Kathryn Newton on 'Freaky' and the Shocking "Un-Renewal" of 'The Society'

Kathryn Newton
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After eight years, the actor reunites with Blumhouse for the body-swap slasher movie, co-starring a childhood favorite Vince Vaughn.

Whether it’s a film set or a golf course, Kathryn Newton treats every scene and every swing as an opportunity to learn. Such conviction is why Newton continues to be one of the most sought-after young actors in Hollywood, as well as a rather disciplined and accomplished golfer. In her latest return to the big screen, Newton stars in Christopher Landon’s slasher-comedy Freaky, as Millie, a high school student who swaps bodies with Vince Vaughn’s infamous “Blissfield Butcher.” Freaky also served as a Paranormal Activity 4 reunion between Newton, [Paranormal screenwriter] Landon and producer Jason Blum.

“I was like 14 when I did [Paranormal Activity 4], and after that movie, I thought I could do anything. I’m so grateful for that experience,” Newton tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And I’m grateful that Chris and Jason Blum called me again, because I’ve been dying to work with them again. I tried to work with Chris Landon for years after that, and to find [Freaky] was just perfect. And hearing Chris say that I was his dream casting, I was like, ‘I can’t believe you think I can do this, but I’ll do anything for you.’”

Newton is also opening up about the shocking “un-renewal” of her hit Netflix series, The Society, which was just four days away from filming season two. Due to its large ensemble cast and the fast-rising cost of COVID safety protocols, Netflix had to make the tough call and cancel the YA mystery drama despite its strong performance.

“When The Society was cancelled, I was so shocked because I was going to work in a week. So I just looked at my ceiling and was like, ‘What is the universe doing to me?’” Newton shares. “I’m sure everyone feels like that sometimes, but we’re in the middle of a pandemic. There are other things going on, and it just wasn’t possible for us to shoot that show safely at this time. So it went away.”

In a recent conversation with THR, Newton also looks back at her experiences on acclaimed TV series including Halt and Catch Fire and Big Little Lies. She also teases some potential golf-related projects.

I can’t help but notice that there’s a red leather jacket on your chair. Is that the one from the movie?

No, I wish it was. We tried on like a thousand leather jackets and then suddenly this red one appeared. We were like, “Oh, obviously red.”

I wish that I could travel back in time to a decade ago — when you were probably watching Vince Vaughn DVDs with your friends or family — just to inform you that you’d be making a body swap movie with him someday. Acting in scenes with Detective Pikachu probably seems like less of a shock by comparison. Did you do a double take when the body swap premise involving Vince presented itself?

(Laughs.) Just like you said, yes. I had seen so many Vince Vaughn movies growing up and I was a huge fan. He’s definitely one of my favorite actors ever. He’s iconic. It’s Vince Vaughn! And when I got the call from Chris Landon to do this movie, I thought it was a brilliant idea and I was so excited to be a part of it. And then, Vince became attached and I couldn’t even believe it because the movie just went from being great to being unbelievable. The first time we met was in dance rehearsal, and we were immediately all-in because we were both making a fool of ourselves. And just to have that kind of immediate camaraderie and collaboration with someone who I’m a huge fan of, it blew me away. The movie is just so good because he’s in it, and I know I did so much better because I was always inspired by him. He just came with so many great ideas, and Chris Landon, our director, came from such a grounded place, especially for a movie with such heightened situations. He knows how to balance the horror and the comedy so well and when to play up either one. Having him as our guiding force, he just let us go for it.

I know this sounds odd, but the way you tilted your head downward created so much of your butcher’s creepiness. It was very Robert Patrick-esque in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Did you make that choice pretty early on in the process?

I’m so happy that you brought that up because that was something we did bring up early in the process. And I credit a lot of that to Vince. We talked about the center of gravity of each character, their posture and the physicality, because they’re so different. Millie, she’s more like me. I was totally like Millie — a dork in high school who didn’t fit in, and I appreciated that she just wanted to disappear. That’s easier sometimes than telling people who you are or trying to show who you are. The Butcher was so grounded, dark and mysterious, and he came from his chest. He was much stronger and more confident than Millie. So the way he walks is just different, and the head tilt comes with the territory of a horror film. I learned a lot on Paranormal Activity with Chris Landon; he wrote Paranormal Activity. I learned a lot about telling a story just with your eyes, because in horror, you don’t have to do much. The audience knows where you’re going. They know that you’re about to die or they know you’re going to kill someone, so it’s all very subtle. And the Butcher carried himself in a much more specific, mysterious way. You didn’t really know what he was going to do, so you had to keep everything really simple.

