SXSW Interview: Writer/Director Nicholas McCarthy on his Creepy New Film, ‘Home’

Nicholas: "Home is a movie that actually grew out of something that happened the night that I premiered my first film"


I’d like to thank writer/director Nicholas McCarthy for scaring the hell out of me at this years SXSW. His new film, Home, is a creepy and sometimes nail-biting take on the birth of evil.

Starring Glee‘s Naya Rivera, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Ashley Rickards, it’s about a real estate agent, Leigh (Moreno), who is asked to sell a house that has a history. she quickly finds out that the daughter of the previous owners has gone missing. When she spots the girl in the house, things start to happen. And they aren’t good. Soon, Leigh’s sister (Rivera) is pulled into the mess and that’s when things really start to get crazy.

McCarthy, who is one of the few directors who’ve had three shorts play at Sundance (in 2005, 2009 and 2011), talked to me the morning of the premiere of the film and he was definitely excited. In the interview below, we talked about how he got the idea, casting and his favorite part of his job.

For the complete interview, click here or scroll down to the YouTube link below. Tell me about the film.

Nicholas McCarthy: Well, it’s funny because I spoke to a bunch of journalists today and no one has seen the movie. They ask what it’s about because it’s just been a log line released.

Home is a movie that actually grew out of something that happened the night that I premiered my first film and it came to form the first scene in the movie, which was I was leaving the premiere for The Pact and I got in a cab in Park City, Utah. They were taking me back to my condo and the cab driver was this Chilean guy and he said, “Pact. Is that movie about a Pact with the devil?” And I said, “No, it’s not about a pact with the devil. It’s about a pact between a mother and a brother.” He said, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and there was a little pause and then he said, “I made a pact with the devil once.” And I said, “Tell me about that.” And he proceeded to tell me this story about when he was a teenager and how he was dared to sell his soul and that became the first scene in the film.

I started to write it just about a week after that, you know, my run at Sundance was over. And my whole kind of effort with the movie was to try to make another independent horror film that was a little unusual and kind of followed some of the same kind of maybe more offbeat things I like about the genre than maybe another film that I might’ve made. And so I feel very lucky that I got to make it and that I got it financed pretty soon after. But as far as what it’s about, it’s about the devil and it’s about someone who sells their soul and what happens after that.

Talk to me about casting. When you write something, do you have an image of actors in your head?

Nicholas McCarthy: Well, casting is one of my favorite parts of making a movie and the reason for that is that just like any other person that you work with, ideally you find an actor who does something totally different than what you’ve written. And elevates that character to some place that you never would’ve thought it could get. That’s kind of the goal. I think it’s hard to get that with every role, but that’s the thing that always kind of keeps me going and excites me, especially when we’re casting, say, for the supporting roles. I love to be there for everybody who walks in the door. I don’t just come in for callbacks. I wanna be there in the room and I like to work with that person.

As far as the stars of this movie, it was an interesting movie to cast because there’s 3 leads, essentially. And they’re all kind of different people, real different roles. And so the first one we decided to cast was this real estate agent. And one of the first names that came up was Catalina Sandino Moreno, which was really surprised me as a name that came up, but from one of the producers knew somebody who’d just worked with her and that’s why it just came up and it seemed arbitrary. And he said, “What about Catalina?” And I said, “Would she stoop so low as to be in my sleezy little movie?” Because I always associated her with such class. And I met Catalina and she’s such an unusual and interesting person in person and she has this really mysterious kind of distance to her and this poise that I thought would be really interesting for that role. And so she wanted to do the movie and I said I would love for her to be in it.

And then we had to cast her sister, and that’s how Naya Rivera’s name came up. I knew Naya a little bit because of Glee, but I went back and watched a couple of the key episodes where she kind of had the most prominent kind of storyline and I just knew instantly that she would be perfect for the role because she’s one of these people who has this kind of strength. This toughness that you can’t act, it just is kind of innate to her. She has that strength and that power and where it comes from it’s like you can’t really say. You know? I talked to her a little bit about her background and part of it, I think, is when someone starts as a child actor they have… the ones that really survive are the ones that are kind of worldly or are kind of wise beyond their years. The work that she did was so technically perfect.

