The most successful business leaders are often those who are driven to overcome any obstacle in order to obtain their goals, no matter what actions they have to take in the process. That’s certainly the case for actress Beverly D’Angelo’s character of Gertrude, the matriarch of the wealthy and powerful Lightstone family, in the new horror comedy Christmas movie, ‘Violent Night.’ The at-times obnoxious, selfish and greedy Gertrude is a stark difference the actress’ most well-known role as the caring, protective matriarch in the ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ films, Ellen Griswold.
‘Violent Night’ was written by Pat Casey and Josh Miller, and directed by Tommy Wirkola. The comedy hails from production company 87North, which has also produced such action movies as ‘John Wick,’ ‘Atomic Blonde,’ ‘Nobody,’ Bullet Train,’ ‘Deadpool 2’ and ‘Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.’ 87North’s Kelly McCormick, David Leitch and Guy Danella served as producers on ‘Violent Night,’ which Universal Pictures is releasing in theaters today, December 2.
In ‘Violent Night,’ a team of mercenaries breaks into the compound of the wealthy Lightstone family on Christmas Eve. The mercenaries are instructed by their leader, Scrooge (John Leguizamo), to take everyone in the Lightstone family hostage, including matriarch Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo), her son, Jason (Alex Hassell), his estranged wife, Linda (Alexis Louder), and their young daughter, Trudy (Leah Brady).
While struggling to stay safe and protect her family throughout the night, the latter forms an unexpected, heartfelt bond with Santa Claus (David Harbour). As members of the family and Santa are all struggling to find a way to find purpose in their lives again and reconnect with the people they love, the latter musters up the strength to not only offer vital assistance to his new friend Trudy and her relatives, while also dispatching the intruders.
D’Angelo generously took the time earlier this week to talk about starring in ‘Violent Night’ during an exclusive interview over Zoom. Among other things, the actress discussed that she was interested in playing Gertrude in the film in part because she unapologetically takes charge in her role as a powerful leader and mother. The performer also mentioned that she enjoyed working with Wirkola as the comedy’s helmer because he not only masterfully interwove several different genres into one story, but also gave his actors creative freedom to develop their characters the way they felt is right.
The conversation began with D’Angelo discussing why she was drawn to play Gertrude in ‘Violent Night.’ “I read the script and thought it was fantastic,” she shared.
“I was a really big fan of Tommy Wirkola, the director. I really wanted to be part of it because Tommy’s really a master of filmmaking. I call him a genre shifter because he can create a comedic moment back-to-back with a dramatic, violent, gut-wrenching or scary moment. He can shift that in a way that isn’t jarring, but instead wonderful,” the actress explained.
“I was also really attracted to the role (of Gertrude) because she’s who she is. Instead of being coy or using manipulation to get power, she just was (powerful), and I like that and inhabit that,” D’Angelo continued.
“In a Christmas setting, I’ve also played Ellen Griswold, who’s subservient, kind and patient. So I liked having the opportunity to play the total opposite kind of character as an actor,” the actress added.
Following up on the fact that Gertrude is the total opposite of Ellen Griswold, as the Lightstone matriarch is a tough-as-nails businesswoman, D’Angelo further delved into why she liked creating the fortitude and perseverance of her latest character. “I think every woman has that need and desire to feel fully self-empowered. So there were aspects of this role that I was drawn to,” she shared.
“So I think that I act to express myself. It’s a means of expression that I need because I don’t have the opportunities in life to explore all of those different needs,” the actress admitted. “We always need to keep things in check to get through life.
“I liked investigating that territory, and getting out there and feeling it. That way, I can bring it back to an audience and they can relate to it,” D’Angelo added.
Like the actress previously mentioned, Wirkola served as the director on ‘Violent Night.’ She further delved into what her experience was like of collaborating with him to build Gertrude’s arc throughout the movie.
“He’s such a kind, generous director. He’s also so talented that he has the ability to be extremely flexible. I find that the lack of flexibility in creatives often has to do with their own insecurity, as they can only do things one way because they don’t know how to do anything else,” D’Angelo explained.
“But Tommy’s so massively talented and skilled that he has this flexibility. He loves actors and the human condition, so he created an environment that was artistically free,” the actress revealed.
“We were all committed to what we were doing in our roles. I don’t think any one of us felt like we had to do things a specific way,” D’Angelo added.
Further speaking about having that creative freedom, the actress noted that she and her co-stars did some improvising during the production. However, they weren’t able to do an extensive amount, as they had to stick to their schedule, due to the weather.
“It was very cold while we were filming. We shot the film in Winnipeg in the winter…and it was so cold there, I didn’t leave the hotel except to go to work,” D’Angelo revealed.
The weather was so frigid that “When we were on set, a car would pick us up at the doors of our trailers to drive us the 50 feet to the sound stage or set because it was that cold. We has warming huts for not only the cast and crew, but also the cameras. It was so cold that we were all huddled together,” the actress continued.
“But despite the cold, the film was so wonderfully cast that there was a wonderful camaraderie that existed from the personalities that were assembled,” D’Angelo shared. “We were all very committed to what we were doing.
“There wasn’t one actor in the bunch who thought, if I do this role, it will further my career. We were all in it…and it was a wonderfully creative environment, and it had everything to do with Tommy,” the actress added.
Further speaking about her experience collaborating with her ensemble cast of co-stars to create their on-screen relationships, D’Angelo noted that the ease they had together “had to do with the freedom. We were all on the same level of acting, so we were all able to interact and be free in the moment when the cameras were rolling.
“We also rehearsed and also found things in the moment, especially Edi Patterson (who plays Gertrude’s daughter, Alva). She’s a great improviser, and I think most of her lines were improvised,” the actress shared.
“Edi, Alexis and I became really great friends, and to this day, we still text. In fact, Edi is the writer, producer and star of ‘The Righteous Gemstones,’ so she couldn’t go to the premiere for the movie,” D’Angelo shared.
“So I said, ‘Don’t worry Edi, I’m going to figure it out.” So I ordered a cardboard cutout of her and brought it to the red carpet, so that she could be there with all of us,” the actress enthusiastically revealed.
While ‘Violent Night’ is driven by the serious exploration into the Lightstone family’s dynamics, especially as they’re targeted by the villainous Scrooge and his fellow mercenaries, the story also features moments of relatable humor. D’Angelo then shared that she feels it’s important to interweave humor with drama in this type of horror movie.
“I like to bring the drama to humor, and the humor to drama, so this film was right up my alley. So I really enjoyed the blend of the comedy with the dramatic elements of the story and the stuntwork,” the actress concluded.