The poster for writer-director Maggie Levin’s horror thriller, ‘Into the Dark: My Valentine.’

Having a unique opportunity to share their stunning talents is all-too-important experience for any creative person, no matter what medium or genre they work in. That’s certainly the case for actresses Anna Akana and Anna Lore, who star in the new horror thriller, ‘Into The Dark: My Valentine.’ The performers both prove that they can effortlessly relate to their characters’ emotional arcs, no matter how different they are from their own personalities. Their natural connection with their characters help emphasize their determination to maintain control over their sense of self-expression, no matter how they crafted their public personas.

‘My Valentine’ was written by up-and-coming filmmaker, Maggie Levin, who also made her feature film directorial debut on the project. The drama premiered this weekend on Hulu, in honor of the title holiday of love.

Producer Jason Blum‘s independent television studio, Blumhouse Television, crafted ‘Into The Dark,’ which is a monthly horror event series that’s inspired by different holiday. The feature-length installments include Blumhouse’s signature genre-thriller spin in its stories.

‘My Valentine’ follows the title songwriter, Valentine (Britt Baron), who takes the stage for what’s hoped to be her explosive comeback, and the performance is well received by the crowd. After the show, as she goes backstage to get ready to leave, someone from her past bribes the club’s staff to quickly leave the premises.

As Valentine starts to walk out to leave, she sees her ex-boyfriend, Royal (Benedict Samuel), which comes as a surprise to her. He’s accompanied by his new musical muse, Trezzure (Lore). Royal demands that Valentine stop performing the songs that he now legally holds the rights for, even though she wrote them during their relationship. But this time, she refuses to let the man who for so long abused win. She’ll do whatever it takes to overcome the lies, pleas and rage-fueled domination tactics he has targeted at her for so long.

Akana and Lore both generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘My Valentine’ during individual exclusive phone interviews. Among other things, both performers discussed how they were interested in working with Levin on her feature film directorial debut, as they previously worked with her on short films and music videos, and appreciated the way she developed the characters and storyline. The actresses also shared that they appreciated the cathartic and real way that the writer-director presented the female characters in ‘My Valentine’ as strong women who aren’t afraid to confront anyone who’s trying to hold them back.

The conversation with Akana began with her explaining why she decided to play Julie in ‘My Valentine,’ and how she became attached to the movie. “Maggie and I have been visual collaborators for over five years. We’ve written a feature together, and she directed a bunch of music videos for my visual album. She also helped me adapt my book into a script for a short film, which is called ‘Take Your Birth Control,'” the performer shared.

“So it’s been very long overdue for Maggie’s (feature) directorial debut. She’s so talented,” Akana added. “So when this project came up, I unfortunately was on another project in Canada, and it conflicted with this movie. But then my other production got pushed, so I was able to come on and play Julie, who’s somewhat based on me,” Akana revealed.

“When I first read the script, it was surreal. The story’s not only about the abuse that we see so often in the music industry-Maggie has grown up in the industry, as her father’s a famous bassist (Tony Levin, who played for Peter Gabriel and King Crimson)-but it’s also about the abuse we experienced in a former friend group,” the actress admitted. She was among a group of woman who accused a Hollywood filmmaker of emotional and sexual abuse in 2017.

“So this movie was a very cathartic and real process. We took our trauma and put it into meaningful art. So I was incredibly grateful to take part in this; it’s not only Maggie’s long, overdue directorial debut, but it’s also something I felt an intense connection to,” Akana added.

Lore also began her conversation by detailing why she was drawn to star in ‘My Valentine,’ and how she became attached to the thriller. The character of Trezzure appealed to the performer because Lore loved that ‘Trezzures “so multi-faceted and complex. I love that there can be a female character that can be a little bit dumb in some ways, while also being smart in other ways. She’s sympathetic at times, but isn’t sympathetic at other times,” the performer explained.

“A lot of times with female characters, they end up being written one-note. We don’t want them to be bad at all, so we don’t want them to any have qualities that we aren’t attracted to,” Lore stated with a laugh, “or that we consider to have negative qualities.

