Morbidly Beautiful

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We chat with Tara Westwood about her love of acting, her favorite horror films, her upcoming projects, and her latest role in the new “The Grudge” (2020).

The Grudge is the highly anticipated sort-of reboot of the 2004 hit horror film. I say sort-of because the 2020 version is to a moderate degree a similar film, yet so much more. I’ve been hearing about this from everyone involved in the film; from Sam Raimi, Nicolas Pesce, Lin Shaye and most recently from the beautiful and bubbly star Tara Westwood, who I had the chance to recently interview.

Tara explained, using a term she came up with herself. “I call it a simulquel,“ she laughed. She hopes her new word will help explain that rather than a reboot, the story takes place in the same universe and time period as the original Grudge film but tells a different tale about an equally vengeful spirit. This difference makes the series into sort-of an anthology.

Tara was a delight to chat with and I hope you enjoy this interview — and The Grudge when it comes out in January of 2020.


Photo credit: Steve Vaccariello

Vicki Woods: Thanks so much for talking to me today, Tara! I am really looking forward to The Grudge. You are in a film with the amazing director, Nicolas Pesce. The Eyes of my Mother and Piercing are two of my all-time favorite horror films.

Tara Westwood: Thank you for having me! Yes, I saw those too! They are incredible.

VW: I love talking to women in horror. How do you feel about being a part of this elite and eclectic group?

TW: I think it’s fantastic. I look at someone like Lin Shaye, who I had the complete privilege of working with in this film, and I think she is so great. She is such a face of horror and I love that I had the opportunity to play with such an amazing woman. Then you have that moment of like, wait this is Magda from Something About Mary! Lin is one of the funniest people you will ever meet, so witty, so smart and she made me laugh a lot!

I love that women in any genre of film are starting to have bigger and better roles. I recently saw Honey Boy and I think the director, Alma Har’el, is just outstanding. To have an opportunity to work on this film was phenomenal. I think the roles in The Grudge — the way that Nick wrote for the women, and frankly for everyone, the men as well — was fantastic. He’s a great writer! We all got a lot to play with, and it was a joy.

VW: So, tell me a little bit about yourself. What led you to becoming an actress?

TW: When I was a little girl, I don’t know that I was able to really say I want to be an actor. I decided that when I was older, in my early twenties. When I was really young, I would go to my bedroom at night and I would just kind of write monologues and then I would act them out. Somehow that never equated that to ‘Oh I want to act.’ I guess I didn’t think it was something I could actually do. I mean who does that? I grew up on a little horse farm in Manitoba, Canada, so that was not something I really thought about. But my mom would say, ‘What are you talking about? You always gravitated towards drama. You played Lady Macbeth in high school!’ But I just thought that was the age where I should be doing that. So, I was always fascinated by it, and when I moved to New York, I started studying with Maggie Flanigan at the William Esper Studio. I did the two-year program there, and finally admitted to myself that I loved it. Now there is nothing that I love to do more than to act!

VW: The Grudge trailer looks fantastic! What can you tell me about the film? Is it very different from the 2004 version?

TW: It is definitely different, and I would say the biggest difference comes from the fact that it is R-rated. The other ones were PG-13, which people can’t believe when they hear that. Sam Raimi, our producer, always wanted to make an R-rated Grudge, and that’s ultimately why they came back to it. Then Nick (Pesce) wrote this phenomenal script. The first time I read the full script I cried twice. It’s not a just a jump scare horror.

There are real psychological aspects in this film, and there are some incredible storylines. It’s a very layered and special film in that way. But I think that it being R-rated allowed Nick to bring more gore, more scares and to really heighten that psychological aspect as well.

VW: So, your character is Fiona and apparently you are the one to bring the Grudge curse to the U.S. from Japan, right?

TW: I’m so sorry! (Laughs) I feel it’s funny because I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone, including my closest friends and family. No one knew what I played in it because I signed an NDA, and I believe in promises. I said I wouldn’t say anything, and I didn’t. And then once those first pictures came out, people called me and said, ‘Wait, what? That’s you?’

So yes, you see me in the trailer and I’m in Japan, alive and well. Then things go south for my character quickly, and I definitely bring that curse back to America.

VW: What did you do to prepare for your character?

TW: You know, it was important to Nick that there be emotion behind everything that’s going on with my character, and it was important to me too. There was a lot of considering what was going on with the character and the trauma that she goes through, that ultimately allows her mind to be affected by the Grudge. That was something we wanted to be able to show throughout. It was a lot of homework playing in dark places. Andrea Riseborough has mentioned that we go to these dark places in the film, but our bodies and hearts don’t know that what we’re experiencing isn’t real. So it was hours and hours of filming in this mental state. It was really nice in between takes to kind of let it all go with other cast members — and just talk about life, sports, politics or anything that got us away from the Grudge!

VW: Right! I know there are actors out there who stay in character for an entire film. That would be difficult emotionally.

TW: Yes! And I didn’t. I would go back to it sooner than some maybe, but I couldn’t just go like, action, and be right into it. There was a point in hair and makeup when the great effects guys, who I spent a lot of time in the chair with (you will see the great makeup they did on me), they would have this terrific music playing. Then about half an hour or so before I was meant to be on set, I would ask them to change the music. And they would change it to much more dramatic music, and I would disengage from everyone and go into my dark mental state. They were so great, and Toby, the head of effects would say, ‘Guys, she’s going away now, let her go.’

VW: So, you had a huge transformation in the makeup chair. How long did it take each day?

