Though the names Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough may not ring a bell, you’ve likely seen their work. And now they are both together in director Trey Edward Shults’ acclaimed horror movie “It Comes at Night” (opening in theaters on Friday).
Set in a world where an unknown sickness is slowly wiping out humanity, the movie stars Joel Edgerton as a man who has found refuge with his family in the woods. But when he takes in two young people (Abbott and Keough) and their child, paranoia leads to madness.
Abbott, 31, is known for being on the HBO series “Girls,” though he’s also been in recent acclaimed indie movies like “Hello I Must Be Going” and “James White.” Keough, 28, was the star of the hit first season of “The Girlfriend Experience” and gave a powerful performance in last year’s indie hit “American Honey.” With raw and emotional performances in “It Comes at Night,” the two show why they’re on the cusp of being major stars.
The actors talked to Business Insider in New York City recently about the instant chemistry they built on set, the challenge of finding work that challenges them, and how Keough kept it together on the set of Steven Soderbergh’s “Logan Lucky” when Daniel Craig never broke character.
Jason Guerrasio: Did you two know each other before filming started?
Riley Keough: No.
Guerrasio: Did you feel you two had to meet up before working together?
Keough: Trey wanted us to. We didn’t want to.
Christopher Abbott: But that’s why we knew we were going to get along. Trey talked about this idea of maybe the whole cast go camping for a few weeks and me and Riley separately, before we knew each other, were like “Nah, I think we’re good.” [Laughs]
Keough: I actually think there’s no scenario that I could imagine to be worse than being stuck camping with someone you don’t like.
Abbott: And with another actor!
Keough: Who is an actor. [Laughs]
Abbott: So once we had the same opinion on that I was like, okay, she’s cool.
Guerrasio: Because of the subject matter, did the set tend to be tense or was there a loose vibe?
Abbott: It was really loose.
Abbott: I mean, the scenes themselves, of course, were intense and sometimes physically exhausting to some extent, but outside of that, it was beautiful. It was summer up in the woods. The house was quite beautiful, though it doesn’t look like it on camera. There were great places to eat.
Guerrasio: The movie has a horror vibe, but really it’s more of a thriller about how we treat each other in society when things go wrong. Is that what you guys took away from it?
Abbott: I think that’s exactly it. I think it’s what one’s mind can create to actually be the monster. What you can create in your head that is scarier than what is actually out there. I think that’s delving into one’s own kind of psyche and how powerful the human mind is. What you can do to yourself is probably the scariest thing.
Keough: Yeah, I feel the same.
Guerrasio: Riley, in one of your scenes, you get into a frantic state. How hard is it to get into that kind of emotional zone?
Keough: I don’t know. I think it’s just adrenaline. I think we did three or four takes.
Abbott: I just feel there’s something to the fact that you just have to do it.
Abbott: It’s in the script so you just have to do it.
Keough: There’s no option.
Abbott: I’m just speaking for myself, but egotistically, you don’t want to be bad, you want it to be believable. So you either commit to it or you don’t.
Keough: It’s allowing yourself to actually be emotional.
Guerrasio: Both of you have done great in choosing unique and challenging roles to take on so far in your careers. How much of that is strategic and how much is just luck?
Abbott: I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s definitely luck when projects come around that are right for me age-wise. It’s choice by me deciding to work with this person or them wanting to work with me. I don’t necessarily believe in career path and having a trajectory. I like to just take it as it comes along and if it feels right to do in that moment, then I’ll do it.
Keough: I think it’s both. I definitely make it a point to not do things I don’t want to do. I know that some people do things for different reasons, either they are told that’s the right thing to do —
Guerrasio: Someone tells them, “This is the path you’re on so you have to take this job.”
Keough: Yeah. It’s really in the moment, for me. The way I felt last year is different from how I feel now.
Guerrasio: What’s an instant no when roles come to you?
Keough: Anything that’s boring. If the character or it’s an underdeveloped female part. Like “the girlfriend.”
Abbott: If the script isn’t good or cliche or the director’s work I’m not a fan of. Those are red flags.
Keough: I actually wanted to direct before I wanted to act.
Keough: Yeah, I never really planed on acting. So that’s something I wanted to go to school for and in the future that is something I would like to do because that was my first interest. But I’m also so aware of how hard it is. So that’s very scary.
Guerrasio: Christopher, speaking of choosing roles, I always wanted to know, what led to you playing an Afghan fixer in “Whisky Tango Foxtrot”?
Abbott: I’m not denouncing the role at all, but it was one of those things where I still have to work. I’m not an A-list dude where I’m saying yes and no to a million things. I went in auditioning for a different role, I think I literally had a beard at the time that I went in, they asked me to go back in for the Afghan role, and I just went for it. And the directors were great, I love them. I said yes because it was going to be a challenge and I looked at it purely at an actor standpoint: This will be a challenge to do and I want to try it.
Guerrasio: I think you’re one of the highlights of the movie, but did you get any backlash personally for doing that role at a time when whitewashing is such a major issue?
Abbott: Most people don’t even know that’s me. And I’m not saying I’m some kind of chameleon that just disappears in roles, but people just didn’t connect the dots. And I also don’t do a lot of press.
Guerrasio: Riley, was it hard keeping a straight face working across Daniel Craig doing that crazy character in “Lucky Logan”?
Keough: My hardest thing is I get the giggles really bad, when I start laughing I just can’t stop. When I’m working, too. And it doesn’t matter how serious the scene is. So that was really hard because they [costars Channing Tatum and Adam Driver] were all so funny. It was ridiculous. And they wouldn’t stop bantering between takes.
Guerrasio: But Daniel went back to his regular voice once shooting ended, right?
Keough: No, he was doing the voice the whole time.
Guerrasio: Even when director Steven Soderbergh said cut, he would do the voice?
Keough: Yeah. If I saw him at the hotel after shooting he would be doing the voice. But I think the thing is because he’s English he wanted to not lose the voice. It was really funny.
Guerrasio: Was there a scene during shooting of “It Comes at Night” that gave you the giggles?
Keough: I don’t know. Oh, when Try had us doing sex noises.
Abbott: Oh, that was hilarious. There was no sex scene, we just had to make noises.
Guerrasio: For the scene when the Travis character is listening in on you guys.
Abbott: Yeah. I thought I had to go closer to the mic because I was just standing next to Riley and she was like, “Get away from me,” but I was like, “You have to do it in the microphone.”
Keough: [Laughs] That was funny.