Existentially dreary, yet beautifully and hauntingly introspective is Amy Seimetz’s sophomore feature, She Dies Tomorrow. It’s a film that’s wonderfully simplistic in its execution, being helmed on the shoulders of its two lead performers: Kate Lyn Sheil and Jane Adams. Neither actress is new to the horror-thriller genre, with Sheil being in films like You’re Next and V/H/S, and Adams taking part in Always Shine and 2015’s Poltergeist, yet this film still feels entirely unique.
Horror is a genre that can be tracked in its timeliness: films habitually address the fears and anxieties of the eras in which they premiere. In recent years, horror films about grief, mental health, and existentialism have been rampant, and She Dies Tomorrow is the newest inclusion, fitting perfectly into the times, yet standing out in its originality. I sat down for an interview with the film’s leads to ask them about their process, the universality of the film’s themes, and their friendship and collaboration with director Amy Seimetz.
Peyton Robinson: So I’d like to start by saying that I really loved the movie, and you two were great in it, so thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.
Kate Lyn Sheil: Thanks!
Jane Adams: Thank you!
PR: Neither of you are strangers to the horror-thriller genre, so I’m wondering what you look for when joining these projects and what it is that drew you to this film in particular.
KLS: Amy and Jane and I have worked together in the past and we’ve known each other for quite a while. I made a movie in 2011 with Amy called Sun Don’t Shine, and it was one of my favorite working experiences. So when Amy asked me to be a part of this one, it was a no-brainer, but that’s also because Amy is very very brilliant. I knew that whatever her vision would be for this particular subject matter would be executed in a really individual way, and that it would be a movie I’d want to see even if I had nothing to do with it.
JA: What really drew me to this was working with Amy and Kate because we’ve been friends for a long time. So I would’ve done whatever! Even if it wasn’t a horror movie, I still would’ve done it. It wasn’t really about what it was gonna be, it was more just, “oh great, I get to hang out with Amy and Kate, and Jay (Jay Keitel, the cinematographer) will be shooting it. Let’s see what happens!”
PR: That’s awesome! I know you guys all worked together on Silver Bullets and Kate, as you said, you were in Sun Don’t Shine. How did those previous collaborations compare to this one?
KLS: It was somewhat similar to Silver Bullets in a way, because that movie was made over the course of a few different shoots and the story was kind of evolving as we shot it. With Sun Don’t Shine, we sort of just landed in Florida and shot the movie all in one go. But yeah, Amy and I know one another so well that there’s a cohesiveness to the working experience and a shorthand, so it was a very comfortable scenario to slip into.
JA: Yeah definitely. With Silver Bullets, we were shooting in my apartment in the East Village in 2008, and that’s where I first met Kate and Amy, and we’ve been friends ever since. So it’s a nice thing! We have Joe Swanberg (director of Silver Bullets) to thank for that!
PR: I’m curious as to how you prepared for these roles specifically. Did you look and find inspiration in other actors, favorite movies, etc.? Was there was a place you drew from to bring your characters to life?
KLS: I feel like Amy has such a clarity of vision that she precisely scripted out the arc that my character goes through, so I tried to personalize that in some way or contextualize it in my own life in ways that relate to the scenes. But I guess I would say that I’m a big fan of Isabelle Huppert, and so is Amy, so I think her work is sort of a north star for me sometimes.
PR: Totally. Jane did you have any inspirations?
JA: Not really, I just liked listening to Kate and reacting to what she was doing. And it was lovely being directed by Amy. Other than that, I was just sort of existing I think.
PR: That actually perfectly leads into my next question regarding both of your character’s arcs in the movie. Kate, we see the film start out with Amy already in the midst of this anxiety, whereas Jane, we see your character devolve into it. Did your interpretations of how you intended to portray your characters differ from how you thought of them on paper versus in practice once you were playing off each other?
JA: I think the script was kind of evolving. The first scene we shot was when Kate was laying on the floor in that gorgeous sequin dress and I’m trying to make sense of what she’s saying. We didn’t know, at that point, where the movie was gonna go. Amy wrote more stuff after that, as I recall. Is this sort of right Kate?
KLS: Yeah! Shortly after that shoot, Amy kind of nailed down the way that the world was going to expand, and I loved that about the movie, and I was very excited that it was going to extrapolate in that way.
JA: Me too! We were both happy, it was like “oh good!”
PR: So what was that process like of not knowing exactly where your characters were going to go ahead of time, and instead having to follow up with your stories with each new piece of information you were given?
KLS: For any actor, I’m sure, what’s most important is what’s happened to them before the scene rather than what will happen to them after the scene. So in that way, it was a totally normal working experience and it was fine in terms of character building. I will say that I did know that I was going to get on the dune buggy at some point, so I knew that the next time we caught up with [my character], she was going to be out of the house and she was going to have figured out how she wanted to spend these last hours that she has. So I guess I did have some sense of where I was going.
JA: I was so jealous that were going to do a dune buggy scene and that I couldn’t ride the dune buggy. I kept saying to Amy, “can’t I somehow have to go ride a dune buggy?”
PR: Join in on the action!
PR: The film’s subject matter overall is dark and emotional in a very introspective way, but the movie is still has its funny moments. There’s still that comedy aspect to it. What was it like to balance and calibrate that horror and hilarity in your performances?
KLS: I think Jane is so funny, so I kind of want her to answer, but I think you just play it straight because Amy is the one crafting the humor and weaving it through the movie. But for me, for example, there are all these physical ways I move throughout the house, and it’s actually [Amy Seimetz’s] house. The humor is sort of found in this woman having this really intense, emotional relationship to her wall, and then you zoom out and see what it actually looks like, and then it’s just this 30-something year old woman caressing her wall…
KLS: but yeah, it’s all Amy, she really builds it in.
JA: I love a lot of humor in general. I thought the whole thing was really funny, but now it’s so weird to me that this is the way the world is now. When we shot [the movie], there wasn’t a hint of COVID. So I called Amy after I watched it about month ago, now that we’re deep into this reality, and I said “I can’t believe I’m wearing rubber gloves. How did that happen that we shot that and now we’re here?” Maybe Amy’s a witch, no one has done a story about that yet.
PR: Maybe I’ll keep that in mind for the future! But exactly as you said, with COVID-19, the anxieties that this film addresses are more relevant than ever. But at the same time we still see tomorrow come, so there’s that hopeful sort of ambiguity.
JA: It’s really interesting though because death is always that way! Even before COVID-19. I live on the Pacific Coast Highway, and I have a much higher probability of backing out onto the highway and getting in an accident than I do of getting COVID or spreading it. There’s so much about life that’s not safe, and there’s so much of this trend of “stay home! stay safe!” and life has never been safe. There’s no coupon that comes with life that says “it’s gonna be great!”
PR: Definitely. So, we get to know your characters deeply through their anxieties and fears, but there’s still this enigmatic air to them at the same time. I’m curious as to what you think, obviously outside of the audience’s own humanity, makes your characters so empathetic, even though we don’t know them that well.
KLS: Just to clarify, you think the audience member feels empathy for our characters? That’s very nice to hear.
JA: Yes that’s such a nice thing to say! Thank you for saying that!
PR: Yeah I totally felt it!
JA: That’s nice to know. Because of the fact that things are the way they are, we haven’t been to a premiere where you get lots of feedback from people.
KLS: Exactly. Yeah, I hope people feel empathy. I feel like there are universal themes in the movie, so hopefully people can relate to the idea of death being this thing that every human being grapples with, and anxiety being a thing lots of people struggle with, and depression [as well]. I think Amy is good at crafting something that is pretty deeply human.
JA: Yeah definitely. If you can relate, that’s it. That’s all we do this for, so that hopefully someone can watch and be like “oh okay.”
PR: I’m wondering if these performances are different from ones you’ve done in the past or if they pushed you in a particular way as an actor?
KLS: Working with Amy is great, and I like that she asked me to do a lot of physical things. That’s a fun thing about performing in one of her movies. I feel like my character is tasked with doing very physical things, like dancing, or crawling on the bed, or riding the dune buggy. Whatever it is, it’s fun to use your body in that way.
JA: We loved working with Amy. I think it’s just doing my job you know, just trying to show up and not suck. *laughing*
KLS: *laughing* I would echo that. I’m always trying to not mess up Amy’s movie pretty much. All the time.
PR: Fits into the film’s themes with anxiety, we all have it!
JA: Exactly, we all have it.
PR: So I’ve asked you as actors how it’s pushed you, but as people what do you think you walked away from this project with? And what would you hope people who watch the movie walk away with?
JA: I hope people that watch the movie walk away with more of an understanding that there are no guarantees and that maybe today is it. We all only ever have this moment and then maybe the ceiling could come down. I just walked away just feeling grateful to have friends like Amy and Kate, for real. That’s just the way it is, and also just how much I value the shorthand we have and that we understand and trust each other. It’s really great.
KLS: Yeah, I would say I walked away feeling grateful that Amy had asked me to be a part of it. Also, my scenes were shot in a somewhat chronological order, so we shot the end of the movie very close to the end of the actual shoot. For me, I maybe walked away with some sense of emotional catharsis having worked on the movie for a while and then ending with this scene, which I guess that actually in the context of the movie is [my character] experiencing some sense of frustration of thinking she’s at the end and not quite being able to reach it. But for me, the ending of the movie came with a certain level of catharsis. In terms of people watching it, I hope that people see some sort of experience that they’ve had reflected back to them. If it makes anyone feel less alone or less crazy, that’s cool.
PR: Completely, and I can say that I totally got that from the movie if that’s any consolation at all!
KLS: Well that’s great!
Again, thank you guys for taking the time to talk with me, I appreciate it! I really enjoyed the film.
KLS: Thank you!
JA: Thank you so much, it was great meeting you!
She Dies Tomorrow is available to stream on VOD on August 7th.