At this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival (which is currently in full swing at the city’s Scotiabank Theatre), you won’t be able to shake Precious Chong’s wild performance in Zach Gayne’s Homewrecker. As Linda, Chong channels mousey and maniacal characteristics after she haphazardly kidnaps a new “friend” Michelle (Starry Eyes’ Alex Essoe). Chong is funny, but she’s careful not to exploit the character; allowing Essoe’s character to show empathy towards Linda under nerve-racking circumstances.
I wanted to talk more about this role with Precious. Considering she also wore more than one hat on the production, I needed to know more about Homewrecker in general.
Addison Wylie: When did you start developing this project with your co-star Alex Essoe and director Zach Gayne?
Precious Chong: It happened pretty fast. The year before, the three of us had talked about working together on another project and then, I think, in the fall of 2017 – or maybe early 2018 – Zach said he had this idea that was from years before about a two-hander. I loved the idea and also that it was one location, which made it doable because we were basically self-producing. Not to mention, I needed to renovate my kitchen and we could use my house as a set.
We came up with the story beats when we all happened to be together in Los Angeles in February, and then Zach and I met twice a week in April and May and wrote it out. We would send it to Alex and we basically decided that we could improvise and change during the shoot, but we ended up using the script pretty much as is.
AW: As Linda, a multi-layered role with an limitless range, are you intimidated when you’re first cast as that character type, or is it more of a fun challenge?
PC: Oh, I loved it. She was a character I related to on a lot of levels. Aging, feelings of regret, becoming invisible as a woman, being angry and lonely and frustrated. She’s like my mid-life crisis come to life. There was a lot of freedom playing such an “out-there” character. I mean, as an actor, I’m usually auditioning for Hallmark movies, commercials, that sort of stuff. So, this felt like a blast. Also, I wrote it so it felt very personal.
AW: Since you co-wrote Homewrecker, you can spill the beans on this – whose idea was it to incorporate Linda’s Lisa Loeb moment? Now, there’s a scene that plays on different emotions!
PC: Honestly, I can’t remember exactly. Maybe Zach. We were in my kitchen. I think we talked about that video and how iconic it was, and how Ethan Hawke directed Lisa Loeb, and then we thought of recreating that video in the movie. And then, it was such a nutty idea we were both like “yes! Like, I don’t know if this will work”, but it felt like such a great risk.
AW: Where do you even begin to draw inspiration from when fleshing out this character?
PC: I didn’t really consciously think of things at the time but, looking back, it’s a lot of Betty Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and a little of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. I was really excited to play ugly, if that makes sense – not have to worry about being likeable or normal or pretty.
AW: You were also in charge of the film’s art direction. Did your characterization of Linda bleed into that role as well?
PC: I think so. I mean it was out of necessity because we didn’t have a budget. So, we were literally pulling out everything I owned and going to Value Village a lot. My mom’s paintings are used in the film, Alex painted two of them as well, the sledgehammer painting in my bedroom, and the little girl and the horse. But, a lot of that stuff is just mine. I have ‘quirky’ taste, so it wasn’t that hard. We borrowed a lot of fridge magnets. Alex and I went shopping, like, two days before we started shooting and I literally found that crazy workout outfit at the last minute at H&M.
It was all a bit slapdash and fast but sometimes that works best because it’s more instinctive and spontaneous. Some things took more time like the sledgehammer, and Zach and I had to drive to Sherway mall for the hammer key chain. Wow, thinking about it now it was almost overwhelming how much we were trying to do on our own, it’s literally a miracle it got made. But, that was part of the thrill of doing it. Like, how are we going to pull this off? But then, you also appreciate professional sets *that* much more because you’re like “oh, that’s why there’s a person in charge of continuity or props or costumes or make up”. I know intellectually I understood it, but when you do it on your own you understand it viscerally.
AW: Homewrecker makes such good use out of its single location. What was your favourite part about shooting within the confines of Linda’s house, and what was the most challenging?
PC: It was fun to be in the house and live and shoot there. It was nice not to have to get up early and go somewhere. But, it was hard because my son was going to school and was just trying to be a normal kid, and his room was transformed into some strange place. There was chaos everywhere, it was a mess. He stayed with his dad a lot.
AW: Homewrecker is outrageous and entertaining, but is there a meatier theme or meaning from the story that you hope audiences will takeaway from the film?
PC: I think we make fun of a lot of the outrageous pressures put upon woman in pop culture. I also wanted to satirize all the stuff I’m into as well: working out, vision boards, positive affirmations, romance, boys. I’m guilty of all of that, but it’s also fun to sort of blow it up and show the absurdity of it all.
Homewrecker screens at Toronto After Dark on Tuesday, October 22 at 9:30 pm at Scotiabank Theatre.
Read my review of Homewrecker here!