The Sinners is the directorial debut of actress Courtney Paige who also penned the script, produced, and did plenty more behind the scenes to boot. The film follows a group of seven girls who have been nicknamed “The Sins” by the narrow-minded and strictly religious denizens of their small town. After being betrayed by one of their own, these scorned young women take it upon themselves to exact bloody revenge. Murder and mayhem soon ensue. Kaitlyn Bernard and Brenna Llewellyn are technically co-leads, playing Grace and Aubrey respectively.
Related: The Sinners is an Impressive Directorial Debut from Courtney Paige [Review]
Without spoiling the fun, suffice to say they each have a massive stake in how the film – a murder-mystery thriller at its core – plays out; Grace as the closest thing it has to a protagonist and Aubrey as the narrator, who fills in the blanks for the audience along the way. Wicked Horror sat down virtually with both actresses, over Zoom, to chat female empowerment, nineties girl gang movies, being too scared to watch horror films they’re not actually in, and plenty more besides.
WICKED HORROR: Let’s start off with a bit of a softball question, to get the ball rolling. How did you both get involved with the movie in the first place?
KAITLYN BERNARD: It’s kind of a funny story actually. I did an acting class with Courtney [Paige], the director’s, producer at the time and then Courtney reached out to me via Instagram and said she was writing this script, she told me a little bit about it and I thought it sounded really awesome. Then she told me, she was thinking about casting me as Grace in this project and I was like okay, awesome – I hadn’t seen the script or anything at this stage, she was just telling me about it – and that was in December. I got an audition in March and I wasn’t able to go into the room for it because I was in L.A. for pilot season and they were casting for The Sinners out of Vancouver. I ended up having to send a tape for Grace and…yeah that was that.
BRENNA LLEWLLYN: My process, like most actors, get this self-tape request, but it was for a different Sin, not mine, and then I got a call-back after that for another Sin. Then they wanted me to do a cold read for Grace. And finally, they were like, now we want you to read these sides, for Aubrey, because we want you to submit a self-tape for that. And as soon as I got home and read the sides, I knew that this was the part I wanted. I just sent in my tape, crossed my fingers and a month later I got the good news.
WICKED HORROR: I was gonna say, Aubrey is kind of the role – no offence to you, Kaitlyn – but that’s the big one. Although I suppose you guys both have the meatiest roles in the movie, really. It’s tough because you’re kind of both Final Girls in a weird way.
KAITLYN BERNARD: [laughs] We’ve done a couple interviews today and it’s so hard not to give away any spoilers because there’s just so much going on in the film with both of our characters.
WICKED HORROR: Totally. And because we’re a horror site I can’t really dance around that topic too much. But just to keep it a little more general, in case anybody reading this doesn’t want the movie totally spoiled, what was it that initially attracted you to the project? Was it having a female director, it being female-fronted, just the whole female-led aspect in general? ‘Cause that’s definitely what drew me in, as a viewer.
KAITLYN BERNARD: It was a combination of things. Primarily female cast, female director and writer, but also that the film itself had that cult classic nineties feel to it, like something like Jawbreaker or Heathers. I grew up watching those kinds of movies and I always wanted to be in a movie like that. I also loved the seven deadly sins aspect, too.
BRENNA LLEWLLYN: Similarly, for me, I’ve always wanted to be in a kind of cult classic teen girl type movie. I grew up watching them too and idolizing those actors, those characters, so getting to play one was a dream. The script was wonderful too, specifically the character of Aubrey, I just felt so drawn to her. But the fact there were so many female roles as well as a female director, female writer, female producers, it was an exciting breath of fresh air to get to work with.
WICKED HORROR: Is there a noticeable difference to working on a female-led set?
BRENNA LLEWLLYN: I think so, yeah. It’s a very different atmosphere, a different energy. You feel safer. Growing up, we’re so affected by men being in charge of everything and the rampant misogyny that exists in the world, so getting to work in a female-led environment just automatically feels safer. Everyone is just uplifting each other too. It definitely feels different.
KAITLYN BERNARD: I can totally agree with that. I think it depends on the cast and the director but, with this project in particular, we bonded together really quickly as a family. Courtney herself is such a hardworking, determined person – she’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever worked with, in fact – and I think having that mindset, that attitude, going into it really helped create that uplifting, empowering community on set.
WICKED HORROR: In male hands, the movie definitely could’ve had a very different vibe to it. Particularly with the whole catholic schoolgirl element.
KAITLYN BERNARD: For sure. I think it just depends on the director. What was especially cool about The Sinners was that Courtney wrote the script too, so she had a vision. These characters were all her babies, she drew them from her own experiences she had growing up. Her being an actor, too, was really great for us as actors because she was able to communicate with us on a different level than directors who don’t have any experience with acting. She’s been in front of the camera and behind it, so that was very helpful too.
