HEAT VISION

'We Summon the Darkness' Star Alexandra Daddario on Producing and the Fight for 'True Detective'

The actor weighs in on helping to secure financing for the horror project and recalls joining the HBO hit.
Alexandra Daddario   |   Phillip Faraone/WireImage
The actor weighs in on helping to secure financing for the horror project and recalls joining the HBO hit.

We Summon the Darkness star Alexandra Daddario has been acting on film and TV sets since she was 16, and now she’s using that experience to wear a different hat — one that says producer. In We Summon the Darkness, Daddario leads the way as her character, Alexis, and two friends go on a Midwestern road trip to attend a heavy-metal show. Set amidst the Satanic panic era of the 1980s, things take a deadly turn once the three friends encounter a fellow group of roving guys. As producer, Daddario helped the film attain the necessary funding to get made, and it’s a position that she doesn’t take for granted.

As an actor, I helped get financing, which then gives you a producer credit,” Daddario tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I feel that I know when to step back and when it’s good for me to be involved. There are certain things that I can help with, whether it’s getting people I know to help out...but as an actor, it’s generally about being able to get the money for the project to be made. I feel very lucky that I’m in a position to be able to do that.”

Daddario also reflects on the impact that season one of the HBO pop culture phenomenon True Detective had on her career, something she continues to feel to this day.

“I remember really fighting for that role or any role in the series because I was at a blockade at that time in my career,” Daddario recalls. “I remember I was not getting into audition rooms for roles I really thought I was right for, and I was struggling to be taken seriously, like every actor has. At the time, I just felt it’d be great to show on my résumé that I worked with people of that pedigree. Of course, I also wanted to work on really good material. I didn’t expect it to take off in the way that it took off. I was willing to take that risk because of the people that I would have the opportunity to work with. Beyond that, I was too young and didn’t understand the business enough to have a sense of the uniqueness of what I was getting myself into; I had some sense, maybe.”

In a recent conversation with THR, Daddario also discusses the accomplishment of getting an indie made, her piano playing and the major benefit of her soap opera experience. 

First things first, is everything OK with you and yours?

Yes, everything’s all right. I’m very lucky and very concerned like everybody is. It’s such a strange time. We’re just trying to do our part by staying home. We are good.

I have to admit that I’m enjoying your quarantine ballads.

Oh, thank you! I really appreciate that. Some of my music was serious, but I posted something really terrible the other day.

Have your musical chops been properly utilized on screen yet?

I’ve been able to play piano in a couple things: Parenthood and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. There’s maybe one other thing, but I’m not remembering right now. Sometimes, when there’s a piano on set, I’ll just sit down and start playing. Then, the director or whoever will be like, “Oh my God, you can play?” and then they’ll try and incorporate it. That’s always really cool. I never thought when I was slogging through my piano lessons that it would ever be something that ended up in a movie. I enjoy playing the piano more now because I’m not forced to.

So, I wrote this question before things took a turn, but your character, Alexis, seemed like she was just following the heavy metal trend. Her heart didn’t seem completely into it. Looking back, did you ever follow a trend or jump on the bandwagon of something that you knew you weren’t that invested in?

Oh, constantly! All the time. Isn’t that what teenagers do? In the film, it’s obviously a different story, but as teenagers, part of learning social structure, how to interact with members of the opposite sex and how to get people to like you is figuring out what you like, what you’re pretending to like and what other people like. It’s also figuring out how you can have the most fun, what that means and who you are. So, I think that all involves pretending that you like things because you don’t even really know what you like. All you really like is being liked.

I was into these weird bracelets that everyone had and I really wanted. I didn’t even really like them, but everyone was wearing them. All I really did like was playing video games.... Yeah, there were all kinds of things from bracelets to Pogs. Then, when I was a little bit older, I tried to pretend I liked sports so that boys would think I was cool. (Laughs.) It was that kind of thing.

The movie begins with a road trip of sorts. Back in the day, when people used to go places, were you more likely to be the driver or a passenger on road trips?

I’m more likely to be a passenger, but it’s hard because I grew up in New York City and didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 23 years old. So, things shifted then, but I like to be driven around.

You’ve had to convey onscreen friendship with actors you’ve only just met on plenty of occasions. Does it eventually get easier on a film like We Summon the Darkness, or is it still a process that takes time no matter how many times you’ve done it?

I have no problem with that. Not everyone is going to be best friends, but actors, in general, are very used to getting into situations where you have to become immediately close to someone in a quick way — kind of like summer camp. A lot of the time, you’re doing such vulnerable work that there’s a connection there anyway without even really knowing each other. So, I have no problem creating chemistry or conveying friendship with people that I don’t know that well. As long as everyone is on board, you can really find things in common because you’re all doing the same thing, living in the same city and away from home most of the time. I quite enjoy that. It’s a safe place to connect with someone, and in normal society, you can’t all of a sudden become friends with someone immediately — except under very unique circumstances. So, it's a nice opportunity to really get to know someone a lot faster.