“What I like about Trezzure is that she has so much going on in her head at times, but at the other time, so very little!,” the actress added with another laugh. “Also, playing a pop star is just the icing on top of the cake-it was so much fun!”

After learning more information about the character of Trezzure and deciding she wanted to portray her, Lore became attached to the film. She was cast in part because “I’ve worked with Maggie before on a couple of projects. So I did an initial audition, and it was a fast turnaround; I did the tape, and the table read was maybe a couple of days later!”

Lore further gushed over her working relationship with Levin, revealing that “It’s always such a pleasure working with her. I love getting to work with someone whose taste reflects your taste! The fact that Maggie’s so heavy on the visuals and style is so fun,” the performer shared with a laugh.

“Maggie also comes from a theater and acting background, so she’s really respectful of the actor’s process. She hires people she trusts, and lets them do their job; that means everything to an actor,” Lore also revealed.

“When Maggie does come in, and has an adjustment or idea, I really trust her, and the fact that it’s right for the scene. It’s great to be able to work with someone you like, which lets you have so much confidence in each other,” the actress added.

Also speaking of Levin, and how she wrote, and made her feature film directorial debut on ‘My Valentine,’ Akana explained what the process of collaborating with the filmmaker was like overall. “The experience was great. Maggie’s so good at communicating. That can be taken for granted a lot; there can be so many miscommunications on set, and everyone isn’t communicating in a specific way about what they want or need,” she noted.

“What I love about Maggie is that she’s always like, ‘What do you need? Let’s make sure we’re on the same page.’ She’s always reiterating what I say, so that she can make sure that she’s hearing me correctly,” Akana gushed about the filmmaker. “She’s got so much emotional depth to her, and she’s such a compassionate person and hard worker…She’s very much about the art…That lends this to being a much more fulfilling creative process…I had that previous rapport with her, which made me feel feel completely safe on set for this movie,” the performer added.

Besides having a comfortable working relationship with Levin, Lore also appreciated that the filmmaker created so many female leads in ‘My Valentine.’ “I think something that we forget about this industry is that it’s so male-dominated, but there are so many female horror fans, which is reflected in these women who appear in our movie. When we think of horror as a male industry, I think it does a disservice to those female fans,” she emphasized.

“In any genre, I’m dying to see more complex female characters. Sometimes, I think strong female characters are just written as a woman who was given a bunch of male traits. There are so many different sides to ambitious women,” the actress further shared. “I feel really proud to be part of a project that has such well-written female characters that have so much going on.”

Besides appreciating working with Levin again, Lore also embraced her experience of collaborating with her co-stars on the set of ‘My Valentine.’ She described the process of working together “really fun. The table read was the first day that I really met almost everybody,” she revealed.

“To see Benedict Samuel play Royal everyday on the set was amazing. My scenes with Benedict were some of my favorite scenes, because we didn’t have to do any work on our relationship; it just came naturally. That was a testament to the writing, as well,” the performer explained. She added with a laugh, “But the relationship between our characters is very weird!”

Lore added that she also cherished her experience collaborating with Baron, and “loved hanging out with her. The fact that she’s unbelievably talented is a bonus. Anna Akana, who I’ve also worked with before on previous Maggie projects, is so fun to be around.

“The vibes for the cast were very good. Being able to work with people who you want to hang out with is such a blessing. Experiences on set can be different for everyone,” the actress divulged. “Just to be able to hang out with all of those people in the middle of shooting something so intense was a total blessing.”

Akana echoed her co-star’s sentiment about working with the rest of the cast. “Britt Baron and I got along well, as we played best friends in the film. We really bonded over animals-she has a beautiful pit ball that she rescued. There were stray cats on the set that we were also trying to feed! So I think that helped our camaraderie on screen,” she shared.

“Anna Lore and I have been friends for quite a long time, so that was also helpful. I just met Benedict Samuel when we began making the movie, but he was great; he was very communicative, especially since we had a couple of stunt scenes together, and we had an antagonistic relationship on screen…He was very helpful in that regard,” the performer also revealed.

Further speaking of creating the physicality on the set, Akana noted that she loved performing the stuntwork. “I’m a very physical person. I used to do aerial silks, so I love the opportunity to do any stunts when I can. They were minimal on this project, because spoiler alert-I die from a stabbing,” she divulged.