BRENNA LLEWLLYN: Sexuality was portrayed very differently here than if a man had’ve directed it. With a male director, there would have been a lot more gratuitous stuff going on but every aspect of sexuality onscreen, Courtney made sure it had a genuine reason for being in there.
WICKED HORROR: Kaitlyn, you mentioned Jawbreaker and Heathers, I reckon there’s a bit of The Craft in there too, and it got me thinking that there’s a difference between something being stylized and something being sexualized. It’s a very fine line, but you definitely notice it more watching something as a woman than guys probably do.
KAITLYN BERNARD: That’s so true. That’s actually a really good point.
WICKED HORROR: Changing gears slightly, what was the biggest challenge of the shoot for you guys?
KAITLYN BERNARD: For me, with horrors and thrillers in general, they’re very emotionally and physically demanding. You kind of have to be on all the time. Working long hours, every single day, for 17 days and having so many scenes where I’m crying and screaming does get very draining after a while, as much as I love doing that emotional and physically demanding work, it does get tiring and it does have an affect on your mental health. That was probably the biggest challenge, just staying on all the time because we had such a tight shooting schedule, and the turnarounds were so tight, just making sure you were in that place you needed to be to shoot a scene was the most challenging part for me.
WICKED HORROR: You do get pretty wrecked by the end too, to be fair.
KAITLYN BERNARD: [laughs] Yeah!
BRENNA LLEWLLYN: I was lucky because I had a lot of days off set, so I had time to just relax in the hot tub and the sauna [laughs]. My challenges were often spaced out and rewarded in a sense, but definitely carrying that emotion for 12 hours at a time, you feel it in your whole body no matter how much you’re moving around, you just feel so ached and tired by the end of it. But you’ve got to bring it around with you, and be ready for every take.
WICKED HORROR: Trying not to take it home with you has to be tough too and trying to rest up in between.
BRENNA LLEWLLYN: Exactly. I feel like, as humans, a lot of us are addicted to emotion so, part of it, when you’re done and you’re wrapped, you almost want to be like that’s it? I want to give more, I want to keep feeling that emotion. It’s really important to separate yourself and just know that you don’t need to keep feeling that, you can let it go.
WICKED HORROR: On the other side, what was the best part of the shoot?
KAITLYN BERNARD: So many things. It’s hard to pick one particular thing, but I think how close we grew as women, the cast and the crew, over the course of the shoot. We were all staying in this small town together, so it was fun to spend days off together, on the weekends, just hanging out and doing fun things together. Those are some of my favorite memories from shooting.
BRENNA LLEWLLYN: All the bonding was wonderful offset and on. We all stayed together and did a lot of dancing to Ariana Grande [laughs]. It was really fun.
WICKED HORROR: Are you guys horror fans?
BRENNA LLEWLLYN: I am! I love the adrenaline it gives me. I’m not so much into blood and guts – the Saw movies aren’t for me – but anything with proper jump scares and spooks and darkness, give it to me. I want my heart rate to rise.
KAITLYN BERNARD: It’s funny because I’ve got a lot of thrillers and horror on my slate, but I’m not a huge horror fan myself because I don’t like being scared, I can’t sleep at night, I have nightmares, so I don’t like watching horror movies. I love being in them because of the physical and the emotional demand that we were talking about earlier, but I just hate being scared.
WICKED HORROR: I’ve actually heard that from a lot of actors I’ve interviewed over the years, that they love being in them but they can’t watch horror movies themselves. I wonder if there’s some kind of weird psychological connection there.
KAITLYN BERNARD: Obviously I can watch movies I’ve been in, when I’ve seen the big jug of blood being poured on the actors, and the scene stopping, I know it’s fake but even then I can’t really watch if I don’t know what’s coming. At least in films I’ve been in, when there are jump scares, I know where they are versus just watching a horror film and not knowing what’s coming.
WICKED HORROR: This seems like a weird question to ask during a global pandemic, but do you guys know what you’ve got coming up next, if anything?
Related: Courtney Paige Discusses The Sinners [Interview]
KAITLYN BERNARD: This past year has been really strange, so I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting creatively. My boyfriend, who’s also an actor, and I are working on a short film together that we’re going to shoot over on Vancouver Island next month hopefully. On top of that, I have some initiatives I’m working on, including a foundation for seriously ill kids to just be kids called Just Breathe, but other than that not doing too much!
WICKED HORROR: None of us are, it’s true.
BRENNA LLEWLLYN: The pandemic for me has brought out a lot of opportunities with my local sort of friend film network, so we’re doing a couple projects, one is a web series about an artist who takes bad men’s eyeballs and puts them into her paintings.
WICKED HORROR: Cool.
BRENNA LLEWLLYN: That should come out shortly, just on YouTube, nothing too crazy. Another project we’re doing is a feature shot mostly over Zoom and it’s set during the pandemic so that should be fun to do, too. Timely!
Catch The Sinners On Demand from February 19, 2021
** This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity