Probably best known for her work on both Heroes and Dexter, Brea Grant has spent the last few years carving out a niche in the genre cinema arena, with After Midnight being her latest venture. In the film she stars as Abby, the girlfriend of Jeremy Gardner’s Hank, whom disappears suddenly, leaving Hank haunted by his memories and stalked by a monster. Despite a svelte amount of screen-time, it’s a very vulnerable turn from Grant, and one that will hit close to home for many.
Not content to just act, Grant is also a writer and director, and has several credits to her name. The most recent entries are 12 Hour Shift and Lucky, and both were on the festival circuit before Covid-19 struck. Whilst quarantined, we caught up with Brea to find out a little more about After Midnight and the independent film industry.
When you read the script, what was it about Abby that made you want to play her?
I felt like I related to Abby a lot. When they sent me the script I think I read it that same night, and I read the last scene of the movie and I started crying. I felt very emotionally attached to her, and I felt that I knew what she was going through. I think it’s not a story that every woman can relate to, but I think a lot of women can. Where you just get to this place in your life where you’re like, ‘I’m done with all of this, I want to move onto the next chapter of my life, and there’s a person holding me back from that.’ That’s what I felt that she was saying. She was ready to be an adult and ready to grow up, and Hank was holding her back. She was giving him that last shot, and that’s what really drew me to her.
She’s definitely not the stereotypical girlfriend character that you get a lot in films. She does have her own autonomy from Hank. I’m guessing that’s something that appealed to you as well?
Yeah for sure. Because Abby’s not in most of the movie, it was interesting to read the script with that in mind, knowing that it was mostly going to be Jeremy [Gardner] on screen, and his memories of who I was. Then I think what really worked was that you see all these memories of Abby, but then you actually meet Abby in person and she’s quite different than the memories of her. The memories of her are mostly silent and very silly and fun, then you meet her and you’re like, ‘oh, this is a full person who has dreams and hopes, and isn’t just some manic pixie dream-girl. She’s an actual human and she’s pissed at him.’ Which I like. I like to see female anger in a movie.
My take on Abby is essentially a ghost for the first part of the film, and is almost haunting Hank, which I thought was really clever.
Yeah I like that, and a ghost with knowing that she might potentially have some sort of monstrous element to her. There’s a monster throughout the movie and you’re kind of wondering through the whole movie whether or not the monster is real, whether or not the monster is Abby, and the real monster is these unspoken things in their relationship.
The film builds up to, and wraps around, this fantastic two-hander monologue sequence between you and Jeremy. The way that it’s shot feels very much of the stage; it’s a good fourteen-fifteen minutes long. When did you discover that was how they were going to film it, and how did you feel?
The day before! (Laughs) But I had learned that monologue…let me back up… so in the audition process they had sent over the script and they sent over some scenes. I sort of didn’t want to audition. It’s a very low budget movie and I was sort of angry I was having to audition for something that would probably cost me money at the end of the day. But I decided to record the scenes that they wanted, but then I also took that monologue because it meant so much to me when I read it, and put that on tape. So I had learned the monologue off book about a month previous to when we actually shot. So I knew it well enough. But it was super scary to do that very long take all at once.
They talked about getting coverage at one point, but then decided not to. We spent the whole evening, the whole shoot day, just doing that scene. Which makes sense because I think we shot it like eleven times or something like that, and it’s a ten-twelve minute monologue, so when you add all that up, that is actually a full shoot day. It was great.
Jeremy is a theatre guy. I am not. So he set it up like he opened the curtains when he opened the door, and set it up to be a theatrical experience. I think it really worked. It’s really scary for me to watch it. He sent it to me the first time before I saw the whole movie, and I told him that I did not know if I would ever watch that part again because it was really hard to watch. It was a really tough night. I felt that it pulled a lot out of me emotionally. I’m very proud of it, but also it was scary.
It is a very vulnerable scene. It is this character laying her heart and emotions on the line so I can see how it would take a lot out of you.
I’m not a super vulnerable person surprisingly, considering I’m an actor. So doing that sort of stuff really takes a lot out of me emotionally, and I really have to find it. But Christian [Stella] and Jeremy and Dave [Lawson], the producers, were really nice, and they gave me the space. There were definitely takes where I was like, ‘there’s no way we’re using that one, we have to go again.’ I was very much in a place where I wanted it to be perfect.
