Though she’s currently holed up at home in Los Angeles, where she’s kept busy during lockdown by remodelling her bathroom, actress Liana Liberato is having a fantastic 2020. After starring in the moving queer coming-of-age drama To the Stars and impressive Gen Z romcom Banana Split, she’s now leading The Beach House, a brilliant indie horror film about a toxic ecological threat that suffocates a New England seaside resort. It’s a deliberately ambiguous chiller driven by Liberato’s compelling performance as Emily, a young woman with the intelligence and ingenuity to keep adapting to the threat.
Here, the 24-year-old rising star talks about her recent purple patch – as well as her powerful early role in the David Schwimmer-directed sexual assault drama Trust.
So, what attracted you to The Beach House?
“I think what really gravitated me to the movie was the fact my character isn’t your average ‘final girl’. She’s incredibly smart – not that final girls aren’t smart, but I like the way that they really highlighted that part of her character. She gets to show a lot of confusion and frustration and it just feels like a really realistic portrayal of a person in that situation. Also, I’m like the least bookish and sciency person in the world so I thought it would be really challenging to dive into this subject I’ve never known much about before.”
Was it challenging shooting so much of the movie at night?
“It was very cold but also very beautiful. We were shooting in Cape Cod during the offseason so it was very empty and we kind of had the whole beach to ourselves. But shooting also took a big toll on my body because I was carrying another human on my shoulders a lot of the time! And we also had to be sprayed down with glycerin every day, which was super-gross, and I don’t recommend it.”
Was the glycerin to make you look sweaty?
“It was meant to look like sweat, but I think Jeffrey [A. Brown, the film’s director] also kind of wanted the audience to wonder if it actually was sweat. Because of the fog and whatnot [that descends on the beach house], it was meant to be like: ‘Is this really sweat, or is it something else on your body that’s almost sickening to you?’ And on a more practical level, the crew didn’t want to keep spraying us down with water the whole time and glycerin just lasted longer.”
Tell us about Banana Split, your recent teen drama that’s grounded in female friendship
“Well, Banana Split was a movie that had been on my radar for a very long time – almost 10 years. Hannah Marks, who wrote, produced and also starred in it, is my best friend; I grew up with her in Los Angeles. She’d been sharing drafts of this script with me since I was about 15 years old, and I would read the part of Clara for her so she could hear it out loud. And we always had this pipe dream that she and I would be in the movie together. And it was crazy how it all unfolded – I mean, it’s a miracle if a movie even gets made at all.”
You were just 14 when you starred in Trust as a girl who’s groomed and abused by a paedophile. Did playing that role take any kind of toll on your mental health?
“I remember a really specific moment when we were shooting the scene where my character goes to the mall to meet Charlie, the guy she’s been talking to online, for the first time… We had a little break between scenes and I remember walking around the mall and feeling this incredible weight on my chest. I didn’t really understand what was happening, so I looked over at Catherine Keener, who played my character’s mum, and she was so, so helpful. She just said to me: ‘That’s part of the job – it means you’re really into the role, and it’s definitely okay to feel that.’ That was so validating for me and kind of made me not afraid of those feelings.”
Catherine Keener and Clive Owen played your parents in the film, and Viola Davis appeared as a counsellor – did you learn a lot from working with such great actors so early in your career?
“I was so young and when I first met Clive and Catherine, they took me trick-or-treating. So I was just like, ‘Well, these people are fun’. But then after I finished the movie, I missed them so much that I went and watched all their other movies. And that’s when it dawned on me how insane it was that I got to work with them!”
‘The Beach House’ is available now on Shudder