Kathryn Newton’s feature film career continues to bear fruit.
Just five years ago, she was a series regular on two hit television series, HBO’s Big Little Lies and Netflix’s The Society, but when the pandemic played a role in the un-renewal of the latter, Newton wasted no time amassing an impressive slate of films. First up was Christopher Landon’s well-received slasher comedy, Freaky, that made three times its $6 million production budget during the height of the pandemic. She then followed that up with Ian Samuels’ hidden time-loop gem, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, on Amazon Prime Video. In between these two films, she also received a career-altering offer to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Ant-Man’s daughter, Cassie Lang, beginning with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) and potentially a Young Avengers movie at some point.
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That brings us to her busy 2024, as Newton made her first trip to Sundance recently with Susanna Fogel and Emilia Jones’ Winner. She then went straight from the Park City slopes to the promotional trail for her twisted new rom-com, Lisa Frankenstein. Penned by Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody, the 1989-set film is also Zelda Williams’ feature directorial debut, which remixes the Frankenstein lore in a darkly comedic way. Newton plays the eponymous Lisa, as she develops an unlikely romance with a silent reanimated corpse (Cole Sprouse).
Despite receiving another intriguing offer, Newton had initial doubts that she could pull off Cody’s unique brand of dialogue and also carry scenes where her primary scene partner merely grunts in response.
“[Diablo Cody’s writing] is poetry, and I was stumped by the idea that my character talks nonstop,” Newton tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It was daunting, and I really had to take a step back after reading it and assess if I could do this and bring it to life in a way that the script was asking.”
In April, Newton will have another dance with the genre that brought her to this point. She’s a part of Radio Silence’s next horror film, Abigail, as her character helps kidnap a 12-year-old ballerina vampire. The film serves as Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s (Radio Silence) first film since making two smash-hit Scream films, and in an ideal move, they passed that franchise’s baton to Newton’s Freaky director, Landon, who also wrote her horror debut in Paranormal Activity 4 for Blumhouse. (Unfortunately, Landon has since exited the project in response to the controversial exits of this potential sub-trilogy’s leads, Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega.)
Newton still hopes to return to her Freaky role in a crossover with Landon’s other beloved slasher pic, Happy Death Day, but in the meantime, she’s developing a mystery project with the producer of both properties, Jason Blum.
“I am still holding out hope [for Freaky Death Day]. Jason and I are working on something else. I can’t tell you what it is yet, but you’re going to be really excited about it,” Newton reveals with a sly wink.
Newton’s fictional mom on Big Little Lies, Reese Witherspoon, let the world know recently that she’s actively developing a potential third season with fellow EP and co-star, Nicole Kidman. As one might expect, Newton is champing at the bit to return to Monterey and also pay tribute to their late Emmy-winning director Jean-Marc Vallée, who set the tone for the series both on the screen and in the editing room.
“Jean-Marc changed my life. He called me ‘a rockstar.’ I think that show was the best project I’ve ever done. It changed TV in a lot of ways,” Newton says. “So I would definitely go back. To work with those women again? Yes. I would jump, too. I would be there. So, call me. I’m waiting for my call. Let’s go.”
Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Newton also discusses Williams’ helpful approach on the set of Lisa Frankenstein, before pointing out the small way in which she worked her love of golf into the film. Then she responds to the end of The Marvels in which Iman Vellani’s Kamala Khan references Cassie Lang during her embryonic assembly of the Young Avengers.
Well, you’ve mastered the art of walking through school hallways in cool costumes.
They say you have to reinvent yourself every six years, so I think it’s over for me now, right?
Lisa Frankstein is the end of you walking through school hallways in cool costumes?
Or I have another six years, but a different haircut. It’s one or the other. But it’s funny you bring that up because that’s exactly what Zelda [Williams] said to me the first time I met her. She was also like, “I’m so sick of seeing the same high school movie over and over again. I want to do something absurd. Are you in?” And I was like, “I’m in. Say no more.” That’s all you want to hear.
You dabbled in this era’s fashion on the beloved Halt and Catch Fire, but not to this degree. Did you fully understand the appeal of ‘80s fashion by the end of Lisa?