One of the big things for me when watching the film was hearing Lisa Loeb’s ‘Stay’ again in film, which is nice. But seeing it in a very different way. Were you familiar with the song before?
Oh my God, yes I love that song! I was a child of the nineties, so I loved that song. I think there was one time in college where I called one of my friends and sang it to her on her answering machine – back when there were answering machines – all the way through from start to finish, because she was playing at our University or something. I love that song. Originally in the script it was a different song, and I actually think they ended up with a much better choice. It appealed to me, and it’s such a wonderful moment when you’re in the theatre watching the movie with people, and the song comes on. You can hear the whole audience go, ‘oh’, (laughs) they’re excited, they want to hear this song. I think it just holds an emotional place for a lot of us.
I was chatting to Jeremy and Christian the other day and they said that Lisa Loeb started following you on Twitter. Have you sent a screener?
She has started following me on Twitter (laughs), I haven’t said anything, I followed her back. I haven’t said anything yet. I don’t know, what do you say?! It’s so weird. I don’t know if she’s seen the movie. I wonder if she’s just seen that we were tagged in reviews about the movie. I have no idea. I would like her to see it. I think she would like it. I think she’d like that scene. I think it’s a very well done cover of Stay. I think Jeremy did a great job.
Now Abby is a bit of a wine connoisseur…if you had to describe After Midnight as a drink, what would it be?
It would be a different movie from Abby’s perspective versus Hank’s perspective. But from the audience’s perspective…I think it would be a bottle of tequila with a surprise worm at the end.
I saw in a Q&A that you actually provided most of your own costume and did your own make-up. Is this something that you’ve found to be in common in indie films?
(Laughs) Let me think. When you’re on a low budget shoot they have to really pick and choose what where they’re going to put the money. For this one I was one of the only women; there’s two other women in the cast. I think when you have a larger female contingent in the cast you end up thinking more about those things (laughs). I don’t want to throw them under the bus, but I was in the car, they’d already picked me up from the airport and I was like ,’whose doing hair and make-up?’, and they were like, ‘you are!’ (laughs) I said, ‘okay’. I did to go to a store then and buy make-up, because I don’t wear that much make-up in real life.
It happens. I find a lot of people want to use your clothes on indies because you don’t have time for all the fittings. You don’t have time to go re-shop in case the clothes they bought for you don’t fit. I don’t mind bringing a certain amount of clothes. It’s funny, I just did a movie called The Stylist with Jill Sixx and starring Najarra Townsend earlier this year. They said, ‘bring some clothes because we might want to use them’. I said, ‘okay’, and I brought this huge suitcase full of clothes, and they didn’t use any of them at all because they had an actual person doing costumes and she had bought everything she could possibly need. It was wonderful. So it’s kind of a mix. That movie had a big style component to it, and there are a lot of women on the set, and women in front of camera so I think that it gets thought of a lot more. Whereas I think if you have a limited budget, you’re going to put it towards a cool monster or something if you don’t have to think about the styling of the clothes. That’s my guess.
So The Stylist is the feature-length reworking of the short film right?
Yeah it is. It’s great.
It was crowdfunded too if I remember correctly…
It was I think, in part crowdfunded. I love Jill. Jill and I have been trying to make a movie together for years, and she reached out to see if I would come down there and do it. It was great. I’m a fan of Najarra’s too, so that was nice getting to work with both of them at the same time.
It’s so important to support these indie crowdfunded films.
You have to. It’s so hard to get them made now. I mean because of VOD, they just don’t make as much money as they used to, so people are so much more wary about getting them made. People don’t want to take a risk on directors who haven’t already made a feature. Jill was so ready to make a feature and so deserved it. It just seemed silly that she couldn’t get one funded without crowdfunding, but thank God for crowdfunding right? That’s how I funded my first feature.
It’s that whole chicken and the egg thing isn’t it. You need experience to do the thing, but you can’t get the experience without doing the thing.
Exactly, and I think it comes down way more on women. I think people are less likely to trust women, and if you don’t live in LA then that ends up being a strike against you. So you end up having to turn to crowdfunding, but I think it’s wonderful. I wanna give my money to these people. I want to give my time to people and it’s just a good way to be able to show our fandom. Horror relies on fandom. The nice thing about horror is, you make a horror movie and you know a certain amount of people are going to watch it because they love horror movies. Then you might end up with some fans, which is wonderful and is exactly what you want.
You’ve veered more towards horror and science fiction in your career. What is about these genres that excites you so much?
