'Pet Sematary' Star Amy Seimetz On Her Favorite Passage From The Book And A Special Night At A Childish Gambino Concert [Interview]

The new version of Pet Sematary is a little more intimate than the average horror movie. Staying true to the spirit of Stephen King's book, there's about as much drama as horror in Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer new version of the classic story. Especially in the first hour, the filmmakers take their time to make the Creed family a believable unit with both joy and pain in their lives.

Kolsch and Widmyer enlisted exceptional actors to bring these characters to life again, including actor, writer, and filmmaker, Amy Seimetz. Seimetz, who directed Sun Don't Shine and co-created Starz's The Girlfriend Experience, first read the book when she was eight years old, so you could say she's been preparing for this role a long time. Recently, she told us about performing her favorite passage from the book, working with Ridley Scott, and her moving experience at a Childish Gambino concert.

I think the movie gets the spirit of the book right by making the heartbreak as intense as the scares. 

Yeah, that's what it was supposed to mean. As a kid I read it when I was eight and it was, of course, when you're a kid you want to read about zombies and stuff since you think they might exist, but that was just the horror of the idea that a parent lost a child, and then putting myself in to the position of, the child that might die. Then in addition to that, in King's writing and revisiting it as an adult, King's writing is so acute and so accurate, it's so perfect and on point, in exploring grief and loss and the guilt that comes with that and the desire to see that person just one more time. When you lose somebody, having lost somebody at that age I was reading it again and I thought, this is a really, really accurate portrayal of grief.

What else stood out to you revisiting the book as an adult?

All of his books are incredibly human, but of all the books that I read when I was eight... You know, it's really funny I'm doing all of these interviews and I'm like, I read it when I was eight and they go, what were your parents thinking? [Laughs] And I'm like, no, they're good parents and I feel really bad that I might be throwing my parents under the bus, but they were just excited that I was reading and they talked to me, like if I was scared about something.

It was interesting because I would read "Cujo" when I was a kid, and that was a dog and you could equate it with rabies or something. And then "Christine" which is a car that comes to life and then "IT" which is the clown, which is scary, but this is dealing with something, the loss of a child, this is very, very upsetting and even King said that it was disturbing to him, not because of the zombies, but because exploring what it would be like if his own child died. He felt guilty even doing that and shelved it for a while.

What was it like, as a fan of the book, seeing Kevin and Dennis create that sense of atmosphere on set?

Well, I was a big fan of those guys and Starry Eyes, I thought that they, in the same way with this version of Pet Sematary, the tone is so important and so good and haunting and they are really good at tension. Starry Eyes was the same but also what it did, it was really playful and funny. There were parts of it that were I wouldn't say are comedic because I don't want to mislead anyone.

It's got some dark comedy.

It's a dark comedy, well it kinda is, in this really f***ed up way, but so I was a big fan of how they used comedy in Starry Eyes, so that was one of the reasons why I was excited to do this. I knew they had handle on tone in general, and so it was great as an actor that directors have a tone and a vision in mind because then you can really trust fall into them. Then you understand your performance will be supported by the tone that they're going for. They didn't shy away, even in our discussions, they didn't shy away from any of that grief or the heaviness of it. Which I was really appreciative of 'cause that's so important, especially in the book and the prior movie. You have to care about what happens with these people in order to get the full effect of what Pet Sematary is about, you have to care that they lost a child and you have to care that this family is getting torn apart because of loss, in order to be scared for them when shit hits the fan.

What were some scenes from the book you were really curious to see how they'd be executed on-screen?

I as a performer, I was wondering how I would do my favorite passage.

What's your favorite passage?

Grief is so manic and your emotions, you could go crazy, but there's a great passage in the book where Rachel is telling Louis for the first time that she's bottling it up and then talks about what it's like growing up with a sick sister, and then also when her sister died and the guilt that came with that.

Once she starts talking about it, she just doesn't want to talk about it. She wants to deny that it happened 'cause it's so painful, once she starts talking about it she can't stop, and she just runs the gamut from crying to laughing maniacally, to anger, to kind of despondent and this wild rollercoaster of emotions, just telling him the story of her childhood and the guilt that she felt of wanting, actually feeling like she actually wanted her sister to die. So that the suffering could end for her sister, but also for herself and the guilt of that, and I just think it's such an accurate portrayal of the emotions that come out when you lose somebody or you've lost somebody.

It's so messy and it's so unpredictable and it's not just crying. You are having the full range of emotions that any human being could be capable of, you're having so many emotions and it's my favorite, favorite passage and I identify with it so deeply 'cause when I lost my dad I kept thinking I could schedule a nervous breakdown. I'd be like, "Oh next weekend, I'll just grieve for the weekend and have a nervous breakdown and then I'll get over it." And nobody tells you that, no, you're slowly having a nervous breakdown and you're already doing it and guess what those emotions don't go away.

You never know, it could be years later when it happens.

Exactly, exactly. That's what I thought, but as a performer, I was looking at it like, this is the best, but then I was like wait, I have to do that [Laughs].

[Laughs] So how did it feel that day when you shot it? What was take one like for you?

You know, sometimes it's funny. Sometimes the scenes you're most intimidated by because you've been thinking about them so much, you actually like the first take. You just have to jump into it, so the first take I just jumped in to it and went for it and I think we shot...it was one of those scenes that everyone was afraid about including myself, but because it's this big monologue, I just jumped in and went for it.

And because I'd been thinking about it for so much and I had that personal connection... I'm not bragging by the way, there are other scenes that I did not nail on the first take, but in that particular one, I was so afraid of it and really, really wanted to do it right, not just for myself but also for Stephen King too, because it's my favorite passage of writing.