And finally there was the third lead, who’s Ashley Rickards, who’s on a show called Awkward which I had never seen because it’s completely outside of my demographic. You know? I’d be on like an FBI watch list if I was watching too many of those. And Ashley was just so incredibly enthusiastic and the role is a pretty crazy role and she just jumped into the thing with both feet and it was just so cool. So it was really cool having, in general, 3 different actresses who were so different from one another and it made the job more interesting for me as a director.

When you cast, can you immediately sort of tell like that?

Nicholas McCarthy: Sometimes. It’s like there was a few roles in this movie, in the supporting roles, where someone came in and I said, “That’s the person who’s gotta be in this movie.”

Right at the beginning of this film there’s an actor named Mike Massey who he just, you know, he’s great. He owns like the first 10 minutes of my movie. And he’s a guys who’s been in a lot of interesting movies. He was in Lost Highway for David Lynch, he was in a couple of David Fincher movies. And he’s been working a long time, he’s just a character actor, and usually he plays someone kind of sinister. When he came in to read it was just like he, you know, it’s like one of the things that sometimes breaks my heart when I tell an actor that, you know, they’re not gonna get a part. It’s not that they don’t have the right ability, it’s just that they don’t have that thing that seems to, like, you know, to speak that role. And usually the way that an actor is able to speak that role and is that they inbue it with something, again, that I didn’t write and I just become fascinated. Michael started this movie, was one of those guys who I was like… I immediately, all I wanna do is watch this guy. You know? Whatever he’s doing. I’d like to have a movie where every one of the people was like that. That’d be a cool…

Can you tell when somebody comes in unprepared for their read?

Nicholas McCarthy: Well, when Michael came in he just had the sides. He didn’t know anything. He just asked me a couple of questions and he read it with the sides sitting on his knee. He’s been doing this now for 20 years. I think, you know, because being cast in something or being thought to be right for a part, it has as much to do with maybe someone’s technical ability as it has to do with that they just have that thing, like a physical look, a presence, a vibe. And that physical presence and that look and that vibe is not something that, you know, it’s not something that everyone has. It’s not something that you can really train.

And so sometimes there are those people that come in and I’m like, “Uh huh, sure,” and then the callback I’m like, “I can see it. I can totally see it now.” And then there are those people that it’s like they come in and I’m like, “Wow. I want… this is the guy for this movie.” And then I pray that they’re gonna say yes, that they’re available.

Why wouldn’t they say yes? Have you offered somebody a part and they said no?

Nicholas McCarthy: I’ve only made two features.

You’ve made shorts though.

Nicholas McCarthy: Yeah, but shorts are a whole different world. I made 2 shorts and I wrote a part for an actor for my last 2 shorts that I made, The Pact, the brother in The Pact short was written for an actor named Sam Ball who I love and I would love to fit him into another movie. But with this movie, now I’m trying to think with Home did we offer this movie to anybody and they said no? I don’t think so. I think it all kinda worked out.

What’s your favorite part of your job? The writing part or the directing or are you editing as well? And what’s the worst as well?

Nicholas McCarthy: I think a lot of directors say editing because it is the most relaxing kind of phase because you’ve done the quote hard work of shooting. But I love to shoot and it can be really hard if you feel like you’re not getting what you want, but I love to work with people and being on the set with all these people and to get to know so many people and the role of a director, I think, is to have a kind of exciting and respectful collaboration with everyone, all the key people in the set. And even the non key people. It’s like everyone on that set, in front of the camera and behind the camera, is supposed to be better at their job than the director.

And it’s my job with them to kind of keep this thing moving towards what I see in my head as the place we need to go of what’s being expressed emotionally with this movie. And that’s the magic of shooting because there are those days when you get a moment in a performance, a way that you move the camera, your costume designer comes up with some t shirt that someone’s wearing that you just think is so hilarious and perfect and you never would’ve seen the scene in that way and then you go home at the end of the day and you’re like I feel so happy that like… because it’s the things that I couldn’t count on that make the job interesting.

So I feel like sometimes when I hear directors say the editing is their favorite part, I get it because it’s really when you see the movie become the movie, but I think the shooting, if I could just shoot movies I think I’d be happy.

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