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[This story contains spoilers for Knock at the Cabin.]
Knock at the Cabin star Abby Quinn has been auditioning for M. Night Shyamalan since she was a teenager, and the stars finally aligned for what would become the auteur’s seventh film to open atop the box office.
Quinn plays Adriane, one of the four armed strangers that hold a young family hostage inside their cabin getaway until they make a sacrifice to thwart the impending apocalypse. Quinn’s character is also a young mother and line cook in Washington, D.C., and the longer Andrew (Ben Aldridge), Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Wen (Kristen Cui) refuse to make a familial sacrifice, Adriane and her partners instead have to give up their own lives to further prove their case that the end of the world is imminent.
Eventually, Adriane reaches the chopping block, and despite making a last-minute plea involving her young son, her captives still declined to make the impossible choice.
“The initial audition was actually that monologue without any context … and because I had so long to think about what that meant and try to access it emotionally, it felt like I wasn’t thinking my own thoughts when the day actually came,” Quinn tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It was just kind of there for me and the character, and as a young mother in the movie, I kept imagining how scared my kid must have been that I was not there for them at that moment.”
Quinn is also known for her memorable scene opposite Bob Odenkirk on Better Call Saul’s season four finale, “Winner.” Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill gives Quinn’s high school student character, Kristy Esposito, a motivational speech about doing whatever it takes to get ahead in life. But little does Kristy realize, Jimmy was actually just trying to justify his own misbehavior.
“It was such a beautiful speech, and I was just in awe as I watched Bob do it. If I’m remembering correctly, it was only a couple of takes, and he just nailed it every time,” Quinn says.
In a recent spoiler conversation with THR, Quinn also agrees with her co-star Ben Aldridge regarding a key change that Shyamalan made from Paul G. Tremblay’s critically acclaimed source material, The Cabin at the End of the World.
So what was your relationship to M. Night Shyamalan’s movies going into Knock at the Cabin?
Well, I’m 26 now, but I’ve been auditioning for him since I was around 13. Every couple of years, if there was a role in my age range, I would get an email in my inbox to submit a self-tape, and so it’s been a goal of mine to be in one of his films for a long, long time. So that’s my relationship to being in one of his films. Outside of that, I’ve just been a huge fan of his work for a long time, and he’s worked with some of my favorite actors.
Do you remember what you submitted tapes for in the past?
I honestly don’t know. I have the same email, but I’m pretty sure they were submitted under different titles with dummy sides. So it would’ve been any role that was a teenage girl or a young woman in her twenties. Even the details for Knock at the Cabin were kept under wraps until I actually got the call that I was in the film. So I’ve always tried to solve the mystery of what the projects were, but I could never successfully do it. They’re very good at keeping it all a secret until everything’s out.
Did you read Paul G. Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World to have a frame of reference?
I did, yeah. I wasn’t able to read it before the initial audition because there was a one-day turnaround, but I sent in the original tape and then didn’t hear anything for a month and a half. And during that time, I read most of the book just because I was starting to get invested in the project. And then while I was on a vacation in Hawaii, I got a call that Night wanted to meet with me, and so I listened to the final chapters on Audible during a three-hour drive. So I ended up meeting with him, and then he offered me the role that day.
I’m glad Night made a certain change involving Wen (Kristen Cui) because I don’t know how you could have depicted that book moment without losing the audience completely.
Yeah, I think so, too. Kristen [Cui] is so incredible and so lovable as a person, and you just feel so much for her character. So it would’ve been really devastating and polarizing if the movie had stayed true to the book in that way. But some specific details are still true to the book, which I like. But, yeah, the ending would’ve been even more devastating, and it would’ve been a totally different film.
Night’s notes are pretty unique, so is there one that stands out?
There was one scene in particular that I just wasn’t totally getting. I was not fully grasping it for my character, and I just felt a little removed from the scene, internally. I kept falling into the same trap and repeating my behavior because I was feeling a little lost. I’d say a line in the exact same way or I’d take out a word from the sentence in the same way. So it was this habitual thing that I was doing to try to help myself get through the scene.
And so Night picked up on that and came up to me and called me out on exactly what I had been doing. And when someone does that, it’s a little nerve-wracking, but it instantly changed everything. I needed to feel very vulnerable and uncomfortable in order for it to work and to be able to access the emotion that I needed to be feeling. So he just sees people very, very clearly, and sometimes, it can be kind of scary. But ultimately, he got me to the place that I needed to be.
Given what happens in that living room, was there a heaviness to the set? Or did people keep things as light as possible given the dark material?
Well, after the premiere, I woke up the next morning feeling just a little down, and I didn’t know why. It was such an incredible night and I got to see everyone. But then I realized that it was because the premiere marked the end of this chapter and this film. So I was getting emotional just thinking about how much I love these people and the incredible times that we had together. So when I think back on the film, I rarely remember the heaviness of it. I just think about the incredible times we shared and the conversations we had and the trips we took together. I also remember our movie nights and the singing we did amidst the intensity of filming.
So in retrospect, I remember those times, but during the filming, yes, everyone was very committed in the cabin. No one was breaking character out of respect for each other. We didn’t want to take one another out of that place because sometimes it’s hard to access those feelings. That also means that we felt really comfortable with one another and trusted one another because it’s embarrassing to be that vulnerable. So we would do that on set, and then immediately off-set, we would go back into our mode of loving each other.
