SXSW Interview: Sharni Vinson of 'You're Next'
On indies, eye injuries, the waiting as the hardest part and being the latest final girl ...
In "You're Next" -- a smart, scary slasher flick from director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barret -- a family's anniversary dinner at their remote rural well-appointed vacation home gets thrown for a loop when animal-masked intruders bearing crossbows, axes, bats and ill will lay siege to the mansion, intent on murder and mayhem. Sharni Vinson is Erin, the girlfriend of AJ Bowen's mild-mannered academic Crispin, and when his family is attacked, she, surprisingly, strikes back with a skill set and will even Crispin had no idea she possessed. Vinson is, of course, best known for her part in the "Step Up" franchise, but the Australian actress has a easy, loose-limbed physicality and deadpan sense of humor that helps make her part as Erin one that embraces and riffs on one of the horror genre's most familiar and lazy clichés. We spoke with Visnon in Austin; after purchasing "You're Next" at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival, Lionsgate Films are releasing it to theaters in August 2013.
MSN Movies: I had the pleasure of seeing the film at Fantastic Fest two years ago and I saw it last night not just as a refresher, but for the sheer pleasure of it. How nice is it to know that you're finally on a path to getting it out there?
Sharni Vinson: It's the best thing ever. Like, ever. Because it has been one of those unusual circumstances of bringing out a movie, premiering it, having this incredible response, inundated with confidence on what the movie could potentially do based on fans and their reactions, and then having it sort of, for eighteen months … just sit on a shelf and marinate, so to speak. It's been very, very difficult on somebody that doesn't have a lot of patience. It's quite hard, but (took) a lot of perseverance at the same time. It's just so good to know we're on the final stretch and it's all been worth the wait. It's all been a very strategic plan, due to circumstances. I think this is the best thing that could have ever happened. We're in the best hands and we are on the home straight now.
But at the same time, it's gotta be like, “Momentum!” and then “Brake!”
Correct. It has been a lot like that. And I've been struggling a little bit with that too, internally, because it's the momentum of doing this amazing movie, and when the movie was sort of shelved, I was with it. It's been almost hard for me, since the movie screened, to even audition for things. It's just been a very, very weird experience. So it's very much time for the public to see this movie and fall in love with it the way everyone else has and hopefully get out there.
It's gotta be a heartbreaker. It's a huge lead role, you're a pivotal character, and certainly you'd like to have more work come out of this, but you can't do that when it's locked in a vault somewhere.
We're going to talk about happier things, though. Did you have any idea how much running was going to be involved? Watching you last night, I was afraid you were going to tear a rotator cuff mock-beating people to death.
(Laughs) Oh my goodness, I know! It's so funny because obviously I'm right-handed – you're either right or you're left – but you're using the same hand for everything. It's really weird because it's not just like one hit. I would repeatedly be hitting people.
Even in the take in the film, you're clubbing one person in the head five or six times.
Yeah, and that would last for at least fifteen seconds in the movie, so imagine how many times Adam Wingard shot it! Hours. I actually was going home with my right shoulder just eaten. It was the same action over and over again and it was just like, my gosh. I felt like I had just been doing weights constantly on one arm.
I was going to say, is mock-beating people to death mostly upper body, or is it good for your core?
(Laughs) It's all good! It's all good for your core, but probably a little lopsided. I'll have to go home and start really working on the left arm.
Pretend to kill people with your left arm.
Yeah, exactly. (Laughs)
AJ Bowen, who you're opposite in this film, has done stuff before, but really brings something to this. What was the great thing about doing scenes with him? When you met him, when you did the table read, did you get a glimpse of how great the byplay between you two turns out on screen?
Absolutely. I watched “A Horrible Way to Die” before I auditioned for the movie, just to see AJ and Joe and Amy, and Simon and Adam. They're all recycled people for this film. So I thought that would be a good idea, to give me an idea of what to expect. I loved AJ in “A Horrible Way to Die.” Then I came in and did the actual audition with AJ and he was in the room. I remember walking in and thinking, “That's the guy from 'A Horrible Way to Die' and he's brilliant. Great! He's in here! That's great.” Because you normally just get a casting reader and they don't give you much. But with him, I felt like I was going to get a performance for the audition. And I know that the actual character of Crispin was written for AJ Bowen specifically, because -- as Simon Barrett would tell you -- he doesn't know another person that could stand at the end of a movie and deliver the plot of the movie over a three minute monologue, and have it be believable, and funny, and the audience gets it -- and AJ can do that. It was just an honor to work with him. He's one of the best actors I've really truly ever worked with. The guy's just a genius. He's a veteran filmmaker. He's done so many movies, and it's his time to shine, too. It's time for people to start really knowing who AJ Bowen is.
In a lot of ways, it's kind of crazy about this film in that it's been picked up by a studio without the benefit of some slumming star in it, just predicated solely on its quality. And the other interesting thing is that all of these guys are recycling people they've worked with before, but they went out and looked for a lead. Is that flattering, to know that they had to go hunting for you?
