Georgina Campbell & Zach Cregger Interview: Barbarian


20th Century Studios released Barbarian over the weekend after keeping the plot points majorly under wraps. Audiences went in expecting an Airbnb mix-up turned roommate nightmare, and got a whole lot more by the time they came out. To learn how much more, check out Screen Rant’s in-depth interview and audience Q&A.

Written and directed by Zach Cregger (known for his time on The Whitest Kids U’Know), Barbarian follows Tess (Georgina Campbell, Krypton) as her new job interview takes her to a run-down part of Detroit, where her housing for the night has been double-booked. Rather than stay out in the rain without a hotel, she reluctantly agrees to share the space with Keith (Bill Skarsgård, IT), and what ensues from there must be seen to be believed. The film also stars Justin Long (Jeepers Creepers).

SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY

Screen Rant had the honor to host a screening of Barbarian at Regal Cinemas, which was followed by an exclusive Q&A with star Georgina Campbell and writer-director Zach Cregger. Watch the video above, and read on to learn how the epic twist came about, which horror classics influenced the story, and more.

Warning: MAJOR spoilers for Barbarian!

Screen Rant Talks Barbarian

Screen Rant: How did you react when you first read the script?

Georgina Campbell: I got sent the film from my agent, Jordan Burkas. He sent it really late one evening, and I at that time was considering another job. He kind of sent it and was like, “Just read this, because I think this could be really, really good.”

It was really late in the evening, and I just couldn’t stop reading it and was racing through it. I was laughing, like, “Oh my God, this is insane.” And then I finished it, and I had this massive amount of adrenaline. I was running around my house, like, “Oh my God, this is amazing. What do I do? I have this job, but maybe I could do this job.” Then I called my boyfriend and tried to explain the whole script to him, and he was like, “That’s insane. What are you even saying?”

I said that Zach Cregger had written it and was directing it, and he was like, “I’m sorry, Zach Cregger?” He knew Zach from Whitest Kids U’Know, and he was like, “Oh my God. He’s amazing. He’s incredible; you have to do this.” He basically immediately was like, “This is gonna be incredible. This is gonna be fantastic. You have to do it.” And that was it, really.

Then I spoke to Zach, and we had a really great conversation. He was so passionate about the project, and everything kind of clicked.

Zach Cregger: I’m so glad that you came on. I couldn’t have asked for a better leading lady. I really couldn’t. I remember when the our casting director called me to tell me that you’d accepted the role; it was that same feeling finding out that you came on that I had the first time I got an acting job. I was walking on air for 15 minutes, like nothing could go wrong in my life. Anyway, it was a real joy to have you. I mean it.

I love Tess. Do you think she’s ever seen a horror movie before? Because I’m like, “Girl, no! Don’t go down there.”

Georgina Campbell: I think Tess is someone that you would want to know. She just has so much kindness in her. I was speaking to someone about this the other day, and I was likening it to when you hear about really tragic events that happen… and people that managed to escape suddenly decide to go back and help people. It’s only in that moment that you realize that you’re that type of person that would do that. And she’s that person. She’s the person that would go back, help anyone, and put other people above herself.

Zach Cregger: She’s a f–king idiot. She doesn’t know she’s in a horror movie. She doesn’t know what’s going on.

Zach, where did this idea come from? When I go in an Airbnb, I am scoping it out for weird crawl spaces. Was it something like that, or where did it begin?

Zach Cregger: I’d read this book called The Gift of Fear by this guy, Gavin de Becker, who’s a security consultant. And basically, he had written a lot of examples of behavior that men can do that often women are encouraged to ignore; little, tiny, microscopic red flags. And in The Gift of Fear is him basically saying, “Pay attention to that little voice inside your head.” Because a lot of times, when we bypass these little warning signs, it’s to our detriment. Those warning signs can be innocuous things like a man complimenting a woman when she didn’t ask for it, or doing her a favor that she didn’t ask being done—or initiating physical touch, even if it’s not sexual and in a non-sexual situation. There’s all kinds of little things that you really should pay attention to.

