[The following interview contains spoilers for Texas Chainsaw Massacre.]
Texas Chainsaw Massacre star Sarah Yarkin landed top billing for the first time in her career, but it didn’t come easy to say the least. In David Blue Garcia’s direct sequel to Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Yarkin plays Melody, a young entrepreneur who co-leads an effort to gentrify a Texas ghost town known as Harlow. Unfortunately, Melody and her companions just so happen to wake Leatherface and his chainsaw up from their decades-long slumber.
Shortly after Yarkin received the good news regarding her first starring role, the coronavirus pandemic shut the entire industry down in mid-March, which left the Oakland native in limbo.
“When I was told I got the role, the director sat me down and said everything I had ever wanted to hear in my whole life. But then it went silent for four months,” Yarkin tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So I totally went crazy and got a dog and lived in a yurt in Santa Cruz. I was just losing my mind and thinking, ‘Did I get this huge thing? Am I going to get to do this movie or not?’ And then June rolled around and I got the call. I was like, ‘Thank god.’”
Now that Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been released and is ranked atop Netflix’s Top 10 Movies chart in the U.S., Yarkin is offering her thoughts on the gut punch of an ending.
“So the action hero stuff was exciting because most of the movie is me running and crying or running and hiding,” Yarkins shares. “I was like, ‘I get to be like a little Sigourney Weaver.’ So it felt really cool holding the chainsaw and doing stunt work with the stunt coordinator. And actually, the end is my favorite part of the whole movie. The final five seconds. I obviously knew what was coming because I shot it, but when I was watching it, I was shocked. The conversation between Elsie and I was a little bit longer in the rehearsals, but I loved just the speed of it. I love it.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Yarkin also discusses her worst fears including her childhood bogeyman. Then she reflects on Happy Death Day 2U and comments on a potential third chapter.
So was there anything unusual about the casting process?
Well, I first auditioned on February 28th, 2020, and when I was told I got the role, the director sat me down and said everything I had ever wanted to hear in my whole life. But then it went silent for four months. So I totally went crazy and got a dog and lived in a yurt in Santa Cruz. I was just losing my mind and thinking, “Did I get this huge thing? Am I going to get to do this movie or not?” And then June rolled around and I got the call. I was like, “Thank god.” So that was the most unusual thing, and then we went to Bulgaria.
This was the first time you’ve received top billing, right?
By the way, what’s your dog’s name? The readers will most certainly want to know.
My dog is named Finley, and he’s actually famous. My friend was watching him while he was working on the show Kindred. And when I was out of town shooting Texas Chainsaw Massacre, he was like, “Can we have him [in the] background?” And I was like, “Of course, we can!” So he’s a star.
Once you were cast, did you watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)? How deep did you dive into the franchise?
I’m scared of everything, everywhere, so I was just told to watch the original. We were doing a direct sequel to that, and they felt it should be the freshest thing in my brain.
There was a director change early on in production as David Blue Garcia took over for Andy and Ryan Tohill. Looking back, was there any silver lining to this unfortunate situation?
The original directors, the Tohill brothers, were amazing. They’re Irish, and they’re just incredible guys. So I loved working with them and getting to know them. And obviously, I wasn’t involved in any of the changing process there. So then they brought in David Blue Garcia, who’s from Austin, Texas, and that’s cool because he really understood the vibe there. And we’re still friends. But it was an interesting time to be in Bulgaria while all of this was happening.
So how much backstory do you have for your character? How did she end up in a position to help gentrify a ghost town?
So it changed a lot, in shooting, in rewrites, in editing. So the thing that they landed on was that Dante [Jacob Latimore], my business partner, and I [Melody] had this food truck and were influencers in that way. And their goal was to work with a bank to bring other hipsters and cool, young businesses to this town so they’d want to invest and stay there. But it went through a lot of iterations such as, “Was [Melody] a young entrepreneur who bought this town?” And that is a thing that happens. I actually read an article in the New York Times recently about someone who did that, but I guess that seemed unrealistic. So there were a lot of iterations. My understanding was that Melody was successful, young and cool, and she wanted people to come to this cool town and help her revitalize it. They could make it the next Joshua Tree or something.
