Unexpected turmoil and changes in society have long inspired people to make serious adjustments in their professional and personal lives. That has certainly been the case for the world this past year, as all societies are contending with political conflict and the uncertain longevity of the COVID-19 pandemic. The title anti-hero in the upcoming horror film, ‘Jakob’s Wife,’ is a prime example of someone who’s struggling with how external events are influencing her to embark on an internal transformation.
Along with Mark Steensland and Kathy Charles, Travis Stevens co-wrote the script for the drama, which he went on to also produce and direct. Stevens asked his fellow producer, Barbara Crampton, who also plays the main character of Anne Fedder, to infuse her character with her own personal vulnerability. The actress powerfully highlighted her protagonist’s initial dismay with her marriage before she began embracing the unexpected changes in her life.
RLJE Films and Shudder are set to distribute ‘Jakob’s Wife’ in select theaters and On Demand and Digital this Friday, April 16. The he movie’s official release comes after it had its World Premiere during the Midnighters section at this year’s SXSW.
‘Jakob’s Wife’ follows Anne, who’s married to a small-town minister, Jakob (Larry Fessenden), as she begins to feel like her life and marriage have been shrinking over the past 30 years. After a chance encounter with The Master (Bonnie Aarons), she discovers a new sense of power and an appetite to live bigger and bolder than before. As Anne is increasingly torn between her enticing new existence and her previous life, the body count grows and Jakob realizes he will have to fight for the wife he took for granted.
Stevens generously took the time during SXSW last month to talk about writing, directing and producing ‘Jakob’s Wife’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed that he was drawn to contribute to the script, and helm the film, after the initial draft was honored at Shriekfest, which garnered the attention of Crampton, who he had been friends with for years before. The filmmaker also mentioned that cherished having the opportunity to collaborate with the actress and the rest of the cast on creating the emotional and physical arcs for their roles. He also shared that he was happy to be able to premiere the film at SXSW.
The conversation began with Stevens discussing his involvement in working on the screenplay for ‘Jakob’s Wife’ with Steensl and Charles, and what the process of creating the story together for the feature was like. “The script was initially written by Mark Steensland, and it had won a screenplay award at Shriekfest, which is a film festival here in L.A. The founder of the festival reached out to Barbara Crampton years ago and said, ‘We think you may be interested in this script.’ So Barbara read it and said, ‘Oh my God, yes, this is great.’
“She then spent years developing it with different writers, and eventually worked on it with Kathy Charles. They then got the script into a place they were pretty happy with, and started sending it out to different directors,” the scribe continued.
“I have known Barbara for years, and we’re friends. We also worked together on a movie called ‘We Are Still Here.’ Since I knew her so well, as soon as I read the script for this film, I could see why this was the perfect movie for her to make at this point in her career,” Stevens divulged.
“So I immediately said: ‘Yes, I would like to do this movie, and here’s what I would like to do with the script. That began my process of renovating the movie into doing what I wanted to do,” the writer added.
After contributing his ideas to the script, Stevens embraced the experience of going on to direct the drama. He delved into how working on the story influenced his helming style on the set.
“The first step was to create my vision for the movie, in terns of what I wanted it to say. I questioned if the script was highlighting those qualities, which guided all of my decisions after that process,” the filmmaker shared.
“It was very clear to me that this was a movie about a woman who’s in the second act of her life, and is looking back and thinking, I need to make some changes,” Stevens revealed. “So having that clear vision informed how the movie was going to look, how we were going to cast and shoot it, the types of scenes that would be in it and what the music would sound like, as well as all of the other decisions.”
In addition to Crampton, ‘Jakob’s Wife’ also stars Larry Fessenden, Sarah Lind, Mark Kelly, and Bonnie Aarons. The director then further discussed what the rest of the casting process was like for the movie .
“Since this a movie that has such a transformative arc for the Anne character, I knew it was important to cast actors around Barbara who would be nimble and flexible. I wanted Barbara to have the space to go a little wild and big, so that meant having actors in the scenes with her who could adjust to whatever she was bringing to the table,” Stevens shared.
“Larry Fessenden, who plays her husband, Jakob, also uses that language, not just as a performer, but also as a filmmaker. I knew he would be the perfect partner for her because he was so nimble on his feet,” the filmmaker continued.
“It was the same process for the supporting actors; we wanted to find people who are flexible and fit into this story we were filming, and would be able to bring a part of their own personality to the movie. Whether it was Sarah Lind, Mark Kelly or Bonnie Aarons, who played The Master, all of the actors brought their own strong personalities to their roles,” Stevens added.
Once the actors were cast, the helmer embraced the experience of working with them to create the backstories for, and the relationships between, their characters. But he also admitted that the rehearsal process was difficult at times because “the characters are there to service the main storyline, and move the plot forward. They’re there to provide information, and teach the main character something.
“So a lot of the work was to give the supporting characters their own identities beyond what the main character needs to learn. Whether it’s Sheriff Mike Hess, who’s played by Jay DeVon Johnson, or the dentist, Dr. Meda, who’s played by Monica L. Henry, it was important to think outside of what Anne needs in her interaction with them, as well as their journey,” Stevens shared. “So I talked to the actors about if they had any questions, or if they thought there needed to be something more.”
Besides working with the performers on creating the emotional arcs for their roles, the filmmaker also collaborated with them, as well as the crew, to develop the physicality and look for the characters, particularly Anne. “As Anne transforms, the movie transforms and gets more exaggerated, absurd, violent and vibrant. So the aesthetics of Anne’s look, whether it’s the dresses she wears or her hair and make-up, as the movie gets more exaggerated, all of those elements also get exaggerated,” he revealed.
“That was all a matter of talking to our costume designer (Yvonne Reddy), and making sure everyone understood the beat and rhythm of the movie. That way, all of the physical changes were happening at the same time,” Stevens added.
The filmmaker then delved into how, in addition to writing and directing the feature, he also served as a producer. He mentioned why he decided to also produce the drama during the production.
“I have a long track record of working as an independent horror film producer, and that will always be a skill set I bring to the movies I write and direct. This was a smaller movie, so it really required everyone to wear multiple hats, in order to get it made,” the producer explained.
After finishing production on ‘Jakob’s Wife,’ Stevens appreciated that it was chosen to have its World premiere at SXSW. “We’re so grateful for all of the people at the festival who found a way to turn one of the biggest in-person events into an online edition. I can’t imagine the amount of hard work that took. So we’re super grateful that the movie (premiered) this year at SXSW,” he shared. “It (was) all online, so it (gave) us the chance to connect with people online, which (we were) excited about.”
Now that the film has had its World premiere at SXSW, the helmer is eagerly anticipating the feature’s official release in North America this week. “RLJE Films will release the movie in theaters and on VOD on April 16. They have put out such movies as ‘Bone Tomahawk,’ ‘Mandy’ and ‘Daniel Isn’t Real,’ and is the most exciting horror distributor working today. So to have an opportunity to work with them, and basically be a bandmate with so many other awesome movies that we love, makes me feel really lucky,” he admitted.
“We can’t wait to see how it plays out when its playing in drive-ins and theaters and on VOD before the Shudder release. Obviously, with Shudder, it’s so nice to have a channel in your home that plays the cool stuff that you might not have ever heard of before,” Stevens concluded.