THE BLACK PHONE Interview: Madeleine McGraw & Mason Thames On Facing The Grabber And Scares On Set (Exclusive)

The Black Phone stars Madeleine McGraw and Mason Thames talk to us about making Scott Derrickson's latest horror movie, breaking down key scenes, what they learned on the project, and facing The Grabber...

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In The Black Phone, Finney Shaw, a shy but clever 13-year-old boy, is abducted by a sadistic killer and trapped in a soundproof basement where screaming is of little use. When a disconnected phone on the wall begins to ring, Finney discovers that he can hear the voices of the killer’s previous victims. And they are dead set on making sure that what happened to them doesn’t happen to Finney.

Starring four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke in the most terrifying role of his career and introducing Mason Thames in his first ever film role alongside Madeleine McGraw, The Black Phone is produced, directed, and co-written by Scott Derrickson, the writer-director of SinisterThe Exorcism of Emily Rose and Marvel Studios' Doctor Strange.

To mark the movie's Digital and DVD/Blu-ray release, we recently spoke with Madeleine and Mason about their experiences making The Black Phone

Discussing their star-making roles in the horror movie, they break down several key scenes their characters were part of, sharing what it was like working with Hawke and Derrickson, and their reaction to The Grabber's terrifying mask. The actors also reflect on squaring off with The Grabber, their favourite horror movies, and spooky goings-on while shooting this project. 

Watch our full interview with Madeleine and Mason below:

I saw Scott Derickson say in an interview that "Horror sets are like Halloween for kids." Is that an assessment you would both agree with?

Madeleine: Yeah, but it is less scary. 

Mason: It was a tremendous amount of fun. I was nervous going into it, but it was great fun and I got to do a lot of scenes with Maddie and Ethan. That was a lot of fun.

Madeleine, you get some of the movie’s best lines, and a lot of F-bombs, so how much fun was it for you as an actor to get this very funny and very mature dialogue to play with? 

Madeleine: It was so much fun because I don’t get to swear. If I ever swear in real life, my mom would kill me. It was really fun to bring all that personality to Gwen [Laughs]

Mason, how would you describe the experience of acting opposite Ethan Hawke when he’s behind that very imposing mask? 

Mason: It was hard not to smile during scenes just because I knew what he was doing was so incredible. What I learned so much from him is that each take he did with that mask was completely different. One take he would be whispering at me and, in another, he’d be screaming at me. It was so much fun working with him and every time they yelled “Cut,” he went from The Grabber to the nicest guy I’ve ever met.

With this being your first big movie role, would you say you learned a lot from Ethan?

Mason: Just how incredible he is. Fame never got to him. He’s one of the nicest and most down-to-Earth people that I’ve ever met. Getting to work with both him and Scott was just a dream come true. 

You’re both part of that very harrowing scene with Jeremy Davies where he’s obviously beating Gwen, and it’s just a masterclass in acting from all three of you, but how did the three of you, and Scott, all prepare for those scenes?

Madeleine: Before the scene, Scott had a really long, long conversation with me. He said that if I needed anything during the scene, I could just ask him. He also had a long talk with me about how it actually feels to be hit by a belt. I just really didn’t want to let him down with the scene, so I really put myself into the moment of what it would feel like to be hit by the belt.

Mason: I didn’t watch them rehearse or anything like that, so when I first watched the scene, it caught me off guard. Her reactions were so real and it was intense being there. I love Maddie so much and seeing her cry and stuff was so hard to watch. That was tough. 

Gwen is showing so much defiance in that scene, it must have been amazing to work with such powerful, raw material?

Madeleine: In the scene, Scott said ‘Just do whatever you want in the first take.’ When I showed that tough side of Gwen even in this emotional scene, Scott said, ‘Yeah, just keeping doing that in all of the takes. That’s amazing’ [Laughs].

Mason, that final confrontation between Finney and The Grabber is real edge-of-your-seat stuff, but given the size difference between yourself and Ethan, how much work did you guys have to do to choreograph that back and forth? 

Mason: The cool thing about it is that I think it was the last thing I shot with Ethan. On the day, we’re doing the fight and it was so much fun. We’d got to the point where he was holding the axe and said, ‘This is really gonna hurt,’ and it was so much fun when they yelled ‘Action.’ The adrenaline was kicking in, it was so hot in there, but we just really went for it. That was amazing. 