Melody mentioned that her grandmother was from that part of Texas. Is her grandmother supposed to be someone from the original film?
I wasn’t aware of Melody’s grandmother having any connection to the original and didn’t necessarily build that into her backstory.
Did they build that ghost town in Bulgaria specifically for you guys? Or did they repurpose an existing backlot?
Yeah, they had this lot there, and they built this Texas town. It was the coolest thing ever, but by the end, it was a little Groundhog Day-y. Every day, it was like, “We’re back here again?” But it was amazing what they did there. There are some real buildings, but some of them are just facades. So it was really kind of incredible. They built the whole orphanage, so that’s a real building. We were inside, upstairs, and everything. It was crazy to watch it because I was like, “This all happened in a span of one area.” And it did feel like that. “Oh, we’re here again today.” (Laughs.)
For some people, Leatherface is their ultimate bogeyman. Growing up, what character served that purpose for you?
This might not make sense because, again, I’m not a horror person. I’m scared of the dark. I’m actually scared of everything. But as a kid, in preschool, I had this recurring nightmare of Captain Hook finding me. He would chase me around my preschool, and he had my mom. There was also something with toothpaste. I don’t remember exactly. But when I close my eyes, I see scary things. So I can get scared of basically anything.
Which rendition of Captain Hook?
It was the Disney one [Peter Pan (1953)]. The cartoon. He’s so mean!
Did you have any other irrational fears? For example, as a kid, I never slept with my foot or leg hanging off the side of the bed because a babysitter convinced me that a creature would chew it off in the middle of the night.
Oh, I get it! I went to summer camp, and while we were lying in our sleeping bags, a girl was like, “My biggest fear is someone stabbing me in the back of my neck while I’m sleeping, so that’s why I always sleep with my back to the wall.” So I developed that after hearing that. I don’t do it now, but for years, I was like, “Someone’s going to stab the back of my neck.” It was horrible! I was in fifth grade. (Laughs.)
Your character is trapped under a bed at a certain point, and she has a front-row seat to a rather gruesome act of violence. Were they able to streamline that moment for your sake, or did you have to relive that bloodshed for a dozen takes?
So it’s funny because when I read the script, I was like, “This is going to be so sick to shoot. I’m trapped under a bed!” And it’s a quarter of a page or whatever. I was like, “So fun! So fun!” And when I was doing it, it was two or three full days of me under that bed. It was no joke. I have the funniest picture that someone took on a monitor of me; I can’t wait to post it. I stopped leaving the bed in between setups because it was hard to get under there. So I just stayed under there all day and in that headspace, crying. So I learned never to do that again. That didn’t need to happen. But there’s a picture of me. We weren’t shooting and I was just lying there, crying. So I learned that breaks are important, but I was down there for a really long time.
The sound design really leans into the creaky floorboards of this old orphanage. While I’m sure a lot of those sounds were added in post, was the set itself creaky?
So the orphanage wasn’t creaky, but it was very creepy. There were rooms that I don’t think they ever used, but I would wander into them while prepping for a scene. And they were just so creepy. They were dusty and had baby dolls. It was terrifying for me. But I don’t remember it being creaky. I do remember there was a whole extra part of the scene where I escape the bed and I go to the handrail. There was a whole part of me going over the floor, which I don’t think is in it anymore. But David was like, “Creak… creak…” So I’d have to react, like, “Oh no, that one’s a creak,” because they weren’t creaky. So I remember having to time my steps. I would step and he would say, “Ooh, it’s creaky.” And I was like, “Oh god!” It was kind of like playing a game.
Did they isolate Leatherface from you on set?
I think [Leatherface actor] Mark [Burnham] said at some point that he was trying to do something like that, but we didn’t really hang out much because there wasn’t much time. We’re kind of in it all the time. We also had this Bulgarian stunt double [Vasil Yordanov], who was amazing. I worked with him and the stunt coordinator [Stanimir Stamatov] for a lot of these stunts. So he was just the nicest, most cuddly guy, and he’d be like, “Is this okay? Is that okay?” It was a funny juxtaposition of him as Leatherface and him, the stunt double, being so gentle. He was like, “I’m going to hold you here. Is that okay?” I was like, “Sounds great!” So I felt very safe.
