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Why “Carrie” and “Imaginary” Star Betty Buckley Is Up for Playing 'Weird, Crazy Ladies' In Horror Movies (Exclusive)

"I've got quiet a collection of these characters," says the veteran actress and singer

<p>John Boal</p> Betty Buckley

John Boal

Betty Buckley

Throughout her five decade career on stage and screen, Betty Buckley has made a name for herself across several genres.

She showed her knack for mixing drama and comedy on the ABC series Eight Is Enough, wowed theatergoers with her powerful pipes on Broadway in Cats (for which she won a Tony Award) and had countless viewers hiding their eyes with her very first film role in the 1976 horror movie Carrie.

The Texas native, 76, has returned to the thriller realm time and again: Buckley starred as the titular character’s terrifying mother in the 1988 Broadway adaptation of Carrie, appeared in two M. Night Shyamalan films (2008’s The Happening, and his creepy 2016 hit Split) and played the soul-stealing Gran’ma on Season 3 of AMC’s spooky supernatural series Preacher.

Now, she’s starring in Imaginary, a frightening tale about Jessica (DeWanda Wise), a Louisiana woman who moves to her former childhood home with her new husband (Tom Payne) and his two children from a previous marriage, Alice (Pyper Braun) and Taylor (Taegen Burns).

<p>Parrish Lewis</p> DeWanda Wise and Betty Buckley in 'Imaginary'

Parrish Lewis

DeWanda Wise and Betty Buckley in 'Imaginary'

Alice finds a cuddly teddy bear in the basement, and calls him Chauncey. But the toy turns out to be quite sinister — and has ties to Jessica herself.

Buckley has a supporting role as Gloria, a seemingly-kind neighbor who used to watch Jessica when she was a young girl.

“She's set up as a bit of a mysterious person that's kind of lurking around. And then when you discover her history, the way that unfolds is pretty interesting,” teases Buckley, who notes that Blumhouse, the production company behind Imaginary as well as hits M3GAN and Five Nights at Freddy's is "on a roll."

Related: The Next M3GAN or Five Nights at Freddy’s? Imaginary Trailer Teases a Spooky Teddy Bear: Watch 

The actress and singer says she was hooked after getting the script. “I said, ‘Yeah, I'm in.’ And I'm really up for playing weird crazy ladies these days, so it's right in my wheelhouse. I played a crazy lady in [The Happening] too. So I've got quite a collection of these characters at this point,” she says.

<p>Parrish Lewis</p> Betty Buckley and Taegen Burns in 'Imaginary'

Parrish Lewis

Betty Buckley and Taegen Burns in 'Imaginary'

Buckley says she’s leaning into these types of scary projects at this stage of her career: “I thought this might be a fun way to go from here.”

It’s a full circle moment, as she points out. “I started with Carrie and Brian De Palma,” she says of the film and its director. Although her character, gym teacher Miss Collins, wasn't the eccentric type she's embracing now.

The horror classic, based on the 1974 Stephen King book of the same name, starred Sissy Spacek as Carrie White, an awkward teenager with telekinetic powers who’s mercilessly bullied by her classmates, led by nasty ringleader Chris (Nancy Allen). The movie’s memorable climax occurs at a bloody and deadly prom.

<p>Alamy</p> Betty Buckley in the 1976 thriller 'Carrie'

Alamy

Betty Buckley in the 1976 thriller 'Carrie'

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Buckley acted alongside Amy Irving, John Travolta, and William Katt.

“We all had so much fun, and there were seven of us making our film debut, including John Travolta,” she recalls. “And the group of us were just so excited to be doing it. Sissy Spacek had done some films, and so she was a veteran, all chill and everything. And the rest of us were like, ‘Oh, Hollywood, we're so excited to be here!’”

At the time, De Palma was “an up-and-coming filmmaker,” says Buckley, “so I think we all knew it was going to be something special, but I don't think any of us could have imagined the cult hit that it became.”

<p>Universal Pictures/ Everett </p> Betty Buckley in 'Split.'

Universal Pictures/ Everett

Betty Buckley in 'Split.'

Costars Irving and P.J. Soles gave her a lift to the set from her hotel. “So I got to know them driving back and forth to Culver City, and they really were cool people,” she says.

For her next project, however, Buckley is straying from horror. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she wrote a short story about Megalyn, a singing and dancing mayfly. Working with a director, animation studio and composer, she turned it into a seven-minute movie.

“It's a beautiful film and beautiful story,” Buckley says of the project, which has its world debut at the American Documentary and Animation Film Festival in Palm Springs, Calif. on March 24.

But another horror movie might not be far behind for Buckley: Imaginary director Jeff Wadlow (his other credits include the horror movies Truth or Dare and Fantasy Island) has already asked her to collaborate again.

“I was like, ‘Yes, yes,’” she says of Wadlow’s proposal, “‘[Just] let me be a little more glamorous next time.’”

Imaginary is in theaters nationwide today.

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