Abigail Set Visit: Interviews with Dan Stevens, Melissa Barrera, Alisha Weir, and Radio Silence!

We sit down with the actors and filmmakers behind Universal’s newest vampire film.

Last Updated on April 9, 2024

abigail dan stevens

Recently, JoBlo was invited to Dublin, Ireland to the set of Abigail.  You can read about our day-one coverage here and coverage from day two with interviews with Kevin Durand and Giancarlo Esposito here.  Now, with the film gearing up for release, we had the pleasure of taking part in a round table with the rest of the cast and directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett.

Here is a transcript of the interviews.

First up was Dan Stevens, who plays Frank in the film.

One of the big things about this movie is when we visited the WGA strike was ongoing.  Can talk about the experience of making this film. First during the WGA strike and then returning to finish it.

DAN STEVENS: “It was certainly one of the longest periods it’s ever taken to finish a movie for me. You hear about movies that were made in the 70s that took two years to shoot or something, but it’s been a while. So yeah, it was strange.  I think for everybody who was in the middle of something and then had to return to it, there was a frustration.  I think I speak for most people that they’re just keen to work, keen to complete the thing that they set out to do.  It was definitely a sort of an interesting challenge. I think what it did enable us to do was really focus the work, when we came back on, we kind of reappraise what was needed in this sort of epic fight sequence. And we had an incredible fight coordinator come in.  And so, there was a real sort of scale to that fight sequence that maybe wouldn’t have happened if we’d just gone straight into it… So, we had a sort of two-week period to shoot this amazing fight sequence involving myself, Melissa and Alisha Weir. There were sort of some strange benefits to that kind of pause.  It was definitely a curious challenge for sure.”

When we saw you ever so briefly on set, the sequence we saw being shot was sort of all the characters grouping together. They had seemingly successfully captured this girl. but we were just starting to learn about the dynamics and the backgrounds of these characters. I’d like to know a little bit more about your character’s role on the team and the relationships with those other characters.

“Yeah, it’s a good question. And it’s one that I think we’re still a little bit of the dark about because of the nature of this sort of motley group.  It initially follows quite a sort of classic heist movie trope where you’ve got the getaway driver, and you’ve got the tech girl who’s going to hack the computers, and then you’ve got the medic who’s going to administer the sleeping drugs, or whatever.  And then, you got Kevin Durand playing the muscle. And everyone seemed to have a very, very sort of clear role in this in this band of criminals. And then there’s Frank, who just seemed to be an asshole. And that seemed to be his special skill, really. We could never quite figure out what he was doing there. I mean, for all intents and purposes, he was the boss of the group. So maybe that’s it. And maybe bosses are just assholes. I don’t know. But yeah, that really seemed to be his special skill.  That and cursing…frequently.”

Can you talk a little bit about working with Alicia as a young actor and what that was like?

“Yes. Absolutely incredible. I mean, I was incredibly impressed with her in Matilda. I assumed she was British. Then, I hadn’t met her before we sat down to do the read-through. She just walked in with her mom and sat down, and we started reading through the script. And then I thought, oh, she’s American. And she did this flawless American accent in the read-through.  Really brilliant.  (It Was) Really kind of scary and assured, and I was like, oh, she must be American. That’s incredible that she did this British accent in Matilda. And then I chatted to her afterwards. It turned out she was from Dublin. And I said, ‘Well, that’s extraordinary. Do you have a dialect coach?’ And she said, ‘No, I just watched the telly.’  And she is the sweetest, loveliest character. One of the most professional people I’ve ever worked with, just absolutely on point with everything she’s asked to do, whether it’s gymnastics, acrobatics, ballet, you know, being a scary, tiny vampire with teeth in.  She’s just completely sort of committed and unfazed by everything. And I think we were all just in awe of her, really. And it was definitely by the end, there was a real sense that we were sort of witnessing the dawn of a very exciting career there. She’s got a very good head on her shoulders, and I have no doubt is going to go and do incredible things.”