Yeah, it is. It really, truly is. You're right. A lot of people had met and worked together before and were friends, and this was my first experience meeting any of these people. I know that they did initially struggle with trying to find a lead actress that her acting chops were as believable as her physicality in that she could be a believable action girl. I have always said that I'm an actress that wants to be a stuntwoman, and I think what they were really after was that. They were saying, “We need like an action girl, a stuntwoman than can act.” And I so happen to be an actress that can do stunts. So it sort of just fit perfect. I seek these roles. I seek action roles, very physical roles. I get bored on set unless I'm constantly moving, doing something, twirling a knife, twirling a baton, people are like, “Whoa!” So I love it.
Your energy even now, sitting down, is a little bit intimidating. I'm lightly kidding.
(Laughs) I've had four shots of espresso. I'm just the highest energy person I know, and it's really weird.
But there's that great moment when you're confronted by a killer, and your response is to jump out of a second story window.
Absolutely. Get out.
And you think, “Well, that's somebody who's got a lived-in sense of response.” How do you teach yourself those kinds of reflexes? There's a great three sentences of backstory that explains everything: Your character was raised by a survivalist father. Boom.
Yep. On a compound. Boom.
Did you research mayhem? Did you learn about the kinds of things those people learn, or did you just go with what was in the script?
The best training that I had in respect to that was our stunt coordinator, Clayton Barber, had me doing a lot of martial arts and as I said, twirling of knives and things like that. He would put me up against the wall in the martial arts studio, I'd just stand against the wall, and he'd grab baseball mitts and soft but tough objects and stand ten feet away and just peg them at my head. Hard and fast. They just kept coming in all sorts of angles and directions. What he was trying to get me to do was react. Reaction time. “This is her mentality. This is the character that you're playing. She can react before anybody else even knows what's going on, she's heard it, and she's reacted. You've gotta be that quick. This is where her mind is now. This is her.” So I'd just stand there and have to just duck and get out of the way. It's all of the simple things, like hearing a glass break. She has like a sixth sense.
A better reflex-driven sense of environment.
Definitely. And I think the sort of exercises that we were doing on set were getting me mentally prepared for who she was.
If you're playing a nuclear physicist, you can just read a textbook. But muscle memory has to be really different.
Yeah, very different. But fortunately, I grew up a dancer. I was a dancer for fifteen years, and I think a lot of what dancing gives you crosses over so much into anything to do with fighting, martial arts, anything action. Dancers have a great physicality and a great sense of movement and a posture as well. I think a lot of playing someone who is genuinely tough is a stance, but it's a natural stance and I think that's a posture that you get from dancing. It crosses over into so many different fields.
A sense of balance, a sense of symmetry, of body positioning.
On a lighter note, I always wonder: When you're making an action film, you could get hurt doing a stunt, or you could burn your mouth on the coffee at the craft services table, or stub your toe on somebody else's chair between takes. Was your biggest “Ow!” of the shoot doing stunts, or was it just wandering around?
Oh my God, that's so funny. In “Step Up,” we were shooting a crazy dance movie where people were spinning on their heads and doing all this insane stuff, and then we had Twitch fall down the stairs going to lunch and break his ankle. It usually is one of those situations that is the way, but for this one, we had some good injuries. I didn't break anything on this shoot, which is unusual for me. Usually I do that, because I throw myself in like a thousand percent. In the opening scene where the dinner table scene is happening and there's a lot of chaos...
Yeah, the initial boom. We had ten actors and Adam Wingard in there with a camera and everybody moving around, and there was a lot of chaos to get that done. I remember going under the table to crawl under the table, and Amy (Seimetz) had just gone on before me, and she was in like six inch stilettos, and I went down right after her and just copped it right in the eye.
This stiletto was just huge. It was like, “Boof,” and I was like, “Whoa!” and that was like the only time – I don't yell cut ever. But I was like, “Cut! I can't see, and I think my eye is bleeding.” (Laughs) So I had this swollen cut down here in this eye. So we couldn't shoot anything that wasn't wide for the rest of the night. It wasn't continuity, but it was funny. I had some really seriously bruised knees from crawling on the table, and sort of jumping off high ladders and rolling in the grass. I remember doing a dive through a threshold in the beginning again, in that opening chaotic scene where everybody's grabbing a chair and running. I'm the last one to grab a chair, an arrow comes through the chair, throw the chair, and then I dove, literally. You can't really see me diving in it the way that it's been edited, but I literally take a running dive through the threshold with that fire poker and land on my elbows, is what happened. I got this bone straight through like a floorboard, basically. It swelled up, it was massive. So that was the most painful one, was the elbow. The eye thing was just, it sounds worse than it actually was. I was very lucky. I could have possibly lost an eye. I just missed it, so that was good.
From now on, co-stars in ballet flats.
(Laughs) Yeah, right!