Being outspoken and bold about their opinions, while also being grounded and clearheaded, is a vital combination for any victim to have while they’re fighting to save their lives in any situation. Those vital characteristics powerfully help the supporting characters of Nyla and Josh, who are played by Celeste O’Connor and Misha Osherovich in the new horror comedy, ‘Freaky,’ as they set out to help protect their best friend Millie, the protagonist of the film. Nyla is the mature moral compass of the group and acts as the problem solver, while Josh is fiercely loyal and fearlessly protective of his friends. The resolute characters also powerfully oppose social injustices as they combat the serial killer who has overtake Millie’s life.
‘Freaky,’ which Universal Pictures distributed in theaters nationwide this weekend, was directed by Christopher Landon, who co-wrote the script with Michael Kennedy. The thriller was produced by Jason Blum through his production company, Blumhouse Productions, which has made a name for itself over the past decade by producing such horror series as ‘Paranormal Activity‘ and ‘Happy Death Day,’ which Landon also wrote and directed entries in.
‘Freaky’ follows 17-year-old Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton, ‘Blockers,’ ‘Paranormal Activity 4’) is just trying to survive the bloodthirsty halls of Blissfield High and the cruelty of the popular crowd. But when she becomes the newest target of The Butcher (Vince Vaughn), her town’s infamous serial killer, her senior year becomes the least of her worries.
When The Butcher’s mystical ancient dagger causes him and Millie to wake up in each other’s bodies, Millie learns that she has just 24 hours to get her body back before the switch becomes permanent, and she’s trapped in the form of a middle-aged maniac forever.
The only problem is Millie now looks like the towering psychopath who’s the target of a city-wide manhunt. Meanwhile, The Butcher looks like her, and discovers that having a female teen body is the perfect cover for a little Homecoming killing spree. So with some help from her friends, including the ultra-the woke Nyla and the ultra-fabulous Joshua, as well as her crush, Booker (Uriah Shelton, ‘Enter the Warriors Gate’), Millie races against the clock to reverse the curse.
O’Connor and Osherovich generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Freaky’ during individual exclusive interview over Zoom. Among other things, the actress and actor (who prefers to use the pronouns they/them) discussed that they were drawn to play their respective characters of Nyla and Josh in part because they identified with their determination to fight back against obstacles in every situation, from overcoming stereotypes to protecting their lives against their town’s serial killer. The duo also expressed their enjoyment of working together and with the rest of the cast, as well as Landon, to bring their characters’ strong-will to screen in the movie’s unique blend of horror and humor.
The conversation with O’Connor began with the actress sharing why she was interested in playing Nyla in in ‘Freaky.’ “I got the script in what feels like forever ago,” she revealed with a laugh. “I remember reading it and thinking it was insane and crazy! I also thought, I have to be a part of this, because it’s fun. I was laughing while I was reading it, and was also shocked and scared.
“I also loved Nyla, my character, because she was like, let’s get down to business. She was also like, how are we going to address and solve this problem? I really identified with that. I think the way Nyla handled the situation was the way I personally would have handled the situation,” the actress admitted with a laugh. “So it was cool to be the moral compass.”
Osherovich began his interview by explaining what drew him to portray Josh in the horror comedy. “When I read the script, it was wacky! As wacky as it is for you to watch it, it was even crazier reading it on paper. You’re like, ‘Cool, cool…wait, she dies that way?!?,'” they revealed.
“As I was auditioning, I got to talk to Chris, our director, and Michael, our co-writer. It became clear that there was so much humanity behind these characters. That’s what I love about it most; there are these wacky situations, but you still see that these characters have such heart,” the actor continued. “Our filmmakers don’t apologize for making real people; they’re not just caricatures.”
Speaking of those caricatures, Osherovich noted that they supports the fact that Landon and Kennedy didn’t show the characters in the stereotypical ways that commonly drive the horror genre. “Celeste and I appreciated that in particular. I played an openly proud queer character, and Celeste’s character is unapologetically black. I think that’s so important represented on screen. Not only that, but we also comment on it,” they pointed out.
“With Chris and Michael’s writing, I say, ‘You’re black, I’m gay, we’re so dead. But the fact of the matter is, we’re not; we’re central to the plot, and that’s for a reason. We’re commenting on how the genre, and often society, treats people like us,” the actor added.
With unique characters who don’t always fit into the typical societal norms, Osherovich appreciated the overall social commentary that Landon and Kennedy incorporated into ‘Freaky’s script. “Not to drive a point home too hard, but this is a queer character who’s central to the story. Celeste’s character is a proudly Black character who’s also central to the story. Not only do we need that kind of representation, but the way that Chris and Michael wrote the commentary on how society treated queer and people of color in the past is so smart. That message is super important,” they emphasized.
Following up on what the experience of working with Landon and Kennedy on the film, the actor noted that the filmmakers are “such a power duo. They’re both queer filmmakers, and writing from the perspective of two gay men, they understand the journey of a high school gay kid. For that reason, it was so easy to work with them. They were invested in making the high school queer superhero that they wanted to see when they were younger. It was beautiful.”
O’Connor also expressed her appreciation of being able to collaborate with the co-writer-director. When she first signed on to star in ‘Freaky,’ “I had a FaceTime call with Chris, and he was the absolute best. So I was like, I would love to work with him. He was so upbeat, warm, funny and kind. I was really excited when I later got the role, because I knew it was going to be a great time,” she shared with a laugh.
