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Nothing about Freaky, filmmaker Christopher Landon's R-rated slasher take on the body-swap subgenre, would work without its two leads operating in sync. The Butcher (Vince Vaughn) and high schooler Millie (Kathryn Newton) accidentally switch bodies, putting a killer's mind into a teen girl and a shy nerd into the intimidating frame of a hulking adult man. It's hilarious and scary, but the gory fun depends entirely on these two convincingly pulling off the swap.
Sitting down with SYFY WIRE ahead of the film's Nov. 13 premiere, Vaughn and Newton talked about getting into character and some of their most memorable moments from the production — including some copious eye drop use and one very silly Aaron Rodgers mask.
**SPOILER WARNING: This story contains mild spoilers for Freaky.**
“The hardest part of being the Butcher was overcoming the idea that I couldn’t do it," Newton tells SYFY WIRE. “I had no idea what to do, for real. I knew that I had this job and this opportunity, and that Chris Landon believed in me, but... y’know, I knew I could play Millie, because Millie’s easy, right? She’s like me: I’m a total dork and nerd and so uncool, I didn’t have any friends in high school.”
But Landon specifically picked Newton for the part, so she had him in her corner: “Chris said, ‘I knew there was this killer in you. Killer power in you.’ I was like, ‘Well I didn’t, so thanks.’ So for me, I just had to go for it and be a killer.” This transition was immediate as soon as Newton signed onto the role. “As soon as we had the first rehearsal with Vince, I gained so much from working with him. So many ideas from him. We talked about the physicality of the Butcher.”
That went both ways. As tough as it sounds for Newton to embody a Jason-esque silent killer, that same difficulty existed for Vaughn becoming a high schooler who mostly worried about kissing boys and getting her cheer routine down. The pair worked closely to develop both characters together.
“It was a combination of finding internal stuff and finding physical ways to do it, then forgetting about it and just being in the scenes and letting go,” Vaughn explains. “You do a lot of preparation and then there was this coming together with Kathryn, and then you’re just listening and putting yourself in those circumstances.”
That led to scenes like one where Millie (played by Vaughn) is in the backseat of a car with her crush (Uriah Shelton). One thing leads to another and, despite being body-swapped, Millie shares a tender kiss with the boy. It's a perfect summation of the film's commitment to the body-swap subgenre — and it went off without a hitch.
“The car scene is a wonder: it’s the first take we did, it’s a master shot — there’s no edits, no cuts — so that’s a full performance from both of us in one take," Vaughn says. "It was a magical thing where we both came in prepared in character and understood the moment. We listened and played around, there was some improvisation going on in there.”
Newton had some less sweet-hearted moments, but some that were equally badass in terms of commitment to character. “I went on that set ready to kill everybody and freak everybody out," Newton remembers. "I felt so proud when I was holding the chainsaw, happy inside but covered in blood, and people would be like, ‘You’re scaring us.’” Speaking of that chainsaw, it was used during Newton's favorite kill, which involved "three jocks."
"They had it coming," Newton says. "Chris asked me earlier what it was like fulfilling that kind of fantasy, just standing up for yourself and being the hero, and that was awesome. But come on, the coolest part was using a chainsaw. My dad would be so proud.”
The chainsaw may be her actual weapon of choice, but Newton's stare shot daggers during the film. When asked if eye strain from not blinking during her takes took a toll, Newton affirmed that she was trying hard to stare down the audience. “Thank you so much for noticing,” she says. “It is really hard not to blink.”
Was she using eye drops between takes for full commitment to the scary bit? “I did, I totally did. It was fun to have that intensity,” Newton admits. “I learned that one movement with your eyes can change everything, so I was very specific with what I did with the Butcher.”
Vaughn, having the body of the Butcher, needed to approach things in almost an opposite way — especially when his face gets covered in a Halloween-esque gag. Needing to avoid identification, the heroes cover Millie's face with a floppy rubber mask of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Vaughn, a noted Chicago fan, was a consummate professional when it came to wearing the face of a rival QB. “You know I thought about that, but being the actor got the best of me,” Vaughn says with a laugh. “It worked for the movie so I didn’t even raise a question about it, but yes I was definitely deep in the method at that point.”
Freaky is now in theaters.