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We Summon the Darkness Star Alexandra Daddario Discusses the Joy of Going Insane Onscreen

Photo: Rich Polk/Getty Images

Since breaking out in the family friendly Percy Jackson movies in 2010, Alexandra Daddario has been saved from the ravages of a megaquake by The Rock in San Andreas, helped save a beach town with The Rock in Baywatch, and appeared as many a knockout love interest in assorted romantic comedies. She has also, among the horror fans, become a cult-favorite leading lady. She charmed opposite Anton Yelchin in the undead comedy Burying the Ex. She took her place in the Final Girl pantheon after starring in 2013’s Texas Chainsaw 3D, and co-starred in last year’s acclaimed adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Now, she is producing and starring in one of this year’s indie genre gems, We Summon the Darkness.

“We set out to make something really fun, and I feel that we really did what we wanted to do with the film,” says Daddario. “It’s a weird time to be promoting a film, but if you’re sitting around and watching movies, I do think it’s a good time.” If you can handle a little bit of blood in your movies — okay, more like a lot of blood — We Summon the Darkness is a Satanic panic throwback flick to distract you in these bleak times. In it, Daddario plays Alexis, the leader of a small girl gang who goes to a death-metal concert, picks up a group of leather-clad boys, and takes them home for a night of debauchery. But We Summon the Darkness isn’t about sexy time so much as it ritual murder, and the people behind an unsolved string of occult killings are about to reveal themselves. With both parties in pandemic-induced isolation, Vulture spoke to Daddario over the phone ahead of her movie’s VOD release about playing the girl “that everyone falls in love with,” and the joys of going insane onscreen.

Tell me about pivoting to a more devious kind of character than we typically get to see you play.
I’d worked with the writer Alan Trezza before on Burying the Ex. That was also a sort of horror-comedy. He knows how to write characters like this, and he actually writes women really well. I enjoyed the people I worked with [on that movie] and wanted to work with that team again. The character in [We Summon the Darkness] is just a ton of fun and totally off her rocker. All the actors put so much effort into not being judgmental and into trying all different kinds of things; I got to explore a different side of myself. There’s a lot of freedom in playing someone who isn’t perfect, and it allows for a lot of nuanced silliness.

And what was that new side of yourself?
I think some of the other characters I’ve played — they’re more polished. A lot of movies I do, or started my career doing, were bigger, with green screens, and it was very specific where you stood, how you stood, how you looked. I’ve even had directors tell me — because I tend to sometimes look a little wild, because my eyes are so blue — “You have to make them smaller.” In this case, to just be wild and not think that much about what I really looked like. The point was to be a little bit off-kilter. That was really fun, to not have to think about looking perfect.

One of the things I enjoyed so much about your performance here is how it sort of exists in conversation with other roles you’ve had. You’ve played a variety of triumphant horror heroines and the very desired female lead in rom-coms, and that turns your We Summon the Darkness character into almost a comment on those previous iterations of you. It uses the tropes that defined what you’ve done before as a means of subverting what both the audience and the other people in the movie expect of you. Is something that you were cognizant of?
That’s not actually an observation I’ve vocalized. I think subconsciously it’s probably there, and Allen I’m sure had that very clearly planned out as he was writing it, but yeah. It is freeing in a way to just go and be like, “Hey, fuck it! I’m just gonna be wild, and the point isn’t to make people like me.” The point is to just be a little whatever, and whatever isn’t a very descriptive word, but I’m saying it in a loud voice! You know, it is nice to not be, at the end of the day, the one who’s perfect and who everyone falls in love with — although I do enjoy that as well.

Both your character and Maddie Hasson’s character are very aware of their sex appeal in Darkness, and like you said, they’re fully exploiting this idea that they have to get what they want out of these men they meet. Going off of what you said about playing the girl that everyone falls in love with — like recently in We Have Always Lived in the Castle or Why Women Kill — you’ve played multiple characters where there’s an overt narrative acknowledgement of your beauty. This movie weaponizes that same acknowledgement on your character’s behalf and lets her leverage it in joyfully deranged ways. Tell me about playing around with that sort of meta-awareness.
I honestly didn’t overtly think about that, but you bringing up We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a very interesting comparison. I mean, women have been using their looks and their sex appeal and whatever else they have since the beginning of time to gain power in a world in which men and women are totally unequal. So it’s not new, but [my character] Constance does not do that and is unable to do that, and she’s sort of falling victim to this patriarchal world. In [We Summon the Darkness], you’re right, this character is using what she has to do something that she believes in, however misguided. These kids don’t even really know what they’re doing. It’s not planned out well. They’re not masterminds, but she’s still convinced herself that she is right and she’s using what she has. She knows it’s going to work.

You have a long enough filmography at this point for your roles to be commenting on one another, and now you’re also producing.
I’m a producer on this, and a lot of the time what that means is … it’s like you’re bringing the financing and then you have more say. So I’m slowly building up. I’m good at knowing where I can step in and where I need to step up.

What is the ideal career path for you?  
You know, I’m a little scrappy and I tend to go on instinct. I’m also constantly amazed in this business that I have a career at all. So, there’s an element of fear that plays into all of my choices, although I’ve gotten better with that over the years. At a point, I wanted to work with certain people, and I think now it’s about a character and it’s about a director. I really believe in the importance of having a strong director and even a strong production team behind you. I don’t think about, “Oh, I did this, now I’m going to do that.” For me, I would do three genre pieces in a row and my team might say, “Look, we just did this horror film,” but if it was three directors that I really love, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. I sort of treat everything individually, which, I don’t know if that maybe hasn’t always worked out that well for me.

What is your relationship at this point in your career with that fear you mentioned? 
I mean, it seems very strange in this current environment — especially when you have medical workers and postal workers and people going to work every day trying to keep this country running who are putting themselves in danger — to speak about fear in a career where it’s just acting. But I will say, I’ve been doing this since I was 12, and I had quite a tumultuous adolescence for a variety of reasons. I think that this is a tough business, to constantly be worried about where your next paycheck is coming from. And look, I’ve had a lot more success in the last four years than I had in previous iterations of my career. I do think that fear can be a motivator. It can either freeze you or motivate you, and I think that there’s a double-edged sword to a lot of that. I’m incredibly hard-working, which means sometimes I make the wrong decisions or I constantly feel the need to work. But I feel really lucky, and I feel like everything you do teaches you something and leads you to the next point. From the time I was 16 till now, it’s almost 20 years later, and I am more resilient to that up and down sort of career in the acting business. I know that there’s a lot of other professions with more fear at the moment, so it does seem strange to say.

Alexandra Daddario Says ‘F-ck It’ for We Summon the Darkness