While Jason Blum has called Universal’s The Black Phone the “scariest movie” he’s ever produced, its young star Mason Thames, 14, says his experience making the movie was actually “all fun.” This despite the fact that his character, Finney — a baseball player who’s bullied at school and has an alcoholic father — is locked up in the basement of a house in a suburban town in Colorado where he’s threatened by an unnamed man known as The Grabber (played by Ethan Hawke). Thames — a Dallas-area native who studied ballet for four years before pursuing acting — brings an impressive mix of vulnerability, spiritedness and desperation to his role in the 1970s-set retro-horror film, directed by Scott Derrickson and due out June 24.
The actor, whose first break was a part on Apple TV+’s For All Mankind, has also just completed Boys of Summer, a fantasy-adventure film starring Mel Gibson, and has been cast to star in Incoming, a high school comedy to be directed by Dave and John Chernin (The Mick). Thames spoke to THR about making The Black Phone and the one thing he did find creepy about it: the mask that Hawke wears that looks like a combination of the Joker and a horned beast.
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How did you win the role in The Black Phone?
It was when the pandemic first hit, so this was my first Zoom audition. It was quite weird and we had bad Wi-Fi. I’d say a line and it would take a few seconds for them to say something back. It got a bit awkward. Eventually I got a callback.
Do you like horror films?
I love horror movies. I’ve got to say one of the scariest movies is still [Derrickson’s 2012 film] Sinister. There’s something about watching with a group of friends and you are sitting in your seat waiting for someone to jump out — I just love the thrill of that.
Courtesy of FRED NORRIS/Universal Studios
Was it creepy making the movie?
I was wondering if it was scary to film a horror movie. It’s not at all. It’s so much fun. And Ethan’s performance is so great, so my inner self was kind of smiling at it. One time, Scott had to literally look at me and say, “Mason, stop smiling.”
So it wasn’t scary one bit?
Seeing the mask that Ethan was wearing definitely was scary. But after it was all over, he’s the nicest person ever. I remember one of the first scenes where there was a bit of stunt work and afterward he asked me, “Hey, kid, are you all right?” and I think he gave me kind of a noogie on the head.
When did you see the finished film?
In December. I got to see it in my local theater. That was something cool for me because my dad and I go together to the movies every week at that theater. I brought my family, and they all cried and were just hugging each other.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the June 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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