We got to check out Zach Gayne’s Homewrecker as part of the Fantasia Festival over the summer, and were so taken by it that we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interview the film’s star, Precious Chong, about the role of the unhinged Linda and the process of developing this one-of-a-kind horror. Homewrecker played the Toronto After Dark Film Festival last night and continues to make its way through the festival circuit.
BBP: Homewrecker, to me, is about how politeness and an inability to offend can be weaponized. Is there something about that topic that drew you to this project?
PC: Honestly, the theme of politeness didn’t even come up when we wrote it. But now, I can see how it comes through. But it’s so instilled in women to be nice and not hurt people’s feelings even when it goes against our instincts to protect ourselves. Which can be very dangerous, obviously.
BBP: I found the passive-aggressive, overly-polite story to connect with me as a Torontonian in particular. Do you think there’s something about Toronto (where Homewrecker was shot), Canada, or large cities in general that fosters a kind of deep need to avoid conflict?
PC: I think so. I was born in Canada but I grew up mostly in the States and Alex, too, is from both places. I think Toronto has a certain cold politeness that is at odds with Linda’s hot-headedness and also need to be in your face. I moved to Toronto ten years ago and I found it difficult at first. People didn’t smile at me. I was used to Los Angeles where everyone is friendly, even though it can be a little false there. My older sister jokes that it takes ten years to make a friend in Canada. And I think that may be true.
BBP: Alex Essoe and yourself share writing credits with Zach Gayne on Homewrecker. Can you talk about how the script evolved over time?
PC: Zach had the original idea from a while back. I think it was a script based on an article that someone had brought to him to write a script. Anyway, it was a loose premise about two women and it took place in one location and Alex and I had wanted to find something to do together. So in February of 2018, we were all in Los Angeles at the same time and met up and came up with the story beats. Then in April, when Zach got back to Toronto, he and I met and wrote out the script because we knew we had a firm deadline. My boyfriend was going out of town at the end of June for two weeks and that was our window to shoot it in our house. We would send versions to Alex who was in Los Angeles and she’d give us her input and we were always open to improv on the set, but it got so tight schedule-wise that we ended up shooting the script we wrote, pretty much. Zach had this idea to write the scenes in the rooms where the action took place, so we mostly did that when we were at my house.
BBP: I think it’s awesome that you got to shoot in your own home. Knowing that, I think the way you move through the house felt really natural and authentic for that reason. Were there any particular challenges you found with shooting in your own space?
PC: It was challenging because it got pretty chaotic. We tried to keep order but there was stuff everywhere. And we’d have to move the equipment from room to room as we needed. Even though I was going to renovate, I didn’t want to completely trash my place so when the sledgehammer came out, it got tense. Zach and I got into fights because he wanted to smash a hole into my cupboard and I wasn’t into it. I didn’t think it would smash like he wanted. That’s what special effects are for, but we didn’t have the time or money. We didn’t have disagreements about where the scenes should take place because the house isn’t that big. I think originally I wanted the house to feel like a hoarder’s but we didn’t have the time to fill it up with stuff. But I’m happy how it looked in the end. There was a huge storm when trees were falling down and we used that as our establishing shot. All these fallen tree branches in front of my house. Of course the morning we were shooting it the city came to start cleaning it up! Zach begged them to wait for an hour!
BBP: In many ways, Homewrecker is a hugely physical role for you. How did you prepare to inhabit Linda’s manic personality? Did you draw on any other film roles or other influences to inform your portrayal?
PC: Honestly, I was wearing a lot of hats making this movie so there wasn’t a lot of prep; at least, not conscious prep. I take a lot of ballet classes and yoga so that was already incorporated. I loved Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? So I think that was an influence. I think it’s fun to be an age where I can start doing these more intense characters. I’ve always been drawn to that. And Jack Nicholson in The Shining was something I thought of because of the sledgehammer. It was fun to be that character in the movie. It’s not something as a female actress you get a lot.
BBP: I think Homewrecker has something important to say about how many people (women, in particular) often prioritize being polite over being safe. What’s one takeaway you’d like a young woman to get from the film?
PC: That’s funny, I think both women in the movie suffer from the constraints of what they think society expects from them. As for politeness, yes, always listen to your instincts. I love the podcast My Favourite Murder, and true crime in general, and they talk about how if you feel unsafe or get that tingly ‘this is wrong’ feeling, regardless of how nice the other person seems or you don’t want to be mean, you gotta say ‘f- it’ and take care of yourself. Sometimes it’s essential to be ‘mean’ in order to stay alive. Right?