One of actor Vinessa Shaw's breakout roles came in the family-friendly Halloween adventure Hocus Pocus, with the rest of her career proving she was no stranger to unsettling stories, having starred in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut and the 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes. Despite her many roles in a number of different genres, her work in The Blazing World is some of the most unconventional, as it blends together elements of fantasy and horror in a nightmarish and ethereal experience, which comes from the mind of star, director, and co-writer Carlson Young. The Blazing World hits theaters and On Demand on October 15th.
Decades after the accidental drowning of her twin sister, a self-destructive young woman (Young) returns to her family home, finding herself drawn to an alternate dimension where her sister may still be alive. Through an epic journey down the darkest corridors of her imagination, she tries to exorcise the demons pushing her closer and closer to the edge.
ComicBook.com caught up with Shaw to talk about getting into the spirit of the season, the unconventional process of bringing the new film to life, and the latest on the upcoming Hocus Pocus sequel.
ComicBook.com: Since it is October and Hocus Pocus is a staple of Halloween, and with The Blazing World falling in the realm of horror and fantasy, what do the holidays mean to you? Is it easy to get in the spirit because fans are always talking about it?
Vinessa Shaw: I think the best part about Halloween is having done Hocus Pocus. And probably the fact now that I have a three-and-a-half-year-old, who's just starting to learn about Halloween and dressing up, he was so clueless. I said, "What do you want to be?" And he just thought about it, and then I realized, "Oh, 'be,' that's not what I meant. Dress up as." He was thinking like long-term, what does he want to be?
Anyway, I hate to disappoint my fans, but Halloween isn't my favorite time of year. But it is because of Hocus Pocus ... Again, I just love that people continue to love this from basically watching it as a kid with their family and then they have kids and it just becomes this multi-generational film that everyone adores. I couldn't ask for anything more because I personally grew up watching Disney movies and if I saw Hayley Mills in person, because she was in all those Disney movies back then, I think I would faint. That's the kind of imprint that a movie like Hocus Pocus or most Disney movies have on children because you're watching it so young and it becomes part of your life and your family's life. And, for me, there's no better thing than that.
When I talked to Carlson about The Blazing World, she was talking about energy maps and liminal states for the film, obviously very unconventional and surreal concepts. How did she get you involved in this project? Did she detail all of those nebulous concepts right away or approach it from a more straightforward place and then started expanding on the more high-concept elements?
Well, interestingly enough, she and I worked together on this movie 12 Mighty Orphans, which is a very different movie. It's a family film about triumphing over adversity, which you could say Blazing World is about, but in a very different way. It's a very mainstream football movie, which has a lot of heart, and she played one of the orphans in it. The fact that she and the producer of that movie brought this movie to me, and the fact that I just, basically, when I read the script, I thought the fact that she is so quiet and this tiny girl that you would think is unassuming has this [project] coming out of her life. "There's just no way I can't do this. There's something deep going on in there in this young woman."
Also, we were all on lockdown and the producer, Brinton [Bryan], he was saying, "I don't know if you trust me and Carlson to do this movie during this time. We're just about to open up and productions are coming back ever so slightly, with rigid testing and all that. Just letting you know everything straight out and it's okay if you say no, because it is a weird time," but I just thought, "Why not take the leap?" Because if she could really put these words on the page and have these visions that are so clear to me, they came off the page into my mind. I felt like she must be so specific and so sure about what themes she wants and what visuals she would want and did describe those to me. But it was basically reading it that made me confirm, just having met her and known her and how shy she was and that this was what was coming out of her life was definitely what sold me.
Knowing how personal it was, that she co-wrote it, she's directing it, she's starring in it, there might be an added responsibility that you feel, not only as a co-star wanting to support her, but just the entire concept, wanting to help facilitate that. Did you feel an added responsibility that this was such a personal project or do you approach every project with the same amount of responsibility?
