in conversation

Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn Get Freaky

Published November 16, 2020

The actor Kathryn Newton is well on her way to take over Hollywood. The 23-year-old Florida native has been a staple in the industry since she was just a toddler, appearing in the soap opera All My Children as early as 2002. Since then, to no one’s surprise, Newton has burned up screens both big and small. She battled a terrifying ghost in Paranormal Activity 4, received critical acclaim (and a SAG Award nomination for best ensemble) for her performance as Reese Witherspoon’s daughter in Big Little Lies, and stole the show in Pokémon Detective Pikachu. Most recently, fans saw Newton go head-to-head with Vince Vaughn in the goofy-yet-gory Chris Landon thriller Freaky. The duo breathes new life into the body-swap schtick, telling the raucous story of a serial killer who finds himself trapped inside a teenage girl’s body—think Freaky Friday meets Saw, with a dollop of Scary Movie satire. As Newton continues her Hollywood ascension, she’s building out her resume by taking on roles she describes as “out of her comfort zone.” In 2021, Newton is set to star in Amazon’s The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, a film directed by Ian Samuels and based on the short story by Lev Grossman. A week before Freaky‘s theatrical release, Newton and Vaughn got on the phone to discuss the power of romantic comedies, the similarities between playing golf and acting, and Newton’s plan to take over the industry, one freaky role at a time.

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VINCE VAUGHN: I loved your voiceover for the commercial I saw last night.

KATHRYN NEWTON: What did I say? Like, “Get freaky,” right? 

VAUGHN: I saw it during the Dodgers game, they ran a commercial during game five. Are you in L.A.? Or are you in Florida?

NEWTON: I’m in L.A. My parents came out here, so there with me, in my house right now. We’re playing a lot of games. Where are you?

VAUGHN: I’m with the kids. Have you been enjoying all the press?

NEWTON: I’ve had so much fun talking about this movie. When the trailer came out, I don’t know about you, but it was like my birthday all of a sudden. I got so many messages.

VAUGHN: You had done a lot of good work, and we were able to share ideas and have consistency. We were so lucky that we were able to find those things in that rehearsal time.

NEWTON: When do you ever get to do that again? I felt so lucky. I will never forget when I was the butcher, to have you there and be able to ask, “What do you think?” You never get to do that with another actor. 

VAUGHN: That’s why even before I went there, I leaned on you so heavily to say, “Does this feel consistent? Are you doing this? Does this make sense?” I think once you have that in your arsenal, then you can just listen and react in scenes and not overthink it. It kind of gave me permission not to be so in my head, having you develop that stuff beforehand.

NEWTON: I’m such a big fan of you and all of your work.  So to get to work with you in that kind of way, I was just blown away with that opportunity. You didn’t have to be like that. It didn’t have to be that much fun, Vince.

VAUGHN: It was so helpful to have that because otherwise you’re so isolated and you don’t really know how you’re doing.

NEWTON: It’s like insecurity. I really do wish it was like that in more movies, but it won’t be.

VAUGHN: It was so cool coming to set and seeing you as the Butcher, like that hallway scene—you had such a command. You were just soaked in blood, with the chainsaw, and then in between takes, “Hey, nice to see you.” You looked both beautiful and menacing.

NEWTON: Pretty shocking. My dad’s going to be really proud.

VAUGHN: Why did you choose to do a horror-killer movie? What was it in this that made you excited to be a part of it?

NEWTON: Well, I would’ve never, in a million years, thought about doing a body swap horror-comedy. I guess I just didn’t dream big enough. When I got the call from Chris Landon—I worked with him on a film when I was 14 called Paranormal Activity 4—I knew that he was a mad genius with horror. I  knew that this would be really good. When I read the script, I thought it was really funny. I thought it was fresh. It just felt authentic, and it felt like the right thing to do. I also thought it would be fun to play a serial killer. You’ve met me. I’m so not like that character. I’m such a grandma. You can tell I’m not cool. So I was like, “Well, let’s see if I can be at all intimidating.” It took being someone else, to be like, “Oh, I can do that.” It worked out.

VAUGHN: You’re positive. You’re encouraging to people. The thing that you have is real strength, work ethic, and conviction. So I think that when you took that energy and put it into the killer, there was such power there.

NEWTON: It was interesting. I really had no lines as the Butcher either. He never spoke. I just had to do it all with my face. It was fun. I didn’t have to memorize any lines. You had to memorize so many lines. Was it hard for you to be Millie?