Matt and Taylor have teased that this is like their goriest, bloodiest film to date. And they’ve even apologized to the cast and crew. Can you tell us a little bit about what that was like to work with?

“I couldn’t speak to the sort of full gore of it because I haven’t seen the finished movie yet. But it was definitely the bloodiest thing I’ve ever worked on in terms of volume.  Just pints of red syrup that were required on set. And just the sort of the fun and the ridiculousness of that as well.  If somebody vomits up blood, it’s like ‘ok, we’ve seen this before, but what if it lasts a minute.’ And sort of having real fun with that.  For Matt and Tyler as well, who have a great sense of humor and are like really, really fun, lovely, funny guys.  When we weren’t shooting sort of gory scenes, we were just generally quoting I Think You Should Leave.  There’s been a thousand vampire movies. There’s been a thousand heist movies.  What can we do that’s a little bit different? And one of those things is definitely bringing in more blood.”

Next up were Melissa Barrera and Alisha Weir.

Alisha, can you talk about your journey to the project, auditioning for the part, and your relationship with the horror genre?

ALISHA WEIR: “Well, I’ve never done a horror film before.  My first big film was Matilda, which is completely different to Abigail.  But my agent sent us the script for us to read.  And me, my mom, and my dad all read it.  I’ve always wanted to be in a horror film.  Me and my two older sisters always watch horror films, and we absolutely love them.  So when I was reading the script, although it is a horror film, we all thought it was hilarious.  I then jumped on a Zoom with Matt and Tyler, the directors, and we just talked about the character and the script.  I then did another audition where I was going through the sides of it.  I just fell in love with Abigail, and I really hoped I would get the part.  My last audition was with Melissa, which was our chemistry read.  And then, two days later, I got the call that said I got the part.” 

Abigail Alisha Weir

Melissa, you’ve worked with Matt and Tyler before, of course.  What was your reaction when you first heard about this project, and how is this different from that previous work?

MELISSA BARRERA: “Well, I was excited for Matt and Tyler to venture out and do their own thing outside of a franchise where they have to follow certain rules and aren’t free to do whatever they want to do.  When I heard they were doing this movie, and it was vampire-related – I grew up watching monster movies – I was excited about them taking on the vampire world.  And when I read the script, I thought, ‘I could be in this.’  But it’s obviously up to them.  I never wanted to be like, ‘Hey, cast me because you know me.’  So, I didn’t mention it to them at all.  I just went to my team and told them I wanted to audition.  And when they found out I was interested, they said, ‘Okay, let’s do another one.’  It’s such a privilege when you can just make movies with friends.  They’ve become a family at this point.  They know how I work.  They know how to talk to me to get what they need out of me.  I know when they like something or when they don’t like something.  It’s so wonderful to see them get to do their own thing in this movie.  They’re kind of going back to their Ready or Not roots but on steroids.  It’s exactly the kind of movie that people would want to go see at the theater as a community.

This character is so different from your own personality.  Was there something you would do to help you get in the mindset of this maniacal, vicious vampire?

ALISHA WEIR: “For me, when I get into a character, I like to transform myself so I’m not Alisha anymore.  It definitely helped being on the set, being covered in blood, and the tutu outfit helped me get into the character.  And when I put the teeth in, that was definitely the end.”

When we were on set, there was at least one room where we had to be careful where we stepped because it was floor-to-ceiling covered in blood.  How bloody does this get?

MELISSA BARRERA: “This is the most blood that I’ve ever experienced in a movie.  I’ve seen movies that would have bathtubs or blood or someone coming out of blood.  But talking about the amount of blood throughout a movie, this is probably up there with the most.  We have blood cannons, so that says a lot.  Matt and Tyler- we have this joke, even from Scream VI – they always ask for more spritz, like more sweat and more blood.  Hair and make-up will get you ready, and I would always tell them, ‘They’re going to want more.’ And they would say, ‘Okay, well, we can always add more, but can’t take away.’ And it was always they want more.  Although at one point by the end, I was so bloody, I looked like nothing but eyes and teeth.  So they had to wipe away some to give me some sort of dimension, which was a first for them and me.”

