It’s not every day that a PG-13 movie delivers the goods, but Abandoned, the new film from Spencer Squire and starring Emma Roberts and John Gallagher Jr., serves the scares up hot with a side dish of skin-crawling creepiness.
After a young couple moves into a remote farmhouse with their infant son, the woman’s struggles with postpartum psychosis begin to intensify… as the house reveals secrets of its own.
Can you imagine moving into a brand new (to you) house, and being terrified of what’s going on in inside? But you’re so alone and isolated, you might possibly be going crazy? I don’t want to imagine it. To celebrate the release of the film, I chatted with star John Gallagher Jr. (our previous interview) about why he said yes to the role, why he wanted to be an actor, what’s up next, and more!
PopHorror: I really loved Abandoned, and I’m a huge fan of you, so I’m really excited to speak with you today.
John Gallagher Jr: Thank you for having me! It’s nice to talk to you.
PopHorror: What intrigued you about the film and made you want to be a part of the project?
John Gallagher Jr: I like a lot of horror films and haunted house films, and I think this one drew me in because I’m a big fan of films that lure you in under one pretense and then become something else. I love Hereditary and The Exorcist and films that start as a family drama and then pull you in, feeling like, “Oh, this is like Ordinary People or like an Arthur Miller play or a Eugene O’Neill play.” But by the end of the film, heads are flying and spinning, and there’s blood, guts, gore, and super high stakes, because everything is pushed through this supernatural lens which allows you to heighten the stakes.
And that was something that Abandoned did that I thought was really well done. It started as this simple relatable tale of this married couple with a newborn trying to figure out how to be good parents, how to take care of each other, take care of themselves, and take care of a child, and then suddenly finding themselves up against an otherworldly malevolence that may or may not be real. And I thought that was really interesting. I just felt for the characters. I felt the pain of what they were going through. I thought, “This will be interesting to play with.”
And it was happening in the dead of the pandemic. It was the summer of 2020 when the script got sent to me, and it was looking like they didn’t know when people would work again, if ever…. if films were going to come back and if I would ever be on a film set ever again. So I also said, “Yes,” very quickly, because I was just practically looking for a gig and looking for a job. There were a variety of levels that interested me. Really just the way it played with the horror genre was something that I was interested in.
PopHorror: I talked to Spencer [director Squire] yesterday, and he said that you were one of the first people that supported him, and I really liked hearing that, that you believed in the director. I’m sure that makes it easier to accept the job, too. It becomes more than just a job.
John Gallagher Jr: I love young filmmakers. I love emerging filmmakers. I know some actors that have been around for a long time, and they take chances on young filmmakers that are making their first feature all the time. I asked a friend of mine once, “Why do you like to work with so many young filmmakers?” And he was like, “Well, everybody’s got to start somewhere, and you never know who that filmmaker is going to be or who they’re going to turn into. Everybody from Steven Spielberg to Stanley Kubrick, every great filmmaker starts as an emerging young filmmaker that someone gives a chance to. And you never know.”
Spencer and I bonded over our love of old horror movies, and he really sold me. He had a Lookbook that he made with all these references for Abandoned, and it was chock full of ’70s and ’80s John Carpenter films, a straightway to my heart, because that’s my jam. I love that. So he had references to Christine, Halloween, The Thing. And then we got on the phone and we talked for an hour and half the first time we chatted. I realized then that he didn’t want to settle on a generic haunted house movie. He wanted to make something dynamic and interesting.
PopHorror: I love that so much. After reading the script, was there anything that you were adamant about bringing to your character?
John Gallagher Jr: I think just the sense of authenticity. In horror movies—because they’re heightened—I think sometimes a character is going to become one dimensional, or generic, or flat. I really wanted to show someone who was struggling, because I do think the internal struggle is a huge part of the movie with what these people are going through, and what they say, and what they don’t say.
Often in these kinds of movies, you see the role of the doubtful, suspicious husband very often, and then he becomes a kind of secondary villain or an enemy. I think we were both wary of that. We didn’t want it to be just that. We wanted people to understand, because you want to root for Emma’s [Roberts] character, Sara, because she’s the heroine, the lead of the film. It’s told through her eyes, but we didn’t want to just push Alex, the husband, to the fringes and make him secondary. We wanted him to be active and involved, and to feel, and to worry, and to mourn, and to grieve, and everything in between. I think just making sure that that was real and that was alive was important to me.
PopHorror: I know that you started your acting career working in plays and on stage. What made you want to make the jump to TV and film?
John Gallagher Jr: It’s funny. My love of film is what got me into acting in the first place. I was obsessed with movies before I really even knew what they were. When I was a kid, there was no internet obviously, in the early ’90s, late ’80s, when I was coming of age. So I had my collection of VHS’s really and I would watch Richard Donner’s Superman, and Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters, and the Indiana Jones movies, and the original Star Wars trilogy. I would watch them, and rewatch them, and rewatch them, and rewatch them, and I would memorize them and be obsessed over them and want to be the characters in the film. That’s what drew me in in the first place. It just so happened that I came to New York because I grew up closer to New York, and I kind of got lucky by falling into the theater scene in New York. That kept me busy for about a decade. But I always had my eye on film and TV. That was something that I always wanted to do. It just took me a while to get there.
PopHorror: Well, I’m glad you did. What is up next for you?
John Gallagher Jr: Up next, I have a couple of other films in the works. I did a movie last year called I.S.S. that stars Chris Messina and Ariana DeBose, and that’s kind of a science fiction thriller that’s set, coincidentally enough, on the I.S.S., the International Space Station. That should be coming out some time next year. And then I did a film with Winona Ryder last year called Gone in the Night, which is also a science fiction thriller horror that premiered at SXSW in March.
And then I did a play. I did my first play in six years just recently in Berkeley, California. It’s called Swept Away and it premiered at the Berkeley Rep Theater. It has a script by the legendary screenwriter John Logan and songs by the Avett Brothers. Hopefully, that will make its way to New York sometime in the coming season. And then just because I’m a working actor, I’m reading scripts and auditioning here and there, just trying to track down the next gig.
PopHorror: I am so excited for Gone in the Night.
John Gallagher Jr: To work with Winona Ryder was a dream come true for me.
PopHorror: I bet!
John Gallagher Jr: I worship her. Always have, always will.
PopHorror: Just one last question for you today. I usually ask, “What is your favorite scary movie?” but you and I actually spoke for Come Play, so I’ve already asked you that. So now, I’m going to ask, “What is your favorite Tom Hanks movie?”
John Gallagher Jr: Ooh, my favorite Tom Hanks movie… Kind of a weird one, but the first one that pops into my mind is The ‘Burbs, which I guess is a horror comedy from Joe Dante, whose films I love. I loved that movie as a kid, and I still find my way back to it. I love that movie.
Thank you so much, John, for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to catch Abandoned on digital and OnDemand now!