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SXSW: Jordan Peele and cast of Us talk scare contests and 'the real villain'

By Christian Long & Brian Silliman

The buzz was almost overwhelming before the world premiere of Jordan Peele's Us  at the SXSW Festival tonight in Austin. The place was packed, and Peele and the cast (including Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex) came decked with gold lapel pins shaped like scissors, save for Nyong'o, who wore gold scissor earings.

Peele's follow-up to his Oscar-winning Get Out was originally slated for wide release next week, but the studio pushed the release back to March 21 after news broke that it would kick off SXSW this year. SYFY WIRE was on the red carpet at tonight's premiere, and we spoke with some of the cast and crew about what we can expect from the film, as well as a now-infamous on-set competition that Elisabeth Moss mentioned at this past year's Golden Globes, one in which the cast attempted to see who could scare writer/director Peele the most on a daily basis.

Young Evan Alex, who plays Jason Wilson in the film (and is not a horror movie fan) said that Winston Duke was "the absolute best" when it came to this contest. Tim Heidecker (Mr. Tyler) said he preferred to try and make Peele laugh, though he did say, "In our performance that would be true, we’re trying to find the scariest version of ourselves in certain scenes.”

When asked if the psychological grimness took a toll on him at all, Heidecker said, "Only in the sense that you get nervous that you’ll be the guy that screws it all up. You get a little of those nerves, but you get those nerves about a lot of things in life, not just horror movies.” On the subject of what we can expect from the movie, Heidecker added, “I think you’re going to be challenged, it will resonate with you for weeks to come, and you’re gonna want to see it again. I think that’s so rare these days."

Talking about what it is that makes Peele's work resonate so much with audiences, producer Jason Blum said, "I think in both movies he’s done something that John Carpenter did, which is pretty hard to do, which is give a message to an audience, but give it in a way that it’s super entertaining to watch. It’s hard to do, there are a lot of movies with messages, usually boring, a lot of scary movies, but they usually don’t have a message, so that he’s able to put those two together."

Blum finished by saying, "It’s not new, it’s been done before, but you’d be hard pressed to say it’s ever been done as well as he does it.”

Taking things back to the aforementioned contest, Shahadi Wright Joseph, who plays Zora Wilson in the film, liked the idea of the scarer being scared, saying, "I think it kind of helped us in the end, and the outcome, which is incredible.”

As for who was the best at it: For Joseph, the answer was clear. “I think Lupita," she said. "I watched the film already and she really is not afraid to make you uncomfortable, and she’ll just go all out. I think she’s such a great actress."

What about Peele himself? Would he possibly be scared if he ever met his own doppelganger? According to him, no.

"I would not be scared because I know I can kick my ass. I’m not very formidable, I know all my soft spots," he said.

Aside from Peele's soft spots, what kind of conversation does he want to come out of this film? “Many conversations," he said. "I hope people talk about what this movie is in regards to horror movies, but I also hope people think about, on the societal level, how our fear of being the outsider causes us to overlook the fear of the real villain most of the time, which is us.”

Us will show you the true villain when it opens wide on March 21.