I do approach every role, no matter how big or small it is, no matter how fancy the people behind it are, or if it's just a small film, I do approach it the same way because, as they say, there's no small characters, there's only small people. I do believe that if you'd take that seriousness to every role, then you're just happier as an actor, you just feel fulfilled. But with her and this particular project, I was a little shy about it in some ways, because she said she based some of the characters on people she knew in real life, including my character of Alice being after her mother. I just said, "Oh, no, I don't know if I could ever meet her in person."
She said, "It's not really her entirely." It's like a fantasy version of her mother, but she just was encouraging of me to take it and run with it and do what I wanted. And, apparently, my take on her was very different than her real-life mother, so that was good. Because I just really rooted myself in her pain of being in a marriage that kept her trapped or made her feel trapped, even if she wasn't literally trapped, and just went with that. Her interesting, weirdly, as you saw, the childlike ways that emerge, even though she's this woman who's had a child, she's still a child herself. That's where I went with that.
Carlson being the director, she can easily have in her mind, visually, atmospherically, tonally, the image of the final product that she's heading towards. For you as a performer, do you allow yourself to get into those more surreal, ethereal, fugue states while performing or do you try to play the character as grounded and as real as the script calls for, as Carlson is telling you, and then just trust her to say she'll figure out tonally, the best take or the best line reading?
I think she really trusted her actors, but as you mentioned, the production design and the cinematography really lends itself to really help me as an actor to get into it even more. There's this very Kubrickian, wide-angle shot of me, a painting between me and Carlson's character at the dinner table that just seems really odd with these frighteningly large paintings behind me. I just saw that shot before entering it and sitting down, and I just was like, "Okay, I get it. I get what this is. It's like a duel or a tit-for-tat, crazy world. I guess people can express themselves through each other. So it's basically more of a standoff than anything, but grounded within our characters." I feel like I would enter those rooms after they'd set up the shots or in the actual Blazing World, with that hut, and you just go with it. It's just so much fun.
It's like, when do you get to play this crazy character, and be this committed to art or masks, and as committed to movements that you do in creating the behavior that your body and the staccato cutting that she did with that. Interestingly enough, as we moved forward, I realized that the beginning of the scene, when you see my character listening to the Nutcracker, it's like that drama ensues within the whole movie. It's like this tragic ballet.
I took ballet and I asked Carlson, "You were a ballerina, weren't you?" And she's like, "Yes." And I was like, "Was your mother a ballerina?" She was like, "Yes." I just felt I had this understanding of a template of a person and that this woman literally put herself into a ballet, a permanent ballet in her mind, like a dissociative ballet.
Again, with that particular Blazing World, for instance, like pointing my toes as I walked, you didn't see much of that in some of the takes, but just dramatic movements. It makes sense that my character in The Blazing World is bad versus Tom's character is just a crazy, blazing mess. Mine's like a grotesque, fantasy love story. I reveled in everything and she would gasp at these moments, too, and that just made me even more happy. I think, especially, that Blazing World scene it's like, where do you see that in modern American cinema and not like a Fellini movie?
Carlson was happy to talk about her love of filmmakers like Alejandro Jodorowsky and Lars von Trier and Dario Argento, filmmakers who don't have mainstream appeal in America, so to know that those were her inspirations for her debut feature film, that's pretty impressive.
That's right. I agree. Couldn't agree more.
I know they're building some sets for the new Hocus Pocus already, and I don't want to spoil any potential involvement, but have you heard about the story for the new film or seen the script? Are there any updates you might have for that project?
I would love to know more about it. I haven't heard anything. So it may be just that it's way [early] in pre-production or it's maybe something entirely different than the original. I haven't heard anything, sadly. Sorry.
It's okay, next time I talk to Bette Midler, I'll tell her to reach out to you to give you an update on what's going on.
That movie just, it blew my mind to be able to do that movie as a young child growing up on Disney movies. It just was an amazing second film to have done. It brought me to basically love filmmaking because, up to that point, I hadn't really done anything that big. I mean, Ladybugs was pretty big for me to begin with, but three months on the set working on this movie, it just rocked my world. So to be able to, again, have everyone love it ... So I hope the second one is just as cool.
The Blazing World hits theaters and On Demand on October 15th.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.