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SISTER TEMPLATES, UNBRIDLED ENTHUSIASM, AND A STEM
QUEEN FROM THE '50S: AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH
SIERRA McCORMICK ON 'THE VAST OF NIGHT'

Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
May 20, 2020

Framed as an episode of a Twilight Zone-esque series from a bygone era, the sci-fi mystery thriller The Vast of Night follows switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) on an adventure into the unknown against the backdrop of 1950s New Mexico. In the shadow of the Cold War, the two teens investigate an irresistible trail of clues that begins with an enigmatic audio frequency, unearthing long forgotten stories that point to a disquieting possibility of extraterrestrial life.

Anchored by strong performances from its charming leads, this brilliantly understated debut from filmmaker Andrew Patterson boasts a number of intriguing devices in its narrative arsenal, including an experimental sequence with a blacked-out screen; an extensive, seemingly unbroken shot as the camera snakes its way throughout the town; and a pair of captivating monologues in which characters recall eerie chapters from their respective lives.

In this exclusive interview, Sierra McCormick talks about her experience of working on The Vast of Night and putting together her inspired role of Fay Crocker, an intelligent and resourceful young heroine who finds her voice through a love of science and a dream of the future.

The Vast of Night is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.




RadioFree.com: We've already established your deep-seated love of horror...Growing up, how did your relationship with science fiction compare?

SIERRA: I was a fan of science fiction, [but] horror definitely much, much more. I think I was a little more picky about which science fiction movies I really liked and which ones I didn't, whereas horror--especially from age, like, 12 to maybe 15--I would pretty much watch anything and everything I could get my hands on. So horror definitely has a different place in my heart, but I did love science fiction as well growing up. [laughs]

Director Andrew Patterson has commented on how dedicated you were to the role of Fay. What made you want to fight so hard for the chance to play her?

Well, first of all, roles like Fay for actresses just don't come around as often as I would like. She's so multifaceted and interesting and nuanced and exciting, and just so enthusiastic. I was like, "That'd be such a dream to play!"--to be able to get to be this delightful, nerdy, awesome STEM queen in the '50s. So that was pretty attractive. And then also focusing on Fay's innermost qualities, through the script, she reminded me a lot of my younger sister. And so I knew that I would have a really good template to sort of base her on a little bit, or inform my decisions that I made with her character--I kind of had my sister in mind a lot of the time. [laughs] And I knew that it'd be really fun and really interesting to slip into, because my sister and I are very different, and I think Andrew and Jake would attest to the fact that I'm pretty different from Fay. And then added on top of that, she has this wonderful character arc throughout the movie where in the beginning, she's more hesitant to assert herself--she has all these interests and she's unapologetic about them, but she's still kind of timid in situations--then by the end of the movie, she's asserting herself and she's telling Everett what to do and she's leading them on this adventure. And so I thought that was too good an opportunity to let slip by.



Fay is so inquisitive and so passionate about science that she certainly feels like a young woman who is ahead of her time. How do you think she would fare in the year 2020?

Oh, I think she'd fare probably a lot better--you know, obviously it's not perfect, but those sorts of hobbies and careers are much more available to women now than they were. And so hypothetically, in Fay's time, I kind of guess that people might have been talking down to her for being interested in such things, or think it was weird, or think it was unladylike, et cetera, et cetera. And the fact that she probably was getting all of that flack because of the time and the place, and was still so unapologetic and excited to tell anyone who would listen about her interests, was just so inspiring to me. Andrew and I kind of talked about the fact that she might have been ostracized or thought of as weird or different because she was so interested in these, like, typically for that time, "masculine pursuits." And despite that, she's still so excited to talk to Everett about it, so excited to talk to anyone about it. And I thought that that unbridled sort of enthusiasm and excitement, and a complete disregard for how other people perceived your interests, was super, super ahead of her time. [laughs] So I think Fay would fare better here in the 2020s than she did in the '50s!

One endearing aspect of Fay is that she's constantly carrying things as she walks around town, including a bulky case and a large 1950s reel-to-reel recorder. How did a simple detail like that inform your performance and add to her physicality?

[laughs] I'm actually glad you asked, because I haven't really gotten to talk a whole lot about the physicality of Fay! I was playing younger, and so I wanted her to seem kind of small, and I wanted her to seem kind of...not clumsy, but certainly not polished, if that makes sense. And so lugging around the recorder, I would always try to make it a little more awkward than it actually was, and I would try to amp up how heavy it was. (And it was actually heavy, so I didn't really have to do a whole lot of acting there.) But yeah, I always wanted Fay to start the film looking like this little church mouse, kind of physically embodying the fact that she's afraid to assert herself and is still kind of timid. [Meanwhile] Everett has this big, chest-out physicality, he's swaggering around town, he has all this confidence, and I wanted to kind of contrast that with Fay, who, at the start of the movie, doesn't have any of this confidence. And I think Andrew purposely also tried to make me look kind of small and, you know, little. Which isn't hard, I'm already pretty small. [laughs] But when they built some of the sets for the different exteriors and different parts of the town, one of them, they put the doorknob super high. And I was like, "Is this like Suspiria, where you're trying to make all the doors look really big so that I look like a little kid?"



Contrasting Fay and Everett moving around town, there are extended moments of notable stillness, where characters are simply sitting and listening. How was your experience of shooting those types of scenes, in which you are taking a more passive stance?

I think a lot of the movie lends itself to listening--the audience listening, and the characters listening and being really, really invested in the story that's being told to them. And storytelling informs all of my interests: literature, film, art, everything. And so I think it was pretty natural for me to be able to sit in a still position and just be on the edge of my seat listening to somebody, because I mean, that's how I am when I'm watching movies or when I'm listening to a podcast, you know? So I don't think it was terribly unnatural or anything. And those are some of my favorite scenes that I got to shoot. And not because I got to do anything particularly "acting heavy," but because I just got to sit back and not do anything except listen to the story that [someone else] is telling. And so those scenes were actually quite a bit of fun for me, even though it was just sitting, essentially. I loved listening to those two actors. Well, actually, I didn't get to listen to Bruce [Davis] on the day, but I did get to listen to Gail [Cronauer]. And sitting there and getting to watch her with this crazy, harrowing monologue about her life...That was such an incredible learning experience for me, and just a really great scene for me to shoot, because like I said, I got to just buckle in.

Sierra, thanks so much for taking the time to catch up with us today. I hope it's not another five years before we get to talk about your next project...

I know, me too! That'd be great if we could, like, do this again some time actually soon! [laughs]

Have a good one, and stay safe and stay healthy out there!

You too, please! Thank you so much.


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