Austin native Zoe Graham has enjoyed a fascinating career trajectory thus far, appearing in take-notice roles in the likes of Boyhood, Secret in their Eyes, and Support the Girls. With Scare Package, though, she’s breaking out in a major way as a Final Girl with a twist. In the final/wraparound short, “Horror Hypothesis,” the actress features as an ass-kicker with intelligence and a no-nonsense attitude who’s mistakenly dismissed as the “slut” of the group early on by Jeremy King’s Rad Chad.
Graham is luminous in the role, marking her out as one to seriously watch in future, particularly when it comes to indie cinema, where she seems to have found her niche thus far and where Graham is sure to nab more leading roles as her profile increases. Wicked Horror caught up with the Scare Package star to talk Final Girls, getting covered in blood for work, and why she can’t bear to watch horror movies.
WICKED HORROR: Oh my god, Zoe and Joey, how cool are we!?
ZOE GRAHAM: I desperately wanted the name Joey back in college because, during one of the first classes, the teacher accidentally called me Joey instead of Zoe and then everyone thought my name was Joey and I rolled with it for a long time. Now, here we are, practically twins.
WICKED HORROR: It is a cool name, especially for a girl. I can only think of two other famous female Joeys [ed note: Joey Lauren Adams and Joey King, also both actresses]. We’re like a pack. At least, in my head, anyway.
ZOE GRAHAM: [laughs]
WICKED HORROR: We’re here to talk about Scare Package, which I just loved so, so much, it’s one of my favorites of the year. I’ve watched it twice now so I’m pretty familiar with it, but for anybody reading at home who doesn’t know what the story is, just set the scene for how your character fits into this whole crazy horror-comedy anthology.
ZOE GRAHAM: There’s a bunch of different segments and they culminate in the last short, which also ties up a thread that’s been running throughout the whole movie, and it takes up the last thirty minutes. I was very lucky to be in that final segment, and to play Jessie, who’s kind of the straight man of that part of the movie. I don’t want to give too much away about Jessie, because some of her characteristics give away other parts of the movie, but it’s a more serious character, the kind who points out how ridiculous the whole situation is within this whole sort of farcical narrative.
WICKED HORROR: I think we need to get into it. Come on. If I ask whether you survive the movie…
ZOE GRAHAM: [after much deliberation] Okay. [dramatic pause] I get to be the Final Girl! [another dramatic pause] It was really thrilling for me, honestly. This is my first horror movie ever so just getting to be the Final Girl in it was awesome.
WICKED HORROR: There you go! We were going to have to discuss it either way because, although you are the Final Girl, you don’t miss out on the movie’s insanely gory death scenes because you get to die several times over, too!
ZOE GRAHAM: Yeah, I really got the best of both worlds there!
WICKED HORROR: The death scenes in Scare Package are gnarly. Was that fun to do for you, was it challenging? Especially ‘cause it’s your first horror movie.
ZOE GRAHAM: They are gnarly, absolutely. In the first audition, which was also the first time I met Aaron B. Koontz, the director, I asked, you know, “how are you gonna do this stuff? Are you gonna do it in post, or are you gonna do it with CGI?” And he assured me that it was all going to be practical so, hearing that, I just knew I had to be a part of this movie because that all sounded so cool. Then, when I got on set, I got to see – they brought a bunch of people in from Oklahoma, who were doing all of the gore, makeup and SFX – and it was so surreal and also awesome to see a corpse version of someone I’d been working with all day just lying on the table with their face punched in. It was cool.
WICKED HORROR: What about getting messy yourself, did you enjoy that side of things? Or are you a clean freak and that kind of mess really freaks you out?
ZOE GRAHAM: [laughs] I think at first I was kind of thinking I’d go home and get really clean at the end of the day, rest up, come back to set and get bloodied up again. But, by the end of the shoot, it was just about submitting to it. A scene that didn’t make the final cut but I’m secretly hoping ends up in special features on the DVD is me just bathed in blood, even more so than before, and at that point you just have to submit. You realise you’re going to be picking blood out of your fingernails for the next year, and out of crevasses for weeks, so you just give in and realise it’s fine.
WICKED HORROR: I feel like there must be something really satisfying about getting messy, though, because watching horror characters start off the movie looking all clean and proper and then watching them get super messy by the end is really satisfying. So actually doing it must be really satisfying too, right?
ZOE GRAHAM: Totally. I think, also, because my segment was only thirty minutes long, I could sort of commit to getting messy and it was fine. If I was living on a horror movie set, on location, for weeks or months and every single day I had to get bloodied up and then also get part of it scratched off or something like that, maybe then it would be a little bit frustrating. But I had no issue on this set, I thought it was great. And part of that, too, is the people I was working with who were actually applying all the makeup and dealing with fake scars and blood and stuff like that, they were all super cool. We were just hanging out while they worked and talking about our lives so that changes your experience, too.
WICKED HORROR: Of course, and I’m sure the fact that it’s a funny, silly segment changes it too. It’s not this dark, serious segment.
ZOE GRAHAM: Totally, totally.
WICKED HORROR: How does doing a short like this differ from doing a full-length movie, or is there any difference when you’ve less time like this?
ZOE GRAHAM: To some extent, there’s less… In projects I’ve been involved in, full-length movies, there have been more chemistry reads between different actors before each person was cast. On this, most of us were cast separately. Aaron had to be really careful with who he cast, to make sure that person was bringing exactly what he wanted that character to bring. I think that worked out really beautifully. It could’ve gone south, just because a lot of us had never met before, and we all came from really different backgrounds of work, too. But it worked out really well with us just playing off each other’s strengths and really working with what we knew and that being really perfect for our characters.