You also get to see some action, Madeleine, when Gwen gets involved in a fight. What did you enjoy about that and, for both of you, how was it working with stunts on this movie? 

Madeleine: [Laughs] It was awesome! It was so much fun. My dream is to get to do a fight scene or stunts in a movie. It was exhilarating and the whole experience was so fun. I loved getting to go onto the mats and get into the swing with the rock…well, it wasn’t actually a rock, it was made out of foam. I had to act like there was weight behind it whenever I threw it, but that whole thing was super fun. I loved getting to do all the choreography and everything.

Mason: Yeah, it was cool because I got to be on the wire when I was up there trying to escape. I was on a giant wire and that was a lot of fun. 

Mason, that scene where Finney is attempting to sneak past The Grabber is unbelievably tense to watch, but what was the experience of shooting that like for you?

Mason: So much fun! You know, just seeing him sit in that chair was so, so creepy. When I’m just walking by him, I felt as much tension as the audience does by that point. Once I got to the door, the hard part was the combination. I had to remember every single one. I did them all and it was a lot of fun from there. 

Madeleine, you don’t get to spend as much time with The Grabber, which might be a good thing actually…

Madeleine: I know! [Laughs] That’s what I was thinking.

As Gwen, you do get to be part of some very unique sequences yourself when we follow Gwen into her dreams, so what did you find most interesting to explore about those?

Madeleine: They were so cool because they would use a normal camera and then, I don’t remember what the other camera was called, but it would put a different motion on the scene. Then, getting to see it all on the screen…it was amazing seeing it all come together. 

I’m guessing you both got to see The Grabber’s mask up close working on the film, so what was that like? Was there anything particularly freaky about it?

Mason: Yeah. I feel like what I love so much about it, and this might be way off, but I feel like the way it changes going from a smile to a frown to nothing…when he’s smiling, it might be a completely different emotion underneath. It’s so strange and eerie. I loved it so much.

Madeleine: I feel like the mask and phone are characters themselves. Sadly, I didn’t get to see the mask on set, so when I went to the premiere and saw the guy wearing the mask, it was so creepy! I was so scared!

Madeleine, you obviously got to play Bonnie in Toy Story 4 and a young Hope in Ant-Man and The Wasp, so are those two franchises you hope to return to one day?

Madeleine: Oh, yeah, totally! Pixar and Marvel are such a big part of my life. I still rewatch all of the movies. That’s why I feel this movie, The Black Phone, is so much fun because it’s so different. Out of all the stuff I’ve done before, it was different. They’ve all been such amazing experiences. 

Are you interested in maybe starring in one of those Marvel movies too, Mason? 

Mason: Definitely! Most definitely. I would love that. I grew up loving superheroes, so if I ever got that opportunity, I would definitely love to take it. 

Scott is a great filmmaker who has made a blockbuster like Doctor Strange but also worked on a lot of horror movies. What did you both learn working with him?

Mason: I’ve always wanted to be a director and hope to be a director one day, so seeing Scott work was amazing. He’s amazing at what he does and he really knows how to make his actors feel safe and give them a lot of freedom in a scene. He’s done so much for me and this part in The Black Phone…he’s an amazing person. 

Madeleine: Yeah, I couldn’t have said it better myself. 

I know actors who work on horror films are often asked if they encountered anything spooky on set, but…did you?

Madeleine: [Laughs] Not really, but what was really creepy was the van.

Mason: Yes!

Madeleine: That thing was terrifying. Also, the basement was really scary. I didn’t see it when everyone was there on set and all the lights were everywhere because when I walked in, the lights were off on the soundstage. It was so creepy and dark! 

Mason: The first time I saw the basement it was completely dark and I’m pretty sure I saw it with Maddie. I didn’t expect that at all. It was like a big prison cell and it was weird being there!

Do you guys have any favourite horror movies?

Madeleine: Well, I’m not really allowed to watch horror movies, but from the ones that I’ve seen, probably It or It: Chapter 2. They’re so funny and scary at the same time [Laughs].

Mason: I’ve got to go with the classics. Friday The 13th. Nightmare on Elm Street. Those were the first horror movies I watched and they still stick with me today.

The Black Phone is now available on Digital, Blu-Ray and DVD from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.


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