Once production on the thriller began, “It was really amazing to get to work with Chris. He knew the tone he was going for very distinctly and specifically. So I knew when I got to set I was in really good hands,” the actress revealed. “His direction is really straight forward and specific, which really made me feel really safe when I was doing the scenes that were very new to me. I had never done a fight scene, so knowing that Chris had my back, and he knew exactly what we needed, was comforting to me.”
The experience of working with each other, as well as the rest of the cast, was something that Osherovich and O’Connor both enjoyed. “Chris created such a family environment on set. Kathryn and Vince are amazing,” the actor gushed. “I’m also so lucky that Celeste was my partner-in-crime on screen. She’s one of my idols, and I really adore her, because she doesn’t apologize for who she is.
“We’ve become really good friends outside of this, because we share a lot of the same experiences and thoughts on society, and we’ll get into deep conversations. Making this film wouldn’t have been the same without her,” Osherovich added.
O’Connor agreed with her co-star, and added that “The whole cast was really great. You could see how much fun we had on set on screen. That was because we became really great friends throughout this process, and we’ve remained friends. That’s been really fun and exciting for me. It was exciting that we were able to make a piece of art that can make other people really happy and have a good time. To be able to do that with people who are now my really close friends was so fun.”
The actress added that she thinks Landon “did a really great job of making us feel really comfortable and at home with each other. There were a lot of things in the script that were really challenging and outside of our comfort zones. He made us feel like the set was a safe space where we could explore our characters and the story. So getting to work with everybody in the whole cast and Chris was amazing. I couldn’t imagine having done that with anyone else.”
In addition to working with Landon and Kennedy, O’Connor also enjoyed the experience of collaborating with Blumhouse on ‘Freaky.’ “It was such an honor to work with Blumhouse. They were amazing, and I’m a huge fan of their films, so it was really cool for me.”
Osherovich agreed with their co-star on the process of working with the production company on the movie. “They’re lovely. What I love about Blumhouse is that they really gave Chris a lo of freedom control. Blumhouse is invested in the best product, and Chris knew how to deliver that. So we got to do our thing, and I appreciate that about a studio,” they shared.
Besides creating unique, nonuniform characters who don’t always fit into the typical representations of the horror genre, and who also aren’t afraid to comment on modern social commentary, the actor also cherished the opportunity to perform the stunts that are featured in ‘Freaky.’ “It was physical! Chris wanted a fight, so we had fight choreography, and did a lot of our own stunts. It was really me on top of Vince Vaughn, who’s easily over a foot taller than me, so I had to get a running start. We definitely got our steps in, and there was a lot of effort! But it turned into an amazing physical learning experience,” they shared.
O’Connor also followed up on her experience of working on the stunts and fight sequences. “I had never really done a fight scene like the one I shot for this film before. We worked on choreographing it beforehand, and worked with the stunt people. It was also really fun to work with Vince on that process because he has a lot of experience,” she shared.
On the day the cast and crew shot the fight Millie and her friends had with the Blissfield Butcher, “we were like, ‘Let’s just jump in, because that’s what this requires. We needed to bring energy and blind confidence that we could do it,” the actress added with a laugh. “It was a long day, but I got to do some of my own stunts, which was really cool. It was just a really great experience.”
In addition to including the important social commentary Landon and Kennedy infused into the script, Osherovich also embraced the humor the co-writers intertwined with the slasher elements into the story. “What really surprised me was that Chris knows his lane, and what genre he’s making, so well. As a result, he made an environment where the actors’ only job was to be as real as humanly possible in these insane circumstances,” they revealed.
“So I wasn’t thinking about being funny or scared. My only job was to be present in the scene that Chris was setting up, which included a six-foot serial killer chasing me down the hallway,” the actor added.
O’Connor followed up on her experience of incorporating humor into her portrayal of Nyla in the horror comedy. “My character and definitely Misha’s character were definitely a bit of the comedic relief. I didn’t necessarily get to see all of the blood on set, as that was Kathryn and Vince’s department, which I was kind of happy about, because I’m scared of horror movies,” she admitted with a laugh. “But it was really fun and interested to get to be a part of the film’s comedy, because it was the first comedy I had ever done. So I learned a lot from being on the set, especially from Chris and Vince.”
With ‘Freaky’ being released in theaters this weekend, the actress embraced the distribution model. “I was actually able to see the movie with the rest of the cast at Beyond Fest in L.A. It was a drive-in, so it was a kind of quarantined theater experience, and it was so fun, because we got to hear the other people in the audience gasping and laughing. So I think this is the perfect movie to see in theaters right now, because everybody needs to laugh and have a good time. So I’m excited for people who are able to go see it in the theaters to be able to do that,” she noted.
Osherovich agreed with his co-star on his hope that people who can safely see the film in theaters can do so. They also noted his support of audiences remaining safe at home during the current COVID-19 pandemic, and waiting to see the thriller until it’s released digitally. “The world is in a really tough place right now, and we all know that. So escape is a really good mental health tool. I always say that with this film, you’re going to laugh, and get scared, sh*tless, and this film provides both. So go see it, but be safe and wear a mask. This is a really fun film, and I hope people enjoy it,” he concluded.