Alisha, can you tell me about doing your own stunts and one of your favorite things that you did?

ALISHA WEIR: “I had so many favorite stunts.  I mean, I got to do wire work, which is something I’ve never done before.  The only thing I had done, I do acro, so I know how to do flips.  But I’ve never done wire work.  I’ve never flown.  And I was on banisters.  There was so much rehearsing.  I would go home and tell my dad, ‘I was on wires, and I was flying.’ And he would be like, ‘No you weren’t, Alisha.  There’s no way.’  It was so much fun.  When they asked me if I was up for it, I was a hundred percent ‘yes.’  It’s not every day you get asked to walk around on banisters with wires and flying.  The stunts were different to the ballet side of it as well.  They were both new to me, and I enjoyed doing both.  I’ve never gone on point before, either.  And I was very determined to do it.  If I couldn’t do it, then I would keep trying.  I would go home and practice it until I could do it.”

Last but not least, we got to talk to the directors a little more.

Abigail directors

Can you tell us a little bit about the house and why it was the perfect location for slaughter?

MATT BETTINELLI-OLPIN: “Yeah, that house is called Glenmaroon.  I think it was owned by the Guinness family as a party house.  It’s two houses with a little connector.  One of the things we always try to do when we’re doing anything is find a location, ideally practical as much as possible, and apply the story to it and let the story change with the location.  We’ve been doing that since V/H/S.  That house is just all the things we were hoping to find for this movie and more.  It’s weird; it doesn’t quite sit in a time because it’s been updated, and parts are sort of demolished and run down…Everything you see in the movie, except for the cellar and the library, was in the house.  It was walking through it with Guy (Busick), and was like, ‘How can we use this location to fuel the story and using it to our benefit so we’re not retrofitting stuff.”

TYLER GILLETT: “I’d say one of the things you didn’t see is that house was empty when we moved into it.  The amount of production design and set-decoration that happened.  While that was going on, we’d show up and our minds were just blown.  Watching it come to life was really an inspiring part of the process.”

When we were on set, everyone kept talking about how great Alisha Weir was.  What was it like working with a child actor, and how did you find her?

TYLER GILLETT: “It was incredible.  That was our big source of anxiety going into this project.  Just on the page, Abigail is such a character, and so much of what’s fun and interesting about the tone of the movie is about the contrast between this innocent child becoming this horrific monster.  We knew that the movie was only going to be good as that role because it’s the lynchpin of everything.  There was a lot of anxiety in the casting process.  We were really blown away to see how many incredible young actors there are out there.  We saw some really amazing reads.  It was actually hard to narrow it down.  When we met Alisha, we were immediately texting each other how she’s so incredible the way she presents herself.  She’s so kind, so curious.  And then she did a live read on Zoom.  There was a moment in sides, which she was reading, where she has to switch from a young girl to this sort of jump-scare vampire moment.  And she committed so fully to it on the Zoom, that it actually scared us.  It was fearless.  It was really clear after that Zoom that we hit gold with her.  Coincidentally, she happened to have lived in Dublin.  Every day on set with her was just truly remarkable.”

Filming amid the strikes- on one hand, you have Guy Busick, who you’ve worked with before and have a lot of trust in his work, but I also think about the end of Ready or Not when it was Samara Weaving’s idea to laugh at the end, which I thought was such a great note.  I was just curious how you navigated this movie through the WGA strike and then after when everything got resolved.

