HEAT VISION

'Villains' Stars Bill Skarsgard and Maika Monroe on Building Chemistry in 10 Days

The actors, veterans of ‘It’ and ‘It Follows’, reveal secrets from making their indie dark comedy.
'Villains' stars Maika Monroe and Bill Skarsgard   |   Amy Sussman/Getty Images; Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
The actors, veterans of ‘It’ and ‘It Follows’, reveal secrets from making their indie dark comedy.

As the faces of two of the most beloved genre films in recent memory, Villains stars Bill Skarsgard and Maika Monroe know a thing or two about villainy. The It and It Follows actors return to the big screen via Villains, a dark comedy with plenty of thrills and scares. The independent film from co-writers/directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen takes place mostly in one location and functions much like a stage play, as Mickey (Skarsgard) and Jules (Monroe) are lovers on the run who take refuge in a seemingly empty house.

Along with Skarsgard and Monroe, Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Donovan round out this intimate “four-hander,” which leaned on its actors to build chemistry in just 10 days, a relative luxury for independent film.

“We did have a week-and-a-half or 10 days before we started shooting of just rehearsing, doing read-throughs, trying things out — as well as just hanging out, “Skarsgard tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It was definitely important for me going into this as the chemistry between Mickey and Jules is what the movie is revolving around. If that doesn’t work, there’s really not a film.”

In a recent conversation with THR, Skarsgard and Monroe discuss the fluid tone of Villains, character backstory and their preferred shape-shifting nightmare.

My favorite part of movie robberies is the mask choices. In Villains’ case, Jules and Mickey opted for bird and unicorn masks. If the two of you ever performed your own make-believe robbery, what would be your go-to mask?

Maika Monroe: That is a great question. (Laughs.) An eagle mask would be very cool.

Bill Skarsgard: I thought that Maika’s unicorn mask was pretty great. So, if I ever rob a bank, it’ll be with a whole crew of unicorns.

Monroe: I love that.

With an intimate film like Villains, chemistry is quite important. However, independent film seldom affords the time needed for scene partners to really get to know each other. So how did you guys manage on this project, and in your experience, is chemistry-building as necessary as we think it is?

Monroe: One of the most important things in a film is the relationships between people … Yeah, I think it’s super important. It was really nice with this film as we had a week-and-a-half before we started shooting; we were both in New York and staying at the same hotel. We had rehearsals and we were hanging out a bunch. So, I think [chemistry-building] does make a difference.

Skarsgard: Yeah, I agree. We did have a week-and-a-half or 10 days before we started shooting of just rehearsing, doing read-throughs, trying things out — as well as just hanging out. It was definitely important for me going into this as the chemistry between Mickey and Jules is what the movie is revolving around. If that doesn’t work, there’s really not a film.

Monroe: Totally.

Skarsgard: And the fact that Maika and I were able to hang out, goof around and also just go out and have a few drinks, get to know each other and also talk about who do we think these characters are, what’s the backstory here and figure the dynamic out — it was incredibly helpful. That being said, Maika is great, and we get along so well, but I don’t think there’s necessarily a rule … There are a lot of stories — maybe not in my own experience — but there are a lot of stories of people that have the best onscreen chemistry, but the actors actually hate each other. (Laughs.) And then there are stories where actors just absolutely love each other and they get along so well offscreen, but onscreen, for some inexplicable reason, there’s just no chemistry. It’s hard to define rules to it, but in my experience, the more relaxed you are with your scene partner makes for a more relaxed shooting experience. When you’re relaxed with a scene partner you’re working with, you can be spontaneous, and you can encourage each other. A lot of good in-the-moment things come out of that and because of that.

Jules’ basement monologue gives us an idea of what her life has been like, but overall, the film has very little exposition, much to its benefit. Due to that lack of exposition, was creating backstory for Jules and Mickey all the more necessary in order to better inform your performances?

