Former Dear Evan Hansen star Mallory Bechtel discusses her leading role as “Jami” in Know Fear, a new horror feature produced by Tenor Films.
At only 21 years of age, Mallory Bechtel has already begun to make an impact with her acting career. Between 2018-2019, she starred as ‘Zoe Murphy’ in Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway, succeeding original actress Laura Dreyfuss.
With her new film Know Fear, Mallory Bechtel returns to the horror genre after appearing in 2018’s Hereditary – also starring Toni Collette. Starring alongside Mallory Bechtel in Know Fear is an ensemble cast including David Alan Basche, Amy Carlson, Jack DiFalco and Meeya Davis.
Welcome, and thank you for taking the time to do this.
Mallory Bechtel (MB): Thank you for having me.
You have worked on a variety of projects in your career. Did anyone or anything in particular inspire you to pursue acting?
MB: I think what initially inspired me to do acting… I have sort of a weird journey because I started out in musical theatre. It was more that I really liked singing as a kid and my parents signed me up to do musical theatre classes. I was very convinced for pretty much until the age of 13 I would say that I only wanted to do musical theatre. And that the only reason I liked musical theatre was because of the singing.
That was my favourite discipline and I would say, now, I definitely still consider myself a singer first over the other two, just because I feel more confident, I’ve been doing it longer. Weirdly enough, I never felt good about acting in particular or very inspired by it until I did perhaps now an inappropriate production of West Side Story. A little ‘Community Kids’ production of it. I was Maria, it’s very cringy now, looking back.
At the time, that was the first big acting challenge I had. In terms of projects I’ve done where I felt excited about acting, that was the show where I was like: “Oh, this is cool too.” It’s difficult. I realised I had been getting away with doing the typical child musical theatre acting, which is to talk loud and make big gestures. That would be the answer for the first project I felt inspired by.
Previously, you played ‘Zoe Murphy’ in Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway. How did your experience with the show and after you left help shape who you are as an actor, today?
MB: I was the Vacation Understudy for the show when I was 17. I loved it and I auditioned for it for the Vacation Understudy definitely not thinking I would get it, because I was very young. From doing that, they offered me the part and I did it for a year after I graduated high school. In terms of shaping me as an actor, that show… I can’t imagine a better bootcamp in learning how to give a consistent performance.
That show, and not even my part in particular, I did have some grueling scenes where it was expected that we get very emotional and cry, like, 8 times a week. That was the challenge going in and it’s so ridiculous for me to say because the title character…. if I felt like I was being challenged, I can’t imagine what it’s like to play Evan, where there’s this huge expectation from the audience that you’re going to burst into tears.
I definitely felt like… it’s a bit inexpressible, the specifics of it, but I felt like when I left that show, I slowly but surely learned how to whip this out, day in day out. Even though I know what’s going happen. I felt like coming out of it, if I’m able to reach that place in a show that I have to do all of the time… It gave me better tools in terms of film to reach that place. It was just practice for that. It’s a weird answer, but it was nice to have my Broadway debut be such an acting challenge, not just a vocal challenge. I feel like it’s really helped me in my acting career going forward.
You were the second person to play Zoe full-time. How did you approach taking over a role that had been played by another actor?
MB: Yeah, it was a weird thing, because I was the Vacation Understudy and when you’re training to be that… I never went on. I only understudied at two week intervals, twice. I was never needed to go on, but when you’re doing that, they tell you, I believe. It’s whoever is playing the part, if you’re understudying them, they tell you to just do it exactly like they do. You’re taught to mirror their reactions identically because if you get thrown in, the people on stage want to deal with what they’re used to or be thrown in any way.
But yeah, so it was weird because I was very used to doing that. Then, all of a sudden, when they asked me to take over the role for myself, it was like: “You do you.” It was kind of… I would say it was fun. You don’t want to go so crazy that you’re not staying true to the integrity of the character. I think it felt particularly liberating because I had been told to do it like Laura Dreyfuss, who originated the role. Personally, I loved getting to do that.
It was definitely something I experimented with, still kind of figuring out while the show was going on, who I wanted my version of Zoe to be. It is definitely a different thing having that template already set, as opposed to stepping into a film like Know Fear, no one had ever played Jami before.
In your new film Know Fear, you play the character ‘Jami’. What attracted you to the role when you read the script for the first time?