TW: They got faster each time. Initially it was a couple of hours to try to figure out what was right, and then they did shave off a lot of time. After we would wrap each day, it took a long time too, scrubbing everything off. I was exfoliated like a baby for a few months! (Laughs) I’m in awe of SFX people and what they are able to do. I can’t believe what Toby, Matt and Brandi did! There were so many things I thought would have been done in post, that would be a digital effect. But no, they did so much in person. It was incredible.

VW: I read that you were very careful not to scare the little girl who plays your daughter, with your makeup.

TW: Oh, I love that you heard that, I appreciate whoever said it. I was! It was so important to me because first off, she is adorable, so sweet and I adore her, and I was afraid. I didn’t want her to have bad visions of me or nightmares or anything like that. She was never even allowed to read the full script. Her mom and dad were very protective of her in a wonderful way. So, we were all super careful, and Nick was incredibly respectful. Initially, before we started filming, we wouldn’t even let her see me when we were trying to figure out everything makeup wise. If we were in the same area, we would put something up in between so she couldn’t see me. And then by the end of it, we’re in line for the lunch and would say ‘How ya doing,’ in full makeup, eating ravioli together.

VW: Did you have a full backstory written for your character?

TW: Oh my gosh, I did! I’m a little bit of a freak that way. I love to do the homework and play things out. Nick was so patient with me, and as I babbled on, he said, ‘Ok, whatever you think, that’s your story, that’s your job.’ I gave him ideas of screwed up things in my character’s childhood he could use against me and he would say, ‘Yeah, I’m never doing that! You can use that in your own homework, but I’m not going to mess with you on set! I hired you because you’re good, I know you can do what I need you to do, and I won’t torture you!’

VW: I can see how you would get more emotion out of yourself by having that story to pull from, so you know who your character really is.

TW: I had pages of notes, little things like something my character would have in her pocket that no one ever saw, no one ever knew, but my character knew it was there. Wardrobe and makeup were really wonderful about it if I had a little thing that my character needed.

VW: Do you have a favorite behind the scenes moment?

TW: There were funny moments, like the scene in the trailer where I’m on top of Lin Shaye. I met her just moments before that and it was literally like ‘Hi, I’m Tara Westwood, Hi I’m Lin Shaye. Um, do you mind if I drool in your mouth?’ I mean I had to make sure we were all on the same page, and Lin was such a great lady and said ‘Of Course!’ Then later when we were in between takes, I told her she should have at least asked if I was sick or had a cold, she said, ‘Well do you?’ and I said, ‘No, we’re good.’ That was funny. And right after we filmed that scene was when I realized she was Magda from Something about Mary and I got a bit star struck. Working with people of that caliber who are so good at their craft is so wonderful. It was such a joy to work with all those actors, because you hit them the ball and they just hit it back, over and over again.

VW: You really like what you do!

TW: I just love acting so much! It’s just an absolute turn-on. It’s the same with Nick. He’s an amazing director; you’ve seen his work. He is so good at what he does, and he knows what he wants from an actor in each scene. When he gets that, if you have a good idea, he’ll let you play a little bit. That collaborative side is what he brought for every single person on The Grudge, and it was a very special experience that I personally wasn’t expecting to feel on a studio film.

I’d never done a studio film. I’ve done a lot of independent films, and what is great about them is that everyone is wearing more than one hat. You come together, stick together and do whatever you have to do and that is part of the collaborative process that I think is so special. I wondered before we started filming how this was going to be different from the little indies that I’ve done, and none of that was lost. Everyone was just so passionate about what they were doing and were all so good at it!

VW: Was there any part during the filming where you were genuinely scared or creeped out?

TW: Yes, there was! I don’t know what made it into the film, I haven’t seen it yet, but there was a scene where I was truly terrified. There was no acting, I was just plain scared. The thing is, your body, whether you’re acting or not, it doesn’t know you are acting, so there were a couple of days where I went home and just stood in my shower and cried because my body just needed to release everything that was going on. I think I was just kinda spent.

VW: I know that the Grudge is vengeful and destructive, and I read a quote from Lin Shaye saying that the film is about rage. Do you agree with that?

TW: I understand it’s about rage, but it can be seen in a different way for me.  My character is filled with rage. But being careful to not give away plot points, even though I do the things I do in the movie, it’s not that my character wanted to do those things. So, there’s also a rage that kind of extends throughout the movie within my character, of things that happened that were beyond her control. That type of rage can just be devastating. People think of rage as simply anger; it can also be a traumatic and negative emotional experience too.

VW: Do you have any upcoming projects you can talk about?

TW: I have a film that just wrapped called Blackjack: The Jackie Ryan Story. He’s an interesting guy. He’s a street basketball player who was invited to try out for the NBA. What I love about him is that he admits he made a lot of bad choices. Now he works for the Harlem Wizards, does half-time shows at Madison Square Garden, and puts on these great shows that makes kids laugh.

I was also cast in a film about assisted suicide, a subject that I’ve always been intrigued by. I will again be going to those dark places.

VW: Do you love horror films yourself? If yes, what’s your favorite?

TW: I do! I started watching them way too young. I don’t know who left me alone with that VHS recorder at such a young age! The Exorcist is probably my favorite. It really freaked me out! I also love Seven because I think it’s so smartly written and directed. I feel that Nick is like that, with what he can bring to a script and what he brings out with his direction. It’s not just a scary movie, there’s a lot of layers to it and I feel the similarity there. Those are definitely two of my favorites.

VW: Thank you so much for talking to me. I want to see the film so much more now, since I have heard about it from you!

TW: Yes! You are welcome, and thanks for focusing so much on women in film the way you do!

Producer Sam Raimi and writer/director Nicolas Pesce bring us a twisted new take on the horror classic The Grudge, which will open on January 3rd, 2020.

Header Photo Credit: Noel Sutherland