Carmen Ejogo stars in the thriller It Comes at Night, which hits theaters tomorrow, and the trailer is already terrifying people. Also starring the up-and-coming actor Kelvin Harrison Jr., the film follows a family facing an unnatural threat that they will do anything to protect themselves against.
As for Ejogo, she has been on a movie whirlwind. In less than a year, she has appeared in three films, and It Comes at Night is another notch in her resume that's packed with thrillers. We talked with Carmen about the political message hidden deep within It Comes at Night, the interracial relationship at the center of the film (which is a non-issue as far as the storytelling goes) and working with the late, great Whitney Houston.
When I first was approached by Trey Edward Shults, the writer and director, to do this film, it was obvious that if I was cast, it would be an interracial couple and that the son would have to be someone like Kelvin Harrison Jr. I wasn’t the only actress that he met for the role and I know that he met white actresses, too. So he was cool and open to it being just the best actress for the job. I think that was really awesome and daring for Trey as well — understanding that by casting me as what he thought was the best person for that role, it meant that invariably, he was then going to have to make his lead, which is Kelvin, in my eyes, to be brown because obviously that’s most likely what would be appropriate. Trey, in my opinion, is representative of, hopefully, where a lot of young, upcoming, new-age film directors are at in terms of their mindset. They’re not living in bubbles or some kind of false reality.
As a person, I grew up on it, so it really is something I haven’t forgotten about in terms of the thrill and satisfaction as an audience member that I know one can achieve by delving into this sort of material. Beyond that, I recognized a while back there is a lot of material, really caricatures in this genre, [that is] easier for someone like me to be [cast in] rather than some other kinds of genres. In some ways, it’s unfortunate, but in others, it’s whatever because I happen to like the genre, so I’m happy to work in it, because this stuff’s really interesting and it stands out.
We really were working on a very dark set and the house that we worked in upstate was this quite dark, wood-paneled home that had belonged to an artist. The rumors were that the attic was haunted. So, I mean, it definitely was one of those movies where the atmosphere started to creep in and although, as a group, we were full of fun and light-heartedness in between takes, there were moments where the atmosphere itself would creep into you.
What’s really interesting to me is that the writer and director, Trey Edward Shults, wrote this several years ago and it was really a piece that — if we’re talking about something being analogous or allegorical — it’s really about his relationship with his father, who was dying at the time that he wrote it. He may have just passed away. So, it’s very much about these cancers and coping, but what is so interesting to me is how the writing is from the heart. Trey also managed to tap into this collective sense of paranoia that we’re all undergoing culturally — in which family can turn in on itself. When I speak on family, I would go beyond just sort of the nuclear, immediate family. I would say the human race turning in on itself in that sometimes paranoia and neurosis that can make it harder to see what’s really happening in front of you. I think there’s a lot of that baiting going on right now, and if there’s any kind of lesson, it was unintentional but it actually, for me, is there in film.
For me, I just got very lucky that I got to make that film with her. That film is very close to my heart for many personal reasons and one of them was that I got to work with her. The film didn’t really have as much of a moment as I think it should have deserved in some ways, but I always love it when someone comes up to me and that is the film they know me from because it was just such a special time in my life of transformation, personally and professionally — so that, to me, was the great gift [before] Whitney passed on and that was my fond memory of her.
It Comes at Night opens in theaters tomorrow.
See Ejogo discuss her previous role in Selma with BET Celebs, above.
(Photo: Rob Kim/Getty Images)