MB: I thought she was a very neat and sort of unique teenage character. Definitely, she’s very passionate about ghost hunting, which I think would probably be what I really liked about her. I liked that we had this typical sort of teenage girl trope of, ‘she feels very insecure with her peers, she doesn’t necessarily fit in. So, she has this YouTube channel, but it’s with this niche thing that you would not expect a teenage girl with her demeanour to be into. She’s very passionate and very knowledgeable about it.
I liked that she was a smart character and very convicted. She knows what she knows. There’s moments in the movie where she stands for what she believes in, what she knows and she trusts herself. She’s a very strong character and I really liked that about her, especially coming from a teenager.
For anyone who hasn’t heard about Know Fear, how would you describe or pitch it?
MB: Without giving too much away, Know Fear starts off as a very typical horror movie. You have a family who’s moving into a new house and we quickly discover that there is a demonic force present. Where the twist comes in with Know Fear is that the only way to conquer the demon is to perform this ritual that gives individuals certain senses. One person’s able to see the demon, another person’s able to hear the demon and another person’s able to hear the demon’s language. So, we had to work together in order to conquer the demon and ultimately save ourselves with these special abilities.
In your opinion, are there more similarities of differences between Jami and Mallory Bechtel?
MB: That’s a great question. I would say, I feel very alike to Jami in her demeanour. That was a part of the breakdown, that she is really affectionate with her family. She’s not your typical resentful outcast. She loves her family and wants to do everything she can to protect and save her family. So, I do feel similar to her in that way.
And just about her being passionate about something, I feel like that’s always kind of been present in my life at least, specifically with musical theatre, to bring it back to that. It was my first love and something I was doing since the age of 5. I definitely have that thing that I know everything about, I want to share it with everyone I love. So, we are very similar in those two ways I think.
In the specifics, ghosts and being into that creepy folklore, no. I would not call myself a horror buff in any sense, but those two qualities I feel very similar to her.
Most of the other actors in Know Fear play your family – brother, aunt, uncle. How different is figuring out character dynamics when they know each other so initimately versus if they had all been strangers?
MB: I think the whole movie would be different if I was trapped in a house with people I don’t know. I love that it was a family and I think it was very helpful that we were in very close quarters with each other. The cast and I did a readthrough beforehand so we got to know each other before. The filming process with everyone, I have previously likened it to summer camp, which is a bit inaccurate, but the spirit of it is the same.
We all lived in New York at the time, so we would get picked up together. We were just always together, sharing the same rooms to change and hang out, because it was all just shot in this one house. The cast, we all got very tight, we were very familiar with one another. That’s sometimes a tricky thing because sometimes you grow to hate the people you spend every waking moment with. Honest to God, not the case with us.
We still have a group chat, we all keep up. I hope that shows up in the movie that we took it upon ourselves to form this tight bond because we’re playing a family onscreen. I like that that’s the relationship between these people that are trapped in this house together.
In 2018, you appeared in Hereditary, another supernatural horror feature. What do you most enjoy about working in this genre?
MB: That’s an interesting question, because it’s purely coincidental that I am working in this genre. What’s interesting about my participation in Hereditary is that I wasn’t really there for much of the creepy stuff. Specifically, the house stuff. I think there is something very fun about the response to a horror film. Always, even if it’s good or bad, there’s an intensity to a horror film. I like getting to tell my friends that it’s a horror film because people are always going to have a reaction, you know.
As opposed to if I was doing a romantic comedy, it’s more of a tepid response from friends and family. I like that it immediately illicit that kind of response, a horror film, people are always going to have a wide range of opinions on a horror film. Hereditary and Know Fear are certainly very different. I think it’s got that extra level of excitement, no matter what it is, just by virtue of being horror. It’s been fun to see Hereditary with my loved ones and now see Know Fear soon.
Where can people see Know Fear when it’s released?
MB: It is now on Amazon Prime!
We are already a few months in 2021. What do you hope to accomplish with the rest of the year?
MB: That’s a great question. I’m going to school now, which is something I’ve never done before. I didn’t think I was going to go to school, because I went straight to Dear Evan Hansen. I would kind of just… I don’t want to call it lame, it’s not lame [laughs]. I want to focus on my education and prioritise that for once, because I have the opportunity to.
Theatre and Film have slowed down significantly. Yeah, I want to prioritise my education, work more in that field and see what I can get out of it, while I have the opportunity.
Thanks again for taking the time to speak with us. Take care and stay safe!
MB: Thank you so much, you too.