VAUGHN: It’s different. You have a lot of great moments in the movie where you say stuff kind of subtly, that’s powerful and scary. How did it feel for you to fake murder someone? You have a couple of really crazy kills in this.

NEWTON: I think for a scene like that, I kind of take a step out and look at it while I’m doing it. It felt really funny. “This is hilarious. I would never do something like this.” The scenes with the three boys, when I kill all three of them at the same time. That was the coolest thing I’ve ever done, for sure. Nothing’s really going to top that.

VAUGHN: Was there anything that you did that kind of repulsed you or made you uncomfortable at first?

NEWTON: I was totally uncomfortable with splitting somebody in half, and I didn’t want to see what the body looked like. I thought that was just disgusting. It’s a gory movie, and it’s in your face. I thought that was really gross when I had to split Alan Ruck in half. That was kind of the grossest thing I’ve ever done. They did really well with the prosthetics.

VAUGHN: Did you have a favorite kill?

NEWTON: Well, Vince, I think my favorite kill is when I had to kill you. That was pretty great.

VAUGHN:  You were terrific. That was a crazy sequence.

NEWTON: You had to do a lot of stunts in this movie.

VAUGHN: I think we both did. We were fighting each other and shit. It was like 3:00 in the morning.

NEWTON: You had to run a lot more than I did. I got to say, you perfected that run. You killed it.

VAUGHN: I think that run is probably closer to my own run than people realize. What was your approach to playing a murderous psychopath? Did you have any techniques?

NEWTON: I relied so much on you for that. For real. I felt really out of my comfort zone. I felt like there were so many places to go, and you said to keep it as real as possible. This movie is so heightened, and to be a serial killer is so crazy, that I just really tried to be grounded in my feet and think about the kill.

VAUGHN: It comes off that way—so scary.

NEWTON: The Butcher got a lot more active as a teenage girl. It was just a feeding frenzy. The power of a teenage girl. Geez, if only we knew when we were young.

VAUGHN: No question. Did you watch any other performances from actors in preparation?

NEWTON: Well, I watched a lot of you. I went back and watched all of your old movies. That’s how I realized, “You know what? I cannot be Vince Vaughn. This is not that. Vince Vaughn is going to be a character, and I’m going to be that character too.” I tried to do you first, and then quickly realized that wasn’t going to work. 

VAUGHN: Did you have a favorite meal on set?

NEWTON: Well, you know I’m the Hot Cheeto queen. It’s kind of embarrassing.

VAUGHN: I remember when I first met you, it was so intimidating because we were doing dance rehearsal, which you picked up in a second, but you had done two spin classes that day.

NEWTON: Did I really? There’s just not much for me to do. In quarantine, I bought an Assault bike, thinking that I would use it. Vince, I used it for a week, and I haven’t touched it. That was in the beginning, in March. I guess I was really motivated.

VAUGHN: Have you been playing any golf?

NEWTON: I’ve been playing so much golf. That’s what I’ve been doing every day. My dad and I are out there because you can go out there and be safe and play socially distanced. My game is so good right now. If only I could play in a tournament. My goal is to actually play in a real tournament and get back to it because you can’t really say you’re good unless you’re a pro. So I need you to go and try to play.

VAUGHN: You were such a successful competitive golfer. You had a scholarship to go to USC to play golf, right?

NEWTON: I was going to go play there as a walk-on. That was my dream growing up—to go to USC and play golf. I’m so grateful for playing in high school because it’s so much of who I am and the way I carry myself. I have that athlete mentality. Maybe I was doing spin classes on Freaky because I wanted to feel stronger. When you’re working out and you’re working on yourself like that, you can feel it in your body—your strength. I didn’t go to college. My mom’s still mad at me. She still wants me to go.

VAUGHN: It’s worked out very well. I know that’s such a mental game. Did you feel like there were overlaps with golf and acting?

NEWTON: I do, because I think acting is really subjective and you go up and down all the time in this business. We have a movie coming out, and it’s so much fun to talk about it, but I won’t be talking about it after it comes out. I’ll be on the golf course, playing golf with my dad, and I’m happy with that. It’s an individual sport, and the work you put in is what you get out of it. There’s nothing better than winning and doing it on your own, and really feeling proud about it. I’m trying to take my production meetings on the course now, so I can get an idea of what I’m dealing with.

VAUGHN: That’s smart. It’s like a personality test.

