Fangrrls might remember Brea Grant from Heroes, in which she played speedy Daphne Millbrook. Well, it was on the set of that superhero series that Grant decided she wanted a greater role in her artistic output. "The acting game — especially ten years ago — it's just about waiting for someone to call you," Grant said. "The project's already so far along in the process that you're coming in at the last minute. I wanted to be involved earlier. I wanted to help shape those stories."
Since then, Grant has penned four comic book series and a string of scripts, including the Fantasia International Film Festival selects, Lucky and 12 Hour Shift. Both films are female-fronted stories with complicated heroines who make tough (and sometimes grisly) decisions in worlds splashed with blood. Lucky follows a self-help writer who is being stalked by a slippery slasher. 12 Hour Shift centers on a harried nurse who moonlights as a black market organ harvester. Grant not only wrote these buzzed-about genre flicks, but she also starred in the former and helmed the latter.
With Lucky and 12 Hour Shift picking up a buzz at Fantasia, SYFY FANGRRLS sat down (virtually) with Grant to uncover her path from actress to triple threat and discover what draws her to tell personal stories through genre films.
Grant's journey to filmmaking began about 15 years ago. "I moved to L.A. on a whim," she recalled. "I had a bad breakup. Things were not working out for me in Austin, Texas, and I decided I would pursue acting in L.A." She took a survival job as a waitress and began auditioning. Ironically, her first big break, a recurring role on the TV drama Friday Night Lights, brought her back to Texas. Repeatedly. "Kind of crazy," Grant smiled. "I would fly myself back to Texas from L.A. to audition, and eventually got hired. I think after my like fifth time flying back." She laughed. "So much money on my credit card trying to get on that show. It did pay off and that was my genesis."
After that, Grant scored roles in films and other TV shows, including Season 3 of Heroes. It was there she wrote her first comic book and began toying with screenwriting. "[Acting] is a great job," Grant reflected, "but you do a lot of waiting. You do a lot of sitting around on set. I love to have my brain firing on all synapses and to get to create my own stuff without having to wait for permission from someone."
In 2013, Grant made her feature directorial debut with the post-apocalyptic comedy Best Friends Forever, in which she starred as one of two friends road-tripping through an impending nuclear catastrophe. "We made it on a shoestring. And I'm sure I drove everyone crazy, trying to learn to direct while acting," Grant laughed. "But we ended up with a cool movie."
Grant feels her background as an actress has been hugely influential on her directing style. "I love to empower my actors and let them do what they think this character would do," she said, explaining she allows her cast to rewrite their lines on the fly and improvise. "I really like to see what they bring to the role. I've been really fortunate just to work with really great actors. A lot of the actors in 12 Hour Shift are writers. So that makes my life so much easier because they can come in and say funny stuff and they make me look like a goddamn genius."
The inspiration for Grant's screenplays often comes from her own life. In Best Friends Forever, she played a comic book writer. Lucky was born from her harrowing experience of having a stalker and the dark epiphany to which that led. "Literally, being a woman in the modern-day world is just to live in danger in a lot of ways," Grant said. "Our bodies are in danger. I think the movie really captured that in a really great way. I think [Lucky director] Natasha [Kermani] did a great job."
For 12 Hour Shift, the Texas auteur found inspiration in the nurses who cared for her elderly father. "One of the interesting things that has come out of COVID-19," Grant said, "is we all have realized how hard our healthcare professionals work." Spending so much time in a hospital with her father, Grant noticed the long, punishing hours the nurses endured and in incredibly stressful conditions. "They do so much work. And it's so little thanks for them. I loved during COVID that we started clapping for them and acknowledging that they do so much work for us."
Considering 12 Hour Shift's nurses deal in organ harvesting, the film might seem a strange attempt at honoring their profession. However, Grant's 1999-set horror-comedy folds in economic struggles, the opioid epidemic, and cultural quirks of her upbringing in East Texas to create an empathetic portrait of her curious caregivers. "I talked a lot with Angela [Bettis] and Nikea [Gamby-Turner] about why [their characters] would be doing this," Grant said of her stars. "Where was this money going? Why were they selling organs on the black market? And we had some really cool backstories about what was the economic reasoning for their choices." Though unspoken in the film, their performances shine with purpose.
Asked what draws her to explore such personal experiences through genre movie, Grant mused, "I think it's easier for me to tell a story through the genre lens. I only consume genre stuff. So it would be hard for me to write outside of that space."
Speaking to Lucky and its exploration of rape culture, Grant added, "When I'm trying to tell these bigger stories, it is easier for me to tell the story through a metaphor in the genre space than to just write the story of a guy showing up to somebody's house. I think it really works, particularly with something like Lucky. I think women watch that movie and it rings true to them that in this weird way where you get [victim] blamed [for what has happened to you]. People say really condescending things to you, like 'Is that what are you wearing? Or 'Were you alone?' That whole bit."
Grant shared another shocking story that became the dark inspiration for Lucky's title. "I was going through all this court sh*t [because of the stalker], and I got robbed at the same time," she said. "Like on a fully different thing, I got robbed. It was a bad year for me. I get robbed and the cops came to my house and they said to me, 'Well, you're lucky you didn't get raped.' And I was like, "I'm not sure I'm lucky. I'm not sure getting robbed is lucky.'"
Grant channeled her feelings into her work and felt empowered in rewriting the narrative. "Sometimes my screenplay writing starts to feel like journaling," she said. "I'm thinking through conversations I've had and I'm redoing them and doing them in a better way this time. Or I'm making someone the hero this time. Or this time she escapes the stalker."
Grant has more female-fronted genre tales coming our way. She's currently in Bulgaria directing an episode of The CW's sci-fi drama series Pandora. This fall will see the release of the first issue of her latest comic, Mary. "It's a YA graphic novel about the descendent of Mary Shelley," Grant teased, "who figures out that she's a doctor for monsters."
As for Lucky and 12 Hour Shift, both have secured distribution. Following its Fantasia run, Lucky will debut on the streaming platform Shudder, though its release date is currently TBD.
12 Hour Shift is slated for a limited release on October 2. With many theaters shuttered across the US, the plan is for the horror-comedy to play drive-ins, which has Grant excited. She beamed as she declared, "It's the perfect drive-in movie."