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When Jimmi Simpson signed up for this month's Into the Dark episode/movie, "Treehouse," he did so knowing full well he'd be objectified. But at least it would be for a good cause: International Women's Day.
"I 1000-percent signed up to have a shred of the experience that every woman deals with for her entire life," Simpson told SYFY WIRE about his role in this month's edition of the Hulu/Blumhouse TV "year of scares" anthology series. This month, the series celebrates International Women's Day with its own terrifying spin (with "a certain Ides of March thing going on too," as Simpson points out). As such, the episode tells the tale of an egomaniacal, power-abusing celebrity chef who gets some diabolical comeuppance from a local coven of powerful, not-to-be-trifled-with women.
The latest feature-length segment was written and directed by Simpson's old Psyche mate, James Roday, who had been talking up the pitch on set since "probably the last couple of seasons" of the popular USA show that ended in 2014. Right from that early pitch, Simpson had to have had some inkling as to the amount of objectification he'd feel in the story, which was first imagined as a flipping of a classic horror norm.
"James was trying to basically take his favorite trope from these horror movies, but in those horror movies from the '80s, you're always staring at this woman who's just being battered and objectified while screaming for her life the whole time, and we wanted to take it and flip it and put it on a man's shoulders, and have him deserve being chased down, unlike most these innocent girls in the horror movies," said Simpson.
But if the pitch gave Simpson an inkling of what he was getting into, the filming of "Treehouse" really gave Simpson first-hand knowledge of what it's like to be objectified.
"I think that was clearest when I spent a good week in my underwear. We didn't have any money, we didn't have any time, so to save time, it was just, 'Keep him strapped to the bed, in his underwear, we'll move the cameras around, and we'll just go,'" said Simpson about the 15-day shoot.
"After about four days of that experience, I started to get really down, to a really dark place, and it was basically being objectified. Not intentionally, just having myself out there, in my underwear, people happened to be looking because I'm the only one that's dressed that way," he said. "No one was doing anything disrespectful, but I'd never been the point of focus in that way before. And it's like, anytime a woman goes to the beach, or anytime anything like that happens, they get stared at. And I realized, 'Oh, that's what I'm dealing with, I'm dealing with just a miniscule amount of what every woman has to deal with her entire life.'"
Not that Simpson thinks he fully understands the depth of the issue. "It wasn't like, 'Oh, now I get it.' It was, 'I'm seeing a fraction of their experience, and it's exhausting. It's exhausting. And It allowed me to see just a tiny bit of their experience for the first time. And for me, that was the most profound realization of this whole movie: 'Oh, that's kind of what it's like. Holy s***, that hurts.'"
Speaking of painful, Simpson also got to experience another first for him: heels, including a scene where he has to run in them on concrete, down steps, and across grass.
"I spent a little bit of time in heels, and my god, the things that we expect half of the humans to do in order to just meet a convention is kind of stunning," said Simpson. "The tricks are just grinning and bear it, I guess. And I think if you asked any women, they'd probably say the same thing, there's no like, 'Ooh, now it's fun.' It's probably always, 'Yep, walking on stilts. Hope you enjoy!'"
Though the movie has its share of fun and scares, as we've come to expect from Into the Dark, because this episode revolves around International Women's Day, it did take on a bit more gravity, as far as intention goes.
"What we're trying to do is to be one of the many voices that needs to start speaking now. It's about men, who do have a little bit of power, and stepping aside and saying, 'Yes, it's my name that will get this made,' or whatever, and then leaning very heavily on the women in their lives, and giving them the power, so that we can try to start evening the balance, not just in the industry, but across the board," he said. "I think it's important that men with power share it, because that's how we're going to get this done."