Last year Milly Shapiro become a horror icon overnight as she delivered a nightmare-inducing performance in Ari Aster’s directorial debut, Hereditary. Milly played Charlie, the daughter of Toni Collette’s Annie, and whilst her character may not have had as much dialogue as her co-stars, Milly’s performance is one you won’t easily forget.
We are lucky enough to have had the opportunity to interview Milly to chat about Hereditary, how she approached the role of Charlie, and her love of horror films!
You first started performing in Broadway shows, with your most notable being Matilda. What was it like jumping from such innocence to one of the most terrifying horror films of modern times?
Very fun! At the audition for Hereditary I was super excited because a lot of the times the kid is either really scary or the person being scared, and I didn’t want be the person being scared. When I read the script I realised that the character was neither of those, and it was very interesting in a way because it was not like anything I’d ever seen before. I really wanted to dive into that so I was very excited when I got the part.
When you first read the script for Hereditary, what were your initial thoughts and impressions?
When I first read the script I was amazed at how descriptive it was! There are a lot of times when you read a script and can see it playing out before you, and it was really cool with this one because it had a lot of unexpected twists and turns, and the characters are real people, which you don’t always see in horror movies. What I really liked about Hereditary, is that the people don’t really fit into one thing; it was just like when you meet someone for the first time, you don’t really know who they are and you watch them unfold, and I thought that was interesting. A lot of times the plot and story will just be handed to you, but with Hereditary you really have to be paying attention and watching for each thing.
Did you have a feeling the film would be as widely received by both horror fans and film fans as it has been?
I expected it to be well received, and I was excited to see what people would think of it because it isn’t like your typical horror movie. It isn’t just a jump scare horror movie, it’s something that’s more psychological, which you don’t always get nowadays. I knew people would like it but I was wondering what type of people would, because there’s a lot of times that horror fans only like the jumpscare stuff and the other stuff they don’t really like as much. But I think that all the people I know and have met that like it are all very interesting people, and I’m really glad that people like it because it’s a really great movie.
You mentioned to Thrillist that you found Charlie’s character to be misunderstood and very otherworldly. How did you prepare for such a role? Did you take inspiration from any other film characters?
I didn’t really take much inspiration from other characters because I didn’t want it to be something that people would say it reminded them of another character – I wanted to create something new. When I read the script I was really worried about how I would do it, because it is a very complicated character. So I read the script four or five times, took notes and really fleshed out who I thought Charlie was. Then I met with Ari a few times before we started filming and we talked about who the character was; how much of Charlie is there, how does she think, how does she react to other people and so by the time I actually got on set she was this new person that was fully fleshed out and it made it a lot easier for me.
Was the tongue clicking something that was written for Charlie’s character in the script or was it something that you improvised and worked on with Ari Aster whilst filming?
It was in the script, but we did actually have a 30 minute meeting where we just tried to figure out what the exact sound was and why she does it. We came to the conclusion that she does it because she feels overwhelmed and it calms her down, it’s like a tick. Figuring out the right sound took forever because there are so many ways you can make a clicking sound, but once we finally did it we realised it was perfect. You wouldn’t think that it would take that long to work out a clicking sound but there are so many!
As a huge fan of Hereditary (it was my top horror film of last year), there’s a couple of scenes that I absolutely adore including the head scene. What would you say is your favourite scene of the film?
Probably the head scene because I was the most nervous about it. The day before I was that nervous that I just kept telling my mum that this was one of the most important scenes for the character and I had to make it perfect. There are so many details that have to go into it because you have to make the audience love the character, feel concerned and not let them think what happens is going to happen. So when we filmed it I was so nervous, and I had all this stuff going on in my head because I was really excited but nervous and freaking out as I wanted to make it perfect. It’s a really important scene and has to carry through to the rest of the film, and so after filing outside at 2 in the morning, I was so excited and ecstatic that I was jumping around like a lunatic.
I know that you wanted to take the head prop home but you couldn’t find it – did you manage to find it in the end?
I didn’t! I wanted it though because that’s something everyone wants to have secretly. The making of the head is so extraordinary that I really wanted to have it, but I didn’t get to, which is sad but it’s okay as I’ll have it in my heart forever… I was telling my mum, and some of my friends are really weirded out by this, that we should just put it on the table as a centrepiece and just act like it’s not a big deal when people come over, and have some fruit around it too. Also one of my friends and I were planning out what we would do if I got it and we were thinking of all these crazy things you could do. Because if you had a battered up version of your own head there is so much you could do with it.
Toni Collette gave one of the most universally praised performances of the year. Just how good was she to work with? Did you learn anything from her that you can take as you move forward with your career?