I love that you said “beloved Halt and Catch Fire.” I learned so much on that show including how to fake-smoke thanks to Scoot McNairy. He was like, “This is very embarrassing. You need to work on this.” I don’t smoke, so I looked terrible doing it. It looked super fake. But I already loved ‘80s fashion. I had so many ideas when it came to Lisa and how she starts versus how she ends. Our fashion designer Meagan [McLaughlin] drew a lot from her own personal closet, which made it really authentic and easy to make sure we were all in the right zone. The only thing we missed, in my opinion, was leg warmers. It was a missed opportunity. We needed some leg warmers in the movie. [Writer’s Note: Megan Fox’s Jennifer’s Body character wore leg warmers, so maybe, just maybe, there was an effort to prevent any overlap between two different Diablo Cody characters.]
Did you have to go out for Lisa, or did your good fortune continue with an offer?
My good fortune continued. It was an offer, pending my meeting with Zelda and making sure we weren’t going to bite each other’s heads off or anything. So that didn’t happen. I definitely love her. It was also serendipitous because I knew Cole [Sprouse]. We met at Paris Fashion Week or something, and he was like, “You have these poodles. I want to photograph your poodles with you.” And I was like, “Yeah, we should do it.” And during lockdown, we did a small photo shoot in my house with the dogs and these couture Valentino gowns and all these wigs. It was very camp. He also came up with a narrative that I was a wife who killed all her husbands, and I feel like it was our rehearsal time and a precursor to Lisa. We worked so well together, and I definitely wanted to work with him in a real way. So after my meeting with Zelda, I was really grateful when I found out [my co-star] was Cole. It just made sense, and I knew we were going to do something really fun and special.
Diablo Cody has written some of the most memorable female characters of the last twenty years. Did Lisa feel more nuanced on the page compared to most other scripts?
With Diablo’s writing, you get pulled in quicker. There’s an element of rhythm that’s different than anything I’ve ever read. There were many alliterations that aren’t in your face. It’s poetry, and I was stumped by the idea that my character talks nonstop. It was daunting, and I really had to take a step back after reading it and assess if I could do this and bring it to life in a way that the script was asking. So when I read it, I thought, “Well, this is a no-brainer, but maybe I should really take a second and think about it.”
You, as Lisa, had to talk a lot because many of your scenes are with a grunting reanimated corpse.
(Laughs.) Yeah, when does that happen?
How challenging were those scenes on the day?
As soon as I got on set, I saw what Cole was doing and I realized, “He’s the straight guy, and my character is the one who’s causing all the chaos.” And so I had to go there. I had to give people something to react to, and I had to move the story in a different way than I thought. I really don’t know what I was thinking, but I definitely thought I was going to be very still and hold back and be very internal [despite all the dialogue]. So it was actually the opposite, and I don’t even understand some of the things I did with my face. I didn’t know I could move my face in some of those ways, but I definitely went there a lot.
There’s a point where Lisa grabs a golf club in self-defense …
You caught that!
Well, given the fact that you moonlight as a semi-professional golfer, did you tell the prop master that you were going to grab a 9-iron from your trailer?
(Laughs.) I actually asked for a golf club because I have secretly snuck golf into almost every movie or TV show I’ve been on. So that was a request. 100 percent. I was like, “What about a golf club? Could we just have one in the house?”
It’s an Easter egg or homage to yourself.
It’s the charm of making a movie with someone as cool as Zelda. I think she appreciated making it personal and making it ours, and I’ll never forget that. It’s something that only she and I, and maybe Cole, and now you, know or notice. But, yeah, we definitely tried to do that for me.
There’s an insanely funny and twisted scene involving a bedroom and a hatchet. Was that one of the strangest days you’ve ever had on a set?
Oh yeah! I can’t believe I do what I do in that scene, but that’s what I mean. The first day of filming, Zelda was in a van, remotely, because there was a Covid scare. So she had to direct from a tent or a van, I can’t remember which. But I learned a lot because it was just me and the camera, and I thought, “Wow, I’ve got to do something here. There’s a lot of people in this movie, and I have to give them something to go after.” So it really freed me because I couldn’t look to Zelda right away and be like, “Was that okay?” All I could hear was the walkie going, “Yep, that was great. Let’s do another one.” And through that separation, I immediately solidified who Lisa was.
So by the time I had that scene, she’s peak chaotic, and that’s her breakdown. And how do you go there when you already started at such a high place? So I had to go even higher, and I can’t believe that’s the take that she used because it’s very loud. And again, my face is strange, but that’s just who the character is. So I was really supported by Zelda and the cast. They gave it right back to me, and it’s just what the script called for. It didn’t feel like I was doing anything crazy; It just felt honest and real. But looking back and watching it, I was like, “That’s a little much, Kathryn. You could have maybe brought it down.”
