Brea Grant is part of a new breed of "scream queen." She doesn't do a lot of screaming, and she isn't a diva, but she has a passion for the horror and sci-fi genre that is rare to find. After roles in genre favorites like Dexter, Heroes, and Halloween, she has moved behind the camera, directing her first feature. Best Friends Forever is a road trip movie about girls, comics, and the impending apocalypse. We chatted with the tireless minx about directing, women's roles in the horror genre, the upcoming Hack/Slash film, her chances of returning to Dexter, comic books, and anything else we could squeeze into twenty minutes.
Best Friends Forever is your directorial debut. You've worked on indie projects, including Best Friends Forever, and you've worked on big-budget stuff. Besides the quality of craft service, can you talk about the difference between working in the two fields?
I've only experienced it as an actor, so my view might be a little skewed. You have a lot of the same problems on indie sets that you do on bigger sets. There are disagreements - creatively and otherwise - but you also have a lot of the same successes. I think with indie films, there is more room for awesome ideas. It is really hard for a first-time filmmaker to get a movie made. Indie films are really the only way you can hear those voices before they have gone through 15 studio execs who make sure everything you are saying is perfect. You get to see a lot more experimentation in the independent film world.
Are you hoping to eventually direct a big-budget studio film, or are you happier with the freedom you get with indies?
That might be a good question to ask when I am done with this! Right now [I am finishing up post] I keep saying I am never going to direct again, I just want to keep acting! I have no idea, really. I'm not against studio movies. I've been in some, and there is some great stuff happening there. Television, too - I consider that a pretty large and well-funded medium - I watch that stuff and I like that stuff, but I think that the stuff I would want to make would be in the independent world. But I would like to have a little more money than we did for Best Friends Forever because we had no money.
What were some of the difficulties you weren't expecting in directing?
I acted in it, too, so I thought the acting part would be so easy because it is something I do every day and it is something I feel comfortable with. I wrote the character and felt I knew her inside and out. Then I got on set and it turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. I think everyone else knew that but me. I think it's really hard being a first-time director, being a woman, being someone people view as an actress. I think that sometimes, people didn't have as much respect [for me] as they could have. Sometimes they didn't necessarily treat me like a director and I kind of had to... I hate to say "be a bitch..." But then there wereall these really great unexpected things, too. Like everyone has all these really great ideas, and people are so invested in the film. That was a surprise to me.
Have you always wanted to direct, or is that just the natural progression of your career?
I haven't always wanted to direct. I didn't even consider entering the film industry until I was 24. And then it was like, "I'll be an actress" because that's what you do when you are a girl and you're cute, and it just seemed logical for me to go be an actress. When I first moved to LA, I thought I might want to produce because I wanted to create stories I wanted to see and I thought that would be a good place for me. Then I started producing and I hated it and decided that was a terrible idea, so I started pursuing acting.
[Directing] is something I thought about before this movie. We had other directors attached at various times before this movie, but what ended up happening is we decided we wanted to make this movie on a shoestring budget instead of a microbudget. An easy way to do that was to not pay me as an actor or a director, so that saved us quite a bit of money. It is my passion project, so I don't expect anyone else to come work for free on it.
Has Kickstarter made it easier to get funding, or has it complicated matters?
We had private investors for the shooting process. Now what we need is money for post. I want to be clear about that - I don't want people to think we never paid for anything on our movie! It's been really interesting. At first, I was not really for it. I felt like people would see my name and think, "Oh, you're an actress, don't you have millions of dollars?" I don't - I live in a studio apartment! I thought people would really judge us - and maybe they are, and I just don't know. But we've gotten a mass amount of support. My fans have really come out and giving us like five or ten bucks, and it is really adding up. I don't know if you guys would be covering it if we weren't doing Kickstarter because we wouldn't be doing press. So it has been a nice way for us to talk about the movie before the movie is done, and get people excited about the project. It's so weird because I have never had to be on the money side of things, and I would be super-happy to never be on this side of it again!
So after this, are you happy to settle back into a quiet life of acting?
No, not really. I write comic books too, and it is something I really love. The problem with acting is that it is hard to act in a vacuum. I like being on the creative side of things. I like writing. I am already writing scripts, and yeah, I will probably go back to directing. I love acting and there was something really lovely about sitting back and not having to think about things from a director's aspect.
You have become something of a genre mainstay. Was that always your goal?
