In The Stepfather Penn Badgley portrays Michael, a troubled teen who has been away in military school for a year. When he returns he finds his mother Susan (Sela Ward), is engaged and there is an immediate tension between her fiance, David Harris (Dylan Walsh), and Michael, who begins to suspect that he is not the dream man he pretends to be. Along with Michael’s girlfriend Kelly (Amber Heard), they slowly start to piece together the mystery of the man who is set to become his stepfather, but it might be too late for his family to survive.
Had you seen the original movie?
I did not watch the original, I know in the original my character was a girl and there are enough differences that I didn’t want to have any preconceived ideas about it, and anything that would mess with what I wanted to do with the character. I think the night we wrap I might watch the original with a bottle of whiskey. I haven’t had a drink for two months, trying to keep in shape, so I think it would be nice.
Michael has a girlfriend in the movie, how does that dynamic work with the stepfather?
The idea is that Michael is a very troubled kid, he was on a downward spiral since his parent’s divorced and he’s been in military school for maybe a year, so when he comes back the dynamic between his mother and his new stepfather and even his brother and sister is very awkward, he feels like an alien in his own family. So the scenes between Michael and Kelly, his girlfriend, I think that’s where you’re seeing Michael at his best, he smiles in most of those scenes, he’s the most comfortable with her. He feels like she is his confidant, they can really trust each other. But then there’s also the line to walk where once he’s suspicious of David and the only one he can really talk to is Kelly, because he doesn’t want to alienate her as well, because it sounds crazy. The whole time I’m balancing the absurdity of it, if I actually thought this, what would I say and who would I tell? And it has to be believable that he wouldn’t tell his mother, or his brother and sister, so the dynamic between the two of them has to be very close. I think they’ve been friends all their lives and then they started dating in high school.
How is the director of the movie, Nelson McCormick, challenging you?
He’s well-versed in this genre; he’s good at developing the language of fear. I think there’s a part of him that leaves us to our own devices for a bit to see what we’ve got, and then by take two or three he’ll come in and say what’s wrong and what’s right. But he’s been great about details, and that’s how we do it. The more details we can figure out the better, because there are jumps of logic. I understand this is a genre film, but you have to think about if these were three real people wandering through a house and one of them was a murderer, you have to figure out physically what would make sense for that to happen. We’ve added a lot of beats that aren’t in the script, and we’ve taken out some of the beats that are in there, so he’s completely sympathetic to us as actors and our struggle with that, because it’s hard to ever know what you would do in the situation, or what anyone would do, so he’s very good with working with all that stuff.
Have you shot any of the physical scenes yet?
What I’ve done so far is running around the basement set, running around outside in fake rain, I’ve spent a lot of time alone doing this stuff – it’s very intense, so I’m exhausted every day.
What are some of your favorite horror movies or genre pictures?
My favorite horror film is a bit obscure, The Brood. This movie is a different type of thrill, and a different type of horror, it’s a tense dread…
My favorite horror film is a bit obscure, The Brood. I watched that a year and half ago, I was told to rent it by the guy in the video store, and I was blown away by it. It was a really incredible movie. I’m not a big horror film fan. This movie is a different type of thrill, and a different type of horror, it’s a tense dread, you know who the killer is from the beginning, so rather than is he or isn’t he, and rather than the gore fest that a lot of films are now, it’s simple and in that simplicity I think it’s going to find its strength and something new that audiences haven’t seen in a bit.