Octavia Spencer is reuniting with “The Help” director Tate Taylor on “Ma,” a new film that’s being described as a combination of a horror pic and a psychological thriller. “Ma” will be produced by Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions, the makers of “Insidious,” “The Purge,” and the Oscar-nominated smash “Get Out.”
“It’s dark material, but it’s also really fun,” Taylor said. “Octavia is so damn likable that we usually see her in certain roles. But she’s such a good actress and this is such a complex character that if I do my job right, people in the audience are going to want to push pause and say, ‘Can we please take you out for coffee so you don’t do what you’re about to do.’”
Juliette Lewis, an Oscar nominee for “Cape Fear,” and Luke Evans, last seen trying to woo Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” will co-star. Production begins in Mississippi on Monday, with some of the shooting taking place on Taylor’s 100-acre spread and Greek Revival mansion. Spencer, who formerly lived with Taylor when they were trying to break out in the movie business, will be staying with him.
“It’s going to be a blast,” Taylor said. “We’ll be living in my house in Mississippi and shooting on my land during the day, and then making dinner and telling stories and breaking bread later that night.”
Taylor, whose other credits include the box office hit “The Girl on the Train” and the James Brown biopic “Get on Up,” is better known for making dramas than for cooking up horror films, but “Ma” emerged after he sat down with Blum. He suspects that Blum, who also has produced “Whiplash” and is developing a Roger Ailes mini-series for Showtime titled “Secure and Hold,” was more interested in Taylor for less genre-oriented fare. Whatever the case, Blum jumped at the chance to back Taylor’s inaugural entry into horror. The Blumhouse team sent Taylor home from a meeting with an original script from Scotty Landes.
“It was so serendipitous, because Octavia and I are always complaining about being offered the same s—, and I read this and thought, ‘Oh f—,’” Taylor said. “This is so f—ing weird and awesome and I want Octavia be the lead.”
Blum is equally enthused to have landed the Oscar winner.
“She’s an extraordinary actress at the top of her talents right now,” Blum said. “To have her in one of our movies is just a real confirmation of the value that we’ve built with our little system.”
Taylor is keeping mum about what role Spencer will be playing.
“I wouldn’t call her a villain,” he said. “It’s definitely the most complex character she’s ever played, if I may be so bold as to say that.”
It’s certainly an advantageous time for Taylor to make the leap to horror films. At a time when movie attendance is down, horror movies have proven to be resilient. “Get Out” skillfully tapped into the zeitgeist to mix scares with a penetrating look at racial politics, while “Split” (another Blumhouse production) and “It” were among the biggest hits of 2017. Blum said he’s noticed more filmmakers are reaching out to him about collaborating following the success of “Get Out.” He thinks the reasons are two-fold. “Get Out” with its four Oscar nominations proved that horror films can be artistically bold as well as commercially potent. At the same time, many of the dramatic material that once attracted auteurs is moving to the small screen.
“Artists are asking themselves, ‘How do we remain relevant theatrically?’” notes Blum. “One way is through genre movies. Directors who are passionate about the theatrical experience recognize that if they can fit their ideas into a genre mold, they can reach an audience.”
Blum’s model is a specific one. He gives directors creative freedom, but keeps them on a tight budget. Most of his films cost less than $5 million to produce, and “Ma” will be no exception. Despite the fiscal restraint, Taylor promises that his film will deliver big scares.
“More than being scary, it’s going to make people think,” Taylor said. “It’s going to have meaning and purpose. At the same time, there will be all the tropes of a horror movie, where you scream and cover your eyes.”
It’s a busy time for Spencer. She’s back in the Oscar race, having scored her third nomination for “The Shape of Water.” She also appeared in the Sundance Film Festival favorite “A Kid Like Jake.”
Evans is starring in the TNT series “The Alienist.” He just wrapped production on Luc Besson’s “Anna” and will star in and produce the Netflix comedy feature film “Super Normal.”
Lewis’ credits include “Natural Born Killers,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” and “August: Osage County.”
Blum’s upcoming films include a reboot of “Halloween” that will bring back original star Jamie Lee Curtis, as well as “The First Purge,” the fourth installment in “The Purge” franchise. In addition, the Blumhouse documentary “This Is Home,” a look at Syrian refugees, recently won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival in the world cinema category.
Blum and John Norris (“The Help”) are producing “Ma.” The project was brought to Blumhouse and developed by Ryan Turek, a VP at the company, who will co-produce the movie. Also joining the cast are Diana Silvers, Corey Fogelmanis, McKaley Miller, Dante Brown, and Gianni Paolo.
Spencer is represented by WME and Jackoway Tyerman Wertheimer Austen Mandelbaum Morris & Klein. Lewis is represented by UTA and Untitled Entertainment. Evans is represented by WME and United Agents. Taylor and Landes are represented by CAA.