In my heart I’m just a fan-girl. I think I gravitate to that thing because that’s what I want to be watching and partaking in in every form of media. It’s all I read, all I watch. I think to start with it felt like when I was doing more of that stuff. The fan-base was friendlier and people were actually watching what I was doing. That was huge. I did a few indie dramas early on and it just felt that they didn’t have the appeal as much as the horror movies did. So that was important to me. But also, I really am just a fan. I read comic books, and I watch horror movies, and when I have movies at these festivals – these indie festivals – I go and watch all of the other movies. I know I’m supposed to be there doing press and smooshing or whatever you do at those festivals, but in reality I just want to fan-girl out and sit in an audience and be scared and be frightened and watch cool sci-fi shit.
In addition to acting you’ve branched out into writing and directing. Most recently you directed 12 Hour Shift and wrote Lucky. Can you talk a little bit about those projects?
Yeah, I wrote both of them actually. And I’m in Lucky, which is very complicated and I don’t expect anyone to keep it straight until they see the movies. 12 Hour Shift we shot last year in Arkansas. It’s a heist movie about nurses in the nineties, sort of a black comedy. Angela Bettis and David Arquette are both in it. Then we wrapped on that and three weeks later I started shooting Lucky, which I wrote and I starred in, and Natasha Kermani, who directed Imitation Girl , directed it. That one was supposed to quote/unquote “be premiered at SXSW”, and 12 Hour Shift premiered at Tribeca.
I was disappointed to hear about SXSW because I really enjoyed Imitation Girl, so I’m keen to see what you guys have cooked up with Lucky.
If you loved Imitation Girl, I think you’ll really see Natasha’s stamp on Lucky. She did an amazing job. I couldn’t be happier with the way the movie turned out. I’m from Texas and I was really looking forwards to going back to SXSW, but unfortunately that was not in the cards.
As a fan of horror, how did it feel working with screen icon Barbara Crampton?
She’s amazing. I would love to do another movie with Barbara Crampton at some point. She’s really lovely. It’s so nice working with people who have been professionals for so long because they take it very seriously, they come up with cool ideas and they’re just really nice to be around on set. They never complain. Barbara never complains. She’s always happy and I just want to be Barbara Crampton when I grow up. She’s just a happy human being who is just stoked to be in the industry and be where she is. I think we would all be stoked to be Barbara Crampton. I hope I have that much gratitude about my career when I get to be her age.
I always remember meeting her at FrightFest and her making me a plate of food and getting me a drink during our interview. She just instantly switched into mum mode.
Total mom mode, she does that. We were shooting Dead Night, which is out on VOD, and she would show up at the cast house…we were all staying in the same house, but she was staying somewhere else, and she would show up with vitamins. Then it was Easter and she showed up with an Easter basket, and then she brought us a bunch of puzzles. It was just such a mom move, but we were all very grateful. I think every set needs a mom, and why not Barbara Crampton?
After Midnight was pitched to me as a monster horror movie, but from watching the film it really is more of a romance film with some horror elements. It’s like Spring and those sorts of films that have these otherworldly elements, but at the core it’s a love story. That’s something I think that the horror and sci-fi genre seem to do that other genres don’t necessarily lend themselves to, they can blend in all of these real stories…
Yeah, we’ve been calling it a ‘mon-rom’, a monster romance, which I think Spring is also. I think ten years ago people wanted more straightforward genre movies. It was horror or nothing. Now I think these cross-genre movies are really interesting to the horror audience and audiences outside of horror I think are more open to it. There was a time when people would have only wanted this to be a horror movie, but now I think people are really accepting of it, are really excited to see a movie like this. I was just “attending” the Chattanooga Film Festival virtually and there were a lot of cross-genre movies in that festival. That movie Jumbo was in there. Which is definitely a sci-fi movie, but it’s also a romance movie about a girl that’s in love with a carnival ride. I was so moved by it…maybe that’s a mon-rom too actually now that I think about it. I think it is a horror movie in some ways, but I think horror now encompasses so much more than just a bunch of teens go out to a cabin in the woods and there’s a serial killer. I think we all as horror fans want that. I think we want the genre to be pushed and this is definitely one of those movies that is doing that.
Given the fact that you’re a writer and we’re all currently housebound, are you working on anything new?
I have a couple of features that I’ve been working on that are now more solidified. I’m just trying to write as much as possible.
After Midnight arrives on Blu-ray on Monday 8th June 2020.