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Ma star Diana Silvers on horror, peer pressure, and working with Octavia Spencer

By Heather Mason
Diana Silvers - Octavia Spencer - MA

The latest horror film from Blumhouse Productions stars Octavia Spencer as Ma, an unassuming woman who allows a group of teenagers to use her basement as the hottest party spot in town — except her intentions are ... suspect. Maggie (Diana Silvers) is one of the first of the teens to notice that something about Ma isn't quite right. What follows is a lesson in how trauma impacts our lives and how the age of social media contributes to bullying and peer pressure. Oh, and it's all pretty creepy as well.

This month is a big one for Silvers, who has two films (Ma and Booksmart) hitting theaters, both poised to catapult her into stardom. SYFY WIRE FANGRRLS sat down with the actress to chat about her favorite horror films, the representation of teenage girls on screen, and the importance of kindness.

So first of all, are you a horror fan?

Oh, yes. More psychological horror. I'm not into blood. I don't like excessive violence. That's my thing. I don't like movies heavy with guns, any of that stuff, so I'm not into that stuff, but I love a psychological thriller. The Shining, Silence of the Lambs. Mulholland Drive is pretty creepy. Carrie — I love Carrie.

What was it like working with Octavia [Spencer]? Her character is so creepy, and you're in really interesting situations with her.

It was a dream, honestly. Octavia Spencer is extremely talented, and she has such incredible energy, and as you can see in the film, she's lots and lots of fun. And it's really cool that she got to take on this role and got to lead a film for the first time and, for me, any time they called "cut," it was just laughing and hugging, and a really great time.

I was kind of shocked by how funny the movie was. Did you intentionally work on that balance of horror and humor? Or did it come naturally?

It totally came naturally. It's teenagers. How serious can it be? And I think Blumhouse has really turned the genre of horror on its head in the last few years by making these very original movies that aren't just one thing. It's funny but it's also scary, and it's disturbing but it's also lighthearted in moments. And everyone in the cast is just so talented that we were able to balance everything and juggle all those elements at once.

Earlier [when we spoke], you mentioned that we don't get as many nuanced teen girl roles as we should in film. Do you feel like that's changing? When you're looking at roles, are you seeing more of those options out there?

Yeah. I got lucky. I got to do this and Booksmart, and Booksmart really ... that's what that is. It's complex female characters, complex teenage characters in the whole film. There's always going to be stereotypes in films, but I think it's up to the actors as well to fight to make them more nuanced, to make them more complex, and I'm lucky that I have [director] Tate [Taylor] who just let me play and let me make Maggie as complex and nuanced as most teenage girls are.

What do you feel like Maggie learned throughout the film?

Don't give in to peer pressure. It's okay to stay home, you know? So many teenagers think that they need to go out and they need to go to the party because if they don't, they're not cool, or if they don't, they're going to miss out on something because everyone's sharing their lives on social media. But I actually... I have a theory that no one actually wants to freaking be there because it's the same stuff, over and over and over again. You've gone to one party, you've probably gone to them all, and no one cares if you don't go to the party. No one cares if you do. You just got to do what is good for you. If you want to go that night, go. And if you're not feeling up to it and your friends are, they can go and you can go home and do something that makes you feel good. But don't give in to peer pressure and make sure you're nice to people. Always be kind and be mindful.

I feel like she also had that instinct that something was wrong from the beginning.

Yeah, Maggie's intuitive. Her and I have that in common. See, I, too, in high school was like, "Something's not right, I'm not going to go out. I'm going to listen to Taylor Swift instead and read a book."

Well, it worked out for you. There are a lot of issues in this movie that are addressed. What do you feel like society can learn from the story of Ma and what happened to her?

Again, it just goes back to at the end of the day, people might not remember what it is you said to them but we always remember how a person made us feel. And I just think it's so important for, especially in those years of high school when the hormones are raging and we're all honestly having a terrible time, to just be kind. Reach a hand out to someone. Be mindful. Just do the nice thing because we're always given the option. You can be a nice person or you can be a not-nice person and it's always better to just be nice. Whether you think a person is weird or whatever, you want to judge them for being... it's still so much easier to just be kind. I hope that's what everyone takes away from this film.

We already talked a little bit about nuanced roles for teenage girls and you mentioned Taylor Swift. I know in the past, it's felt like teenage girls are kind of underestimated and just pushed aside.

Hey, we're the fans, okay? We are the fan base. Teenage girls can make or break your career, I'm just saying. We buy your music. We go to your movies. You know what I mean? We tweet about you. We obsess over you because we got all these hormones going. Are you kidding? We're the lifeblood.

Yeah, that's what I was going to say. Do you feel like that perception is changing the power of younger girls and their roles?

Totally. I think so. Everyone is powerful. We all underestimate each other and, again, just respect each other. Be kind to each other. You never know who's going to become the CEO of what. You never know who is going to become Taylor Swift. You never know. You just got to be kind and stay true to yourself and follow what makes you happy inside.

Ma is in theaters May 31.

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