What was Bulgaria like in the midst of a pandemic?
Well, we got there in August of 2020, and they had not been hit hard yet, actually. But of course, we were under such tight Covid protocols, so we couldn’t really do much. I love traveling. I love exploring. I do that a lot when I’m not working. And getting to be in a new place, it felt like a little reprieve from our own lockdown in a way. I got to see new parks and just walk around. So it was super beautiful. [Sofia, Bulgaria] is this interesting grungy city with graffiti and beautiful buildings. I just loved it. We got to eat outside at restaurants, which was exciting because I wasn’t doing that here at the time.
What did they use for the chainsaw, usually? I presume they only utilized a real one for some very specific moments or inserts.
Yeah, I was not allowed near the real one, obviously. There were several ones. Elsie [Fisher] said five or something. There was a plastic one. There were all these iterations of chainsaws, and there was a chainsaw handler guy who would make sure that we were safe. At one point, I got to hold the chainsaw, so I picked it up and used it like it was nothing. And David was like, “Sarah, the chainsaw’s heavy. The real one is heavy.” And I was like, “How am I supposed to know?” So I got them to let me pick it up very safely, and it was so heavy. I didn’t know I was so weak. And they were like, “Yeah, you’ve got to bring that into it.” So that was the hardest acting ever of trying to pretend like something light is heavy. They don’t teach you that in theater school.
I realize Melody and Elsie’s character flee to the bathroom before its most gruesome moments, but was the bus sequence the craziest thing you’ve ever witnessed on set?
Yeah, Elsie and I aren’t in that scene for very long. We escape towards the beginning. But I heard so much about it, and I read it in the script. All the producers were like, “This scene’s going to happen tomorrow!” And I was like, “So cool!” But I didn’t see it until I watched the movie. I was sitting here, saying, “This is horrible. Thank god I wasn’t on set for that.”
What percentage of your screams were recorded on set versus ADR?
It’s so funny because I don’t remember. I feel like I blacked out for some of this. I remember screaming in the car scene when we’re stuck in there, and Sally [Olwen Fouere] leaves. I remember actually having a tantrum, and that was at two in the morning under the rain machine. So I remember screaming then and being like, “Oh, I can’t do that again.” But other than that, I feel like my body entered this “you’ve got to just do it” mode because I don’t really remember the screaming. But I had to do some temp ADR in my house when they were doing the edit. It was just temp for whatever with everyone on Zoom, and I was screaming. So I had to tell my neighbors that I’d be screaming, “Help! Help! Help me!” And as I was screaming, I looked down at Finley, my dog, and he was at my feet, asleep.
That must’ve been a fun conversation to have with your neighbors.
Well, they couldn’t actually hear anything, which is also scary. If I do get killed in my apartment, they won’t help me. (Laughs.) And it’s also good to know that my dog will not be guarding me or helping me if I’m being killed. (Laughs.)
When someone asks me how I’m doing, I’ll often say something unexpected just because we’ve all become accustomed to hearing the same answers to that question. So I really enjoyed a similar moment where Melody asks her sister (Elsie Fisher) if she’s okay.
I like that. On the day, we did some variations. We made a joke there and this and that. But I do like that it shows a moment of actually being vulnerable, which they don’t do often together. And obviously, this horrible thing has brought them closer.
[The following six questions/answers contain major spoilers for Texas Chainsaw Massacre.]
So one minute, you think you’ve got the big action hero moment where Melody has seemingly slayed the beast, but then the next minute, you’re proven very, very wrong.
So the action hero stuff was exciting because most of the movie is me running and crying or running and hiding. But this was so cool. I got to be an action hero like you said. I was like, “I get to be like a little Sigourney Weaver.” So it felt really cool holding the chainsaw and doing stunt work with the stunt coordinator. I felt like a badass, and that was really exciting. And actually, the end is my favorite part of the whole movie. The final five seconds. I obviously knew what was coming because I shot it, but when I was watching it, I was shocked. The conversation between Elsie and I was a little bit longer in the rehearsals, but I loved just the speed of it. I love it.
