‘Birth/Rebirth’ Actor Judy Reyes On Frankenstein and ‘Saltburn’


Laura MossBirth/Rebirth led the charge into an era of Frankenstein reimaginings that would make Mary Shelley proud. Their feature, which premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, is a gender-bent, femme-focused look at life, death, and the complexities of motherhood. At the center of the film are Judy Reyes’ Celie and Marin Ireland’s Rose, two women with vastly different lives and backgrounds who have to come together for a common goal. Their chemistry cements the stakes and effectiveness of Moss’ incredible genre tale.

We spoke with Reyes about journaling as your character, working with a pig (literally), and the horrors of Saltburn.

DC: Congratulations on your nomination for the Independent Spirit Award. That’s so exciting!

Judy Reyes: It’s fucking exciting.

DC: Birth/Rebirth was one of my favorite movies from last year for so many reasons. How did you find this project?

JR: Birth/Rebirth found me. My manager called me one day and said, “I have this script. The writer-director is Laura Moss. They said they wrote it with you in mind and that it’s a female adaptation of Mary Shelley Frankenstein.” Say that to an actor and you’re like, “What for me? Okay, I’ll read it.” It was over the weekend and I read it twice. The second time I read it, I was like, “I like it.”

And then I had a lengthy conversation with my manager about it, an ultra-low budget film, telling all these stories. Then I had a meeting with Laura and Brendan [J. O’Brien] about the script, and I loved it. I understood Celie’s journey, I think as a parent more than anything, everything that she does to get from A to B to C, made sense to me. I wanted to be a part of communicating that journey and creating a space to ask if would you do this, what would you do, that kind of thing.

DC: Birth/Rebirth is obviously a female adaptation of Frankenstein, but more than that, there’s a lot of discussion of matriarchy, the issues that women deal with, and motherhood. There’s just so much feminine energy in this movie, which I love. I feel like so many horror movies do not have that kind of energy. And I’m curious what it was like on set, working on such a movie.

JR: It felt natural. It felt easier. As you said, there was a predominantly female vibe. Most of the people in all departments were women. So set designers, hair and makeup editors, the DP, who was fucking magnificent, our lead producer. All of that is very deliberate in terms of setting the tone for Birth/Rebirth. And so what happens is, is you go into the space and you already feel it. It feels easier, and safe because I think—you can relate as a woman, and I relate as a woman of color—you don’t have to explain who you are before you’re being who you are. So you’re already a bunch of women talking about the story, about making life, taking life, having to explain yourself as a woman, being a caregiver, losing your child, and the entire thing of living in patriarchy while trying to perpetuate, give and nurture life and proving that you can do it all to men who don’t.

DC: Well, and you said Cecile’s character isn’t perfect. She goes through these feelings of guilt for not listening and taking care of her child. Especially as a parent, tapping into that headspace has got to be kind of a dark place to go. So what was that like in going into these maybe darker head spaces for this character? Is that something you’ve had to do before in a role?

JR: Yes. You used your own experiences, your own way of empathizing your understanding, your own research, however you want to call it, to kind of relate to this character. For me, I journal. I journal as the character, and you start to invent a history, a context for everything you do, why you do it, how you end up at the place when you start doing that thing, and who you are while that thing is happening. That opens up to a whole host of things that you either have to be open for and then use, and then you have to kind of surrender when it’s all over. I don’t know if I’m answering your question.

But yeah, you build that, you create that. And as people who go through those things, it’s only one moment at a time. Sometimes in the case of Birth/Rebirth, it is her whole experience. So I just felt like I had to keep writing as her. That came with its levity as well, when working with AJ, who plays my child, and Marin, who’s creepy and dark and hilarious as Rose, and the pig. And Laura just kind of kept the tone, the levity of the horror film intact, which was good. I mean, looking in hindsight, sometimes as an actor, you’re like, “No, no, I have to be this person all the time.” But you kind of remember that A, it’s a movie, and B, it’s a horror film.