MATT BETTINELLI-OLPIN: “The strikes were hard for everyone.  And they were hard to shoot during.  I think the writer’s strike, we got to a good place where we felt okay going into production with the draft we had.  The actor’s strike was really hard.  It definitely shifted the momentum, but the good news is, and we felt very lucky, is that we were able to jump right in to post and edit.  We basically shot the movie in order, so we were able to edit the first two acts of the movie, know what we had, and then go back ready to finish now knowing what we had to hit.  A lot of times, you get to that point and think, ‘Man, I hope I’m getting the right stuff.’  We’ve never done reshoots or anything before.  So we were ‘really fingers’ crossed on most projects.  But on this one, we got to go back.  The studio had seen the movie, and they really liked it.  They had some thoughts to throw at us for the third act that were really good.  One of the ‘big adds’ is that we got to bring on Wade Allen to help us do some of the fun stunt choreography.  He was kind of a second-unit director on this, and he’s incredible.  It really just helped us hone the third act.  There were a million trials and tribulations in this movie of all different sizes.  The fact that we got through it was really just a testament to the kind of family the cast, the crew, and everybody built out in Dublin.  At the end of the day, yes, the strikes were hard, but everybody stuck together, held hands, and we all got through it.”

You guys have such a great style by bringing fun back into horror.  With this film, was there anything that inspired you, or any previous vampire films going in?

MATT BETTINELLI-OLPIN: “I think one of the touchstones for us, and many people our age, was The Lost Boys.  I think it was the first vampire we were aware of seeing.  It’s that fun that we grew up with.  And it’s not in a nostalgic way.  We’re not chasing nostalgia.  Our thing is, let’s try to do that, but in a modern way.  Let’s do that now so that kids can watch this movie- well, sneak into this movie- and have that effect that we all had when we saw The Lost Boys.  Where it’s scary, it’s funny, and has really great lines that you can just say over and over.  But we went through everything like Dracula and Dracula’s Daughter, all the Universal horror movies, Near Dark, Interview with the Vampire, 30 Days of Night…

TYLER GILLETT: “Let the Right One In was another big one inspiration.”

MATT BETTINELLI-OLPIN: “Yes, definitely.  We kind of go all over the place and look at everything.  You never know where you’re going to find inspiration.  Again, this movie is a few different genres that are put into a blender together.  And it doesn’t stop there.  We talked a lot about crime movies like The Usual Suspects and Heat and those kind of movies, and see how we can take our favorite things from those and see how we can make them fit into this weird little box with these weird characters who don’t belong in the same movie.  And then have it fit to where it feels like it actually does belong together.”

David Bruckner mentioned working on V/H/S/85 after finishing Hellraiser felt like a nice return to home.  Do you feel that way with this movie after working on the Scream movies?

MATT BETTINELLI-OLPIN: “Oh yeah.  Big time.  That was Tyler and I’s thing going into this.  We loved making the Scream movies and had a wonderful experience for those few years, but you’re stepping into gigantic shoes.  There’s a lot of expectations, a lot of pressure.  With this, from the jump, we were like, ‘Let’s make this ours.’  We don’t have a lot of expectations to live up to.  If people hate it, it’s because they don’t like what we like, and that’s fine.  It’s not like we are letting down a decades-long franchise.  There’s just something so refreshing to be able to turn to each other and go, ‘Do we like this? No. Then let’s not do it.’  You know, we don’t have to live up to anything, except our own expectations.  There’s just something freeing in that.  And at the end of the day, it’s better for not just our movies, but movies in general benefit from that kind of approach.  We really got to do that with Scream VI to a degree, but that was still in the world of Scream.”

TYLER GILLETT: “Yeah, existing within a franchise.”

 MATT BETTINELLI-OLPIN: “We were constantly pushing against something.  In this, we didn’t feel like we were constantly pushing against anything because everything was of our own making.  So yeah, it was very freeing.  Make more original movies!”

Abigail opens only in theaters April 19

About the Author

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Mike Conway has been a film fanatic since the age of 4 ever since his dad, who didn't know any better, took him to see A Nightmare On Elm Street 4. When he's not introducing his own son to horror movies, Mike loves being with his family, listening to and playing metal, pinball, and cooking. After seeing Mallrats as a teen, he was inspired to write his first screenplay and hasn't stopped since. While he has made several short films, he hopes to soon get a feature under his belt. In addition to running the JoBlo Horror YouTube Channel, Mike writes, edits, and narrates for JoBlo Horror Originals. He resides in South Carolina with his wife, son, and four dogs where he's constantly vacuuming up dog hair.