I had no idea that The Craft would have so much longevity. I mean, there’s no way!
A gaggle of teens with the “coolest job in the world”—hawking music while listening to same—are faced with the impending sale of their beloved record store to a big and shiny tunes chain. Four teenage girls at a Catholic prep school form a coven of witches to strike back at their peers and use their newfound sorcery for personal gain. At the end of the second millennium, Satan visits New York City in search of a bride to bear the Antichrist—over Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dead body.
The connecting thread between Empire Records, The Craft, and End of Days is of course Robin Tunney, who hit it big in the late ‘90s and has grown to show as much longevity in her career as the select films from her body of work—cult phenoms, if not cultural touchstones by some measure.
Now most widely recognized for her seven-year tenure on The Mentalist, which ended its run in 2015, the actress is teaming up with Nicolas Cage in Tim Hunter’s Looking Glass. After losing their daughter to a tragic accident, shattered couple Ray (Cage) and Maggie (Tunney) move into their newly purchased desert motel, only to witness a string of unsettling events taking place within one of their most frequently requested rooms. This is one of those best-left-unspoiled things…
Looking Glass hits selects theaters and will be available on iTunes on February 16.
So I went into this movie completely blind and—
Yeah, you can be honest, Kee. Then you saw it and it was pretty bad! You can be honest. [Laughs]
Oh god! I actually really enjoyed this movie. My hand to science, I only knew that you and Nicolas Cage were in it, the logline, and then I checked out the poster. To start, can I take you back to the beginning of this project? What really called out to you?
I have to be honest: I was a huge, huge, huge Nicolas Cage fan. When I met him, my heart was racing. I’ve been a fan of his for years. I think he’s one of the greatest living actors. Adaptation, Raising Arizona, Moonstruck, Leaving Las Vegas… He has given like ten of film’s great performances so I wanted to know, “What is he gonna be like?” And I worked with the director, Tim Hunter, before when Barbra Streisand produced these stories about The Holocaust, and he sent me some scripts over the years. He’s a really gentle, nice person. I just had a baby and thought that might be good to work with somebody that I knew was going to be gentle and nice. It’s very weird! Acting is one of those things where, if you don’t do it for a while, you get a lot of anxiety when you do go back. I had taken time off after [The Mentalist] and did a play in New York, and I had a baby, so I hadn’t been on camera in like two years. For some reason, it does make you anxious and I thought this was a situation where I knew what I was going into and it wasn’t gonna be for too long and I could bring my baby. It was very easy. I’ll go and work with any actor if I feel like I can learn from them. I did a movie once [August] because I got to have one scene with David Bowie and I was there for like eight weeks. I was only there to be there with David Bowie. Now David Bowie is dead and I’m so glad I did that movie with him and got to meet him.
Was it fun to shoot Looking Glass?
It was! Just because Patrick Cady, the cinematographer, and Tim had a very good relationship. It was just one of those: there were no arguments on set, everybody was cool, everybody was there to try and make the best movie possible in the time we had. Look—I could’ve read this script, in the hands of a different director or a cheesy producer, and it could’ve been a very bad B-movie. Tim directed a lot of Twin Peaks and he has this perspective that’s strange and sort of different. There are a lot of these situations where they just care about getting to Sundays—getting the day done as quickly as possible—and that wasn’t the case with this. There was this idea that everyone was there trying to make it look the best as they possibly could. They’ve said that the film is really surprising! I think people are gonna turn it on being like, “Ugh, what is this?” and then go, “That was a cool shot! That was weird… What was that character all about?” It’s this hybrid of a cool ‘70s B-movie and an early ‘90s psychological thriller, with David Lynch thrown in.
Where did you shoot? Is this a real, working motel?
Yes, and it’s in Utah in this town called Kanab. It’s kind of near a national park that’s popular in the summer but in the winter it’s like a dead, ghost town. My babysitter was so bored. She was like, “There’s nothinggg!” [Laughs] Nothing. If you wanna go to the mall, it’s like two hours away. There was no anything. She was losing her mind. There’s a library? Then there’s like one park. It was very small. I don’t know what Nic was doing, but I can guarantee you, not a lot. A dead town. There weren’t a lot of people around, but I remember this weird thing where, if Nic went to the gas station, it would be on the Internet. If he went to the grocery store, it was news. [Laughs]
There’s so much tension coiled up between your characters, with Ray’s infidelity and Maggie’s history of addiction. They lost a child because of it. That must add so much to what you’re playing, especially now knowing that you had your child there with you.
Yeah, it does, and there are also scenes where they’re not even talking about it, you know what I mean? It’s the thing that they’re both feeling, but they’re not talking about it. I think that’s clearly the impetus for why he’s watching and escaping into other people. For her, she’s just sort of drinking and trying to pretend so she can deal with it. They’re just two people trying to do the best they can. Losing a child would be the hardest thing to get through. It’s essentially about blame. She was sick, but he was supposed to be there. It’s just very complicated and I don’t know how people do it. I really don’t. It’s just one of those things in life that’s like, “Ugh.”
I’m curious about the scene where Ray takes Maggie to a casino to blow off steam, only because I learned that you used to frequent casinos during your periods of unemployment as an actress. I’m sure that was many years ago, but was it a personal detail you added?
No, no. [Laughs] It was in the script. I think it was just because there were casinos interspersed. We were kind of near the Nevada state border. It was the idea for where they might go for a good time. I actually like that sequence because the film is sort of sad and it’s the one time they’re having fun. You see what they might’ve been like before, you know? So that was kind of nice.
I first saw you in The Craft, even before I saw Empire Records. I actually revisit The Craft to this day. What do you remember from those days? Mostly fond memories looking back?
Yeah, for sure. It’s funny because it’s just one of those films that’s been passed on through generations. It’s seminal and people of all ages have seen it. It’s really crazy. Someone was asking me about the remake and I was saying that I would be happy to be a part of it if I thought it was gonna be good. And they would have to make a real effort to make it relevant because it was so long ago. You can’t just pick up and make a sequel 20 years later and have it be exactly the same tonally and all that—it won’t feel relevant. It either has to have a funny Heathers kind of tone, or something has to be different about it. But making the movie, you know, it was the best period of my life. I had no idea that it would have so much longevity. I mean, there was no way! I had no idea. I thought it might be a steppingstone. Twenty years later, I go get a coffee and someone goes, “I love The Craft!” I was at Kinko’s making a package for a meeting and this guy comes up to me like, “You made life for a gay boy in the Midwest tolerable.” I was like, “Thanks!” I was so moved! [Laughs] But you have no idea when you’re doing those things. It was important for feminists. It’s crazy. One interviewer asked me, “Does it bother you that you’re remembered for something that was so long ago?” and I was like, “Absolutely not!” I feel so happy that it has resonated with people, and it’s not like I haven’t been doing anything since that time. [Laughs]
Did the studio want to make a sequel right away? Was anything brewing back then?
I don’t remember to be honest. The director, Andrew Fleming, is still a very good friend of mine. They asked him to do a draft pretty soon after. I don’t think they could ever agree on a script. I think it was mostly about that. It’s weird because you can keep the tone and make the same kind of movie if they did a sequel four years later, but after 20 years? You need to reinvent it. We all wish we had magical powers, especially at that age in high school, but is that enough? It’s a great idea for a film. I just wonder how they would tell it again. How do you make that relevant? Is one of the girls trans? [Laughs] You know what I mean? How do you do it in today’s age?
I think it could come back with the right team.
I think it would work in the right hands and without a whole bunch of people trying to wring the sponge to make money. They would have to do it because it’s going to be good.
Did you all get along on that movie? Rachel True, Fairuza Bulk, Neve Campbell…
Yeah. While we were filming it, I saw Fairuza off set. I haven’t really seen her in years. Neve, I still speak to. I just got a text from her the other day. She’s kicking ass. Her world is going so well and I’m so happy for her. House of Cards was so good to her and she’s got a son who’s doing great. Rachel and Neve are very close so I see Rachel at Neve’s birthday party or baby shower and different things like that. I think she’s doing well. I think she does tarot card readings. I think she’s like super into it and that’s how she makes her living.
There was also End of Days, Vertical Limit, and I even remember you from Guillermo Arriaga’s The Burning Plain, which was a smaller part. Are you able to break your career down into chapters or do they all sort of bleed into one another like life is?
It’s all about life, you know? You end up going, “Okay, that decision suited my life at that time.” There are things that I did then that I would never do now because I have a child so why would I go out of town for that long to be able to do that one thing? I don’t know! When I was young, I remember I would find it so difficult to speak with journalists because they would be like, “What drew you to this project?” and it was a very simple thing like, “Well, they asked me to do it. It’s a job.” I guess if you have financial insecurity and all that stuff, you know, it’s very real. And a lot of the time, you do things because you have to keep working. Then you go and try to make the best out of it and some of it really surprises you and sometimes you’re disappointed. As an actor, you have very little responsibility in how something turns out in the end. It’s an interesting job. You’re paid a lot of money and there’s pressure about certain things, but at the end of the day, you didn’t write the script and you didn’t direct it, so you don’t have a lot of control.
You have another movie coming up called Monster Party. What did you like about that?
I loved the script. It was one of the smartest scripts that I’ve read. I think they made it for very little money. It’s a promising cast of Kian Lawley—I think something bad happened yesterday. I think he got into trouble for something. Then there’s Brandon [Michael Hall] who’s on The Mayor, Sam Strike who’s so talented, and Erin Moriarty. Virginia Gardner is on that Runaways show for Hulu and she’s so good. It’s this young cast and everybody’s up-and-comers. It’s this young director that I really like. I haven’t seen it yet, but I hope it’s good. I know it’s a really great script. It was such a genius script. But it was high concept so we’ll see.
That’s coming out this year?
I think so, yeah.
What’s it really about? I know you play Roxanne Dawson. The logline doesn’t say much.
From the outward perspective, she’s part of this perfect family that’s wealthy and they’re all good-looking. Then a group of kids decide to pose as caterers and rob them when they’re having a party. The Dawsons turn the tables on them because they turn out to be a family of serial killers.