I think I got really lucky. I am a big genre fan. I could have just as easily ended up on some soap opera. That would have been really awful for me - I would have hated that. When I first started acting, someone asked me what show I would love to be on. I said Heroes, and then three months later, I was on Heroes. It was insane. I love horror, I love sci-fi even more. I love the world it offers, I love the way it can change your ideas. The whole genre really changes year to year and things are becoming even more interesting. I think the best people are coming out of that world.
Have you noticed women's role in horror shifting at all? Are you still being relegated to "scream queen" roles?
Yes and no. I think [the scream queen] has been done now. When something starts becoming a trope, I think people try to break those tropes. I think you are getting more women behind the scenes, so we are going to start writing the stories and roles that we want to see. I think that is really changing things. It is growing more and more every year.
I think horror has also been really vilified. People always think that [horror people] hate women, they just want to rip women's bodies apart. I don't think that comes from within the horror community; I think that comes from outside the horror community. I think people are hearing that and responding to that. It's like, we've made the movie with girl's arms being ripped off; there is no reason to make that movie again. I'm hoping that things are changing a lot. It's exciting because we are kind of in the middle of all this. You have a genre in which, historically, women have played a very large role. One of the very few genres in which women are constantly leads and interesting leads at that. I think that is just going to grow more and more.
Do you feel like women are getting more respect in the genre?
Like, as actors, or behind the scenes?
Any of it. I have been a horror fan since I was 10 and that always surprises and confuses people - even to this day - that a girl would rather watch a horror film than a rom-com.
I think there are roadblocks for [girls] to get into genre. There was for me, at least. I didn't necessarily have a group of friends who would go see a scary movie with me; that's what my brother and his friends did. I think things are changing. I keep getting interviewed by women for [genre] things, so it might be changing, right? Maybe they are just assigning the woman to me because I'm a woman... I don't know. But it is definitely cool that there are women creating things, there are women I meet at every horror convention. I think it is dangerous to say that things have changed; things are better. But things are changing. I think we need to recognize there is still sexism in the industry in general, and in the genre part as well. That's the way it is in America for women. But I think women are getting exposed to more, and they are getting into that world a little more. I think exposure is key.
Do you think that even if women like genre projects, they are intimidated by the boy's club?
I know I have this problem, and it is the same in the comic book world, that I feel like I am years behind everyone else. I didn't start reading comic books until I was 19. That is so much later than everyone else, who has been reading comics since they were eight. I have so much catching up to do. So it is intimidating for me to go to, say, a horror movie festival, where everyone has been studying film for 15 years, or they have been watching horror films since they were born. For me, it is intimidating, but I also feel very strongly about the things I feel strongly about. Maybe I haven't seen every horror movie ever made, but I don't think that negates the fact that I love horror, I want to see more horror, and I want to continue to see good horror being made.
I think women should approach [horror] as themselves. They should be honest and open. And that's my favorite thing about fandom: that people love something. You can talk about this thing that you love, you don't have to know every tiny detail because it doesn't matter - it's this thing you love.
My brother and I grew up in the punk scene. It was this whole thing, where people were "more punk than thou." They knew every band, they knew them personally... it was such a big deal. Who cares? We created this sub-genre not because we wanted to be cooler than everyone else, but because we wanted to relate to each other about this one thing that we all love. Genre is my savior. It's the world that I love. It's the world that saves me from the day-to-day bullshit that we all have to put up with.
So what is going on with Hack/Slash?
I actually don't know. I was supposed to be doing the voice for the animated film but it seems [to be on hold]. If they ever do make it, I would love to still be a part of it.
I've got to ask about Dexter. I don't feel like your character, Ryan, had very good closure. Any chance you will be back this season?
I don't know. I would love to go back. I'm glad you said that - I didn't feel like my character had much closure either! Shows like Dexter I feel are a lot more "planned" than shows like Heroes. With Heroes, I was supposed to be there for two episodes, but they liked me, and I ended up doing 17. Dexter, they kind of always knew my character was going to go in episode four. I'd like to think that people love me and I became very memorable and they want to bring me back. I hope they bring me back.
I feel like there was such much in the air. Like, where were they going with all the Ice Truck Killer memorabilia?
I don't know. All I know is, as an actor, is that like, I'm on for four episodes then I'm out.
Is there anything else you are working on?
Always! I'm writing a slasher comic book with my brother for IDW. It's called Let's Play God.. It's our third comic book together. I have a couple movies coming out. One is a disaster-thriller called Beach War, and the other is called The Baytown Disco.