Jakob's Wife Star Barbara Crampton on Channeling Her Own Experiences for the Horror Film

Having starred in a number of seminal horror films in the '80s, actress Barbara Crampton would have been well within her right to leave the genre behind for good to explore other professional avenues. After being enlisted for Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett's You're Next, however, Crampton has been busier than ever, lending her talents to a variety of projects to such a frequency that it's often hard to keep up with them all. Decades after projects like Chopping Mall, Re-Animator, and From Beyond, Crampton continues to establish herself as a genre icon, which adds even more significance to her latest effort, Jakob's Wife, which is in select theaters, On Demand, and Digital HD on April 16th.

In Jakob's Wife, Anne is married to a small-town minister and feels like her life and marriage have been shrinking over the past 30 years. After a chance encounter with "The Master,” she discovers a new sense of power and an appetite to live bigger and bolder than before. As Anne is increasingly torn between her enticing new existence and her life before, the body count grows and Jakob realizes he will have to fight for the wife he took for granted.

ComicBook.com caught up with Crampton to talk her interest in the new film, her genre resurgence, and the revival of previous projects.

jakob's wife movie barbara crampton interview horror 2021
(Photo: RLJE Films/Shudder)

ComicBook.com: Dating back to You're Next, one trend I've noticed in your career in recent years is that, while you could stick to collaborating with established filmmakers, you're constantly starring in projects from emerging talents. Is it that these relative newcomers are making projects you're most interested in or are you actively seeking out fresh perspectives to elevate?

Barbara Crampton: It's probably a little bit of both. I really do enjoy helping others tell their stories, and when I did Beyond The Gates with Jackson Stewart, he had worked with [Re-Animator and From Beyond director] Stuart Gordon a little bit as an intern and I was introduced to him during Re-Animator: The Musical and we just stayed friends. And, he sent that script to me and said, "Oh, I'd really like you to help me produce this." Later on, it became apparent that maybe I should play Evelyn, so that was really exciting and fun and I really enjoy the energy and the dynamism that comes along with new filmmakers that want to tell their stories. I want to help people, if I can, and if they have a good script or have a good part for me, and they put a good team together, why wouldn't I consider working with some younger people? I think it's helping keep me young. So, why not?

Also, I think people are reaching out to me because they grew up on my movies. That's how it started for me in the second round of my career with You're Next. Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard knew me from all my movies with Stuart and they just reached out to me and said, "Would you do our movie?" So, I think this is all happening at a time when these fans who grew up are now making their own movies, so they're just reaching out to their favorite people that they grew up with. Not just me, other people, too.

And it's interesting because it's these young genre directors who are now going on to do these huge projects, like Adam with Godzilla vs. Kong.

I know, it's amazing, yes! I mean, look what he's done and accomplished over the years.

All thanks to you.

Well, no, not due to me, Patrick. He started small and worked with a community of other like-minded people that were budding filmmakers. And, that's one of the exciting things that brought me back was actually doing that movie because all of those people that worked on that film were hyphenates. I mean, look at Joe Swanberg; producer-writer-director-actor.

Adam Wingard was an editor and a cinematographer, and he was doing it all. And, Amy Seimetz was a budding producer-writer herself, and was acting in that film. And those people, they brought me back in a way that was really exciting because I saw what I was capable, potentially, of doing. "I could be a hyphenate. Maybe I should add something." And, really, from working with them, that created the seed in me that maybe I'd like to also produce movies or just work in a bigger way than I had before of just being an actor and waiting for the phone to ring. People aren't doing that anymore. They're making their own films and they're doing it with their friends, that's how you start out, and then you turn out like Wingard and you're making King Kong. So, there you go.

You've collaborated with director Travis Stevens on previous projects but not on a film he was directing. What was it about Jakob's Wife and his persepctive that intrigued you? What was the process of this film coming to life?

Well, I actually found the project about five years ago. Jakob's Wife won a screenwriting contest at Shriekfest in Los Angeles and Denise Gossett, the festival director there, reached out to me on behalf of Mark Steensland and said they were sort of conjuring this evil plan that maybe I would be right for the central character and maybe I'd want to produce it. I had just produced Beyond the Gates at that time, so I looked at the material and I read it and I thought it was amazing. I loved the central character of Anne, who something horrible happens to her or something tragic and it changes her and changes the couple for the better. Then I brought it to a few production companies and I hooked up with Bob Portal at AMP, Alliance Media Partners. He and I developed it over the next couple of years with Mark and with Kathy Charles.