You mentioned Paranormal Activity 4, which makes Freaky a reunion for you, Chris and Jason. How much interaction did the three of you have in 2012?

A lot. That movie was very small, a small group. Our two directors, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, Chris Landon and Jason Blum, they were all there every day on set. And that movie was a lot of improv, so we would have these scenes written but then we would kind of go from there. So like I said before, I learned about telling a story with your eyes. That movie used a lot of handheld, so I even held the camera a lot. So I grew so much. I was like 14 when I did that movie, and after that movie, I thought I could do anything. I’m so grateful for that experience. And I’m grateful that Chris and Jason Blum called me again, because I’ve been dying to work with them again. I tried to work with Chris Landon for years after that, and to find this one was just perfect. And hearing Chris say that I was his dream casting, I was like, “I can’t believe you think I can do this, but I’ll do anything for you.”

When you watched Vince’s performance for the first time, did you recognize anything that you or your character does?

Yes. (Laughs.) I was so blown away by Vince’s Millie run. I mean, he killed that Millie run. And it was kind of funny because he would do things and talk like how I speak. I was like, “Do I really sound like that? Do I really do that?” And I totally do. So I was pretty impressed that he was able to copy me so well. (Laughs.)

Chris mentioned that you and Vince would reference video diaries of one another as you prepared your versions of each other’s characters. What else did you pick up from those videos?

I think we focused more on Millie because I wasn’t Millie that often. I really was more the Butcher in the movie. So it was more just a reminder of, “Okay, remember when we talked about doing this in rehearsal. We’re going to do that here and let’s carry it over to when you’re here.” But Vince was always on set and I was always on set. So I’d be the Butcher and then Millie, and then we’d switch. So just to have him on set, if I was in a scene as the Butcher, about to kill [spoiler], I’d be like, “What do you think about this decision or this choice?” So being able to ask a great actor questions like that was such a cool experience; I’ll never get to do that again. There’s not always collaboration, but if you’re lucky, you have a director like Chris whose heart is deep with the characters. So he’s thought about all of this, but to also have an actor play the same role as you and make choices with you is really cool.

Is running in a mascot costume as uncomfortable as it looks?

That was the most comfortable thing I’ve ever worn in my life! It was like a giant snuggy, and I never wanted to take it off. It was also freezing in Atlanta, so I had on three layers and sweatpants under there. It’s one of my favorite costumes I’ve ever gotten to wear. This movie has so many great looks now that I’m thinking about it, including Vince’s Butcher look with the mask and the “La Dola” dagger. They go back to the horror genre’s iconic looks, and when I’m creating a character, I always think about the audience. When I was creating the Butcher’s look as Millie, I really wanted to create something that people could possibly cosplay at Halloween. So instantly, I wanted something easy like jeans, boots, a leather jacket and red lipstick. Just because maybe someone wants to be her for Halloween. That’d be pretty cool. (Laughs.)

Please tell me that you only had to eat breakfast with your hands for one take.

No, I had to do that like 20 times. (Laughs.) But that was one of those things that wasn’t scripted, and when you get there on the day, as an actor, you’re like, “Well, I can do anything I want.” And when I sat down, I was like, “Well, the Butcher would not use a fork and knife. He’s definitely more of an animal type.” So that was really fun for me because, come on, I’ve always wanted to do that. (Laughs.) I’ve always wanted to wolf down pancakes and syrup and bacon with my hands, but you never get to. So this is why I chose to be an actor. I wanted to eat breakfast with my hands. (Laughs.)

Do you have a favorite kill in the movie, be it the cryo chamber, the table saw, the jocks or a certain living room?

