You might know her as the terrifying maid from Get Out, but Betty Gabriel is so much more. Connected to six of their productions, she's basically the First Lady of Blumhouse—and bounding from one thrilling horror movie to the next, she's fast becoming a standout scream queen of the 21st century.
At the SXSW Conference, Gabriel was the star of not one but two Blumhouse horror movies. In the sci-fi fueled Upgrade, she plays a tough cop tracking down a tech-enhanced vigilante. In Unfriended: Dark Web, she plays a one-half of a lesbian couple trapped in a deadly chat room scenario. However, to the audiences who packed into the world premieres of these Midnighters, Gabriel was an unquestionable queen. When Jason Blum asked her to stand as he introduced each film, the crowd went wild for the actress who's been slaying—literally and metaphorically—onscreen.
SYFY FANGRRLS sat down with Gabriel, and the makers of Upgrade and Unfriended: Dark Web, to learn more about modern horror's newest and fabulous star.
A graduate of Julliard with a theater background, Gabriel got her start in film on a little-known 2011 drama called In Memoriam—but it was her role in the 2014-lensed sci-fi movie Beyond Skyline that proved pivotal. "I did a role in a small film that Frank Grillo starred in," Gabriel told us in an interview with her Upgrade director Leigh Whannell and co-star Logan Marshall-Green. "I think he put in a good word."
That good word led to Gabriel's first film with Blumhouse, 2015's Purge: Election Year. As ass-kicking EMT Laney Rucker, Gabriel had a striking charisma that made audiences stand up and take notice—and so did Blum, who also came from the theater and runs his film studio like a repertory company.
"(Blumhouse does) have the feel of a theater company," Whannell said. "They like working with the same people, that goes for the crew and actors. "It's low-budget filmmaking. If you need to have a huge two-story trailer, you're not going to get that on a Blumhouse movie. There is a certain camaraderie that comes from being in the trenches on a low-budget film, you know?"
This meant that Gabriel had an in when Blumhouse was casting Jordan Peele's provocative thriller Get Out. In that Academy Award-winning hit, Gabriel played a victim of the "Sunken Place." Her anguish is made clear in one instantly iconic scene, where her smile stretches eerily wide as tears roll down her cheeks, and she giggles and sputters, "No no no no no no no," like a short-circuiting robot.
In theaters, it sent chills down spines. Beyond theaters, it became a meme and inspired waves of fan art. But before all that happened, that scene made her the talk of Blumhouse's offices.
"When we were casting the movie, they brought me to the editing room and they showed me her scene from Get Out, which hadn't come out yet," said Unfriended: Dark Web director Stephen Susco. "And I was like, 'Oh. My. God.' It was a privilege to work with her."
Unfriended: Dark Web's leading man Colin Woodell described working with Gabriel as "an honor." In fact, the two had been on set for the Unfriended sequel when the hype for Get Out officially kicked off. "We were filming on day three or four, and she came to set a little more nervous than normal," Woodell said. "And she was like, 'I think the trailer is dropping today.' And we all took a break and you know, we all had heard about Get Out. We knew that Jordan [Peele] had created something pretty unique. But Betty had prefaced before filming that she was like, 'I think I did something very special.'"
Gabriel demurred from praising herself, but she did tell us that she had some concerns upon first viewing of the Get Out trailer: "I thought it was heavily spoilery or spoiler alerty. So, I was actually really upset. 'They're giving away the movie!' But everyone else was excited, like, 'What was that!?'"
It hasn't been just her Get Out performance that's blown Blumhouse's team away, but Gabriel herself. "I mean just from as a person, she's wonderful," Woodell said. "It's so cool to see this. She's an iconic character now. She's been doing this and grinding away for a long time and for her to entrust Blum the way that she has as an actress and to be so gung-ho about everything that that company has thrown her way? I think it's really paid off, and it's really exciting to see where it takes her next."
What's up for Gabriel next? An appearance on Westworld's mysterious second season, as well as a role in recently-wrapped Blumhouse drama Adopt a Highway directed by Marshall-Green. The film stars Ethan Hawke as an ex-con who discovers a live baby in a dumpster. Gabriel will play the Department of Children and Family Services agent who steps in to help. "Betty is continually amazing," Marshall-Green said of Gabriel's work in Adopt A Highway. "We were very, very lucky to get her."
It was a sentiment echoed by every filmmaker and castmate we spoke with—often with Gabriel blushing and bowing her head, as humble as reputed. But she perked up when we asked about attending the 2018 Academy Awards alongside her Get Out team. Though Gabriel was denied a well-deserved supporting actress nomination (and thereby her chance at a Ruth Gordon moment), she was elated to be there.
"It was pretty great," she said. "I mean I had a phenomenal stylist, who put me in this great Tony Ward dress. Her name is Sonia Young. [I was] looking amazing, if I do say so myself."
This isn't arrogance. It's just facts.
"Then, gradually, my shoe broke and my dress started ripping and I was like 'Oh no!," Gabriel laughed. "It was an incredible night and seeing Jordan win [Best Adapted Screenplay] was just..." She paused, seeking the right word. "I mean, I literally screamed the lady's head off in front of me. Like, 'Sorry!'"
Asked if she was star-struck by any of the celebs she saw that night, Gabriel mentioned meeting Drake and Jon Hamm. But admitting the moment where she was seriously star-struck came earlier. "I will tell you at another award show, meeting Angela Bassett, just waterworks." She laughed. "I had no idea I was such a huge fan!"
"Until you started crying in front of her?" Whannell teased.
"Until I started bawling like a baby," Gabriel said. "Just like 'I love you!'"
Girl, we feel you.