So I think I'd been obsessing about it in my head and visualizing it that when I went for it. With these things you just have to jump right in the emotional stuff and when I went for it, they all poured out, all of this stuff that I was obsessing about of the grief and hitting these notes right and all that stuff so its like five pages of talking so.

Is it a similar experience when you're directing? Is it usually the smaller things you're not worrying about that are the bigger challenges?

Definitely. The bigger things everyone's obsessed with getting them right and then you have all these meetings and pre-production about the big pieces, the set pieces, and so it's sometimes these connective tissue scenes that you need in order for that. In order to earn those big scenes, it's those little things leading up to the big scenes that sometimes get ignored, then it's when you're on set you're like, "Oh no, wait, this is a way more important thing because that payoff that you've been worried about can't happen unless you do those little moments leading up to it." So I think that I've gotten better with that. I'm good at learning through trial and error [Laughs].

That's a good thing.

Yeah, I don't think there's any other way, honestly. I would say this to young filmmakers, you just kinda have to screw up, you have to f*** up a lot and then next time around you learn. You won't forget when you f*** up, you know [Laughs].

As a filmmaker, I say this to my DP that not every moment can be a big moment, if it's your only big moment then there is no big moment. You have to remember these small little moments of connective tissue in order to make the whole body of the film.

Sun Don't Shine is a very unsettling movie, so I'd love to see what a Stephen King adaptation from you would look like. Does he have any books that you would maybe want to adapt? 

I get asked now and at first, I said in interviews, "I've always done my original stuff," but now I've said it and I can't stop thinking about it, which is doing Stand by Me but having it be all girls. There's the anxiety, because all my stuff is always very anxious filmmaking, but the anxiety of growing up a teenage girl. I love that age, the age between which is what the original movie and the book is the age between being a child and becoming a man or being a child becoming a woman. Because it's so confusing and it's so scary and I think about middle school and it makes me nauseous, you know.

I really enjoyed your episodes of Atlanta. That show has such a great atmosphere and tone. What was it like working with that style?

Those guys, I'm such a fan of, I love their brains. Hiro Murai and Donald Glover are the ones that write and run the show, and Stephen Glover too. Donald's brother writes, and he's such a dear, he's so wonderful. They're just such weirdos, that's why I appreciate them so much. They don't really give a f*** what people expect from them, they just wanna make something interesting and Donald in every atmosphere, not only on that show but also in his music, in his performances. I don't know if you've ever got to see his concert.

I saw him perform last year, and it was incredible. 

Oh my god. I'd like to shoutout to Christian [Sprenger], the DP, because that's a big part of how that show looks the way it does. Christian and I were sitting in the front row, and Hiro was there too, and we were sitting in the front row and the post-supervisor, Kaitlin [Waldron], and the editors were there as well. We were all sitting in the front row, and you know, we work with Donald, we're on set, I directed Donald, he's so grounded, he's a superstar but he's so grounded and he's such a goofball and always thinking about how he can make the scene deeper and is really grounded.

So we're sitting there in the audience waiting for Childish Gambino. I'm sorry, I can't call him Donald when he's on stage 'cause it's just something else. We all were looking at each other and we all just started crying because... Kaitlin, the post-supervisor, put it best, she goes, "That was like learning that your friend knows how to fly." It was so mind-blowing, that we were witnessing something incredible here; it was like if your friend was Prince.

It was that moving, and I guess, I was just crying 'cause it was so unbelievable to see your friend who you love and you care about so much and that you've collaborated with just reach their full potential and use everything in their body. I mean, his dancing for two and a half hours and singing, and the stage direction and the lights, it was incredible, but it really did feel like, she's correct, it really felt as if we'd discovered that Donald knew how to fly. It was mind-blowing.

He's singular, but watching him reminded me of David Byrne or James Brown, just witnessing that level of artistry and showmanship. 

Oh my god, yeah. And then to be there and know him and then be sitting in this giant stadium of people screaming, it was just so surreal, like I felt it was a weird acid trip.

Another experience I wanted to ask about was Alien: Covenant. Danny McBride recently told me what a learning experience working for Ridley Scott was for him. Did you have a similarly meaningful experience?

Yes. I mean, it's Ridley Scott. Because I direct and I am very scrappy, I was inspired because he runs his crew so efficiently. That's the thing, I had never been on a set that big, so the thing I kept thinking in my head was, I don't know what a hundred and fifty million dollars or half of it would make for; it might as well be a billion dollars because it just seems like monopoly money to me [Laughs]. I didn't think I would know how to do that because it just seemed so excessive to me coming from independent film, but then walking on to the set and seeing how efficient he ran his crew and each department was constantly working. He's famous for we get on set at 9, we're done by 5 at the latest.

You're on this giant set, but he's also like, there's no reason for this to take longer than this amount of time, and he does it. It's not like we're missing pages, we're hitting our days. He sets up five cameras all around, like that scene Carmen [Ejogo] and I did, they had a 360-spaceship, and this is what 150 million dollars does, by the way. In 360 spaceship, I'm running and doing it like a play, we're not doing it shot for shot for shot. We did every single day where I run back and forth from the cockpit back to the Medbay, and there are cameras in the cockpit, and so they're all rolling at the same time.

I'm just running and falling and doing all these stunts and we'd do the entire thing and it worked. I was amazed. To be honest, I'd be like, "I don't know, Ridley," like me questioning the director [Laughs]. He would make fun of me and say, "What? You want to f***ing direct this or something?" I was like, I don't know, you're Ridley Scott, I'll do whatever you want. But then it turned out so amazing and it blew my mind, and not only that, but those spaceships are on hydraulics. I could go on and on, but it was so fun and also it opened me up to... It was so inspiring to see somebody who's done so many iconic films but who's still kind of punk rock, a little reckless in a cool way with that money.


Pet Sematary is now in theaters.