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Abigail's Melissa Barrera, Dan Stevens & More Discuss Subtext, Improv, Cut Scenes

The ensemble cast of Abigail sing the praises of directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett in making every scene count. 

By Tara Bennett

 In Universal Picture's latest monster film, Abigail, directing duo Radio Silence (aka Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett) flip the norms of a typical vampire flick upside down by giving the world its first feral, 12-year-old ballerina succubus. She's got shark teeth, flawless form, as well as a soft spot for "Swan Lake" and — oh, yeah — blood. 

Based on an original script from horror writers Stephen Shields (The Hole in the Ground) and Guy Busick (Ready or Not), Abigail is a contemporary mystery/thriller/heist/monster movie that collects an ensemble of top notch character actors to battle one of the most unique vampire figures in cinema history. In lesser hands, Abigail could have easily just been a throwaway splatter fest with interchangeable victims. But Radio Silence makes sure every single person inside the decrepit mansion where they're "holding" Abigail (Alisha Weir) for ransom gets their moment to shine.  

For More on Abigail:
Kathryn Newton Shows Off a Pool Full of Bodies in Tour of the Abigail Set
Abigail vs. M3GAN? Abigail Directors Have "No Complaints" if a Horror Crossover Happens Eventually
How Is Abigail Different from Scream? Radio Silence on "Absolutely Bananas" New Vampire Flick

SYFY WIRE sat down this week with some of Abigail's ensemble players, including Melissa Barrera (Joey), William Catlett (Rickles), Kevin Durand (Peter), and Dan Stevens (Frank), to touch on how the script gives the actors a chance to build their characters up enough so you want to know more about them before Abigail plays with her food.

Melissa Barrera gets into "protector mode" with scene partner Alisha Weir

One of the delights of the Abigail script is that is presents the characters in ways that you glean just enough about them that you want to know more. In the case of Melissa Barrera's hyper-observant medic Joey, her character is not only super smart but arguably the most empathetic within the group of strangers curated to pull off this ransom job. It's clear that she cares about Abigail's welfare, which opens the door for a bond to form between the two.

Asked whether she and the directors, or she and Weir, ever discussed creating a back story for that connection, Barerra said no one had a formal discussion about it and just let it bloom naturally during production. 

"We just got along from the beginning," Barrera said of her bond with young Weir. "Obviously, she's so easy to love. And she's so talented and such a pro. But I knew that this being one of her first big movies and being the lead with a bunch of adults in the cast, I went into protector mode with her. I wanted to make sure that she felt good every day, and if she had anything that was bothering her, that she could like talk to me about it. So I think that translated really well into the Abigail/Joey dynamic."

Joey (Melissa Barrera) and Abigail (Alisha Weir) pinky promise in Abigail (2024).

Barrera added that even though their characters don't have a ton of shared screentime, they made sure each scene mattered. "It happens very quickly," she said of their arc. "But it's Joey's motherly quality that is tugging at her heartstrings. And obviously, Abigail is just fully manipulating her...but in the cutest way," she said, laughing.

What's the story between Joey and Rickles?

Perhaps even more mysterious is the instant chemistry that ignites between Joey and former career soldier Rickles (William Catlett). Have they met before? Is it just cosmic sparks? According to Catlett, what you see is all you get when it comes to the script providing any more insight into what's going on between them throughout the film. 

"Yeah, there was a spark when we were in the van, and a touch on the leg," the actor confirmed about the inferred smolder between them. "I remember when I first read the script and I said, 'OK, I've never met Melissa before, so how are we going to do this type of thing?' But then when I hugged her, she was just so open and warm, and she's easy on the eye,'" he complimented Barrera. "Then I said, 'OK, cool. Yeah, I can fall in love her.'"

Angus Cloud's Cut Scene

Maybe less appreciated are dopey wheelman Dean's (Angus Cloud) moves on Joey, which Barrera said were expanded in their lone one-on-one scene. "There was a scene between me and Angus that was hilarious that didn't make it into the cut," the actress lamented. "But I know that it will be part of the special features and on VOD or DVD or Blu-ray release."

Dean (Angus Cloud) appears shocked in Abigail (2024).

"It made me sad just because it was my one scene with Angus and he's no longer with us," she said of the actor's tragic death in 2023. "I had so much fun during that scene. He's so great in it and he's so great in the movie. He shines." 

Dan Stevens and Kevin Durand praise Radio Silence

That audiences come to worry about any of the characters in Abigail is a testament to the abilities of Radio Silence said actor Dan Stevens. He praised them for their open encouragement of the whole ensemble to improv and riff throughout.

"They would definitely allow ridiculous things that I said that didn't make money," Stevens said while laughing at the memory. "But that's part of the point of improv. It sort of loosens up the whole script. You know that not everything is going to make it but in throwing those things in, it lifts whatever was maybe on the page.

"All you need is that one moment, that one line here or there, that just comes out of nowhere that really kind of elevates it," he continued. "There's a lot of that going on. And the more freedom we had to do that, the more playful the set became. And then the more fun the movie becomes."

RELATED: Abigail vs. M3GAN? Abigail Directors Have "No Complaints" if a Horror Crossover Happens Eventually

Actor Kevin Durand (Peter), who plays the team muscle, agreed with Stevens' sentiment, especially in regards to the crazy tone of Abigail. "A lot of times, when you go to see a [finished] movie for the first go in and you're like, 'I hope, I hope...' And then you walk out and you're like, 'Oh, why did they cut that? That hurt,'" he said of what actors are surprised to see in final cuts.

Abigail (Alisha Weir) climbs and attacks Peter (Kevin Durand) in Abigail (2024).

"But none of that with this," he said of Radio Silence's work. "In fact, they just made us all look great. They're really quite wonderful. It's miraculous how they can walk this very fine line between all these genres and pull it off. You're like, 'She's dancing and then there's blood exploding. And then you're laughing and then you're terrified. And then you're crying. Somehow, they bring it all together. And they're like, 'Oh, yeah, that's what we wanted to do.' I'm like, 'Can we do it again?' is what I think."

Abigail is exclusively in theaters on April 19. Buy tickets now.