Lullaby: Oona Chaplin Breaks Down the Sheer Intensity of Her Horror Return
In an interview with CBR, Lullaby star Oona Chaplin talks about channeling the raw terror needed for her performance in the new horror movie.
The emotional intensity and anxiety of motherhood meets supernatural terror in the new horror movie Lullaby, directed by John R. Leonetti (Annabelle). After young couple Rachel (Oona Chaplin) and John (Ramon Rodriguez) welcome a baby son in Eli, they find themselves haunted by the ancient demon Lilith and her brood of grotesque monsters ready to claim Eli for themselves. Determined to go to any length to keep her son safe, Rachel steps up to confront the creatures head-on as she protects Eli at any cost.
In an exclusive interview with CBR, Lullaby star Oona Chaplin shared behind-the-scenes secrets from the making of the movie. She explained her personal approach to acting in the horror genre and also revealed what she appreciated most about working on the dark, surreal scary movie.
CBR: Oona, what was it about Lullaby that drew you to this project and the character of Rachel?
Oona Chaplin: For me, it was all about exploring what it means to have a mother’s love. I’m kind of at that age now where that’s an area of curiosity for me. What does a mother do? What does it feel like to be a mother? I’m a godmother eight times, and it was interesting for me, that piece going all the way through the gates of Hell to take care of my family; that piece was really great.
One of the things I love about this movie is that it shows Rachel confront her own heart of darkness in how far she’ll go for her child. How was it exploring those darker colors to the character?
I feel like that’s the piece that all mothers confront, a wearing of patience. I feel like, even though this is a horror film, it’s really an exercise in motherhood, [with] those demons that just wear at your patience, and then you become a monster at least once a day or a week or however many times. Really learning how to make peace with that is an exercise that we get to practice for the rest of our lives. I feel like it’s her own shadow that is there when things aren’t going just so — what happens when things aren’t going just so. [laughs]
I feel like, with horror, you’ve got to have your emotions dialed all the way up, especially when you’re in most of the scenes of the movie. How was it maintaining that intensity and sense of balance?
It was exhausting, but I feel like the main thing that I personally feed off of and nourish myself with is the relationships with my cast members and the crew. Everybody was so nice. Ramon [Rodriguez] is a total gem of a human being. I can’t speak highly enough of this man. He’s so lovely, caring, and thoughtful. We really went there together, and we got along really well. John [Leonetti] and the whole crew, everybody was a really amazing group of people. That makes it doable because those things energize me. [laughs]
You and Ramon really have that lived-in couple quality right from the beginning. Do you remember first meeting him and developing that on-screen rapport?
We met on freaking Zoom because we were in the middle of the COVID madness. We met on Zoom and were like, “Okay, let’s talk about what kind of relationship these people have.” We started talking about relationships, and he’s in a relationship, and I’m in a relationship, and the way that we are in relationships is very copacetic. We knew that it was going to be great.
John’s an old hand at this. How was it having John R. Leonetti behind the camera?
It was amazing! I feel like he has such a classic way, and he was refusing to go with the high-tech easy way out. He was just right there, and that, for me, was almost like making theater, and I love theater. I’m really grateful for John for his commitment in creating a story that is beautiful and simple, and you can tell with the tools that we have right here, not putting anything fancy on top of it. That, for me, is my greatest admiration for him.
This really is a story about family, and your character has a sister in Vivian. How was it working with Liane Balaban to strike up that dynamic?
We had an instant sisterly rapport. It was a very well-cast film with everybody. The sisterly rapport was always really there, and I could feel that we were really good friends, but also a little tension, like, “How do we work together?” We were very committed to one another, and it was awesome. I had a lot of fun with her, and we had really interesting conversations. We would do a scene, wrap the scene, and then go straight back into the conversation that we were having. We were talking about motherhood, the world, all these things, and it was amazing.
As an actor, do you tend to come up with a lot of your own characters’ backstories or just stick with what’s on the page?
No, I have a very overactive imagination. [laughs] I imagine the whole thing, and that’s what draws me to this work. I like trying to understand people, and people are so much more complex than what an hour and a half can give you, so I like imagining all sorts of things about the past. [laughs]
I was talking to John, and he mentioned they tried to get your mother to play Lilith in the film. I know we’re speaking in hypotheticals and at the risk of seeming Freudian, but how would it have been to play opposite Geraldine?
It would’ve been so cool! [laughs] I was really pushing for it, and I think I suggested it, and John was like, “I was thinking about that!” I can’t remember exactly how it went, but the only reason that that didn’t happen was the visa thing. It just didn’t work out because of that, but I would’ve loved it. My mom and I have worked together multiple times on different configurations, so we know how it goes, and we play, and it’s fun to play!
This isn’t the first time you’ve played in the horror space after starring in Purgatory. What is the appeal in getting to play in the genre as a creative?
That was another mother character! I think it’s getting to inhabit a character in basically the most extreme situations. For me, I’ve been extremely blessed in my life; every day I’m very grateful for my life and the way that it is. It does feel good to me to go and push my imagination to the limit to see what would happen if things were suddenly very messed up in unexpected ways. How do I feel? Where do I find my center and my strength? All this stuff, for me, is about horror providing a practice ground for extreme life situations.[laughs] Here, we probably won’t have a hag in the mirror — but what if?! [laughs]
With something this intense, filming these big emotional scenes for hours at the height of production, how much of your performance do you take home with you?
There was one scene where I went home, and I was so fucking stressed out. My nervous system was shattered, and I really had to go into a very deliberate relaxation mode because I was shot after two of the scenes, actually — one with the ocean of dead babies and then the one with the bursting mirrors. Shooting that was so fucking stressful. I didn’t expect to have that much of my nervous system shot with the explosions. I know nothing’s going to happen and that it’s mostly safe and that it’s all going to be okay, but the feeling in my nervous system was horrible. [laughs]
With so much in camera and on set, how much does that make your performance instinctual in those intense moments?
Yeah, the mirror scene when I’m running down the hallway and the mirrors are bursting everywhere, there’s no fucking acting there. [laughs] I’m just running for my life there! There is no having a look and wondering about what my character is thinking, it’s just go-go-go!
Directed by John R. Leonetti, Lullaby opens in theaters and is available on demand on Dec. 16.