NEWTON: It totally is, and the same with acting. You can’t really get upset when you’re up and down. You just have to be grateful and be good. If you waste time being upset, instead of getting it back, if you doubled that hole and you were going for a birdie, you might mess up again.

VAUGHN: Focus on what you can control and let things go, which is always the challenge of life. What do you miss most from the movie?

NEWTON: I really miss our crew. I wish I had more scenes with you and Misha [Osherovich] and Celeste [O’Connor] because those look like a lot of fun. It always looked like you guys were laughing. My scenes were always very much killing, so not as entertaining, not as funny. Don’t you miss being on set? I was out getting a coffee the other day, and I saw somebody who was clearly going to set. They had their PA uniform on, with their walkie-talkies ready, and they were picking up 10 coffees, so you knew he was an AD.

VAUGHN: Everyone was excited to be there, and it felt like—with the swapping and the comedy mixed with the horror—that we all had to be on our toes, working and supportive of each other. 

NEWTON: We had a Friday the 13th, remember? I think we wrapped it on the 13th. 

VAUGHN: We had some fun dinners.

NEWTON: You didn’t come, but I brought Celeste and Misha to Post Malone. You were invited, but I understand you sat that invite out.

VAUGHN: A lot of weekends, I would fly home to see my kids, so I missed out on some of those concerts. You’ve done horror movies in the past. Would you feel like you would go and explore different genres, or is this a genre you would love to go back to at some point?

NEWTON: I feel like I would never say never because I don’t know what’s out there. I learned a lot from the first horror film I did, Paranormal Activity, as far as storytelling. I feel like horror films tell a story without dialogue—It’s just different than a comedy or a drama, where it’s very dialogue- and character-driven.

VAUGHN: So you liked the physicality?

NEWTON: Yes, and exploring that question of, “What can I do to get the point across?”

VAUGHN: Do you have a checklist of the types of movies or roles you want to do? Is that something you think about?

NEWTON: I totally want to do more rom-coms. I love them, and I want to bring love into homes again. My biggest goal is to be a superhero. 

VAUGHN: Well, you definitely showed in this one that you have the physicality to do it. I think the rom-com stuff,  people like seeing relationships. People make mistakes and get embarrassed, and then hopefully, find a way to connect with someone in a real way. People love those stories.

NEWTON: I’m inspired by those stories. I’ve seen The Break-Up like 10 times, seriously, because it’s always on TV. That movie brings me so much joy every time I watch it. I love movies like that. I like dramas, too, and thrillers, and to be scared and maybe feel really moved, but I like to escape as well and just have a good time.

VAUGHN: It’s great to be entertained and to be made to feel encouraged or light. I know you do a lot of golf and spend a lot of time doing that. What else do you do when you’re not working?

NEWTON: I spend a lot of time with my poodles, who you haven’t gotten to meet yet. But I have three amazing dogs, and they take up so much of my time, especially right now. I’ve been in this routine of, I get up, and I enjoy having my coffee, which I never do. Usually, the coffee’s on the go. So now I’m sitting, and I’m enjoying it in my different teacups in the house that I’ve collected over time. I’ve started reading and writing. You know that I want to do that, too. I want to be that writer/producer woman. I’m trying to work on that.

VAUGHN: Are there areas of your life or things that are exciting to you that you’re starting to investigate?

NEWTON: I know you know a little about the idea I’m working on right now, which I won’t say because it’s obviously so good that I’m afraid everybody will take it if I talk about it. I realize now, as I’m growing in this industry, that it’s about the relationships you make through this business and learning from these people, and taking it all in. So I’ve started having these Zooms, and I’ve been pitching. It’s been a fun process of learning.

VAUGHN: You really have your own thoughts and ideas on things. I think it’s really great to give yourself permission, especially as an actor and a storyteller, not just to wait for what’s out there, but to start to get excited about creating the road of things that you’re interested in.

NEWTON: I learned that a lot from you, too. I got that book, The Writer’s Journey, and I started reading it. I was immediately like, “Oh, I know everything.” But it does take that to realize that you can do it, to give yourself permission, to try and fail.

VAUGHN: What is next for you, both in life and work? 

NEWTON:  I have to tell you about it when I see you because I’ll be in very big trouble if I talk about it. But I did get something that I’m really excited about. It’s like a dream come true. I’m just trying to stay grounded, maybe hang out with my friends and play golf. I’m not trying to do anything crazy except stay like I am. I think that’s actually harder than it sounds.