Interview – Jonathon Groff and Ben Aldridge on the excitement of working with M. Night Shyamalan for ‘Knock at the Cabin’

While vacationing at a remote cabin, a young girl and her parents are taken hostage by four armed strangers who demand that the family make an unthinkable choice to avert the apocalypse. With limited access to the outside world, the family must decide what they believe before all is lost.

Knock at the Cabin is from visionary filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, Knock at the Cabin stars Dave Bautista (Dune, Guardians of the Galaxy franchise), Tony award and Emmy nominee Jonathan Groff (Hamilton, Mindhunter), Ben Aldridge (Pennyworth, Fleabag), BAFTA nominee Nikki Amuka-Bird (Persuasion, Old), newcomer Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn (Little Women, Landline) and Rupert Grint (Servant, Harry Potter franchise).

Leading up to the  release of Knock at the Cabin – in Australian cinemas on February 2 – I was lucky enough to chat with the films stars Jonathon Groff and Ben Aldridge about the excitement of working with M. Night Shyamalan, and the process of finding their characters.

Nick: Jonathon, it’s a pleasure to meet you! And Ben, it’s so good to talk to you again! How are you both?

Jonathon Groff: Hi, nice to meet you.

Ben Aldridge: It’s great to see you again, Nick!

Nick: I really appreciate you both taking the time to talk about this movie! You’ve both worked with really prolific directors over the last few years. But when this script comes to you, and M. Night Shyamalan’s name is all over it – what was your first reaction? And was that a big part of making you want to do this film?

Ben Aldridge: Yeah, so, the email landed in my inbox, and I saw it was a self-tape, which full disclosure are sometimes a bit: “eugh”. Oh, I mean it’s one of my favourite things to do [laughs]! Obviously, I want auditions because it leads to work and pay!

But I opened it and I saw ‘M. Night Shyamalan’, and of course you don’t get told what it’s about. You have three scenes to try and piece together what it’s about. And I saw all these lines about people looking at their watches, there was a gay couple talking about adoption, and I couldn’t piece it together at all.

Then, I did the tape and did a zoom with Night about a week later. I did a three hour call with him and he still wouldn’t give me any information on what the movie was about! And then, three days later he called and said that he would like me to be in his film, then he gave me 24 hours to read the script. And reading the script was shocking for me because I was seeing the story piece together. I was reading the violence. It was the closest thing of having it be like Andrew and Eric’s experience of this all unfolding. I was wondering what the white bags over the heads meant. I was really intimidated by it. He [M. Night] has given me the acting challenge of my life here, and I’m not going to say no to that, but I am going to feel a little bit scared of it. And that fear kind of continued right through to now, to be honest. I’ve always loved his films and was very excited to work with him, and see how he goes about that. He has a really unique process.

Jonathon Groff: Night was really the big draw for me as well. I love going to the movies, and the director is almost a character of the movie, especially when someone has such a specific stamp. When you’re doing a film, you are really living inside the mind of the director. So I was interested even before auditioning or reading the scenes. Then ultimately, with the script and the book, I wanted to be inside Night’s brain and see how it worked, and experience that process.

It was an incredibly unique, specific process, unlike any I’d had before. He didn’t disappoint in that regard. He’s incredibly articulate about exactly what he wants. The punctuation, the words of his script, the shots – he has it all pre-planned. You don’t even rehearse on set. The cameras are already positioned and then you do a kind of precision acting. It was really exciting.

One thing you mentioned Ben about first reading the script was the fact that it’s about a gay couple. What was the feeling like of seeing this story about a same-sex parent family at it’s core?

Ben Aldridge: It’s important to me, and it excites me! Only in the last three years have I really been playing queer characters, and that’s been a new layer to my work. I think I relate to these characters in a slightly different way, but a very emotionally authentic way.

I think what this film does is that it could’ve been any loving family of three. It just happens to be two gay dads, a single-sex parent family with their adopted daughter. The film speaks to the fact that is has a universal language of love. It’s a loving family in this situation. It doesn’t ever erase the queer narrative. In fact, I think it honours the queer experience with a gentle touch with the direction of what these characters have experienced with the parents or potential homophobia. You get moment of that, and I love the film for that.

Jonathon Groff: I think you put that perfectly. You covered so much!

You both have backgrounds in different forms of theatre and stage work, but you’ve both spoken about religious experiences in the past. Was any aspect of either of those elements helpful in preparing for these roles?

Jonathon Groff: It’s funny, Night told me when we met that he came to see Hamilton, and he wrote my name down on a piece of paper. I mean, who knows if he’s telling the truth! Because he’s good a telling tales [laughs]. But, when he met me at the audition, he told me that he wrote my name down, so I think that was part of what got me in the room.

We didn’t really discuss my half Mennonite side of my family, my religious upbringing. He talked about what he wanted from the movie, and then just asked me to do my best at delivering the performance he wanted, that he had seen in his mind.

There is this kind of instinctual gift that Night has with people and with energies that is specific to hi. Even though he wasn’t asking us specifically about our backgrounds, I think he knew the energies that were required to bring those characters to life, and I think he picked the right people for all seven of us, truly. I remember Kristen’s [Cui, Wen] audition, and her unique personality that matched so beautifully with a scene with Leonard [Dave Bautista].

Ben Aldridge: Night works in a way where we had two weeks rehearsal in a theatre warehouse. What you would do is sit down and read the script and talk about how you relate to it and your experience understanding it. It can be a bonding experience, sharing and getting underneath the skin of the script. He shares his love of his characters, and he’s thought about them so much. He relates the film, or the script, or even us through his vision. He will talk about his family and his experiences and thoughts!

Thank you to Ben and Jonathan for their time and thank you to Universal Pictures for giving me the chance to chat with them! Knock at the Cabin is in cinemas February 2.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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