Absolutely the jocks. I feel like I’m such a dork; I’m just a poodle person. So the Butcher got to say some things that I would never say and do things that I would never do. So it made me feel really cool. To get to use a chainsaw, I felt really, really badass. Also, it was just funny being covered in blood, holding a chainsaw; everyone would slowly back away from me. I’m like, “Okay, this is working.” Because you really never think it’s going to work. You never believe that you’re going to be able to do a movie till, I guess, it’s done. And that’s why they call it magic.

Please forgive the unimaginative question, but if you could body swap with one of your former characters, whose skin would you like to live in a little bit longer?

Ooh, you know, I think the best one is with Vince Vaughn. I mean, I would never want to swap bodies with anybody else except Vince. But another character that I’ve played… It was pretty cool to be Lucy Stevens in Pokémon, mostly because you’d get to be in Ryme City with all the Pokémon. That’d be cool.

I’m sorry about what happened to The Society. The age of “un-renewals” is really unsettling.

I’m so sad that The Society was cancelled because it wasn’t just me that lost a great show. It was a huge cast with such talented and amazing actors. And just to get to work with them and be the lead of a show at 20, I will never forget it. I grew so much, and I gained a family. Those kids are my friends. It was like going to college, or something. It was that kind of experience, and I can’t wait to see what they all do. I also hope to be around and work with them again. That’s my goal, to work with my friends, so I’m hoping this isn’t the end. And not to mention, the fandom that started with The Society. I don’t think that family will ever end. When the show got cancelled, I can’t tell you how much I felt like the show mattered at that point. It was trending on Twitter and to see all the love that the show was getting, it made me feel like we did something that really mattered. My first introduction to a die-hard fan base was on Supernatural, and I used to go to conventions where I really met fans for the first time. And to hear them talk to me about how it was a part of their life, that blew me away and changed everything. It was different than just being an actor because now I’m a part of someone’s life. I go to movies because I want to have memories with my friends that I go with; it’s not just about a movie. It’s how it affects your life. So The Society changed my life and the fandom changed my life, too. And I don’t think that will ever end.

I know it’s early, but have some silver linings emerged since you’re now available to do projects that wouldn’t have come your way due to your series commitment?

Yeah, I’m available. (Laughs.) I’ve got some stuff I can’t tell you yet, but trust me, it’s going to be cool. It’s cool. (Laughs.)

Anyone who takes even a cursory glance at your Instagram knows you’re an avid golfer. Have any golf-related scripts come your way yet?

I can’t tell you anything. (Laughs.) I can’t tell you anything. But when The Society was cancelled, I was so shocked because I was going to work in a week. So I just looked at my ceiling and was like, “What is the universe doing to me?” I’m sure everyone feels like that sometimes, but we’re in the middle of a pandemic. There are other things going on, and it just wasn’t possible for us to shoot that show safely at this time. So it went away. But you have to look out and be like, “Something better is coming. I know that something better is coming.” And I really did believe that. Golf is a huge part of my life. It’s who I am. And so, I am working on things to incorporate it into my life. It’s really funny because on most projects I do, they end up writing it in somehow. Even on Freaky, we had mini golf, and they called me a poodle. And if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know I have three poodles. And they have their own Instagram, thank you very much. (Laughs.) So my goal in life is to just be able to golf and act all in the same day. So I’m getting there and I think I’ll have something to tell you about soon.

Tin Cup 2 starring Kathryn Newton has a nice ring to it.

(Laughs.) Something like that.

Are you banned from Topgolf because you dominate too much?

(Laughs.) I’m not banned from going to Topgolf. However, I should go more often and make my friends come with me because I hear it’s really fun. The funny thing that’s happening to me right now is I have friends whose boyfriends are golfing in quarantine, so now my girlfriends want to go. So I’m taking them and I’m teaching them. I’m like, “Finally, people my age who want to play golf.” But no, I’m not banned from Topgolf. On Supernatural, they put up a net for me when I was working there and I would go hit in between scenes or on my lunch break. My goal is to always have that on a set. We’ll see. One day.

I’m a big fan of your fluffy caddies because my family has also owned a couple standard poodles throughout my life.

Aren’t they the best?

They are! And it’s something that most people won’t understand unless they adopt one.

All dogs are great; I love animals, but poodles are just different. They’re just different! They’re so smart. I have three of them and every morning, I can’t tell you how grateful I am to wake up in bed with these three fluffy things just licking my face. It’s the best feeling in the world.

You played Joanie Clark on Halt and Catch Fire, which is one of the best shows ever made. What rubbed off on you the most from that experience?

I’m so happy that you brought that show up because it’s like a hidden gem that not a lot of people know about. I grew so much as a person and as an actor on that show. I was 16 or something when I started on that show. I learned from the actors, the caliber of work and the professional aspect that I could do anything on that show because they showed me. I would just watch them and be blown away. When I took risks in scenes, I felt supported by the showrunners and the directors, and I realized that as an actor, it’s kind of up to you. You can get the job, but the director is not going to do it for you. The other actors aren’t going to do it for you either. You’re there for a reason. They picked you. So now it’s your opportunity to bring something to it. and that’s also what I love about movies. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or where you’ve come from or how many projects you’ve done. When you’re on that set, it’s because they wanted you. They wanted you because you have something to do and you have something to elevate it. So I learned that I could elevate something, which I never thought of before. You kind of just want to fit in and do the job, but on that one, I really grew as an artist and started making character choices. So working even with Mackenzie Davis was such a big deal to me. And Kerry Bishé. All of them, really. Being on that set, you could just tell that the show was special.

Last night, I watched the scene where you and Scoot McNairy were eating breakfast and watching Saved by the Bell. During the scene, your characters both mocked how Mario Lopez’s Slater would sit in a chair. Well, oddly enough, a trailer dropped this morning for the Saved by the Bell reboot, and it also mocked the way Slater sits in a chair. Anyway, I'm not sure what you’re supposed to do with that information, but there it is.

(Laughs.) That’s so funny. I had to smoke cigarettes as Joanie on that show, and I look like an idiot trying to smoke a cigarette. So Scoot had fake cigarettes for me, but he also had real cigarettes. So we were outside the trailer and I was like, “Okay.” (Newton mimics the sound of smoking a cigarette.) And Scoot was like, “No, no, no, try it like this.” (Newton mimics McNairy’s smoking lesson.) And I was like, “Okay, okay, okay.” So Scoot taught me how to fake-smoke cigarettes. It was things like that. He’s such a brilliant actor. To be young and to watch these people, I was just inspired. I think that’s the number one thing in life is just to stay inspired. So if I can do projects that keep me inspired or watch movies that get me inspired, I can stay around here and keep trying. (Laughs.)

When you appeared for one episode at the end of season three, did you already know you’d be back for season four?

No, I didn’t. I don’t know if I just wasn’t thinking about it because I was too busy thinking about my high school friends, or something. But as an actor, every time I leave my trailer, I think it’ll be the last time. Even when you have a movie, you can’t take it for granted. Look, I finished a movie, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, and thought I was going to do The Society four days later. So you cannot take anything for granted, and I treat every scene like it’s the only scene I’ll do.

I’m a big fan of Jean-Marc Vallée, and I recently talked to an actor about his free-floating style of shooting. This actor admitted that he didn’t like Jean-Marc’s unconventional style of shooting at first, but he quickly grew to love it and wished more directors would follow suit. Did you appreciate his style right away on Big Little Lies?

I loved it. You never have to wait for light setups, you’re always in the moment and in the scene and you never know where the camera is. My role on Big Little Lies grew because of the way it’s shot. He didn’t ask anything of you, but he always captured you. So to just be present and not think about acting changed everything for me. I realized what it was to be an actor. It wasn’t to stand on a mark and say a line; it was to be in the moment and be present. It changed everything. I mean, he is someone I’m dying to work with again because there’s really no one like him. And his DP, Yves Bélanger, because it’s kind of both of them. That duo just creates this kind of energy on the set. So he helped me a lot and I carry that. I’ve never lost that. When you’re not on-camera, you’re always giving 100 [percent], but when you know that the camera is going to come back to you, it just changes. It’s suddenly like you’re in a play. It’s not like you’re in a scene and they’re going to turn. It’s just, “Let’s go. Let’s always be in the moment.” And I hope that I do more projects like that because you just get a different kind of scene out of it. It’s also a very small set when it’s like that. You can’t have anybody around. It’s more intimate. It doesn’t feel like you’re on a job. You really transform.

Freaky is now available in theaters and releases on VOD on Nov. 30.