As an actress, Brea Grant has enjoyed a prolific and celebrated career. She’s particularly beloved of horror fans, having appeared in everything from Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 to Holidays, Beyond the Gates, Dead Awake, and of course TV’s Dexter. Grant most recently appeared opposite Jeremy Gardner in his moody After Midnight, as well as in Natasha Kermani’s feminist horror story Lucky, for which Grant also wrote the script. The past few years have seen the Texas native take a step back from appearing onscreen, however, to take a more active role behind the scenes.
Aside from scripting Lucky, Grant is a producer in her own right, too. Back in 2013, she released her directorial debut, Best Friends Forever, and it’s been a long wait to see what she’d do behind the camera next. Thankfully, Grant’s sophomore effort, 12 Hour Shift, is a darkly comic delight. Angela Bettis stars as a nurse who moonlights as an organ thief, while David Arquette plays against type as an escaped convict running loose in the hospital, and WWE star Mick Foley enjoys the biggest heel turn of his career as a terrifying crime boss.
Wicked Horror caught up with Grant over Zoom, where her adorable puppy managed to behave right up until the very end of our chat, to discuss women in horror, telling stories that haven’t ever been looked at before, and why the perfect ugly curtains can make an entire room.
WICKED HORROR: First thing I wanna know, just right off the bat here, is where did this crazy idea come from?
BREA GRANT: Yeah, there’s a lot of craziness in this idea! It started with the urban legend about the person who wakes up missing a kidney in a bathtub full of ice and they look at the mirror and it just says, “Go to the hospital.” 12 Hour Shift is kind of my story about what happened to that kidney. I’ve always been fascinated by urban legends and that one really stuck with me. I combined that with where I grew up, in East Texas, and the people that I grew up with, along with my love of the nineties. I’m a nineties kid so I just included everything I loved from the nineties, all the things I remember growing up with, and just combined all that together to come up with this really bizarre, heist movie/dark comedy horror.
WICKED HORROR: Is Mick Foley one of the things you love from the nineties?
BREA GRANT: [laughs] David Arquette and his wife Christina were involved as producers from the beginning. They asked me if there were any wrestlers I wanted to have in the movie and I don’t know that much about wrestling so I had to go back to my childhood. I was like, “what about Mick Foley?” and they were like “yeah, we know Mick, we can get Mick!”
WICKED HORROR: I was nerding out when he showed up. Especially ‘cause he’s totally playing against type here, I mean, he’s known as this big lovable teddy bear but he’s pretty horrible in this movie.
BREA GRANT: He is. He actually came in, read the script, and said he wasn’t sure about doing all the cussing. So we tried a couple times without the cussing but then we ended up adding it in later, just to give him a little bit more edge. Because he’s so nice, you almost need some of the cuss words to fully believe he’s going to do something evil.
WICKED HORROR: For sure. Okay, so, not to get all “female filmmaker” on you, because I’m sure you’re sick of fielding those kinds of questions, but what was the biggest challenge of bringing this movie to the screen?
BREA GRANT: It had been seven years since the first film I directed Best Friends Forever, so I definitely had that second film delay that I feel like a lot of people complain about. But, I will say, with this script, I didn’t actually take it that many places. My producers at HCT Media read it and they said “let’s make this movie” and then we made the movie. Not many people had read it up until that point, so they jumped on it pretty quickly. It was really about finding the right people who believed in me and the right project for those people. There are definitely “female filmmaker issues” that I could really get into [laughs] but for the making of 12 Hour Shift and the actual production, I feel like I was really treated as a filmmaker and they took me seriously from the beginning.
WICKED HORROR: Which is great to hear, because it must meant things are finally changing. On that note, too, this is the second movie I’ve watched in as many weeks [ed note: the other was The Swerve] with a woman of a certain age in the lead role. I don’t even want to say “woman of a certain age” but you know what I mean, and that must mean things are changing, too.
