We’re very fortunate to be making a movie at any moment—with what’s going on in the world especially.
A child wanders the desert, gnawing on a severed finger. Meanwhile, a hiker traverses the same terrain in search of the perfect spot in which to photograph the upcoming solar eclipse. So begins The Seeding, a compelling calling card for Barnaby Clay, who makes his narrative feature debut on the back of a successful career in music videos, short films, and documentaries. The hiker in question is Wyndham Stone (Scott Haze), who comes to the aid of the young boy claiming to have been separated from his family. In short order, the man finds himself imprisoned at the bottom of a crater, at the mercy of a band of feral boys and a mysterious woman named Alina (Kate Lyn Sheil).
A horror film that flirts with subsects of the genre—survivalist, cannibal, and folk all teased—The Seeding settles into its unique rhythm as the man slowly uncovers secrets about his dire situation. “It’s a microcosm down here,” Wyndham says of the rocky prison he now shares with Alina in her lone, off-the-grid cottage. Sure enough, as he negotiates his relationship with the taciturn woman, he must also contemplate big questions about what he values, what freedom means, and whether there is more to life beyond our basic biological functions and the Darwinian demands of survival. A knowingly reimagined update of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman of the Dunes, the film allegorizes entrapment and (sorta) emancipation, distilling the human condition to its most essential elements.
Haze has quietly assembled an impressively diverse filmography in recent years—including Midnight Special, Venom, Minari, Antlers, Jurassic World Dominion, and Sound of Freedom—delivering a particularly thundering, transformative performance in James Franco’s Child of God.
Haze will next appear in Kevin Costner’s four-part theatrical event, Horizon: An American Saga.
The Seeding arrives in theaters and on VOD on January 26.
How are you doing, Scott?
It’s going good! How’s your day going?
Well, it’s quite early still, but it’s great to reconnect. We haven’t spoken since Child of God.
Where are you right now?
I’m in South Korea for a hot minute. Barnaby [Clay] and I actually had fun hanging out in Korea last summer when he brought The Seeding to a genre festival. We talked about you.
Right, right, right. I knew he was gonna be in Korea. That’s the one festival I was so sad to miss.
The Seeding is another confirmation of your deep commitment to the craft. I’ve told you this before: you really go there. Unsurprisingly, Barnaby saw that potential in you as well. I broached the subject of Child of God with him because I was so sure watching that film had at least in part influenced his casting choice. But he hadn’t seen it! According to him, you even said, “I can’t believe you haven’t seen Child of God yet. This is, like, my thing!”
[laughs] I was like, “You cast me in this role, but you haven’t seen Child of God? That just doesn’t make sense to me.” With what I go through in The Seeding, there’s a touch of Child of God.
Traces of Lester Ballard in Wyndham Stone is undeniable, I think.
I’m glad that you met with him. Isn’t he such a unique filmmaker? Barney’s one of a kind.
I warmed up to him instantly. He does have a unique perspective, and he’s just a good guy. Barnaby also said something really right: there are amazing actors out there, but can they all get to that extra place of reaching their primal selves? He doesn’t think that many can. But he knew that you could. I’m curious to know more about your first interactions.
This is where it gets really amazing because you just gotta trust the universe and the way things happen, right? I had just premiered Old Henry at the Venice Film Festival and I was gearing up to do this show that I thought I was gonna be on. It was like a big deal. Then that went away because things happen, yada yada yada. It’s just funny because, as I got off the plane at LAX coming back from premiering Old Henry, I got a text saying, “A director needs to meet you tomorrow.” That’s when I met with Barnaby and I said, “This guy has a unique perspective. He’s got a great heart,” just as you observed. I really only wanna work with people who are good people now. I could see that he was kind, he was smart, he was sensitive, and he had a perspective. He’s very unique. He loves genre film. He’s immensely educated. And this happens to be his first real feature. He sorta reminds me of Guillermo [del Toro, one of the producers behind Antlers in which Haze starred]. He’s got such a wealth of knowledge on horror films and that’s amazing. So I Zoomed with him, and when I hung up, it was like thank god ‘cause I was almost on this other show that I didn’t really want to be on. That was a very stressful thing I had just gone through and I got to do this film instead, which felt like theater. Kate [Lyn Sheil] and I really got to play it like that, which was like an answered prayer, if you will. This is exactly the movie I should have been doing at the time.
I do recall you stating in another interview that you were intrigued by seeing aspects of theater in this script. Because you very much come from theater. You even founded a theater of your own [The Sherry Theater in North Hollywood]. Given all of that, it makes sense that if there’s a theatrical component to be found in any script, that’s what really leaps out at you.
Yeah, and I think with where we’re headed and what’s happening, especially with AI, theater is going to be the only thing in the future, in certain ways, where you can go and have a real experience with a human in front of you that’s completely authentic. There’s no filter. There’s no coloring. There’s no editor going, “Let’s cut this moment out.” You’re there naked on stage with your heart out and you’re saying, “All I have is the person across from me as my lifeline.” I felt that way with Kate. I felt like if Kate is there, I’m good, you know? You can be doing plays eight times a week. You get exhausted, but you continue to go there. You need a partner that gives you this energy like, “We’re actors and we committed to doing this thing, to give it our best every day, and to dive in and go all out.” That’s what Kate did. I think she’s one of the greatest actresses alive. I got to go head-to-head with her. And whenever you read a screenplay like this, your first thought is always, “I can’t believe this movie’s getting made. Movies like this don’t get made anymore.”
You always seem fearless. But in speaking with Barnaby, I learned that you do have a fear of heights. It’s a pretty universal fear. And I like knowing that you have fears—it’s endearing.
Well, my big thing is claustrophobia. I’ll never forget doing a film where they had to cast my face for prosthetics. It was an hour-long process and, oh my gosh, I’m still in therapy about that. I couldn’t breathe. I had a panic attack. They had told me that if I put my thumb down like this, they would take me out of the mask, and they didn’t. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t breathe. It was the scariest time of my life. When I went into that canyon in The Seeding, it hit me again. There was a constant sense of claustrophobia. It was zero degrees. Then I’m on this 10, 12-story rope ladder swinging in the wind. It was an interesting stunt to do, but yeah, I’m scared of heights as well.
It’s interesting to view claustrophobia in the context of canyons because you look up and it’s a wide open expanse. But you’re still trapped there inside the crater. Didn’t you also live in a cave in preparation for Child of God? I would think that can get unbearably claustrophobic.
It’s a thing you allow to happen because I’m just so grateful, Kee, that I get to be part of telling stories for a living. Antlers was even crazier. I had to quit eating for five months. I went from 220 to 138 pounds on screen. That was hard. But that’s who this character was so there was a certain moment where I had to dive in and say, “I have to give everything here.” When those moments come, it’s time to face your fears. It’s your job and it’s a different thing when you’re making a movie. I can do it really well when there’s a camera there, meaning that there’s different elements in play, I guess, in my spirit and in my DNA, which allow me to walk into fearful things easier.
Speaking of transformations, you look very much like yourself in The Seeding.
I mean, you’re unrecognizable in many of your roles. I think that’s such a gift for an actor because the job description is that you’re a chameleon and you fit that bill quite literally. It’s just an impossible thing to do for many actors. They can spend hours in the makeup chair, but their foundation is inescapable. You have a malleable facade. You must hear that a lot.
What more often happens is that I will say, “I was in that movie,” and someone will be like, “What? Where?” Especially early on when I was doing these smaller roles, I’d have to go, “That’s me!” I’m just really fortunate and lucky that these are the movies I want to be a part of. But I will tell you, Kee, you’re exactly right. When I read the script [for The Seeding], I said, “This is the most I will ever look like myself in a film,” which was unique for me and really challenging.
If I have this correct, you also stayed in a wheelchair for a month in preparation for Thank You For Your Service. I wonder if you share these plans with directors beforehand. Except on Child of God, I do remember you saying James [Franco] didn’t know what you were doing until after the fact. He saw you all transformed and he was shocked to find you in that state.
That was my first opportunity to step onto the stage in a film. It was also an adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy novel so it was a daunting situation. The only way I know how to do anything is to give everything to it. That was the first role that took me to a place where I was able to paint on a canvas that massive. I had six months to prepare, and I knew this was such an honor. I’d worked very hard to get to a position where I could lead a film. There’s a point when nothing else really matters. Sacrifices are made. With Thank You For Your Service, I did stay in a chair. I slept at the VA. I went to San Antonio and got to live with the guy I played. And then I made a documentary on him. I love that process. I got to learn about our veterans and about how we can better take care of our soldiers. When I go all in into a situation, I learn the fabric of its DNA. It’s such a fun exploration to go and do that. It’s also completely time-consuming. With The Seeding, I love looking up at the stars so that was something I related with my character. Then it’s just about the environment and what’s coming at me so I didn’t get that same kind of preparation process with this one. But I felt honored to do it. If Guillermo trusts me to be one of his monsters or I get a role in a Cormac McCarthy adaptation or I work with Kevin Costner, one of my heroes, which is what I’m doing right now, it’s my duty to honor that blessing and give everything I can to it.
Barnaby said the thing with you is that you want to make sure everything feels real. He called that your mantra. So it makes sense that you would go to these lengths in preparing. You’re holding up your end of the bargain in a way. Hopefully, your collaborators meet you there.
Yeah, because if we didn’t push ourselves to reach that goal, I don’t think this movie would have the same impact. This is what I love about the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. When you watch that movie, there are moments where you feel like you’re not watching a film. You feel like you’re watching this really happen. I think that’s maybe what my subconscious was constantly trying to team to Barnaby’s subconscious: we have to make this authentic, and the more authentic we’re living this out, the more we’re gonna give the audience an experience where they’re looking into this world—and not just as a movie. So I try to bring that kind of energy to set, and it’s a group effort. You need a crew and an actress as talented as Kate, and a director who trusts and has a specific vision to go to those places. Sometimes people might be like, “Oh, it’s fine. Let’s move on. Yeah, this is good.” I just want to try to get the best every time if we can and push for that.
Did Barnaby give you films to watch for reference?
No, the only thing I watched were some of the DP’s [Robert Leitzell] films. When it comes to inspirational films, I’d seen the films that this movie has elements of already. So the prep process was more about my serenity and making sure I’m open to what comes in—from Kate, from the environment, from all the things happening that I don’t wanna spoil. I just wanted to be available.
It must also help knowing that a film is deeply connected to the filmmaker you’re working with. This is an original story, and he was writing this script when he came into fatherhood.
That’s why he’s such a great artist. That’s why he’s gonna go on to make other great films. He has a unique lens with which to look at the world. I don’t know if you caught this, but at the beginning of The Seeding with the car on the road, it looks like sperm, right? I saw it with my mom and I was like, “Mom, what does that road look like?” She’s like, “I don’t know.” [laughs] So not everybody may see it, but these are the kinds of details that mean something to him. At the end of the day, as hard of a shoot as it was, I respect him and I know he respects me because we gave it our all. And I understand what it’s like to be a director. You just want other people to care as much as you care.
You had a big movie last year: Sound of Freedom. How did you get involved with that one?
The director, Alejandro Monteverde, is a longtime friend of mine. We shared an office when I directed a documentary called Mully. So I’m in the room editing and Alejandro is writing a screenplay about child trafficking with Rod [Barr]. This was six years ago. Then I was about to embark on my preparation for another film when Alejandro calls me to say, “Will you do me a favor and come out to play this role?” I was like, “Of course, man.” I believed in this subject. Child trafficking is a real thing that’s going on and we need to shine a light on the darkness. The statistics don’t seem real. It’s like, “How could that possibly be?” There’s a lot of sickness in the world. When I read the script, it said, “God’s children aren’t for sale.” That made me emotional. It’s insane stuff. So I went and did the movie. I had no idea if the movie was ever gonna come out.
It was a minor success.
[laughs] I had no idea it would become this phenomenon. Everybody in America went to see it when I thought nobody might see it. So with films, you just never know what’s gonna happen.
You mentioned working with Kevin Costner earlier. That one is called Horizon: An American Saga. He must be an interesting guy to work with. This is his first film in two decades, right?
I can’t imagine it’s been that long.
I think so. As a director? Open Range was in 2003.
Wow. So I’m not allowed to really talk about Horizon, right? But I’ll share something cool with you about the experience that has a connection to The Seeding, which is really insane. So Kevin called and I got to meet with him. He offered me a role in this four-part movie series. I had to pinch myself because JFK is one of my favorite films. And I’m from Dallas. I remember being younger and watching him in JFK and now I’m working with him. Anyway, I looked at the schedule and it said we’re moving to Kanab, Utah. I thought, “Oh, I was in Kanab last year around this time. That’s interesting.” Then I had such PTSD while we’re driving to this location for Horizon because it was a year later, to the day, that I had filmed the hardest scene in The Seeding. We shot my scene in Horizon in the same location where The Seeding took place. It was just so surreal to be back in that canyon with Kevin. Nobody knew what I’d gone through in this place, and I couldn’t even try to explain it. I remember saying to the crew: “Be careful. I’ve been in this canyon plenty.” [laughs]
On your own directorial front, are you still developing the project on John Mack [a psychiatrist who studied UFO abductions]? That stuff is totally in my wheelhouse.
How do you know about that? Did I mention this somewhere? I’m heavily involved in that space.
I’m sure you did because I know about it.
When I was shooting Jurassic World Dominion during the pandemic, we were trapped at this place in London because we couldn’t leave the grounds. I didn’t really believe in aliens, but I watched a documentary James Fox made called The Phenomenon and then I watched Unacknowledged [by Michael Mazzola]. I started tilting my head like a dog, listening—“Wait, what? That can’t be real.” I went down a rabbit hole. I acquired the rights to John Mack’s life story because he’s kind of the pioneer in that research. He was the Head of Psychiatry at Harvard. Two hundred people claimed they were abducted by aliens, and he thought they were crazy. But by the time he interviewed them all, he found no other signs of pathology. So they’re all either under one mass hypnosis or it’s something else. There are thousands of stories like that, and I got to go meet some of these people. The angle we’re putting on the John Mack story is really exciting. It’s a fascinating subject to go down. John Mack really gives it validity and he’s behind some hardcore scientific research. I appreciate you asking that about me, Kee. I’m having a lot of fun developing that project.
Curiosity feeds creativity. What was your takeaway on the backend of making The Seeding?
It’s the movie where I was on Prednisone the most ‘cause my voice was so shot. It really took a toll on me physically. But it also brought me back to the love of making films. For me personally, I walked away with a deeper understanding about how to be a leader. I looked back at some of my favorite athletes and how they led their teams. I wanted to win the championship with this movie, and I get emotional thinking about it. I just feel so grateful that I’m able to tell stories and have experiences like this in this lifetime. You can’t turn on the news right now without your heart being broken. When I made Mully in Kenya, I saw my subject pick up a child who was left in a dumpster at two years old. That stuff is happening daily around the world. There’s so much pain and so much strife that moviemaking can seem beautiful and silly at the same time. There’s not one thing hard about what we’re going through on a movie set, but we can inspire and help heal. We’re very fortunate to be making a movie at any moment—with what’s going on in the world especially.