It’s hard to watch the trailer for Ma, without feeling the hairs on the back of your neck slowly stand straight. Set in a small town in Ohio, the film follows a group of teens trying to find a new party locale, eventually meeting the character Ma, played by none other than Octavia Spencer. Though she appears friendly at first, something dark lurks beneath her kind exterior, and as the trailer continues, the viewer gets a hint of exactly what horrors she is capable of. In the trailer, you might also recognise a familiar face in one of the film’s starring roles: Corey Fogelmanis.
Rising to fame in Disney Channel’s Girl Meets World, Fogelmanis’s trajectory into horror isn’t atypical for Disney stars. Fellow Disney alum Zac Efron recently portrayed Ted Bundy in the controversial Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile on Netflix. Other Disney celebs, such as Vanessa Hudgens, have also occasionally dipped their toes into experimental or challenging projects. But for Fogelmanis, this is already well-trodden territory.
“I think it’s been simultaneously a conscious and unconscious decision,” he says. This year, Fogelmanis will act in Hulu’s horror anthology series Into the Dark, which will premiere this Summer, and in 2017, he played the lead role in Fullscreen’s thriller series PrankMe. “Coming out of Disney Channel, I was really drawn to horror because it pushes the boundaries… I spent three years on a sitcom, so there were a lot of things I wasn’t able to do. I really wanted to stretch myself.” Some of it though, he admits, was accidental. “I think that’s just been a lot of the roles that have stuck. It hasn’t really been up to me – it’s just kind of worked out that way. I don’t really know why, but it’s been really fun, so I’m not complaining!”
When the script for Ma landed in Fogelmanis’s hands, he knew he had the potential to be a part of something special. “I went and did the initial read, and I remember it being one of my best auditions of the year… Then I got to do a session with [director Tate Taylor] and another session with Octavia. It was just amazing – I remember sitting in a chair, and we were doing a scene from the end of the movie, Octavia and I, and she’s standing over me and doing the creepy face – when you see the movie you’ll see her do it a lot – and I was shocked. I was starstruck, I couldn’t say anything for a second, I didn’t know what was happening – it was just so weird! But we got through the scene and it was great.” Even after all of their time spent together, Fogelmanis still sounds in awe at the thought. “It was just so cool, and she was so nice as well. It was a wonderful experience.”
Once shooting began, Corey and the cast were immersed in Ma’s world, and not by choice. “We were shooting in the middle of rural Mississippi. There was not much to do because we were, like, in the middle of a forest half the time,” he jokingly recounts. “That was kind of scary and creepy, but cool – it adds a lot to what you eventually see in the movie.” One scene from this period in the woods has Fogelmanis particularly spooked. He can’t reveal too much, but he promises “[It’s] super weird, creepy, gross. Seeing it – watching it back – it’s so icky,” he says, followed by a knowing laugh.
Being in the woods provided more than just a backdrop for Ma’s home-grown story. Many of the actors were raised in New York and Los Angeles; filming in Natchez, Mississippi gave inspiration for decisions about their characters’ backstories in small-town America. “I think being [in Natchez] helped slow us down and helped get us into that mindset of middle America. I think that’s cool, and I think that translates.” An added benefit was the increased time spent with the cast. With no town to explore, downtime became an excuse to bond. “Any free time we had together we spent as a cast. We would have dinner together, have dance parties, lots of fun stuff… In terms of chemistry, so much of the fun we’re having in the movie was real. We really became best friends in those five weeks we spent in Natchez.”
Ma offers something for everyone, including those who think they wouldn’t normally relate to a teen horror film, says Fogelmanis. “I really do think it’s going to hit home for everybody because there’s a decent amount obviously with the kids, but what you don’t see in the trailer is the parents’ reaction to all of this. Luke Evans plays my dad, and Juliette Lewis plays Maggie [Diana Silvers]’s mom, and they have a lot of really fun stuff in terms, you know, of finding out about it and everything like that… There’s horror for teens and parents and everyone in between. I think it’s really going to get at you in ways you don’t expect.”
The film premiered on May 31, but as one of the film’s principal actors, Fogelmanis was given access to an early cut, an experience he describes as equally surreal as the shoot itself. “It was so special. I got to see it with my co-stars Gianni [Paolo] and McKaley [Miller]… Reliving all of those moments and seeing how it cuts together with editing and sound and how much that elevates it, it was really cool.” It might seem odd to describe a horror film with a laugh and a smile, but sometimes, Fogelmanis can’t help himself. “This was such a fun shoot. I think this was the most fun I’ve had on anything I’ve ever worked on.”
The future looks bright for Fogelmanis – he’s currently considering a move to New York following Ma’s release and press tour. Besides that, he’s slowly returning to analogue photography, specifically opting to shoot on “old Polaroids I found on eBay. I think part of that is due to me being scared of the technical aspects of digital photography,” he laughs. “But I love it, and I can’t wait to fully pick it back up again.”
‘Ma’ is now in cinemas. Watch the trailer here.
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