The Rental Star Sheila Vand Talks Dave Franco's New Thriller and Her Future in Genre Films
Dave Franco makes his directorial debut with the thrilling The Rental, which succeeds thanks to a number of factors, one of which being the exceptional cast. A key figure in the ensemble is Sheila Vand, whose breakout genre role came in 2014's A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the black-and-white vampire Western entirely in Farsi. In the years since that film, Vand continues to dabble in genre films, having starred in projects like Camino, 68 Kill, anthology films XX and Holidays, and the TV series Snowpiercer. No matter how often audiences see her in genre projects, she regularly delivers us exceptional and entirely unique characters and performances.
In The Rental, two couples on an oceanside getaway grow suspicious that the host of their seemingly perfect rental house may be spying on them. Before long, what should have been a celebratory weekend trip turns into something far more sinister, as well-kept secrets are exposed and the four old friends come to see each other in a whole new light. Alison Brie, Dan Stevens, and Jeremy Allen White join Vand in this unnerving and sophisticated debut thriller.
ComicBook.com recently caught up with Vand to talk about the new film, her various genre films, and what to expect in Season Two of Snowpiercer.
ComicBook.com: The Rental had its premiere at a drive-in theater, a reminder of how weird things are right now as we're all under quarantine. Since I know you're a big movie fan, I was curious what you've been watching these last few months with all the extra time on your hands?
Sheila Vand: Kind of the whole gamut. Definitely a lot of movie watching. That has been helping me get through this time. Some of the classics I've revisited are, I recently rewatched The Fifth Element, which I really loved when I was younger and it's still such a fun watch. I love that kind of throwback sci-fi stuff that I feel we don't do in the same way anymore. The imagination in those genre movies of the '80s and '90s are just, I don't know, they somehow got massive budgets to do the zaniest things. And then I've also gone and watched some classics I hadn't seen before, like I saw Bram Stoker's Dracula recently. Really loved that. Gary Oldman's in both of those movies and he's one of my favorite actors, so I just love watching his work.
I also saw this movie recently called "Scarecrow" that I had never heard of that's now one of my favorite films from the '70s with a really young Gene Hackman and Al Pacino and just stellar, stellar acting. It's kind of like a two-hander movie, mostly just the two of them. So yeah, lots of movie watching. It's been great.
It's definitely been a weird time for everyone, I started watching a lot of horror when quarantine started but I got overwhelmed and just had to watch light-hearted stuff for a while.
Yeah. Too much fear. I definitely appreciate the Tiger Kings and pure entertainment pieces, too, at a time like this.prevnext
Based on the trailers, The Rental is teased as being this Airbnb from Hell, so I was curious if you have any especially awful stories of renting a house for a vacation?
Thankfully, I don't have any horror stories, even though I do stay in rentals a lot. But I will admit that that paranoia is always there because you are trusting a complete stranger, but I comfort myself by knowing that they're also trusting me into their home, so I appreciate that it's a bit of a two-way street in that sense. But thankfully I haven't actually experienced anything remotely close to what happens in this movie, but there are stories of it. Actually, soon after we wrapped filming The Rental, a bunch of news stories broke about hidden cameras in Airbnbs. And that's when I think we all really realized Dave had his finger on the pulse of something truly scary and realistic.prevnext
This film is basically four characters in a house the whole time and there's a lot of emotional anxiety you're all experiencing in this isolated location, so how did shooting something with much more subtle horror compare to more outlandish or obvious horror like your previous genre films?
I really enjoyed the fact that it was a small cast because it felt more like a play in the sense that there were several scenes in the movie that were actually long enough to create something organic between you and your scene partner, whereas often in film and television, it's a little more surgical than that. Scenes are really short. And especially when there's lots of characters in something, there's so much to keep track of, but this felt really insulated in an exciting way and in a way that I think serves this movie because the movie is also very insulated. It all takes place in this house and this one location.
It just allowed for more trust in play between us because we all got so close since it really was mostly just the four of us. And I love all of these actors so much. It's a large part of why I agreed to do the movie, was that I was excited to be playing ball with my contemporaries who I admire so much. I just think the world of this entire cast and they made it really fun to just show up at work and everyone just has such a strong background in acting. They've been doing this for a long time, and so have I, and so I felt like there was a sense of play and trust amongst us that doesn't always happen. So I really enjoyed it. I liked that the focus really was on relationships and character before it got to horror madness.prevnext
You star with Dan Stevens in the movie and his breakout genre film was The Guest at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, which is also where you had A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Do you recall meeting him back then, and now you're working together all these years later on a new genre film?
I love The Guest so much and I feel like not enough people know Dan from The Guest, they know him from like Downton Abbey and Legion and Beauty and the Beast, these high-profile projects. The Guest is this amazing indie horror movie by Adam Wingard. Actually, I love that you brought that up and made that connection because I saw The Guest and was a big fan of it, and you're right that it did come out around the same time, right at the same time as Girl Walks Home Alone. And I didn't actually connect, [A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night writer/director] Ana Lily Amirpor connected with Adam Wingard. Separately I happened to meet Dan Stevens before shooting The Rental socially, and so it was fun to connect those dots and going into The Rental. I had the thought in my mind that this could be fun for some real hardcore genre fans to see these two actors from different indie horror movies come together. But I'm like, "Okay, how many of those people are really going to make that connection," so I'm really glad that you did.
