Interview: Zoe Kazan Talks The Monster and More

Actress Zoe Kazan discusses her new horror movie The Monster and her impassioned thoughts on the outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election

Filmmaker Bryan (The Strangers) Bertino’s moody and emotionally-shattering new horror movie The Monster hist theaters and VOD tomorrow (it’s on DIRECTV right now) and it’s a must-see for any serious genre fan. But even if you’re not a horror aficionado, there’s still plenty to appreciate in the film – chiefly a mesmerizing, raw central performance by Zoe Kazan (The Pretty One) that, in a perfect world, would win her many well-deserved awards.

The Monster casts Kazan as Kathy, an alcoholic, struggling divorced mother who is driving her long-suffering daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) down a lost highway at night to see her father when they crash their car and end up in a ditch. As they try to shake off the accident and seek help, they become aware of a slithering, carnivorous monster that is circling them, stalking them, driving them closer together with the intent to tear them apart.

The Monster is a minimalist horror film, driven by a thick unrelenting atmosphere, suspense and sound and needs to be experienced. We spoke to Kazan this morning from her home in New York about the film… and her very real concerns about the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The original title of the film was “There Are Monsters,” which suggests a myriad monsters. The new title hones in on only one. So, who is the monster? Could it also refer to Kathy? To her addiction?

Zoe Kazan: Well, I don’t espouse and I don’t endorse an interpretation of the title that says that Kathy is the monster. If “The Monster” had been the original title, I would have asked Bryan to change it so it would not have that implication so that no one would believe that. It’s definitely not what I was attempting in this portrayal. So really, I think that the monster is metaphorical. In fact, I think even the physical monster itself, it’s very existence is metaphorical. It’s a manifestation of a situation. Frankly, I think it is that way in most monster movies, the Korean film “The Host” being one of my favorites…

CS: Yes. And like in Bryan’s “The Strangers,” the presence of the threat, in this case “the monster” and in The Strangers’ case, the home invaders, is ambiguous and left in the peripheral of the central drama. Was it that way in his script as well?

Kazan: Yeah it was. It’s one of those things that I loved about “The Strangers” too, that and the lack of reliance on gore to distill the fear factor. It’s what I’m most attracted to in this kind of film. So that ambiguity was definitely part of the script from the beginning.

RELATED: Read Our Review of The Monster

CS: I cannot see another overt horror movie on your resume. Was “The Monster” sold to you as a domestic drama with horror in it, or an outright horror film?

Kazan: It was pushed as a horror film from the start. That’s what it was. And I like horror movies but it was the writing, frankly, that hooked me. It was very, very good; a great script and a great character. And to be honest, a lot of scripts I was getting… well, let’s just say the writing was NOT very good (laughs), so when I read this, it stuck out, it spoke to me. I called my agent immediately to set up a meeting with Bryan as I knew I wanted this part.

CS: The chemistry with your daughter, played by Ella Ballentine, is essential. It’s stunning to watch you two work. Did you have much prep time?

Kazan: We didn’t have a ton of time, no. And we were both away from home and living in this incredibly-isolated area, so by choice and also by necessity, I actually ended up spending a huge amount of time with Ella and her mom, and they’re both incredible people and it was a pleasure to spend that time with them. It wasn’t just to make our chemistry work, I actually loved their company. I also felt a deep need to get that trust on set, because the scenes we had to shoot were emotionally challenging and it was also a physical challenge because we didn’t have much money, ergo, we had no time and so we had very few takes of any given shot, so we had to be ready to bring it at any given moment. So Ella and I had to be ready at the drop of a hat to perform.

CS: And then there’s that wrenching scene where the two of you scream profanities at each other. Did you have any trouble with the fact that you were called on to shout “F**k you!” to a child?

Kazan: Well, Ella was 14 when we shot this, which is still a child obviously but she had the teenage thing where you become very interested in swearing and so I wasn’t concerned about scarring her or hurting her feelings in any way. At that point she knew I was a very gentle person and that I had a tremendous amount of respect for her. You mentioned “Kramer vs. Kramer.” Justin Henry was a very little boy when they shot that, but he had already formed a bond and a trust with Dustin Hoffman and he knew he was safe and he knew it was all make believe. So I didn’t have any moral quandary about it.

CS: You’ve been very vocal via Twitter over the past 24 hours about results of Tuesday night’s presidential election. You being in the entertainment industry are in a unique position to voice your views to large groups of people in order in to influence change. Some actors and artists opt to not mix politics with their work. Will you continue to speak out?

Kazan: I don’t see any other reason to have a public persona than to speak up about issues like this. I think this man (President Elect Donald Trump) is incredibly dangerous and I plan to spend the entirety of his presidency using my voice, making trouble, helping protect the rights of human beings who are most vulnerable under him, helping protect the environment and our economy which we all share in. I will be a broken record for justice. I find no other solace in having any sort of public persona right now. If I didn’t find art valuable, I would stop doing my work and only work for justice. It is a crucial time. And I have little patience for those who will not use their voice to speak up about these issues. If your politics don’t align with mine, that’s fine too, but if they do, I think now is the time to put niceties aside and speak up. And if I lose fans and followers because of how I feel, it just has to be this way. Because justice and the well-being of our world and our people is so far more important than fame or prestige or… it just cannot be measured.