You have a heartbreaking closeup involving the pancake-loving Charlie. What was on your mind during those incredibly emotional takes?
It was interesting because I had two months to sit with the audition, the character and the material, and the initial audition was actually that monologue without any context. So I had to do the monologue for the audition tape, and because I had so long to think about what that meant and try to access it emotionally, it felt like I wasn’t thinking my own thoughts when the day actually came. It was just kind of there for me and the character, and as a young mother in the movie, I kept imagining how scared my kid must have been that I was not there for them at that moment, which is just extremely devastating.
As an actor, I used to think that in order to be really emotional or dark in a certain scene, I would have to only listen to sad music or isolate myself completely, but I actually did the opposite on the day that we filmed. I ate lunch with Jon [Groff] and Ben [Aldridge] and Nikki [Amuka-Bird], and we were just outside, lying in the grass and having an incredible time. So, because there was so much love and friendship in my life that day, it almost made it easier for me to access that emotional side of myself.
Of course, book readers had their own surprises along the way, but the twist is that there is no twist. Adriane and the other horse people of the apocalypse really were telling the truth. When you first read the script, were you surprised that Night didn’t go for another one of his trademark swerves?
Yeah, it’s interesting because we didn’t discuss it during filming. None of the actors asked that question, and it didn’t seem to be on anyone’s mind at the time. We were just working with the script and discussing our characters and putting our heads down. So it’s been interesting to now talk about the twist that people often expect. I haven’t really been able to reveal anything about the movie, so when people would ask me if there’s a twist, I would think to myself, “Well, the twist is that there isn’t a twist.” Night just made a very beautiful film, and that’s what I’ve been thinking about on the inside. So it wasn’t even a conversation at the time of filming.
So when I first saw the trailer for Knock at the Cabin, I did the Leo DiCaprio pointing meme as soon as I saw Kristy Esposito on the screen.
No way! Oh my gosh. (Laughs.)
So what do you remember about your casting on Better Call Saul?
Well, it was such a short filming experience, and I had never seen Breaking Bad. I’ve watched a couple episodes with my brothers, but I tend to lean towards comedies or dramedies. Breaking Bad was always a little too intense for me. But I remember getting the role on Better Call Saul and mostly being excited to tell my family; they’re big Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad fans. So I just remember getting to set and getting to wear this fun shirt. And I also remember feeling like, “Wow, I’m in a room with some of the greatest actors of all time. I’m just going to enjoy this day.”
So I still wish it was longer and that I got to come back. It was just such an enjoyable experience. And even though it was a really short scene, I felt very tapped into that character. I didn’t know where she was going or have that much backstory, but I just felt really grounded in that character. And I loved that scene that I shot with [Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill]. So I wish I’d gotten to go back, but since then, I’ve watched a lot of Better Call Saul and it’s now one of my favorite shows.
Bob Odenkirk’s character delivered this big impassioned speech to Kristy, but he was really just projecting his own life onto her. So what was Kristy thinking as he was venting to her? Could she sense that it was less about her and more about his own personal baggage?
I think so. I think her big feeling throughout that entire speech is probably confusion. Even though what he’s saying is very powerful and impactful and is probably reaching her on a deeper level, she’s caught off guard when he runs after her. She’s a young woman, and she just wasn’t expecting someone to care about her that much on that day and to give her this impassioned speech. So I think she’s a little caught off guard and curious as to why someone is trying to take care of her or inspire her. But I hope that it hit her and that she wakes up a couple months later and realizes what that meant. It was such a beautiful speech, and I was just in awe as I watched Bob do it. If I’m remembering correctly, it was only a couple of takes, and he just nailed it every time. So I hope she took his word and is off somewhere good, doing good things in her career.
Did you and Bob ever cross paths during Little Women or at some event in relation to Little Women?
I think we did in passing on Little Women. That was another project where I was only there for about a week, and our days didn’t really overlap. But on one of my last days, we saw each other and said hi. And then I actually ran into him with my brother at a market in L.A. just a couple of months later, so that was our big reunion. We got to talk for a couple minutes, and so it was a funny coincidence. I was happy that I got to see him again, and it just felt very random and exciting. And then I got to introduce him to my brother, who’s also a big fan.
Decades from now, when you’re reminiscing next to a crackling fireplace, what day on Knock at the Cabin will you recall first?
I’m going to cry again. (Laughs.) We always had the choice to leave the cabin itself and go to our room to hang out and take a breather. But I just remember this one day where we all just decided to hang out in an unspoken way. So I just remember sitting next to Dave [Bautista] and Nikki on the couch for 30 minutes, and we were just debriefing about the weekend. And then Jonathan, Ben, Kristen and Rupert [Grint] were in their own corner by the table. So everyone just decided to stay in this cabin together and talk even though we didn’t have to.
And off set, Ben and Jonathan and I took a road trip one weekend and stayed in a place near where Jonathan grew up. So it was this much-needed weekend away in the country, and it was just a beautiful trip. I actually thought about it today. We played a bunch of board games and ran out into the fields. So that’s going to be one of my fireplace memories.
Knock at the Cabin is now playing in movie theaters. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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