Oh I definitely associate him specifically with The Guest, so when people bring up Downton Abbey, I don't really know what they're talking about.
Well, I think this is part of why we do these films. It really gives us the chance to explore our darker, weirder, more off-brand interests. And I really love balancing out my career with these kinds of projects because a lot of the times the things that pay my bills are not the things at all that define my interests or my spirit, or who I am necessarily. So I, in order to just be spiritually satisfied, always have to keep the balance with these smaller projects that I just happen to find more spiritually satisfying often.prevnext
Speaking more to my obliviousness to larger projects like Argo or Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, I often associate you with your genre films, but I never really know what to expect from any of the projects you pick, whether you're starring with Nacho Vigalando in Camino or in Sarah Adina's Smith segment in Holidays, your work is always all over the place.
I'm glad you say that because that's definitely what I'm going for, is variety for myself and for anyone who's tracking me. I just personally don't really like to do something I've already done, necessarily. If I feel like I've conquered it already, if there's still more to learn and more work to be done on a certain type of role or type of story, then, of course, I'm interested in continuing down that path, but if I start to feel like I got it, I figured out how to do that, then my brain just immediately wants to go somewhere else. It's eternally frustrating because sometimes I think it might be easier to just stick with a certain type of role, but I like diversifying my career. It's what keeps me engaged.
And also, I like supporting independent filmmakers and emerging filmmakers. That's so important to me. And a lot of those people you just mentioned are friends of mine, like Sarah Adina Smith, Nacho Vigalondo, I just love their minds and their style and their work and so I try to support them when they ask me to be part of different projects. Even if the part isn't necessarily as big as I want it to be, if I think there's something that I can learn from it or a friendship that I can make out of it, then it feels worth it to me. I actually didn't know Nacho before Camino, but that friendship, and also the friendship I built with many of those actors and Zoe Bell, as well, who's just such a brilliant badass, those make all of those smaller projects that can't really pay very much so, so valuable and priceless to me.prevnext
I heard that, with this being Dave's first directing project, he was somewhat of a perfectionist, so I wondered if this experience offered opportunities to collaborate or if the cast was more focused on bringing Dave's vision to life as exactly as possible?
That's a great question. And he definitely is a perfectionist in a way that I love. I feel a little more safe, and actually a lot more safe and comfortable when I see that a director has a strong vision. It's sometimes more worrisome, even though it can be nice to be let off the leash and be on a long rope where you can play a little more, but if you hear too often a director say, "I don't know, try it," it can get disconcerting. But with Dave, there was never, "I don't know." He had an answer to every question, and I appreciated that because it made me realize from the get-go that he did have a strong vision in his mind, and it was a vision that I agreed with.
It was also ... I didn't feel stifled by it because he's an actor himself. So he's very sensitive to our process and making sure that we felt comfortable as the cast and had what we needed as the cast. And I always felt safe because he's just such a wonderfully kind and grounded human being that I could always bring up a concern if I had it. That didn't mean that I always got my way, and sometimes there was some pushback because he really believed in what he wanted, but he'd always hear me out. And there was always a conversation if there needed to be one.
I appreciated the back and forth. I feel like sometimes I'm very self-righteous in my opinions because I've spent so long with my character, thinking about it. And I think that Dave pushed me sometimes into better performance spaces and there were times where I wasn't necessarily sure on set, like, "Oh, is this too subtle or too small?" And then when I saw the movie, I was really grateful that he subdued parts of my performance and then brought out other parts of it. I really liked collaborating in that way because he's an actor, so I knew he was looking at it the way I'm looking at it because we both have actor eyes on it. It's a combo of the two, because I feel like perfectionism can have a negative connotation, but in this sense, it didn't feel that way.prevnext
Going back to your breakout genre performance, I know there was a comic book adaptation, but have there been talks of returning to the live-action world of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night?
It's something that I have always fantasized about and it feels like it wants it. It was such a phenomenon, the reception of that film. You would never think when you're making a black-and-white vampire Western all in Farsi that it's going to catch on the way that it did, and that was such a beautiful thing. And so I feel like it calls for it. And Ana Lily even has written out an outline of what comes before the film. I don't know how much she's written things that happened after the film, but certainly in us creating the backstory for the girl, there was tons of material in what comes before it. And I think it's great stuff, but I can only push so much as an actor. If a filmmaker wants to be doing their own thing for whatever reason, I'm not going to twist their arm. But I brought it up, if your followers and listeners want to fight for it. But I'm kind of like, "We got to make this decision soon because I ain't getting any younger and vampires don't age."
And the first season of Snowpiercer just wrapped up earlier this month, is there anything you can tease about what to expect from Season Two?
I'm trying to balance exactly what I'm allowed to reveal because it's always so sticky with these things. But there is this whole other train, so another world kind of clashes with ours.
What I can say is that there's another society of people operating a lot differently than the train from Season One. And what I think I can say is that it gets a lot weirder, that the people on the other train have not necessarily had the resources that we've had to survive, and so what they've gone through is a lot bleaker and it's led to some creepier and stranger things. And I'm into that because I like when the show leans more into the genre side of things. So I think people can expect to see a bit more of that, a bit more of the kind of sci-fi element of things in season two.
The Rental lands in select drive-ins, theaters, and on VOD on July 24th.prev