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, does time heal all wounds, or do you agree with Lisa that time is the wound?
I’m not a big fan of time. I feel like time doesn’t really exist in the way that we all see it. I don’t know that it’s linear. I think whatever is happening now is also happening in the future, which is really weird and far-fetched. So it’s all what you believe, and I think Lisa is someone who’s going through grief. She’s grieving and she doesn’t think anyone is listening to her, so she’s stuck. And through this beautiful vehicle of film, we got to tell the story of a girl whose friend literally cannot talk back, and yet she never listens. She never listens to anybody around her. It’s a really cool allegory. So maybe we all need a friend who doesn’t talk sometimes and can just hear us. Maybe it would do us all some good to just listen every once in a while.
I’ve been listening to your fictional mom Reese Witherspoon of late …
Oh, have you!?
She said that Big Little Lies season three is gaining momentum. Would you jump at the chance to return and pay tribute to Jean-Marc Vallée?
Yes, absolutely. Jean-Marc changed my life. He was a life-changer and a rockstar. He called me “a rockstar.” I think that show was the best project I’ve ever done. It changed TV in a lot of ways. There’s been so many amazing TV shows since Big Little Lies with the same influence as cinema. So I would definitely go back. To work with those women again? Yes. I would jump, too. I would be there. So, call me. I’m waiting for my call. Let’s go.
I spoke to your future best friend Iman Vellani not too long ago.
Her Marvel character is putting together the Young Avengers and she mentioned in The Marvels that she put out a “feeler” to Ant-Man’s daughter. Did you get a heads-up about that exciting news before it happened?
I did! I heard through the Quantum Realm birdies. I heard that there was a cool tag, and I was pretty excited to see that and hear that.
When you first agreed to play Cassie, you must’ve known that being a Young Avenger was a possibility, right?
In the Marvel universe, you hope for that. You hope to be. My whole thing is that I grew up watching Iron Man, and I feel like I grew with that character. So my hope for Cassie Lang has always been to grow with my audience, be it the people who are my age and saw [Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania], or the people who are just starting to watch Marvel movies at a young age. I saw one when I was a little young, but I still love those movies. So if I get an opportunity to continue the story, then that would be so cool to be a part of a generation that’s growing up with a film. It’s such a big part of my life. But they don’t really tell you. They tell you an overall, but I don’t take anything for granted. I am just trying to get through the day. Let’s finish one movie and then let’s continue. But I would very much also jump at the opportunity to work with Marvel Studios again.
It wouldn’t be a proper Kathryn Newton interview if we didn’t pressure Jason Blum to make Freaky Death Day. I actually found out recently from Freaky co-writer Michael Kennedy that he pitched the crossover idea a few months before Freaky came out, so it wasn’t just a pipe dream. Are you still holding out hope?
I am still holding out hope. Jason and I are working on something else. (Newton winks at the camera.) I can’t tell you what it is yet, but you’re going to be really excited about it. But I would love to do Freaky Death Day. I want to work with [Freaky director] Chris Landon forever. He also changed my life. I worked with Jason and Chris on Paranormal Activity 4 (2012), which was my first film that I was the lead of, and then years later, they called me with this great script [Freaky] that was perfect for me in every way. Horror has always been a home for me and my fan base, and Chris and Jason have always felt like where I started. So to continue that story would be bigger than anything, really, because horror brings people together in a different way than even Marvel movies or rom-coms. Everyone can relate to being afraid. Everyone has a [fear] no matter who you are. We all know what it’s like to be scared, and that’s the special thing about horror. We can all connect that way, which is kind of dark, but true.
Oddly enough, I had no idea you were in Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s new movie, Abigail.
I love them.
They had some interactions with Chris Landon last year, so do you know if they asked him about you during casting?
I’m sure that they did. I even asked Matt and Tyler: “Do you know this Chris Landon guy?” And they were like, “Yeah, we love Chris Landon. We’re friends.” So it’s a small world, and how cool would it be to get them all together on a project? Now we’re talking about masters at this craft, so they probably did talk about me. Hopefully good things.
I’ve long been asking you to make a golf movie, and since you just mentioned you’re developing something with Jason Blum, can you also pitch him a golf horror/slasher movie of some kind?
It’s a really good idea because golf clubs are really versatile. Let’s get Chris Landon on the phone and pitch him the idea.
Lisa Frankenstein opens Feb. 9 in movie theaters.
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