Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t possibly have missed the buzz surrounding the extreme shocker Hereditary, the debut feature film from writer/director Ari Aster. Dubbed this generation’s The Exorcist, the film exudes trauma-inducing levels of relentless terror and emotional devastation.
The film’s success was bolstered by knock-out performances from the core cast members. Toni Collette’s performance is nothing short of Oscar-worthy juxtaposed against Gabriel Byrne’s subdued yet harrowing portrayal of a man trying to keep his family from disintegrating. Of course, young actors Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro excelled as the Graham siblings, delivering performances that were arresting and instantly iconic.
Dread Central was lucky enough to sit down with Shapiro, who played the clucking Charlie, for an in-depth conversation about Hereditary and how her life has changed since becoming a bona fide phenomenon. Be warned: This interview goes deep into Spoiler Territory.
If you missed Hereditary when it was released in Theaters last June, you’ll be able to purchase the Blu-ray/DVD on Tuesday, September 4th. (It’s also available to own digitally and/or view On Demand). Skip down to the trailer and synopsis at the bottom of the article and bookmark this interview for later.
Dread Central: Hereditary is your first film, but you’ve been acting for quite some time. In fact, you have a very impressive theater career most horror fans don’t know about. Can you tell us about your creative career before Hereditary and how you made the transition to film?
Milly Shapiro: Yeah! My first part ever was Matilda in Matilda: The Musical on Broadway, which was very exciting for me because it was actually my first audition. That almost never happens, so that was very incredible. I got to originate the role on Broadway and I got to perform in the Macy’s Day parade, and at the Tonys. We got a Grammy nomination for our cast recording and the four girls who played the role of Matilda, including myself, we all got Honorary Tony Awards for Excellence in Theater. Then I had a dry stretch for a while, and the next big project I got was Hereditary.
DC: Here’s something I’ve always been curious about: Besides potentially being a vessel for evil, what’s wrong with Charlie? She has ticks, food allergies, and seems emotionally disconnected, but she goes to a regular school with normal kids. Is she just really weird or does she have a diagnosed condition like autism that was never revealed in the film?
MS: [Director] Ari [Aster] and I actually talked about that for quite a bit. We came to the conclusion that there really never was a “Charlie”. Paimon had always been in control since the grandmother put the demon in her body when she was a baby. So, it made her a little different. Everyone around her thinks she has mental disabilities, but she’s really just a demon technically.
DC: Very insightful. So, what was it like for you to see Hereditary on the big screen for the first time?
MS: It was really exciting because I hadn’t seen any of it at all during the production process. I make it a habit that, when I’m filming something, I don’t watch it, because then I could change something based on how I work with one of the producers, and that could actually change the character. So, I had no idea what I was actually doing until I saw it. And I hate watching myself! The first time, I was like, “Oh my God, I’m so awkward! Uhg!” It’s just a character but I was really weirded out watching myself. I hate it! But then I was watching all the other actors, who are all incredibly amazing, and I was totally blown away. I was there for a lot of the filming, but getting to see the final product with the music and the sound and the coloring and all the amazing actors… it was so cool!
DC: Awesome! So, what was it like for your parents to see you in Hereditary? I imagine it must have been somewhat traumatic for them?
MS: Kind of. They both read the script and my mom was with me when I was filming. It’s funny, though, because when I see the film with someone I know, after the big decapitation scene, they always want to touch my head just to make sure I’m okay! They’ll be like, “Okay, she’s still alive” and then they’re usually fine with it.
DC: When I saw Ari Aster at the Q&A for Hereditary at SXSW, I was surprised at how young he is. Hereditary seems like a movie filmed by a seasoned veteran with gray hair, but it’s his first feature film and he seems like, you know, a regular dude. How was he as a director and what was your relationship with him like on set?
MS: I love Ari; he’s got an incredible mind and he’s a great person. We got along very well. The first time we talked after the audition we just spent hours talking about horror movies. And he spent five years working on the script for the film, which is incredible to me because it’s such a long time to sit with one project. And he was really great as a director. He worked with each actor in a way that was different, because everyone has a different acting style. He wasn’t trying to force any actors into doing something they didn’t feel comfortable doing which was really great. And he was just so kind; since we were working on something so dark he always wanted to make sure everyone was okay. It really helped us get the best results possible. He was really great to work with.
DC: One of the things that makes Hereditary so impactful is that the entire core cast (yourself included, obviously) was fantastic. Can you talk a bit about working with Toni [Collette], Gabriel [Byrne], and Alex [Wolff]? Did you guys feel an intense connection?