Skarsgard: Yeah, for sure. As an audience or when you read this script, you’re just getting thrown into something that’s literally on the road and in the middle of a very specific thing. You’re introduced to these characters literally running away from something and running toward something else. So, I needed to figure out for myself what that is and what that story was. So I just came up with a bunch of silly ideas for what I thought it could be: “OK, I think this guy is from here and I think he did this and this ...” In terms of Maika and I, we talked together and figured out things like “how long do you think these guys have been dating?” and “what happened and when …?” These were things for us to figure out and know as an undertone for where the characters are at when you meet them in the movie.

Monroe: With a script like this where you’re just thrown in the middle of these two characters’ stories, it’s very important for us as actors to know where we’re coming from, especially with this relationship where we’re super close, very much in love, on the same page and in this zone. For us, it was very helpful to have that time before to figure out what our story was.

Maika, do you know if Jules’ red polka-dot dress was an homage to Patricia Arquette’s Alabama in True Romance?

Monroe: (Laughs.) It very well could be. We had a lot of fun designing the dress, and I think it’s always fun in a movie where you’re wearing one thing the whole time. We went through a couple different versions, and then ended on this dress with the red boots.

The two of you have made plenty of movies where you’re in Budapest one minute and Albuquerque the next. When you’re offered a film that mostly takes place in one location, is that convenience rather attractive to you?

Skarsgard: Especially if that location happens to be New York and not Albuquerque. (Laughs.) No offense, Albuquerque.

Monroe: Yeah, exactly! Spending a month in New York is amazing.

The tone of this movie is a juggling act as it's a dark comedy, thriller and straight-up horror at times. When you first read the script, were you intimidated by the varied tone since you'd have to thread the needle rather carefully?

Skarsgard: We did have a week of rehearsals, which is not very common on a smaller movie. During those days, we were trying things out, figuring out what the tone was, how big the performances [co-directors] Bobby [Olsen] and Dan [Berk] wanted — and also how comedic the performances were going to be. In my case, I started a little bit more subtle, but the more over-the-top and the more comedic we went with it … the better it seemed. I’m speaking for Mickey here, but if it was an intense and scary moment, Bobby and Dan wanted Mickey’s experience of what was going on that was filtered through a lens that would be funny for the audience. It was great having them around and just asking those questions. It’s their movie, they wrote it, and my job is to try to give them as much as they needed in terms of setting the tone. Like I said, the first week of rehearsals was really important and also meeting Kyra (Sedgwick) and Jeff (Donovan) and seeing what they were doing with the characters, which are very colorful performances as well. The script is written almost like a stage play, and it’s kind of a four-hander. So talking with the other actors and seeing what they were doing kind of shaped the tone to what it ultimately became.

The business with Jules’ hair is a form of intimacy I’ve never really seen before. Were you actually looking at each other during those sequences, or were you performing straight down the lens?

Monroe: That was straight down the lens, right? 

Skarsgard: Yeah. When we shot it on the day, we shot it obviously looking into each other’s eyes, but the insert of the hair tunnel was shot on the last day of the shoot inside of a studio. That was kind of a little technical piece that we ended up adding. If I remember correctly, Maika was there to do the lines off-camera …

Monroe: Yeah!

Skarsgard: So even though you’re looking straight into the lens, her presence was there to resonate with the more emotional moments of it.

The two of you are well-known for movies with the word 'It' in the title. Which nightmare scenario would you rather be stuck in: the one with the shapeshifting dancing clown that exploits your innermost fears, or the one with an unstoppable shapeshifter that follows you forever?

Monroe: Ah!

Skarsgard: Can we pick each other’s? (Laughs.)

Monroe: My immediate response would be: “Clowns, I f---ing hate them.” I’ve always had a terrible fear, but it would be terrible to have this invisible thing constantly following you and could kill you at any moment. I think that would maybe be worse, but both sound absolutely awful.

Pennywise’s 27-year cycle sounds awfully nice compared to the perpetuity of the It Follows shapeshifter.

Skarsgard: Yeah, exactly. For me, me and Pennywise are on pretty good terms, I think. (Laughs.)

Monroe: Yeah, Bill’s got some pull with Pennywise. (Laughs.)

Skarsgard: So I’d rather pick that one and hang out with Pennywise.

***

Villains is in select theaters on September 20.

  • Brian Davids
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