I’m reading this, and I just had this realization that I never think about this sh-t. Because I’m a dude, so I don’t have to consider half the population a potential threat. And it was just this “holy sh-t” moment for me. I didn’t want to write a movie; I just wanted to write one scene where I could load as many of those little weird red flags that I would ignore, but a woman probably shouldn’t.

I thought about a double-booked Airbnb, and you’re stuck in a house with a man late at night and he’s doing all those things. He’s making you tea; you didn’t want it. And Keith is being nice; he doesn’t realize he’s being inappropriate at times. But that’s kind of the joy of that scene: trying to decode him.

I was writing that, and then I kept going. I was thinking, “Okay, Keith’s probably the bad guy. That’s fun. He’s got some tricks up his sleeve.” I didn’t really know how it was gonna work out, and I got her down into the basement and then I was like, “It feels like now’s about the time something should happen. I don’t know what it should be.” But obviously, I was thinking that if I know what’s coming, I’m sure the audience knows what’s coming. “This sucks. I hate this is.” And then I was just like, “Giant naked lady comes down, smashes Keith to pieces! Oh, wow. Okay, here we go.”

It wasn’t much more thought out than that. That was how it happened.

We’ve got to talk about the casting, because I thought Bill Skarsgård was really brilliant. We all are watching that first act and being like, “Yeah, he’s up to no good. He’s too nice.” And then there was this line that made me laugh: “What do I look like, some kind of monster?” And we’re just like, “Yeah, you’re Pennywise. Of course, we think you’re a monster.”

Zach Cregger: I mean, he was perfect for it. He’s a pretty attractive dude, so I could see somebody being like, “Maybe there’s a spark here…” But he’s also immediately terrifying. When he opens the door, I’m pretty sure everyone’s like, “He’s bad.” And that’s what you need.

He was our first choice. Roy Lee, our intrepid producer, has a relationship with with Bill. He sent him the script, and we got him. It was great.

Another casting I want to talk about is Mother.

Zach Cregger: Yeah, Matthew [Patrick Davis] is my hero, man. He came out, he agreed to get naked and have Bulgarians glue sh-t to his body five hours a day, and he crushed it. It was awesome.

The casting of Justin Long is interesting too, because I feel like we all know him as a very nice guy.

Zach Cregger: Yeah, that’s kind of it right there. I wrote this guy, [and] I think we offered it initially to Zac Efron, because I was thinking I want to go for some beefcake kind of mimbo. No diss on Zac Efron, but that’s the way that he’s portrayed himself a lot. I was just thinking jawbone, biceps, and a haircut. Then he said no, which is why I’m talking so much sh-t on him. [Laughs] No, he’s great. I wanted him to do the movie.

But when he passed, I had time to think. We were putting a list together of who to you go out to, and I just realized I’d been thinking about the role all wrong. A rapist that looks like what we all imagined a rapist looks like is not scary. We all think fratty bro when we think of this sort of a person, but what’s more common and way more terrifying to me is the idea of a rapist who’s charming. Not this big, aggressive Alpha sort of a dude—but more of a Tom Hanks kind of a guy. And so, I was thinking, “Who’s Tom Hanks? Justin Long is Tom Hanks. Let’s do that.” That’s how it went.

Audience Questions For Barbarian

Were you inspired by Sam Raimi? Because I got Drag Me To Hell vibes with the Mother.

Zach Cregger: Yes, I was. I was very much. Sam Raimi is one of my heroes—mostly his camerawork. I told my DP, “When we go into the dungeon, we’re in a Sam Raimi movie.” I made him watch Army of Darkness, Evil Dead 2, and Drag Me To Hell, which is one of my all-time favorite movies.

I wanted that wide lens up close. I know Peter Jackson does that a lot. It gives you a lot of kinetic motion.

How did you recreate Detroit for the film?

Zach Cregger: We shot in Bulgaria, and we had a street in a field. We built 13 facades of different houses. And we used Brightmoor as a reference, so we built it to look very much like that. It’s funny, because the houses across the street from our hero house are built onto an existing one-story laboratory. We built them against this wall, and I was so self-conscious that everyone was gonna see the lab in between the houses and be like, “Well, this is f–king bullshit!” It just goes to show you.

But then we did go to Brightmoor, and we did film. When she’s walking through the neighborhood and driving through the neighborhood, that’s in Brightmoor. But our hero street is in Bulgaria. How was that experience in Detroit?

Georgina Campbell: It was really harrowing? It was kind of crazy. I guess because we started out in Bulgaria, and it was all sets, I kind of thought, “Well, yeah. They’re probably hamming it up a bit, because it’s a horror.” Actually going there and seeing that’s what it looked like was quite surprising.

Zach Cregger: We did not exaggerate.

What other horror films have inspired you?

Zach Cregger: What horror movies inspire me? Audition, the Takashi Miike 1999 movie. That’s a movie that I think deals with sexual aggression in a very expert way, and in a really surprising way. It’s a movie that doesn’t follow any kind of structural convention. I really adore that movie a lot.

And I would also say Psycho is probably the closest structural equivalent to this movie. And then Drag Me To Hell with the camera work. I think Get Out honestly opened a real door for me. You can make a really intelligent, fun, thoughtful horror movie—and it can be funny and silly. I just thought that he really pushed push the boundaries in a really inspiring way.

Georgina Campbell: It’s kind of different for me. I don’t think I necessarily looked at any specific horror films, in terms of Tess. I just looked at her through the script and the character that we were creating; working with the other actors and working with Zach.

But I would echo Get Out, with Daniel Kaluuya’s performance and wanting to do something that was really grounded and felt really real. That was important to me.

How do you balance the humor with the horror?

Zach Cregger: Honestly, I don’t. I really just write what I like. This was a very intuitive writing process. I really didn’t think much about it beyond, “What’s the next scene?” I didn’t outline this; I didn’t know where it was going. I just wanted to surprise myself all the way through.

I didn’t think about it, and I actually think that was the best thing I could have done: just let it be. I wrote in my garage late at night. It was just a fun thing for me; I didn’t ever think it was gonna get made. Shoutout to the BoulderLight guys, who I gave the script to. Nobody wanted this! It took me a long time. And then my buddies at BoulderLight got it, and they took it and ran with it. I appreciate those dudes!

Georgina Campbell: I don’t think it was too much for me, to be honest. I feel like a lot of the comedy definitely comes from Justin. [Laughs] I think that was kind of amazing to watch, as well, seeing that jump off the page and how he created these like really comedic moments in very dark moments as well. Even the situation where he’s talking to Zach, in the bar, and it’s a really kind of horrific conversation that he’s having. But the way that he does it is funny; it’s weirdly funny and also outrageous and horrible.

I feel like his character was definitely treading that a lot more. It was lovely working with him and seeing him create these moments, because he also does it in such a sincere way that it doesn’t feel like a hammy comedy moment. It comes out of the sincerity of it.

Can you talk about Richard Brake as Frank?

Zach Cregger: I love Richard. I just love him. He’s just a really wonderful, very hardworking, very prepared actor. He showed up, and he had done too much research on serial killers who had put women in dungeons. He’d had a rough couple of weeks leading up to his arrival on set. [Laughs]

But he totally trusted me. It’s my first movie; I’m an idiot. And he just put himself in my hands. He doesn’t do anything in the movie, and that’s an amazing accomplishment. He lets himself just be in those scenes; that’s really brave. I really appreciated that he could do that.

What do you mean by too much research?

Zach Cregger: Ah, man. Well, he f–king built a dungeon, and he grabbed a person. I won’t get into it. They didn’t know what he was doing. [Laughs] I think he just was online too much, looking at f–ked up sh-t. I don’t know what he was doing.

Was the Airbnb crew in on it?

Zach Cregger: No, no, no, no. AJ owns this place. He lives in LA, so he’s hired this company to be basically his property manager. They handle his stuff, they’ve listed it on all these different sites, and they f–ked up. We’ve had a double booking, but none of them—AJ, the realtor—nobody knows what’s under the house.

And I think that’s been successful for Frank and what we call the Mother. They’ve kind of coexisted with the new inhabitants by just being under the radar, so she’ll slip out at night and collect food or whatever she does and come back. But I don’t think they get aggressive until you go into their area.

That’s what I think happens. But I could be wrong.

Follow-up question: the door that closes and locks by itself. Was that supernatural?

Zach Cregger: Well, it’s a haunted house. Did you not get it’s a haunted house? It is haunted as hell.

Honestly, that’s just one of the logic drops of the movie. It really is. I mean, there’s gonna be a couple of moments where you’re just kind of like, “Ehhhhh, don’t… Who cares?”

What’s the symbolism of the toothbrush on the floor? And Georgina, what’s your favorite Jamaican dish?

Zach Cregger: There’s no symbolism of the toothbrush. I just didn’t want to load too much stuff for her to look at on the sink. So I just was like, “We’ll look at that, and then we’ll look down at that.” I gotta space the information out a little bit.

Also, I think I’ve been in an Airbnb where there was an outlet on the floor. Literally, I couldn’t charge it on the sink, so I had to put the toothbrush on there. There’s no symbolism. I’m not like, “Men are filth. They belong on the f–king scummy floor of a bathroom.”

Would Tess have helped Cale if she knew the truth about him?

Georgina Campbell: No, right? I mean, he threw her off a building. Absolutely not. I would hope that she would be like, “F-k you. I’m out of here.”

What is the meaning of the title Barbarian?

Zach Cregger: I had to save the document, and I had to write a word to save the document. And I think I had written in my first writing session that it’s on Barbary Street. I was like, “Barbarian sounds spooky; an inhabitant of this place. Let’s do that.”

It’s been fun, because on the comments of the trailer, some people have said some things that have blown my f–king mind. One person was like, “476 Barbary. That’s very smart. It’s very smart. 476 is the year that Rome fell to the Barbarians.” And I was like, “Is that true?” I Googled, and that’s f–kin true. I didn’t know that! That’s insane. And then another comment I saw was like, “Barbarian, that’s very smart. Very smart title. Barbarian is Airbnb as an anagram.” I didn’t know that either. I didn’t think about that. That’s great; I love it.

I love that the trailers don’t give anything away. Do you have favorite theories that you’ve read?

Zach Cregger: I saw a theory that was like, “All three houses are connected. Keith is a hostage, and he has to get Tess to be some domesticated Stepford Wives sort of thing, and that’s the only way he can get freed.” All these people are like, “That’s gotta be it!” That’s fun.

Georgina Campbell: I saw one that was something about the whole thing is gonna be an experiment going on in the basement and something like that. But mostly what I saw was lots of people being like, “Come on, this girl wouldn’t do this. Why didn’t she call the place? Why did she do that?” I was like, “She does!”

Lots of people being like, “Why would anyone do this?” But I think there are reasons.

Zach Cregger: There are! I know, it hurts me. It hurts me that I can’t get into the computer and explain why.

What was in the Mother’s bottle?

Georgina Campbell: It’s oat milk. In reality, it was oat milk, but what was it in the film?

Zach Cregger: There’s a scene that we cut out, where Justin won’t be nursed voluntarily. Mother grabs a rat, she chews the rat up, and she baby birds him with the rat. And we cut that out, but I think that there’s a lot of rats in there. I think some of those rats lactate.

Are you hoping to do more horror after this?

Georgina Campbell: Yeah. It would all be dependent on the script, really. If something came in that I had the same reaction to as Zach’s script, then absolutely.

Why do you think Barbarian is meant to be seen in theaters? I think it was so fun to watch this with an audience.

Zach Cregger: I just feel like there’s something about being in a collective consciousness when you want something like this that kind of amplifies itself. And it’s more fun; it’s fun to hear people be uncomfortable and release. The tension builds together, and it’s just more joyful.

Also, when you come and you sit here with everybody else, you’re all sacrificing your time and your attention—which are the most important things that we have. To do it together and to react in unison? There’s something that borders on the sacred for that, and I think that’s really special. I love it.

Barbarian Synopsis

Traveling to 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. 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.

Check out our other interview with Barbarian star Justin Long as well.

Barbarian is currently playing in theaters.

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