Yeah, it was timed to perfection.
And then it just ends!
So when Leatherface is holding your severed head, were you wearing green pajamas on set?
So we did all of these variations where he pulled me out of the car. I got to do some of those stunts, which was really cool, and then we did all of these shots of him slicing my head and holding me. And then we had to time when I would jiggle my body and then fall backwards. My first week in Bulgaria, they did a full body cast and made my head. So they had my head on set, and it just looked like a terrifying baby. Everyone would send me pictures of it, saying, “Hahaha.” And the hair was so on point, which was the creepiest part. I didn’t think the face looked like me, so I was like, “That doesn’t look like me!” But everyone was like, “It looks so similar!” But they ended up green-screening my face onto it, of course, so that’s why it looks so realistic. And then they did shots of him holding my baby head.
So somewhere in a Bulgarian prop warehouse, there’s a decapitated Sarah Yarkin head.
(Laughs.) I joked about putting it in my suitcase and smuggling it back into the country. I, for sure, would not have been let back into America with that.
Much like the conversation with your neighbors, I would love to hear that exchange with TSA.
They’d be like, “Why do you have a head?” And I’d say, “To have it on display at my apartment!”
Most people won’t get the chance to see themselves die on screen. Can you attempt to describe that out-of-body experience?
That’s funny because watching the rest of the movie was horrifying. I hate watching myself act, I hate horror movies and I hate watching myself be traumatized. So I did not enjoy it. I will never watch this movie again. I was living it all when I was doing it, and your body doesn’t really know the difference between fake tears and real tears. You’re really just crying, so I didn’t like watching it. But that part was the one part that I didn’t experience because I didn’t die in real life. So watching it, it was the first time that I got to actually take a step back and be like, “Oh my god, this is fun.” Does that make sense? Because I didn’t actually get my head chopped off, it was the one real effect that I didn’t feel. So when I watched it, I was removed for the first time, cheering that this was a great ending for the movie.
What about Happy Death Day 2U? Is that something you can handle a bit more since it’s pop-horror?
The experience shooting Happy Death Day 2U was so fun. I wasn’t in any horror-type scenes at all, so my experience was shooting a comedy. It felt a bit like summer camp, and I wasn’t in a single scary sequence. If I was, my character wasn’t aware. So that just felt like any other fun movie that you get to shoot. In Texas, I was under the elements almost every day. I was covered in blood. I was soaking wet. I was freezing cold. I was covered in poop at a certain point when the sewage pipe exploded on me. Every day, I was getting covered in all of that literal shit. And then I was crying while being in all of that, and it was something I don’t think I could’ve ever prepared myself for. So I think I need a minute before I do anything like this again.
At least you got to shoot the slo-mo explosion in Happy Death Day 2U.
Oh, it was so fun! We all had harnesses underneath our clothes. We were all on these wires, and they would pull us out and into the thing that we’d crash into. It was so wild. I just rewatched it recently during a little audio commentary, and I hadn’t seen it in so long. I was like, “Oh my god, that day! That was crazy!” I love that scene.
As far as another Happy Death Day is concerned, Jason Blum recently said that something is stirring. Have you heard anything yet?
I’ve only heard questions, which I am excited by because I would love to do another one. It was so much fun. But I haven’t heard anything, and if you hear anything, let me know.
They have to call it Happy Death Day Tree. I won’t accept anything else.
It’s so good! Have you told anyone this?
Oh, I’ve pressed Chris Landon and Jessica Rothe on the matter, but Chris basically shut it down.
Okay, I’ll call him! (Laughs.)
Is there anything else you’re excited about coming up?
Yes! I just released my first single, which has been really fun because music has been a super secret part of my life for a long time. And I’m working on an EP now, which I’m excited about. And I’m really excited for whenever I can get a chance to go out of service again. I want to just go up to Vermont, or the mountains again, and camp for a little.
Lastly, to play off your Instagram post, do you feel validated now?
Yeah, I do! (Laughs.) I just think social media is such a joke.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is now streaming on Netflix.