BREA GRANT: Yeah, I think we’ll see even more of it as we get more women behind the camera, too. I’m interested in women over forty, over fifty, over sixty because obviously that’s where I’m headed but also because I think they have really interesting stories to tell. And with someone like Angela Bettis, or even Nikea Gamby-Turner, who’s also over forty, they have so much to bring to the screen. And, for me, I feel like I have so much to learn from them, too. I can write a character of that age but I need them to be able to tell the story. They bring such a gravitas and such interesting dynamics to the roles. I’ve been a twenty year old girl, I thought I was fascinating at the time, and there’s nothing that’s uncool about a twenty year old girl, but to me there’s something really interesting about a woman we haven’t seen.
WICKED HORROR: Back in the day – hell, even in the past 10, 15 years, it was purely those young twenty-something women that were featured in horror movies. And I mentioned in my review of your movie that only a woman could’ve written female characters like this, because men just don’t consider us past a certain point. Take someone like…oh my god, I’m blanking on her name.
BREA GRANT: Barbara Crampton!
WICKED HORROR: Yes, that’s exactly who I mean! Duh, just fell out of my brain there. But yes, Barbara Crampton is the perfect example.
BREA GRANT: She has started the Barbara Crampton revolution! She has just taken over horror in a way that I really respect. Also, a lot of us who are fans of horror can think of the people we loved watching growing up, so we’re more likely to hire them. All of the guys had such crushes on Barbara Crampton in their teen years, so it makes total sense that, when they become filmmakers, they give her a call. I think that will continue to happen, but I would love to see way, way more of it. I love to watch movies with people over fifty or over sixty, it’s just so interesting to me, and those just aren’t the stories that get told.
WICKED HORROR: Especially in horror movies, you don’t typically see older people in these kinds of situations. I actually just watched one with an older couple as the antagonists, and it was super interesting, because they’re like these sweet little grandparents but they’re also evil [ed note: the movie in question is Anything for Jackson].
BREA GRANT: And that’s great, because they’ve got a whole different set of fears and a whole lifetime of dealing with those fears. They’re probably going to be better at dealing with monsters because they’ve lived longer lives.
WICKED HORROR: Exactly. Right, so, we’ve talked about what your challenges were on this movie but, on the flipside, what are you most proud of about 12 Hour Shift?
BREA GRANT: Well, we made it for a lot less than people probably think we made it for, we didn’t have very much money at all. We would definitely be considered on the micro-budget side of things. So, I think what we pulled off is really good considering we didn’t have a special effects artist. We had a very, very small crew, the lighting crew consisted of two people, so it was a very small movie. My producers made a dolly for us to use out of stuff they bought at Home Depot, we did not have a traditional filmmaking experience, so I’m really proud of what we pulled off. And then, for me personally, I come from an acting background and I’m really proud of what we did with the actors and the amount of freedom we were able to give them. That was really important to me, to be able to stick to that, and I think I did. The actors all really seemed really happy with what they did in the end.
WICKED HORROR: It’s definitely an actors’ movie, it’s very performance and character driven for sure.
BREA GRANT: Well, that’s the goal!
WICKED HORROR: Angela Bettis, in particular, is obviously the standout. Did you always have her in mind for the lead role?
BREA GRANT: I didn’t actually, I’ve just been a fan of hers for a really long time and I’m obsessive about my future goals and I keep a running list of actors I want to work with and she’s always been on it, so I reached out to her and offered the movie and she responded to it.
WICKED HORROR: I know we briefly mentioned David Arquette. He’s really playing against type here too. Was he always going to play that role, or did he end up doing it as a result of being on the movie as a producer?
BREA GRANT: He and his wife were on as producers from the beginning and we always knew David was going to be in it, we just weren’t sure what role he was going to play. And that one felt the most interesting to me. To see him in that role, he’s such a nice person, and he generally plays these sorts of goofy guys so to see him play this badass I thought would be really interesting. Plus he has the wrestling background so I knew he could do the physical stuff.
WICKED HORROR: What about that location, is it a real healthcare facility? I figured it must be, since it was so decked out.