WICKED HORROR: It totally works for you guys, in the final short, only just meeting each other for the first time. How did you originally get involved in the first place?
ZOE GRAHAM: I really just auditioned. I had never met Aaron before and he cast a few people out of Florida, Austin, maybe L.A., too…. But, anyway, I met him at that first audition and I just felt like we really clicked. I loved his directing style, how personable he was and how easy to talk to, so right away I was like “I’m in, sign me up.”
WICKED HORROR: Were you always aiming for this role?
ZOE GRAHAM: I might’ve read for both of the female roles, but after our conversation I was thinking “I really want to be the Final Girl, that would be awesome” so that’s how I kind of ended up as Jessie.
WICKED HORROR: I know this is your first horror movie, but are you a fan of horror yourself?
ZOE GRAHAM: I wish I was. I’m deeply afraid of everything scary. I was actually trying to dissect this yesterday and I’m wondering if maybe it’s just that I get too invested in movies, I’m an easy target for crying movies, too, I’ll cry at Up or whatever, so it’s the same with scary movies. As soon as I turn out my bedroom light at night, I’ll see whatever I saw in a movie, even if it’s not technically meant to be scary – I remember being really terrified of Willy Wonka, as a child, for example.
WICKED HORROR: That was super scary, though, to be fair.
ZOE GRAHAM: I agree! People are always like “oh, it’s the tunnel scene, right?” But it’s not, it’s the entire thing. It was very scary for me. So, unfortunately, I can’t watch too many horror movies or else my life will be disrupted. I won’t sleep, I won’t feel safe in my own home. But I do love listening to movie analysis podcasts about horror movies and then afterwards I’ll go on IMDb and read all the summaries and all the reviews. I wish I could be more part of the horror community but at this point I’m not.
WICKED HORROR: That’s so funny, because I was just listening to this great podcast called Ruined, it’s two women hosting it and one is a horror fan, the other is totally terrified of them, and so the whole premise of the podcast is just that she ruins it for the other one who’s too scared to watch, so she doesn’t have to.
ZOE GRAHAM: That’s awesome. I’ll have to check it out. There’s another one, called I think Scaredy Cat, which is one person who loves horror movies and one person who’s scared of them so he’s kind of easing him in from least scary to most scary. I might start a watch-along with that podcast and try to build up my tolerance, but we’ll see.
WICKED HORROR: You’ve watched Scare Package at least, though, right!?
ZOE GRAHAM: Oh, of course! I can handle horror-comedy pretty well, I’ve seen Cabin in the Woods and stuff, and while those kinds of movies still get me, I’ll still jump and stuff and maybe scream a little bit, I see all the value in it. As well as movies that are just straight terror, it’s just that the scarier it is, the less likely I am, personally, to watch it.
WICKED HORROR: You know, as lifelong horror fans, we were so scared as kids that we spend our entire lives trying to chase that high and it almost makes me jealous of people like you who scare easier because you guys get that high every time you watch a scary movie.
ZOE GRAHAM: [laughs] I’m very easily scared though. I have a rule in my house that my boyfriend can’t jump scare me because I just hate it so much and he, of course, loves it. So he’s allowed one scare every few months and that’s how we maintain our scare quota.
WICKED HORROR: Oh man it’s the exact opposite in my house. My partner just thinks I watch the most horrible stuff, to the extent that he will not watch anything with me anymore because my tolerance is so messed up, I’m just like “oh it’s only twenty minutes of torture, it’s fine.” And he’s like “why are you watching this soul-destroying movie!?”
ZOE GRAHAM: How do you do that, though? When you’re going to sleep, how are you not thinking about that person who just got squashed or whatever? I don’t understand!
WICKED HORROR: Sometimes I do, but I usually worry more for myself. The last time I can remember being affected by a movie was the 2018 Halloween reboot. I vividly recall not being able to walk home alone after watching that.
ZOE GRAHAM: If I watch ten minutes of a horror movie, even the first ten minutes, and you just see someone watching someone from outside, for weeks afterwards I’ll be looking out the window wondering whether someone is watching me from outside.
WICKED HORROR: Horror definitely affects women in a more visceral way too because we never feel completely safe as it is.
ZOE GRAHAM: Absolutely. But I feel like there’s a huge swell of women who are taking lead positions in horror movies, even the first segment in Scare Package is directed by Emily Hagins [“Cold Open”], who’s a female horror director, so I wonder how that’s going to change horror as a genre to have women at the helm of these projects.
WICKED HORROR: Research actually suggests there are more female horror fans than male, and it’s just that they’re only coming to the fore now because everybody my age and slightly younger, who grew up watching these movies, they’re all making their own movies now. So finally it’s kind of come full circle.
ZOE GRAHAM: Whoa! That’s awesome!
WICKED HORROR: Even something as prevalent as the myth of the Final Girl, it’s so important to have those discussions and keep evolving that character for a modern audience, which Scare Package obviously does in a very clever way. Were you aware of the whole idea of the Final Girl prior to playing Jessie?
ZOE GRAHAM: Definitely aware of the sexuality that’s commented on with the Final Girl, you know, with the slutty girl dying and the virginal girl surviving, just because I’ve done more research into gender than necessarily horror, which is where my interests sort of converged on that, but not so much except for the innocence of that character. So, getting to play a Final Girl who doesn’t necessarily represent all those things was really fun for me.
RLJE Films will release Scare Package On Demand, Digital, DVD, and Blu-ray on October 20, 2020
** This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity