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[Fantasia ’21] Barbara Crampton on ‘King Knight’, the acceptance of horror, and playing the villain

Plus comedy and the future.

Barbara Crampton is one of the most recognizable names in horror. She has appeared in some of the most iconic roles of all time. Her impressive resume is not just limited to scary movies, however. Her latest role in King Knight (making its world premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival) sees her play a less sympathetic character. The film is also a comedy. AIPT sat with Barbara and discussed her new movie, horror, and the future.

AIPT: What drew you to the script of King Knight?

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Barbara Crampton: I love Ricky Bates Jr. and I love all the other movies of his that I’ve seen. And I just think he has a certain deep quality that resonates with people on an emotional level. He writes his characters really full of heart and soul and nuance and nobody’s good or bad, it’s just who the people are. And he has a certain just whimsy and style about his movies that I was always really drawn to.

I don’t know anybody else that does movies like him. I can’t compare him. I don’t know who I could compare him to. So I got a call through Travis Stevens that Ricky wanted to talk to me about a part in a movie. So he just called me directly and told me about the movie and what it was.

And it sounded just darling and lovely. And he asked me if I’d play Matthew Gray Gubler’s mother. And I thought, “Well, that’ll be fun. Yeah, that’ll be cool.” And he afforded me the opportunity, which I don’t get very often in my career to play not a very sympathetic character, which is always fun for me, because I don’t normally play those types of characters.

So for all of those reasons I was attracted to the project even before I read it. And then I read it and I thought it was just so charming. And I knew all the actors that he was putting together in different parts and I was like, “This is really fun. This is going to work.”

AIPT: I’m actually glad you brought up your character. Do you enjoy playing the hero more or do you prefer being the villain?

Crampton: I mean, I enjoy it all. I do feel like in our own real lives we have the possibility of so many different characteristics of our inner being and the opportunity to showcase that is, it’s very freeing and rewarding and wonderful. And it’s why I love being an actor. So I don’t think anybody ever wants to get typecast to play one type of person.

It’s fun when I do get to play a character that I think is a little compromised. And yeah, I’ve only gotten the opportunity to do that a few times. And I did that in Dead Night recently and also in Beyond the Gates. But outside of that it’s just not very often.

I was really attracted to the script and this character and I also knew that Ricky would put something in there to be able to have the audience understand Ruth and maybe why she does the things that she does and where it comes from. And the history goes along with the theme of the movie. And of course, she’s taking care of her ailing mother and it’s very stressful for her. And it gives us another reason to be sympathetic to people who on the surface you might not like very much initially. And I appreciate that in a filmmaker that doesn’t make things black or white.

AIPT: Even the darker movies you are in have a lighter quality. What draws you to these roles?

[Fantasia '21] Barbara Crampton on 'King Knight', the acceptance of horror, and playing the villain

Crampton: Well, that just might be me. I don’t know. I think I have maybe a lighter quality to me or something maybe that comes across in a way, I don’t know. Even in the heavier work or the heavier characters potentially, I’m not sure. It might be something there. I mean, we all have aspects of ourselves in every character that we play I think.

AIPT: Horror has always been really popular with the fans, but it seems recently it has become more critically lauded. For example, a horror movie won this year’s Palme d’Or. Do you think horror is become more accepted critically?

Crampton: I think we’ll always be the ugly stepchild, but yes, I do think that audiences and the critics, even the mainstream critics are accepting us a little bit more, because you really can tell a lot of different kinds of stories in the horror genre. And it’s just the world is just so open in the horror genre more so than in maybe just the traditional love story or crime story or drama.

I think the possibilities are open for you, because anything can happen. Anything can happen in horror sci-fi basically. And it’s usually a very surprising genre, so it can be filled with a lot of surprises and I think that’s exciting for audiences to watch. And I also think that the main aspect of horror movies is dealing with death and survival. And I think that speaks to our basic instinct, most base instinct of all.

I think it’s something that everybody in the deepest parts of themselves can relate to. So I do think that’s how the genre has been so strong for so many years and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

But that being said, King Knight is somewhat of a comedy and I haven’t done that much comedy. I’ve done a few things, Fraternity Vacation and I did Little Sister recently a couple of years ago and then this movie. And I’ve done a few horror comedies, but it’s really fun for me to play something in another genre as well. Just to shake things up a little bit.

AIPT: You’ve had a very busy year, there was Jacob’s Wife King Knight, Creepshow, Sacrifice. What does the future hold for you?

Crampton: It’s just everything, every day is it’s a new day and you never really know what’s going to happen. And what I found in having this career for 35 years now acting and now just beginning to produce. I feel like you to plan for things and you try to make certain things happen. And then more often than that the things you end up doing come out of the blue and life is full of surprises. And especially this business is full of surprises, so you just have to be open to everything and I try to do that, try to be open to every opportunity and every role and working with lots of different people.

The Fantasia Film Festival takes place in person and online from August 5 – August 25

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