Making a good movie is incredibly difficult, whether it’s an indie or a major studio release. However, is there slightly more satisfaction or fulfillment when you know you’ve made a good indie since you did it without the resources, amenities and luxuries of the major studio system?

That’s an interesting question. Having started my career working on a lot of big studio films, all I found is that it’s equally hard. Getting the film made feels like a way bigger accomplishment when it’s smaller. Sometimes, you really run into financial problems in preproduction, and there’s been a couple of occasions where I was like, “I don’t even know if we’ll be getting on the plane to shoot this two days out.” So, there is that level of pride in that. When you get a financial problem solved in a positive way, I take huge pride in that.

You were a producer on this film, right? Is this something you’d like to do more of in the future?

I was a producer. As an actor, I helped get financing, which then gives you a producer credit. I feel that I know when to step back and when it’s good for me to be involved. Through the process, I’m learning more about filmmaking, and I was a producer on the project I shot after this as well. It just allows you more freedom to learn.... There are certain things that I can help with, whether it’s getting people I know to help out or whatever the case may be, but as an actor, it’s generally about being able to get the money for the project to be made. I feel very lucky that I’m in a position to be able to do that.

You’ve been acting since you were 15 or 16. Do you still feel anxious or nervous before a scene, or has experience rid you of most jitters that you likely had early in your career?

I do get nervous — not to the extent that I used to. I used to get so nervous that I would shake before auditions; it was a huge problem. But, over time, I’ve gotten more confident the more and more that I’ve worked. Confidence is such a huge part of it. I care so much, and I really love what I do. I’m always nervous that I’m not going to find that confidence, but I think that just means I care. I think people would be surprised by how many big actors have that same sort of fear and have expressed that; I’ve also witnessed some of that on certain sets. It just depends on who it is, but it comes from a place of caring. The first couple of days on any set is about finding my groove and getting over my nerves.

According to the Internet, you utilize the Meisner technique, which got me thinking about all the different techniques that actors employ. Excluding method actors, do actors ever butt heads on set because of their differing techniques?

I haven’t witnessed anything on a set like that. I find that actors tend to be very respectful of each other, and different people have different ways that work for them. Actors can sometimes do really weird things; I know I have. Sometimes, they’ll do nothing, but I — and the people I work with — always try to be respectful of other actors’ processes. I’ve heard stories of people taking method way too far and really using it as an excuse to be disrespectful. That’s very rare, but besides that, I haven’t seen anyone butt heads over a technique.

Actors who begin their careers on soap operas tend to be able to memorize their lines in a much quicker fashion. Is that the case for you as well?

Yes, I can memorize really quickly. That’s all I do. I memorize my lines for all my auditions, and it’s the only muscle I really flex regularly as an adult. I can’t do math, really, but I have a whole way that I memorize lines, and I’m pretty good at it.

A lot of people think comedy is harder than drama. Since you are adept at both, do you tend to think comedy is more difficult than drama?

I think comedy is very hard. I’m not a comedian, per se, so I can’t speak to that point directly, except to say that I find life to be very absurd and also very serious. I think that we deal with difficult things through humor, and I think that I have a certain degree of instinct, timing or something that has to do with my improv training, the kind of art I enjoy or the way I approach life. But, I do think comedy is very hard. All I try to do with my characters is find what makes them serious and what makes them absurd. I think that’s true of everybody.

Do you mind if I ask about True Detective?

Sure, please.

Your role remains interesting for the fact that numerous actors have played a part like that, only they didn’t receive actable material like you did. So, instead of a part that could have easily been reduced to one thing, you actually got to test your mettle alongside some industry heavyweights. At the time, were you conscious of how unusual the role was in that sense?

I remember really fighting for that role or any role in the series because I was at a blockade at that time in my career. I remember I was not getting into audition rooms for roles I really thought I was right for, and I was struggling to be taken seriously, like every actor has. You have that at different parts of your career. At the time, I just felt it’d be great to show on my résumé that I worked with people of that pedigree. Of course, I also wanted to work on really good material. I didn’t expect it to take off in the way that it took off. I was actually kind of afraid of getting naked and what that would mean, but I was willing to take that risk because of the people that I would have the opportunity to work with. So, no, I wasn’t aware of what it was going to do for my career to the extent that it did — or that it was as unique as it was. I just sort of went with it because I really thought that the people involved were people I really wanted to work with. Beyond that, I was too young and didn’t understand the business enough to have a sense of the uniqueness of what I was getting myself into; I had some sense, maybe.

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We Summon the Darkness is now available on digital HD and VOD.

  • Brian Davids
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