MS: Alex and I knew each other before Hereditary. We actually started practicing before we even started filming where we would go out in public as our characters, just to develop their relationship more. So, when we were filming, there was already something there between us. But everyone was really nice and welcoming. I was nervous about meeting Toni and Gabriel because they’re amazing actors who have done so many great films, and I’d never been in a film before at all. But they were both so kind and welcoming. The first time I was on set with Gabe we actually talked about tea for about an hour, which is a really random thing to talk about! And Toni is just amazing; being able to watch her act up close was so cool! It was a really amazing experience and I’m so lucky to have done something with such an amazing cast.
DC: That’s awesome. So, did you say that you and Gabriel talked about tea, as in the hot beverage?
MS: Yes! He’s Irish, so he was telling me how all American tea is really bad (which is very true) and how to make a proper cup of tea. It was very fascinating because I drink way too much tea, so it was cool to hear about it from someone who comes from a place where it’s something that people do more often. In America, people run on coffee whereas Ireland and England are more tea-centric places.
DC: What a fun detail. Thanks for sharing that! Have you kept in touch with the cast much? Do you guys discuss the incredible reactions fans and critics are having to Hereditary?
MS: I haven’t really seen them much. I usually see them at press events and interviews. Ari and I saw a bunch of plays with my mom when he was in New York. It was cool because of my involvement with theater I was like, “You should come to a bunch of shows with us because we know a lot of people and can get you backstage.” I see Alex all the time in interviews and he’s really great.
DC: What was the most difficult scene for you to film in Hereditary?
MS: The most difficult scene for me was the pigeon beheading. It was a real taxidermized pigeon and the idea of hurting an animal is worse for me than the idea of hurting a person.
DC: I think a lot of horror fans also feel that way!
MS: Yeah, because animals are such a pure form of life and it was a taxidermized pigeon so it was once alive. They had already cut the head off and reattached it with toothpicks, so that kind of weirded me out. Everyone was concerned, asking, “Are you sure you’re okay with this?” And I was, like, “Yeah, I’m sure. As long as I can wash my hands afterward, I’m good!”
DC: Ari Aster told the audience at SXSW that the original cut of Hereditary was over 3 hours long. Can you tell us about some of your scenes that were cut and whether we’ll see any of these deleted scenes when the DVD comes out on Tuesday?
MS: I’m not sure if we’ll see [all the deleted scenes]. There’s a longer version of the scene when Alex comes homes from school. There was another scene of me in the treehouse where you got to see more of my head collection that was cut. And there was another scene where Toni came to me in the treehouse. But I’m not sure what’s going to be included on the DVD. I’m excited to see what is there because, whatever it is, I think it will be really interesting.
DC: Yeah, we’ll all excited to see what the DVD has in store for us! So, I recently spoke to Felissa Rose who, as a young actress, played Angela in Sleepaway Camp; we discussed how her life changed after the film was released and, while most of her classmates thought it was cool, others were kind of freaked out by her. How has your life changed since Hereditary’s been released? Do your peers treat you differently?
MS: Most of my friends knew me before I had made anything, so they haven’t really changed. But some people do treat me differently. It’s all part of being a famous actress; you can really see who your true friends are. You have to be careful with making new friends in order to make sure they’re not just offering friendship because of what you do. But I have a wonderful, really close-knit group of great friends. I’ve known my oldest friend since we were both three and she makes fun of me because she’s also a horror fan. We both do, like, an insane asylum laugh at things that are supposed to be scary! So, when she saw Hereditary for the first time, she was just laughing the entire way through! It was really funny!
DC: So now that you’ve become this famous horror character, do you ever sneak up behind people and do the Charlie “cluck” just to freak them out?
MS: I haven’t. I’ve wanted to, but I don’t want someone to turn around and sucker punch me! I think that’s a lot of people’s reflexive scared reaction: To just turn around and punch someone!
DC: What are you working on next?
MS: I just filmed a part for a TV show called Splitting Up Together that was really fun. It’s a comedy, so it’s very different from Hereditary. Now I’m just waiting to hear back about my next gig and I’m excited about what might come next.
DC: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
MS: I’m not scary in real life, I promise!
DC: Can I get you to give me a quick Charlie “cluck” before I let you go?
When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter and grandchildren begin to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry, trying to outrun the sinister fate they have inherited.
Are you a fan of Hereditary and Milly Shapiro’s portrayal of Charlie Graham? Are you looking forward to picking up the Blu-ray/DVD when it arrives on September 4th? Let us know in the comments below (or on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram)!