“Vince was the first choice, and the only choice really, in my head,” Landon told Gizmodo on a video call recently. “That was informed by the fact that he’s a physically imposing guy. He’s very tall. A big guy. And I had really been following his career and especially in stuff like [Brawl in] Cell Block  where he has an intensity. He’s scary. So I knew he could he could pull off the Butcher.”
In Freaky, the Butcher is a killer who terrorizes a small suburban town the week leading up to Friday the 13th. After acquiring a mysterious new knife, he uses it to try and kill a teenager named Millie (Kathryn Newton) and the two swap bodies à la Freaky Friday. So not only did Vaughn have to be that hulking, imposing presence, he had to be sweet, funny, and relatable too. Landon knew the other side of Vaughn — the side fans know from Wedding Crashers, Swingers, and Dodgeball — could do just that.
“I needed the audience to really fall in love with Millie when she inhabits his body,” he said, “So I didn’t feel like there was anybody as qualified as Vince. And he’s a real actor, too. He puts in the work and he really commits to it. It wasn’t like he was out to do some impersonation of a teenage girl. He became her.”
Though Vaughn has done some intense films over his career (like the Gus Van Sant remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Psycho), he’s never done a movie quite like this. So when Landon approached him, he was intrigued, yet cautious.
“It felt a little scary when I read it, in a good way,” Vaughn told us. “I like things that feel a little bit like this. It was going to take a little bit of preparation. But again, knowing that Chris was in charge of it gave me the confidence that I was in good hands.”
So Vaughn accepted the role and immediately embraced the challenge of working with Kathryn Newton (also Landon’s first choice) at making the two characters one. “The fun of it was collaborating with another actor on those two characters,” Vaughn said. “It was a really neat process building them out with Kathryn, finding common physical things that we could both do that felt that we were putting a fabric or cohesion in between the characters. That was a blast.”
Vaughn explained he and Newton both came to the film full of ideas of how they were going to approach the characters, and then got to spend about a week of rehearsals hammering it all out.
“Just everything from external, physical choices, to getting on the same page, specifically, with backstory or feelings about stuff,” Vaughn said. “And then it continued throughout the process. I could ask her questions or she would give me advice or vice versa. And it was really fun to do that.”
“Fun” has been a big part of Landon’s last few films. Freaky comes after not one but two Happy Death Day movies, which are time loop slasher films in the mould of Groundhog Day. They’re great, but Landon still felt Freaky gave him a whole new toolbox in which to play.
“I was grateful that the nature of this movie allowed for a different pace,” he said. “When you make a time loop movie, they’re inherently repetitive and so by nature, they can feel a little bit slow in parts. Whereas here I felt like I had this amazing story engine that propelled us forward very quickly. So while it’s a longer movie and runtime than the other two films, it feels shorter to me than those movies. That was sort of a luxury that was a virtue of the kind of movie we were making.”
Vaughn agrees that Landon’s sensibility is an advantage in modern Hollywood. “He’s an original voice,” Vaughn said. “I think he does a blending of genres that’s not easily done and he does it really well and very consistently. I think what’s great about Chris is he’s a fan. He’s an enthusiast for genre and for films and he doesn’t really limit himself. He’s very brave.”
“Brave” is also a good word to describe the fact Freaky is being released at all. Not only is it a crowd-pleasing horror film being released two weeks after Halloween, it’s coming out in the middle of a global pandemic.
“On one hand, part of me would have preferred for it to be a Halloween release. But at the same time, you know, barring a pandemic, Halloween tends to be an incredibly crowded time for movies,” Landon said. “October gets really busy with a lot of horror films and I wasn’t necessarily eager to compete with the likes of a new Saw movie and a remake of Candyman and a bunch of other things that were coming. So it felt like it was a good move to be away from those films.”
“Now? Nobody knows anything at all,” he continues. “Like, it’s crazy that, we’re going to be in theatres November 13? Maybe? Where? I don’t know where. That part of it is what is really sort of making my head explode at this point.”
Which, in a way, is appropriate. The Butcher would absolutely approve of a good head explosion.