“Knock at the Cabin” is the #1 movie in the country. And it’s easy to see why.
M. Night Shyamalan’s latest thriller spotlights a loving same-sex couple (played by Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge) and their adorable daughter (Kristen Cui), whose quiet weekend away in the Pennsylvania woods is interrupted when four strangers (led by Dave Bautista) knock on their cabin door. The strangers break their way in and deliver a horrible ultimatum: one of the family members must kill another family member to avert the end of the world. Are they psychotic or … are they telling the truth?
TheWrap spoke to Aldridge about becoming a part of Shyamalan’s new nightmare, what it was like acting directly to camera, telling queer stories and how game Groff was to sing his “Frozen 2” song.
What did being in this movie and playing this part mean to you?
I’m so thankful to be a part of this project. And for the last three years, I’ve been part of telling more queer stories. It’s such a refreshing and new way to work. For me, I feel like connecting to those stories in a much deeper way, on a much deeper level. They feel significant to me and very personal. And I think this is great because it places this single-sex parent family at the center of the story. And it honors that narrative in a very deft way with a lightness of touch. And at the same time, we’re just a normal loving family and that love is what bonds us and it’s universal in that way. The nuclear family unit is completely universal.
What was it like working with Night on this movie? He’s obviously a huge family man and I imagine there was some connection between that and your character.
Well, first of all, he’s very religious about his scripts, down to punctuation and down to pauses. And he’s worked very intensely on the script and on his characters, and he really loves his characters. He gives these characters to you to perform and to, I wouldn’t so much say make them your own, but you are. He’s involving you in his process almost. And the way he would relate to us was like you said, he is such a family man. He would constantly reference his wife, his mother and his relationship and that dynamic and conversations he’d had with his daughter. He would relate to us in that way more than he would in an imaginative way about Eric and Andrew.
I think for him, directing is a very personal exploration of his own thoughts and feelings. And they played, as a family, they played out that end scenario of the choice several times between him and his three daughters. They would have conversations about, what would you do? That’s the way he invests in what he’s doing. The other fascinating thing about him as a filmmaker is his chief concern is how his audience is going to feel. He’s always talking about what they’re thinking, feeling, how they’re reacting at any given moment. And he is making the film for people to go and watch. He loves that audience and his biggest concern is just crafting this perfect thing in his eyes. And he wants them to feel excitement, love, fear — all the things that we endure as characters, he wants the audience to endure as well. And that’s his preoccupation.
Did that change your approach to the character at all, knowing that that was Shyamalan’s mindset? Did it require a recalibration?
I think the way he works is a recalibration of how I’ve worked in the past. He storyboards every moment, he’s envisioned it all in his head before, then that’s translated to a storyboard. And then as an actor, you’re coming on board not to discover that with him, you’re coming on board to execute that with him. It’s highly choreographed and precise. And the way he thinks and feels about it and he’s inviting you to contribute in a way, but really to realize his vision is what you’re there to do. And that’s totally not what I have done as an actor in the past. But it was a really interesting challenge and he’s a master at what he does. It took me a little while to adapt to that. But then I was like, right, this is what we’re doing.
One of Shymalan’s flourishes, which he borrowed from Jonathan Demme, is actors looking directly into camera when delivering their lines and there’s a lot of that in this movie. What was that like for you as a performer?
They’re really hard for me. I’m like, “Where’s the other actor? Where are the eyes of the other actor?” I don’t feel as secure. I don’t feel as tethered to the moment that I’m playing. Even if I can hear the person. I feel like it makes me feel a little bit at sea. Because you’re usually informing each other. What you do is such a collaboration. But that was a new skill to get used to and he used that a lot in this at some emotionally explosive moments. The final scene that we did, he decided to play to camera and he had this special device that is kind of like what we’re using now, the teleprompter. It’s a mirror. Somehow they overlaid via a mirror, the image of Jonathan’s face over the lens. So we’re acting in real-time. Even though Jonathan was to the side of the camera, I was still looking into his eyes, which, I’m so glad he did that, because I think I think that scene would have been extra challenging if we hadn’t had that device.
Speaking of Jonathan, you share many of your scenes with a little girl, the movie is set in the middle of the woods. How often did you get him to sing “Lost in the Woods” from “Frozen 2?”
I am astounded at how up for Jonathan Groff is for singing that when people request it. And that’s not because it’s indulgent or any way or anything like that. It’s because like he wants to, he knows people. It makes people so happy. And so like he has a bit that he does that Kristen would get him to do, and that I’ve gotten him to do for friends of mine. And yeah, he’s still giving people the “Frozen” love.
“Knock at the Cabin” is in theaters now.