When Kathryn Newton took the lead role of Millie in Blumhouse’s latest horror comedy Freaky, she knew she was signing up for a bit of blood and gore, from perfecting the art of revving a chainsaw to chasing potential victims. She didn’t quite expect the reaction she got on set.
“I kept forgetting I was covered in blood, and I would be talking to somebody and having tea and they would really not be looking at my face,” she remembers. “I’m like, ‘Wha-?’ And they’re like, ‘You look a little scary. There’s a lot of blood on you right now.’ I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I forgot. I look like a murderer.'”
Newton’s Millie doesn’t start off as the horror flick’s big bad—well, technically not. When we first meet the teen heroine, she’s a meek young woman just trying to figure out high school. Late after a football game where she cheered as the school mascot, she’s hunted by the infamous Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn). But instead of dying, Millie wakes up the next morning inside the body of the serial killer, and now Newton’s playing the Blissfield Butcher cloaked as a teen girl (yes, very Hot Chick). That’s when the fun starts for Newton, as Millie-as-the-Butcher murders her classmates left and right in some of the most ridiculous ways imaginable.
This isn’t the first time the 23-year-actress flexed her comedic chops. She starred in 2018’s raunchy-but-heartfelt hit Blockers and played a Psyduck-toting Pokémon trainer in Pokémon Detective Pikachu, while her more dramatic television work includes Big Little Lies, Supernatural, and The Society. ELLE.com caught up with the actress to talk about how Freaky subverts tired tropes, murdering Alan Ruck onscreen, and the cancellation of The Society.
When it came to performing as the Blissfield Butcher inside Millie’s body, what inspiration were you drawing from?
I got a lot from Vince. It was the first time I’ve ever gotten to create a character with another actor. It was kind of a strange experience; usually, I do my work by myself and in collaboration with the director. For this one, all three of us were involved in creating Millie and the Butcher. When I was playing the Butcher, I always got really grounded in my feet and would look at my boots—we picked these really cool combat boots—and I really focused on my scenes. If I was about to kill somebody with a chainsaw, I was like, “Well, I better learn how to use this chainsaw, because I think the Butcher would know how.” I listened to a lot of Nirvana and AC/DC to get me in the right headspace.
Were you familiar with The Hot Chick at all?
Obviously! Are you kidding? My childhood. I love The Hot Chick, I love Freaky Friday, I love Halloween, I love Friday the 13th. These were movies that stuck with me as I was growing up. When I watched Freaky for the first time, it felt like that. It felt like that classic movie that’s easy to watch, makes you smile, you feel good.
Freaky is such a fun merging of all these tropes from those movies.
That’s what I love about Freaky. To be part of a film that has all those things you love, but also this freshness to it. It’s a reflection of the times we’re in. It’s not dated, it makes sense. The jokes and the things some of the characters say, you’re going to see yourself in the movie. You might not be Millie or the Butcher, but you’re going to see your friends in it. You’re going to see the world we live in right now.
People were loving that line from the trailer, “You’re Black, I’m gay. We are so dead!”
It’s an iconic line and it’s so funny because it’s so obvious—we’re destroying that.
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Why is it so refreshing to see some of those horror tropes flipped on their head?
There’s so many things it does. Even my character Millie, they present her in the trailer as the girl who thinks she’s a nerd or something like that, but that’s really not [it]. She’s just someone who doesn’t believe in herself, so it’s breaking the mold of ‘what you look like defines who you are.’ It’s about how she feels inside. That’s something we need to start noticing: It doesn’t matter what you look like if you don’t feel good about yourself. Millie is really insecure and it doesn’t matter how great her friends think she is—she’s not ready to feel her full power yet. Everyone goes through that in life; we’ve all dealt with bullies. If you can be patient and believe in yourself, those things you got bullied for when you were younger are actually the things that make you super unique and special, if you can hang onto them.
If you were stuck in a middle-aged guy’s body for a day, what would you do?
I would go to the bathroom outside every time I had to go. I’m a golfer and that’s the number one thing get so mad about—all these men always going to the bathroom on a tree. When is it going to be my turn to just do that?!
What was your favorite murder in the movie?
Oh man, I loved killing Alan Ruck. Splitting him in half was pretty darn cool. That was such a fun day. It’s not easy to do those fight scenes, but I felt the most badass when I was using the chainsaw.
Did anything supernatural or eerie happen while on set?
We actually had a Friday the 13th while we were filming and all the lights went out. We were out on the football field, that scene with Vince where he first gets Millie, and we were all like, “This is kind of a good omen. This is kind of good luck.” Friday the 13th has always been a lucky day for Blumhouse, and when you’re doing a horror film, I remember on Paranormal Activity 4, right before my last [audition], my lights went out in my house the night before. Sometimes there’s these serendipitous things that are actually magic.
How have you been spending quarantine?
I’m so lucky I have three poodles. I wake up every morning and am always so grateful to have them. I have a lot more time in the morning to enjoy my coffee. I set up a little spot in my house: I threw a comforter and a pillow on the floor and that’s where I do my yoga in the morning. I’m learning a lot about myself.
I’m also reading a lot. I just finished Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton and this other book called Anam Cara, it’s a Celtic book about soulmates. I’m buying books and I’m actually reading the books, finishing them, which I never get to do. I’m always reading scripts for possible future projects, but that’s not the same as taking the time to settle down. I also binged The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel finally. I watched it twice because I thought it was just so good.
In August, it was announced that The Society wasn’t going to return for a second season. How did you handle that news?
I was heartbroken because I really wanted to finish Allie’s story. I was blown away by the amount of love the show was receiving after the cancellation. It made me feel like we really did something that had an impact, which I wasn’t really aware of. I knew people really liked the show and there was a fandom, but I didn’t know how many people were going to be so heartbroken, including myself and my whole cast. To see their faces and all the tears, I was sad. But I’m really grateful for the family it created for me; that cast, we’re all so young at such a pivotal time of our [lives]. We learned a lot on that show. It’s such an incredible group of young actors, from Toby Wallace to Alex Fitzalan. I know I’m going to know them forever in this career and I can’t wait to see what they do next. The Society has done a lot for me in my career, so I’m grateful for what it’s given me.
If you as Kathryn were killed off in a horror film, how would you want to go out?
Oh, it would have to be the most epic way possible, like ripped to shreds or an explosion from the inside. It can’t just be simple and you’re dead. It has to be iconic.
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