Then we brought it to Travis when it was ready. We were looking for directors and he had just come out with Girl on the Third Floor and we loved the film. Bob had worked with Travis before on another film, and, of course I worked with him on We Are Still Here and he read it and he said, "I love this movie. Don't talk to any other directors. I want to make this movie with you guys. I see the parallels in Barbara's life and her career and I see her as the central character playing that role and it's kind of a feminist movie and I just really am hip to it and I want to do it." So we looked no further. Then we developed it a little bit more with him over the next year and he added some special things into the script that made it the final draft that we were able to shoot, that's how the team was put together.

As the title implies, a key component is that part of your character is defined by your connection to a male figure. How did you and co-star Larry Fessenden develop that relationship? Did you collaborate closely or sort of keep your distance as to heighten that tension for the film?

That's so funny that you say that. No, it was a lovefest from the beginning to end and we were never disconnected. Larry and I have both been in the business for so long, me as an actor and now producer and him as everything, writer, producer, actor, fundraiser, everything. And, we shared a house in Canton, Mississippi when we were working on the film and we worked on our material every day together. We spent every waking moment together; had dinner together, breakfast together, everything. And even before that, Larry and Travis and I had numerous Zoom calls and emails, just talking about our characters then. There's definitely changes that Anne makes throughout the story and there's changes that Larry's character as Jakob makes, as well, so we all collaborated on that and we were really with one another very, very strongly and very firmly, and we never had to do that sort of, "Oh, I'm just going to be a method actor now. In the beginning of the movie, we're not really getting along, so I'm not going to talk to you."

We didn't really do that. We just worked on the material as if we were these characters in this situation and what would happen and what we would do. We did a lot of talking about it and a lot of collaborating and wrote a lot of history for ourselves and talked with Travis about particular things that happened to both of us in our marriages because we're both long-married people and the ebbs and flows of that, and how combative we are with one another with our own spouses. So, there's a lot of stuff in the film that really comes from our own relationships with our own husband and wife, both Larry and I.

Without getting into any spoilers, there's some really gruesome stuff in this with some intense practical effects. Since you did so many movies with practical effects earlier in your career, are you sick of being covered in blood or are you just as excited as ever for the fun that comes with those scenes?

No, I'm all for it. No, I grew up in the '80s and we have an abundance of special effects that were practical in Re-Animator and in From Beyond, so I'm game for it all. I know it's delightful to the viewers in our genre and so I'm happy to illuminate the core foundation of what our stories are about, which is about people and growing and learning and about humanity, but also peppering it with moments of heavy special effects. I think that's fun, visually, for any horror fan. So, I'm all for all the practical stuff that we continue to do.

You've starred in so many different types of horror films over the years, from slashers to sci-fi to creature features, is there a genre you personally prefer to watch?

I'm really a fan of science fiction. I'm really a fan of thrillers. I would say, for me, the types of movies that I like to watch are like what this movie is. There's a foundation of character and humanity and empathy and those are the stories that I really enjoy being a part of and watching.

Some of the recent big blockbusters that we've had, like Get Out, had dealt with racism, but it felt like a personal story to the characters. And, also, The Shape of Water was a personal story. And I appreciated that, that it was about, "I can love who I want to love." It doesn't matter who I might, if I'm not bothering you, why I can't love anybody. That was the story that resonated with me because it was a social story, social commentary. So I like stories like that, that just have something deeply personal. I mean, there's fun and flashy stories and slashers and things like that, those are fun and I enjoy them, but I like stories that illuminate the human condition and reveal to us who we are and grapple with how we can do better.

I know Jeffrey Combs said he's still interested in the Re-Animator series and your character's fate makes it difficult to imagine a return to that franchise, but especially with Stuart's passing, would you like to see a new or emerging filmmaker bring a new take on that material to life or do you think what was captured on that original movie was so special, it's best to just leave it in the past?

There's a nostalgia aspect that people really gravitate towards and characters that you love, you want to return to. That's why television is so popular now, especially during the pandemic. We have a lot of time that we're sitting and watching things. I do think that there's room for us to explore an expanded universe with Re-Animator, possibly, or with something that would be a reimagining of it or some other Lovecraft tale that Jeffrey and I could be paired together in. It's been a long time since Jeffrey and I have worked together. There's been times when we've tried to, and it hasn't worked. I do think that we're not done yet, and we'll do something together, but I don't know what that is. And whether it be expanding on the Re-Animator franchise or potentially doing something else having to do with Lovecraft, I think at some point, we'll see that happen, but I just don't know what that is yet.



Jakob's Wife hits select theaters, On Demand, and Digital HD on April 16th.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.