Interview – ‘The Black Phone’ stars, Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw, on their love for horror movies and building believable sibling chemistry

Finney, a shy but clever 13-year-old boy, is abducted by a sadistic killer and trapped
in a soundproof basement where screaming is of little use. When a disconnected phone on
the wall begins to ring, Finney discovers that he can hear the voices of the killer’s previous
victims. And they are dead set on making sure that what happened to them doesn’t happen
to Finney.

To celebrate the Australian release of The Black Phone – in cinemas July 21 – the awesome team at Universal Pictures gave me the opportunity to chat with two of the films stars, Mason Thames (Finney) and Madeleine McGraw (Gwen) about their love for horror movies and building believable sibling chemistry together.

(from left) Gwen Shaw (Madeleine McGraw) and Finney Shaw (Mason Thames) in The Black Phone, directed by Scott Derrickson.

Nick: Mason! Madeleine! How are you today?

Mason Thames: Good! How about you?

Madeleine McGraw: Good, thank you!

Nick: I’m very well! Thank you for asking and thank you for your time today. I wanted to congratulate you both for the film. I think you’re both absolutely fantastic in it. I wanted to know where you guys stand on scary movies in general. Are these sorts of movies that you enjoy watching?

Madeleine: I love horror movies. I think they’re so interesting. My parents don’t allow me to watch a lot of horror movies, barely any at all. So, when I get to watch them, it’s so exciting. Like when I got to watch The Black Phone, I was so happy, and it was such a was such a good movie.

Mason: Yeah, same. I’ve always loved horror movies. And yeah, for my first film, this being a horror movie was super special for me.

Nick: After filming a horror movie, do you think it’s something that you both would want to go back to in the future if you got the chance?

Madeleine: Maybe I could play the bad guy!

Mason: The Black Phone 2: Gwen Goes Bad!

Nick: That would be an incredible twist for this movie!

Madeleine: She’s kidnapped her brother and is working with The Grabber!

Mason: Well, now you’ve spoiled that movie!

Nick: Scott [Derrickson, director] is going to be so upset you guys revealed that!

Mason and Madeleine: [laughs]

Nick: You guys have incredible chemistry on screen as brother and sister. Did you get much time before the filming movie to hang out and really build that chemistry together?

Madeleine: Yeah, we didn’t get a lot of time in the beginning. But we did try and hang out whenever we could because it was during COVID. I remember the first time we actually, like, met each other in person. We took this, I don’t know, two hour long walk on this bridge. And we just kept on going in circles. And we were just talking the whole entire time. We got along so well, like, right away and that totally helped with Finney and Gwen’s connection.

Nick: And on top of that chemistry, you guys have some very intense moments throughout the movie, not just in scenes with Ethan Hawke, but in scenes with Jeremy Davis as well who plays your father? What are some of the things that you would do in between takes with each other keep bit more of a fun atmosphere on set when you are doing those intense scenes?

Madeleine: Yeah, I didn’t really get the chance to go into get into a fun moment after that really intense scene, because I had to go back and do school. But I tried to just relax because it’s so intense with all the screaming and crying.

Mason: I tried not to bother her too much because the scene in the film is super, super intense. And I know she did so great in it.

Nick: Mason, without spoiling anything, in the climax of the film there’s a lot of physicality and a lot of violence involved. How did you and Ethan prepare for that scene together?

Mason: Yeah, so what made it super special was I prepared for scene, and I rehearsed it a couple of days before, but I didn’t rehearse it with Ethan. So, it was super special because when we did it on the day, that was my first time doing the stunt stuff with Ethan. So that was super special. And that was probably my favourite scene to film.

Nick: Madeleine, you have some hilarious lines and quick wit in the movie, especially a scene when you’re talking to the police and at one point you call a detective an ‘f-ing fart knocker’ – which was a laugh out loud moment for me! Were there any other names or lines, that you’re allowed to say here, that you guys were working on before choosing ‘fart knocker’?

Madeleine: [laughs] I remember working on one other line besides that, but I can’t really remember what it was. But at first, when I was doing all the auditions, I didn’t choose to say the bad words because I’m not allowed to swear and those are bad words. But, I do remember during the table read, Scott asked me ‘Oh, do you feel comfortable saying the bad words? You don’t have to in the movie, but you can choose to say something else’. I said, ‘no, it brings so much to Gwen’s character’. And it really shows her tough exterior.

(from left) The Grabber (Ethan Hawke) and Finney Shaw (Mason Thames) in The Black Phone, directed by Scott Derrickson.

Nick: You both have scenes in the film that involve the ghosts that we that we see assisting Mason throughout. I’m not too sure how much of that was the ghosts in frame, or how much of it was Scott adding them in digitally? What was that experience like working with those sorts of effects?

Madeleine: Mason had a lot more scenes with the ghost boys. I just have one where they just pop up for a second. But I wasn’t really there because it was my stunt double because I had to fall off the bike. And I could not see them at all because of the rain and it was all getting in my eyes!

Mason: Yeah, I loved all the other ghost kid scenes. They’re definitely super scary. But with the CGI and stuff, most of it was all practical. I think about five– not even 5% of the movie was using the CGI. Every ghost kid is fully practical, which I love. The practical makeup was insane. Yeah, it was really, really amazing.

Madeleine: I remember seeing all their scars and stuff in the tray in the makeup trailer. It was awesome.

Mason: I loved how their scars really tell the story of you know how they might have died.

Nick: The biggest thing I’ve noticed with horror films, is that when you care about the characters, and they’re in danger, that’s scarier than jump scares and blood and gore. What was it that you wanted to bring to each of your characters that really made the audience care about them, so we would really feel for them when they were in those dangerous situations?

Madeleine: What I really wanted to bring to Gwen was to show her fearlessness and show that she does use her tough exterior to hide her more vulnerable side.

Mason: I think that, you know, Finney was definitely struggling with a lot. And Gwen really helped him so much. And, you know, their relationship is definitely the heart of this.

Madeleine: They help each other throughout the whole film.

Thank you to Universal Pictures for giving me the chance to talk with Mason and Madeline about The Black Phone! Check out the film during it’s advanced screenings between July 15-17, before its official release on July 21.

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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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