BREA GRANT: It is a working hospital, but they hadn’t renovated that floor since the nineties. They were about to renovate it but my producers went to them and said “please don’t renovate this floor yet, let us shoot a movie on it first” so we got in there and shot for a month right before they renovated. I think that location would look totally different now. It was empty when we got there, though, so we went around Jonesboro, Arkansas finding various old lab equipment and old hospital equipment. The hospital itself actually had an entire back building full of old equipment they didn’t use anymore and they gave us access to it. Shooting in a small town is so crazy because nowhere in Los Angeles would ever give you this kind of access and we got to go in and pick out old machines and stuff. But what you probably can’t tell from watching the movie is that we only had a certain number of hospital beds and we would just move them from room to room as we shot. The hallways were all the same hallway, we just re-decked it every time, we used the same equipment over and over again, but that’s how hospitals are, it’s the same equipment over and over so it worked.
WICKED HORROR: You totally can’t tell it’s the same stuff. I wonder if I watched it again, though, would I be like “hmmm…that looks familiar”
BREA GRANT: I’ve seen that bed before! [laughs] Actually, one great find that I haven’t gotten to talk about yet is the really hideous curtains in the nurses’ break-room that my wonderful production designer Gypsy Taylor found. They were wrinkled and gross and they smelled bad but they were so cool that we just thought they added so much to the break-room that we just had to put them in there and I think that just added so much and really made it feel like a different place.
WICKED HORROR: Well break-rooms are quite depressing places in general, so to capture the proper mood you need the proper…ugly curtain.
BREA GRANT: Yeah, exactly. There were a lot of goodwill trips too, to find ugly paintings to put in the backgrounds, too. That really helped set the scene.
WICKED HORROR: I can’t let you go without mentioning Lucky, because I just loved it so much and it spoke to me on such a visceral level, especially the amount of gaslighting. Where did that particular story come from?
BREA GRANT: That one was much harder to get made, it was at a bunch of different places before Epic finally greenlit it. It’s based on some experiences I had…with a stalker. It kind of was me working through that in some ways and then also in some ways reflecting on where we all are in terms of gaslighting, feminism, white women and feminism and our privilege within that world, and in some ways the self-help book world which I find super fascinating. It’s a lot of interests of mine that culminated in this bizarre surreal script that Natasha did an amazing job with.
WICKED HORROR: Was it more of a challenge to play that role too, then, and to put yourself back in that vulnerable position?
BREA GRANT: I mean, I’m very fortunate at this point because I get to choose what I act in. When Epic decided to make the movie, they wanted Natasha to direct, and they wanted me to act in it and I wasn’t sure for a while. But I wanted to stay involved with it because I wanted to see that movie through to the end. It was tough going back and doing it, there were days that were tougher than others, but Natasha is so great, and she creates such a welcoming and open atmosphere that I felt like I could really step back and focus on the acting and also still have a good time on set and work through my own stuff, too, at the same time. I had a lot of space for that, a lot of emotional space that I feel like other directors might not provide. I can’t say enough good things about how she made that movie.
WICKED HORROR: Again, it’s different when there’s a woman in charge. There’s a deeper level of understanding.
BREA GRANT: That one actually, a lot of the key positions were women, our two main producers were women, it was a very community atmosphere and everybody was just very aware of what was going on and what the movie meant. We had so many talks through casting about what was important for us to see onscreen. It was just a really great environment and hopefully exactly what movies will be like going forward. I loved so much just working with Natasha and seeing how she organised her sets, because it was really helpful for me.
WICKED HORROR: It should be a collaborative atmosphere, particularly on a movie like this, which is dealing with such a sensitive topic.
BREA GRANT: Exactly. But usually, it’s not. I mean, as an actor, I’ve been on so many sets where I feel like I don’t even know what’s going on at all, the director tells me nothing, even if it’s a really sensitive scene. I’ve been on sets where the director doesn’t even want to talk through the nude scenes with the actors. The things that you would just expect everyone to talk through and talk through to the point where we’re all just tired of talking about them just so we’re all comfortable with it, they’re not talked about at all, and that’s where we’re getting in trouble. On indie sets, we don’t have HR departments, so we have to be responsible for that ourselves.
WICKED HORROR: We all have to be more aware, that’s the thing.
BREA GRANT: Exactly, we all need to work together.
Catch 12 Hour Shift from October 2, 2020. Lucky does not have a release date yet
** This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.