DC: I always hear that horror film sets are the most fun because everyone tries to have the levity on the set. So I’m glad to hear that, especially with a small cast plus a pig.

JR: Yes, the pig was upstaging us the whole time. Plus you have prosthetics and things to work with, which are really, really fun and everybody’s into that stuff. So when you go into that world, it’s all about making that shot work, making those prosthetics work. And then when you’re on a low-budget film, women be making shit, it’s just a team.

DC: With Marin, the chemistry between the two of you is so cool because it’s this tentative friendship that’s not quite queer love. But there’s still a whole lot of weird, cool feelings going on between the two of you. What it was like to develop that relationship together?

JR: It was really fun. Give it to Laura Moss again, and the casting team for putting us together. I think we came up together and immediately we understood the assignment. So there was something about what Marin did with her character that was kind of icy and aloof that made her funny all the time. The way I came was cautious about trying to be funny, but letting that feed. So we saw each other all the time. And then Laura kind of led it in terms of adding to it, pulling it back, recontextualizing the choices. It was so rewarding. I want to say it was easy, but it really wasn’t. But it was really rewarding in terms of seeing each other and taking our chances and keeping a distance, which is what the characters had, but knowing the need for each other. And she’s fucking hilarious too, to watch.

DC: She’s so funny in Birth/Rebirth. It’s very funny to watch, especially the two of you together, and you’re trying to be a warmer presence, and she’s a little bit of a robot.

JR: And trying to be parental with her and like a nurse, someone who’s very familiar with this kind of patient or this kind of doctor.

DC: But I love the exchange, too. You get a little bit of her coldness and she gets a little bit of your warmth. It’s really cool to see that exchange happening between the two of you, not just as characters, but as actors the way you play off of each other.

JR: That’s where just Laura is amazing. They really paid attention to that and made sure that that transition was clear. So I loved seeing that, as well.

DC: Looking through all of your body of work, and please correct me if I’m wrong, this is one of the first horror movies you’ve been in.

JR: Yeah, I did Smile last year and then this. I was just saying before, that I’ve never really been a horror film fan. I was traumatized a horror films as a kid. My sisters would always want to see them and they have to trick me to get me to go. So I remember the first one was Carrie.

DC: How old were you?

JR: 10.

DC: Oh boy. What an age to see Carrie.

JR: There’s nothing that will ruin you more than the end of that movie. I also saw The Shining and Jaws. So after that, I was like, “[Horror is] not my thing.” So I didn’t really kind of reconnect to horror films until my 40s. Now, they make me laugh. It’s like, “Oh, the jump scare, that was a good one”. Now I get to judge them by the scary moments, but I’m still new to the horror film game, so I just had to approach it like a drama.

DC: The thing I love about horror is it falls into so many different genres. Also, you’ve probably thought this, but comedy and horror are so connected, and I’ve talked about this to people who have a comedy background, that similar catharsis just in a different direction, is so cool.

JR: Exactly. And I think it is very much in real life. Like in real life, not everything is serious and not everything is scary. You really have to kind of distract from that moment, and you got to be kind of thrown off by humor or warmth or affection stuff so that horror moment can really reap its rewards.

DC: Have you seen Marin’s film The Dark And The Wicked? Have you ventured into that one yet? It’s one of the scariest I’ve seen in a long time.

JR: No, not yet! The Dark And The Wicked?

DC: Yeah, it’s on Shudder!

JR: I just saw Saltburn and that terrified the shit out of me.

DC: Oh, it did??

JR: Did you see it??

DC: Oh yeah.

JR: Oh my God. I found it more haunting than scary. And I think that that’s been the description of Birth/Rebirth as well, like a haunting thriller.

DC: Oh, it’s so interesting. With Saltburn, some people think it’s so scary and some people don’t. I didn’t think it, but I can see why. It’s creepy.

JR: Yeah, it’s super creepy. Not scary in that horror film way, but it stays with you.



Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter