chef’s kiss, as someone who loves horror.  So I just want to say congratulations to both of you. I hope this does insane numbers because it deserves to be seen.  This is why we go to the movies.  So thank you both so much.

Kathryn Newton: That’s so sweet of you, thank you.

Abigail is screening in Australian theatres from April 18th, 2024.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.