“But we do have a little fight beforehand, which I thought was fun. I wanted to make sure it looked real,” the actress added. She also pointed out, “Real fights don’t last very long, and there’s usually a little shoving. So that aspect was fun to figure out.

“We had a great stunt coordinator (Tim Mikulecky), who helped us choreograph exactly how many steps we’d take before we’d shove each other, and at what angle I’d step into the knife. So that was an enjoyable experience,” Akana further shared.

The performer then reflected about all of the arcs of her characters throughout her career, and noted, “I think this is the first time I died on screen. I had to put fake blood in my mouth, and it tasted like mint chocolate, and I was pleasantly surprised! But the crew was like, ‘Don’t swallow it, because if you do, we’re in trouble,'” she added with a laugh.

Akana then admitted that she isn’t normally a fan of watching horror films and television series. “But making a horror project is a joy!” While she isn’t the biggest fan of the horror genre in general, the performer was drawn to ‘My Valentine’ in particular because of the musical aspect, with the title character being a singer-songwriter.

The actress then admitted, “I refuse to do horror, unless it has a deeper message…because I get very scared…’My Valentine’ covers abusive relationships, and the literal nightmare that goes along with them. So I felt it was a very natural fit for me…I felt very personally connected to the story, and feel really good about standing behind it.”

The characters’ persona aren’t just based on their musical abilities, but also their physical appearance and persona. Akana then explained what the experience of working with Levin and the make-up and hair departments to create Julie’s style. “That process was very collaborative. Originally, the hair department wanted me to have dreads, and I was like, ‘Absolutely not. I can’t in good conscience do that.’

“So we landed on the corn rows/faux Mohawk hair. That was something I found on Pinterest, and I thought, that’s very Julie. If I was a punk girl doing a show, I would 100 percent do that with my hair,” the performer added.

“It was also a very collaborate process with the make-up. I wanted to do heavier eyes, because Julie’s supposed to be the bad-ass character. Even the wardrobe department gave me a punch of options, and Maggie asked me what I would feel most comfortable in, knowing that I would have to do some fighting and performing. So it was a very collaborative, communicative process, which was awesome,” Akana disclosed.

With the story following Trezzure as she finds herself locked in the small concert venue after hours with her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend-protégée, the actress also cherished the opportunity to the experience of filming the thriller on location in the venue. But she admitted that when she first signed on to play Julie, she didn’t realize that the script was set in “predominately in one location until we were actually in it.

“I thought it was cleverly written, in that regard, with the budget in mind. I thought it was an interesting place; they took this old ’90s bar, and made it really beautiful with the neon lighting, and the structure of the walls. There were also a lot of collages made, to give it a really lived-in feeling and authentic vibe,” Akana added.

The performer then shared her thoughts on working with Blumhouse Television and Hulu to make her installment of ‘Into the Dark,’ especially since Blum’s business is one of Hollywood’s leading production companies in the horror genre. “I actually did another anthology series with Blumhouse for YouTube Premium (while it was formerly known as YouTube Red). It was a horror comedy show (’12 Deadly Days’). So ‘Into the Dark’ isn’t my first time working with them. Every time I’ve worked with them, it’s been super fun.”

Lore also gushed over the experience of being able to collaborate with Blumhouse Television on ‘My Valentine.’ “It’s a huge honor that I’m in a Blumhouse film-they’re the name in horror,” she explained with a hint of a laugh. “So the fact that I was able to call my mom and tell her that I’m in a Blumhouse horror movie was great.”

Also speaking about ‘My Valentine’s release on Hulu, Akana noted that “working with streaming services is the next natural step for me as an actress. Having been on the internet for 13 years,” which includes releasing music and motivational videos on her YouTube channel, which has over 2.65 million subscribers, “I know it’s a very natural transition in the way content’s viewed. Streaming’s really starting to blur the lines between the way things can be watched.”

Photo ofAnna Akana and Anna Lore
Anna Akana and Anna Lore
Job Title
Actresses in writer-director Maggie Levin's horror film, 'Into the Dark: My Valentine'

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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