It was really amazing to work with a really experienced actress, especially because she’s been in so many amazing films! I was super nervous to meet her, and she was actually really nice and great to work with. She was always ready to go whenever she was on set, which showed me that even when you’re very experienced you have to always be prepared and ready; you can’t show up on set not knowing your lines and not feeling sure of something, and if you are you can ask someone. It’s hard to explain but in the moment when you’re working with someone that experienced you can just see the character come to life in a way that others actors that aren’t as experienced can’t do yet because they don’t have that life experience and the practice. It was just really great to see up close.
There are many aspects to Hereditary that are adult in nature. As a young actress, how were those parts approached by yourself and Ari Aster when filming?
It wasn’t as big of a deal for me because acting is an art form in a way. Bringing that story to life no matter how disturbing is always something that I like to do. Ari was always making sure I was comfortable with things and would explain why he had it there and stuff like that. If I ever felt uncomfortable, which I didn’t, I felt like I could have said something and they would have made it work for me. Everyone was really great because I was a lot younger than everyone else on set and they were making sure I was comfortable, okay with what I was doing, and was confident. It was a really great group of people to work with.
How does it feel to have become one of the icons of the horror genre overnight? Has your sudden rise to fame changed your life drastically?
It’s changed my life a bit as I do get recognised, but not drastically. For me it was just really exciting to get recognised for the work that I put in and as an actress it’s really rewarding when someone tells you they loved you in the movie and your performance was great. Getting to meet people that liked it is always very exciting because they’re appreciating the work that hundreds of people put into the film. And being considered a horror icon is amazing and wonderful!
You’ve mentioned before you have a love for horror films, which I guess is one of the reasons you wanted to do Hereditary. What are your all-time favourite horror films?
Hmm, my favourite horror films. It’s hard to pick favourites because they always change depending on what mood I’m in. But I have always liked the Sixth Sense, which is more on the thriller side. I always liked The Shining because it’s something that you have to figure out and a lot of my friends don’t really like it as much as I do because it is really complicated, and it’s not really handing everything to you. I also like the Paranormal Activity movies because I watched them with my sister and me and my sister have very over the top reactions when we watch horror movies, so we’ll be hitting each other, shouting and also just saying really weird things. Whenever I get scared of anything I make really bad jokes and so all my friends hate watching horror movies with me.
And were there any horror films from last year that you liked in particular?
I liked A Quiet Place, it’s more thriller but I really liked it. I’ve also watched a lot of videos about the sound and how they made it, and so it’s very interesting to me because when you’re watching the film you don’t really think about how every single sound matters and that it needs to be created. With A Quiet Place sound is something so important, so it was very cool for me to watch and then learn about how they made different noises. I really liked it.
I also read that you love serial killers. Who fascinates you the most and why?
I have two that fascinate me the most; one because basically I feel like that’s my serial killer alter ego. He poisoned a bunch of peoples tea to see what would happen, and he got caught a a few different times but he always talked his way out of it! H continued getting caught and getting away and it makes you think why did they keep letting this person go? One of my other favourites is the torso killer. It was after the Al Capone times and he would decapitate people and cut their legs off, and they never caught him but the detective on the case was the same guy that cracked Al Capone so he was really into it. They knew who it was but they didn’t have enough evidence so they could never capture him. He also left two dismembered bodies right outside the lead detectives window. I was wondering how did he not get caught doing that because carrying bodies is not easy. The attitude he must have had to think that it was a great idea that wouldn’t get him caught by putting two bodies outside the house of the person trying to get him. I also love all the theories for all the unsolved cases and stuff like that.
If you could star in any film, which one would it be and why?
It’s hard to pick but anything that I haven’t done before. I would love to be Barbie because that’s been my lifetime goal. I’m trying to convince my friend to make this really bad video and we do a parody of a Barbie video. That would be fun. Maybe doing another horror but as a different character, maybe as the person who gets killed or something but not in the same way. Anything that I haven’t done before; I’ve always loved to take new things and new characters that aren’t similar to anything I’ve done before because they’re always challenging. Also characters that are very different to me, so anything in that vain I would love to do.
Last year showed that females are beginning to dominate the film world more and world, which is amazing. Do you have any other actresses, directors or influential women that you admire?
I really like Emma Watson because she’s an amazing actress but she’s also very much into feminism, and I think that’s very inspiring as she was a child actor so she has a whole different point of view on the industry. Meryl Streep is good because she’s still in the industry and she’s doing such amazing work and that’s very inspiring. There’s just so many amazing female actors and directors right now and so it’s hard to pick just one because we’re all working together to create more spaces for more females.
What’s next for you?
I did a little voiceover work but I can’t really say what it is. That’s going to be very fun as it is very funny and interesting. I’m auditioning and doing school and just looking for the next thing. Working and having fun. With acting you never really know what’s going to be next which is one of the things that appeals to me most.
We’d like to say a huge thank you to Milly once again for taking the time to chat with us, and for also accepting an award on behalf are A24, Aster, and the cast and crew of Hereditary as it won Best Horror Film at this year’s Odyssey Awards