ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Barbarian director Zach Cregger and actor Matthew Patrick David, who played the mysterious Mother. The two discussed keeping the film’s secrets out of the marketing and The Mother’s sympathetic side. Barbarian is now streaming on HBO Max.
“Arriving in Detroit for a job interview, a young woman books a rental home. But when she arrives late at night, she discovers that the house is double booked and a strange man is already staying there,” says the synopsis. “Against her better judgment, she decides to spend the evening, but soon discovers that there’s a lot more to fear than just an unexpected house guest.”
Tyler Treese: This was one of the few movies I saw this year that really had this ground buzz and spread through word of mouth. So obviously, any success is exciting, but how special is it knowing people were telling their friends, “Hey, you’ve got to see this. Go in blind and enjoy the ride.”
Zach Cregger: The best. I’m pinching myself. You try and really keep your expectations as tempered as possible when you’re making these movies because it’s so out of your hands, you know? We thought this was going to be a movie that was going to go straight to VOD somewhere. The best-case scenario, for me, was that I hoped that somebody likes it enough to take a runner on me to make another movie one day. That’s all; that’s the only metric of success I could imagine. Then for it to have this wide theatrical release and for people to like it and critics like it and word of mouth … it didn’t have a huge press campaign. I liked the press campaign, but it was small-scale. For people to really take ownership of it and proselytize to their friends about it is … I’m over the moon. What else could I say? It’s a dream come true.
Matthew, you both have roots and sketch comedy, so I was curious if you had met before or how did you come onto this project?
Matthew Patrick Davis: Actually, we hadn’t met before. I came on because I have a comedy manager that I signed with when I was doing a one-man musical with Upright Citizens Brigade. We signed because of that, but also he represents Doug Jones, who is one of the finest creature actors. I was like, “Hey, by the way, I know who that is and would like to do that also.” So this has been one of a series of things where I’ll be on a short list — a weird short list — because people will come for Doug, and he’ll be very busy and unavailable, and then my manager will be like, “I have a different tall, skinny, physical actor.” So that’s how we first got on a Zoom together.
Zach, I wanted to talk about the press campaign because what I thought was really powerful about the film was that the trailers didn’t reveal everything. There’s this trend of just showing everything in a lot of movies. So did you have any involvement there? How satisfying was it that the studio believed in the twists and kept it out of the marketing?
Zach Cregger: That was the best. There was never an argument. From the first conversation about the trailer, it was important to them, just like it was for me, to protect the movie and to protect the experience of seeing it for the first time. And We all recognize that the hurdle of cutting a trailer was going to be, you can really only cherry-pick from the first half hour, and the first half hour is not action-packed. So it’s a delicate balance of showing compelling images to get butts in seats, but protecting the experience that those butts will have once they’re in those seats. You want happy butts! They did a great job. I mean, they were very solicitous of my input, but at the end of the day, they are so expert at what they do that they cut that trailer without me because the trailer I was working on was a piece of shit. They saved me for myself by making a good trailer. I was just like, “Thank you, thank you! Put that one out! Thank you! Good.” So that’s what we have.
Matthew Patrick Davis: I want to see that shit trailer, I want to see it.
Zach Cregger: It’s … not good. It’s mostly a zoom in of my over the shoulder in the bar talking to Justin [Long]. So it’s mostly that and kind of cropping Justin out and just me talking, but people didn’t get what the movie was about. People were like, “Why is it just on this guy? Why doesn’t it show his face?”
Matthew Patrick Davis: “In a world where a man is at a bar.”
Zach Cregger: Also, that scene is only like 25 seconds, but the trailer has to be a minute and a half. So I had to reuse a lot of my lines and stuff. So it was a weird one. I liked it, but no one else liked it.
Matthew, I love your movement in the film. Did you work with a movement coach or was that just you two collaborating? How did you decide on how The Mother was going to move?
Matthew Patrick Davis: I wish I worked with a movement coach. That would’ve been great.
Zach Cregger: The movie would’ve been better.
Matthew Patrick Davis: But no, it was just me on my own, going to the gym and crawling around and just trying to get into feral mode. Then Zach and I, when I got to Bulgaria, we went into a weird conference room at the Hyatt and crawled around a little bit.
Zach Cregger: That was so fun. I have really fond memories. We’re at this conference room in the middle of the day and we’re moving along the walls. That was really a blast. Matthew really transformed himself. I mean, just in the time you were there, you didn’t eat a carb that whole time. I mean, the dude just was really tightened up. I appreciate that.
Matthew Patrick Davis: Yeah. I just basically like … as a naturally tall, skinny person, in my life, I’ve just been working against my metabolism. So I just stopped doing that and went to the gym and got into that feral strength mode
Zach, we’ve been seeing this interesting trend with yourself and Jordan Peele — we’re seeing these people with comedy backgrounds that are really excelling in horror. What do you think about comedy? Maybe it’s the timing and that lends itself to it, and maybe I’m just trying to find a correlation where it’s not there, but what do you think leads to that success?
Zach Cregger: I think you’re right. I think the muscle group that I worked out for so long in comedy is almost the exact same muscle group that you need in horror. It’s about building a visceral response through tone and timing and that’s all it is. A scare is not so dissimilar from a laugh. The comedic mind … I sound like a real asshole, but fuck it, I’ve, I’ve already said it — I think that the comedic mind is always looking for the edgiest surprise. You know what I mean? That is all you can ask for when you’re watching a horror movie — something that’s going to push a boundary and surprise you in a way that you weren’t expecting. They’re both about zigging when people expect you to zag. So I think, yeah, that’s it. I’ll stop there.
Mother becomes very sympathetic throughout and Justin Long’s character’s just such an asshole that you’re rooting for Mother to kill him. So how was it, going through the script and realizing how sympathetic your character was and it’s not just a monster for the sake of a monster?
Matthew Patrick Davis: It was fun to play with those two sides of her. I was so grateful for Zach just teeing that up for me and creating that. He told me to go down a dark rabbit hole of Googling feral children, like real people that have been raised in captivity. That gave me empathy for the character immediately. I was so, as an actor, very grateful for that, and as a human, was very sad about these sad videos I was watching. But I was so grateful that it was not just someone going “roar.”
Zach Cregger: But I think that’s a testimony to your ability as an actor. I mean, you’re not just playing a monster, you’re playing a person, you know? When Tess finally shoots The Mother at the end of the movie, if the audience was like, “Yeah!” then it would’ve been a failure, right? But I think that you brought a real life to that character and I’m just really glad that that transferred. What am I trying to say? Anyway, that was never up for debate, clearly, from the first test screening on, everybody got it. Everybody got that The Mother was a victim of this situation and that the real monster is Frank and A.J., and that was such a win, you know?
Zach, I know you mentioned that you were working on another horror feature, but were having difficulty lining up the beginning with the ending. Obviously Barbarian promotion’s been crazy, but have you had any progress there? How’s it going?
Zach Cregger: Oh, thank you for asking. I’m staying now at a friend’s house on the east coast in a secluded cabin and I’m writing it and it’s coming along. I’m not there yet, but I’m making way more progress than … I don’t know where you heard me say that, but every day is getting better and better. So yes, I am awesome. Feeling very positive.
This story originally appeared on Comingsoon