Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Nuns? An Interview with St. Agatha Director Darren Lynn Bousman

Anyone with a love for horror should know the name of Darren Lynn Bousman – the director of such films as Saw II, III, IV, along with Repo! The Genetic Opera and its sequels The Devil’s Carnival and Alleluia! (There’s more, trust me – look the guy up, will ya). His latest jaunt into the land of sadistic nuns is St. Agatha (review), and he was more than kind to give us a few minutes to discuss the film as well as a few other topics so settle in, read on and enjoy!

BW: First off – can you give us a little peek into what the film’s all about?

DB: The film is set in the South in the 1950’s and it was a time where it was a social taboo for single mothers to have children out of wedlock, and it’s a story of a con-woman who tries to leave her family and con a nunnery into staying there until after she delivers her child, then she’d plan to leave. So she goes into this convent to deliver her child only to realize that she’s up against a much more intense, sinister and nefarious con-woman in Mother Superior.

BW: Insanely talented cast that you had at your back, Darren – with Sabrina Kern, Courtney Halverson and Hannah Fierman just to name a few, but I think the standout by far here was Carolyn Hennessy as Mother Superior – she was so expertly wicked in the role. Was she someone that you specifically hunted down to portray this character, or did you have to look around at other actresses?

DB: You know, she fell into my lap and it was one of the most lucky, crazy bits of happenstance – I’ll give you the word on Sabrina first, and this is a crazy story. I always loved how people made it in Hollywood, or how they got their start, and I think Sabrina’s was a crazy one. I met Sabrina off an ad on Backstage, which is a casting thing online, and I was casting for an immersive theater production that I was doing. I direct a lot of immersive theater, and I was looking for an actress for this role, so I put a blind ad up on Backstage West and she responded, not knowing it was me, and she had just recently moved to Los Angeles from Switzerland, and I ended up casting her in “The Tension Experience” – she’d never done a movie in her life, and I loved working with her on “The Tension Experience” so much that I brought her onto St. Agatha to play the title role.

So immediately we had our lead, and if I had a first-timer as my lead actress I needed a veteran – someone that was a bad-ass, ballbusting, evil bitch (laughs), and the line producer said, “Hey, I’ve got this woman that I want you to meet named Carolyn Hennessy. Now, I did not know Carolyn at all, but I’ve had the honor of working with another bad-ass actress in Mother’s Day, being Rebecca De Mornay. I was looking for someone with a more recognizable face originally, and I didn’t know who Carolyn was so I agreed to go see her. So I meet her at a coffee shop and I knew within 6 seconds that she was the one – I was sitting across form her, and she was having tea while I was having coffee, and I got the exact same feeling that I got when I first sat across from Tobin Bell for Saw. She terrified me – and she’s as sweet as pie – one of the sweetest women in the world, but she has a look that will look into your soul and fucking crush it, and I remember sitting across from her and I said, “Stop talking – I don’t need to see anyone else.” So within a week of having my script I’ve got my two main leads, which normally doesn’t happen – there’s been films that I’ve been attached to for seven months before I was able to cast it, and with them it was literally seven days that we had our cast.

BW: In this day and age, horror films are either universally embraced by the fanbase or they’re bashed mercilessly – what in your opinion do you think works in this present time and what doesn’t work?

DB: That’s a good question, and I wish I had an answer to the formula – I think the biggest Rotten Tomato score that I have is 30% (laughs). One thing that I’ve learned about my career is that it’s been very divisive, and I remember I was in Austin and I’d just done Fantastic Fest – we’d just screened Mother’s Day, and it’s one of my favorite films – I fucking loved it, and as soon as the movie ended I started seeing the tweets on Twitter: one said “this was a pile of shit” and another said “Bousman’s best work” and then another said “someone please kill me – I hated every second of it” and another said “holy shit, this was amazing” so I kind of realized this is what my career has been – an extreme love or hate, so I’m not sure I have an answer for that (laughs). I just do shit that I want to see, and shit that I’m watching or liking at the time, and there’s such an oversaturation of films right now – I became an alcoholic as soon as Netflix began upping the amount of titles that they have because I get exhausted looking for stuff on there now (laughs) – there’s too many fucking movies…I just can’t anymore! I think it’s harder to get an audience’s attention because in this day and age if they don’t like your shit, they’ll just turn it off and scroll over to the next movie in the line – there’s no shortage of product, so I think you have to do something different. You can’t rehash a story that’s been told a thousand times over, and you’ve got to come in with a unique take or vision.

In this case there were some key things that made me want to do the movie, and SPOILER ALERT – for those who don’t want to read anything big pertaining to the movie, STOP READING NOW, go watch the movie then come back. You know what honestly excited me about this movie? Strangling someone with an umbilical cord – that made me really happy!

BW: I thought you’d outdone yourself with the tongue-cutting scene, then I saw the umbilical cord strangulation – OUTSTANDING STUFF.

DB: Yeah (laughs) – and you know what was funny was that this was the lowest-budgeted film I’ve ever done, so that means that I didn’t really have the time to prepare that I’d usually have, and I remember when we were going to shoot the umbilical cord scene and no one really thought we were going to shoot it. Originally we had this big fight scene planned out where people were going to be hitting each other with hammers and shit – it was really horrifying, but it was our last day and we were losing daylight and there was absolutely no overtime, and I remember the DP (Joe White) looking at me and he said, “Are we really going to fucking strangle someone with an umbilical cord?” So as we’re talking the sun is going down and we get the word that we’ve got 5 minutes until we lose all light. So we just said, “Fuck it,” and we started strangling with the cord and I looked over at the producers and they were all staring at the ground shaking their heads (laughs) and they said, “We’re going to win a Razzie for this,” and I said, “No way, guys – this is awesome!” I just love movies where there are instances of stuff that’s not only shocking, but there’s stuff that I’ve never seen before, and one of the things that excited me the most was working with Carolyn, and after seeing her in it, I just knew she’d be an iconic villain – everything I just mentioned knocked it out of the park for me.

BW: Last thing – after the release of St. Agatha, what’s going to be keeping you busy down the road?

DB: I always encourage all of your readers to check out the immersive-theater stuff, and I do something that’s very much like the movie The Game starring Michael Douglas – we basically have a company that puts together real-life encounters that you don’t know where the lines of fantasy and reality stop, so we have this thing called “The Tension Experience” and it’s an extremely insane and immersive event where you enter a warehouse and do whatever you want for 3 hours and everyone’s experience is different based on the interactions that you have with people. We just ended up partnering with Joe and Anthony Russo of The Avengers, and we’re now taking this to Vegas in a casino as well, and I love running these things because it encourages the audiences to be more interactive as opposed to just sitting there on your couch watching a movie you’re actually part of it – you’ve got to do everything yourself, and you’re the central person. I also just finished a movie in Thailand called The Death of Me – it’s a really cool film with Maggie Q and Luke Hemsworth, and it’s about an American couple who end up getting trapped on an island and all the antics that happen as they try to get off the island.

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