CS Interview: Co-writer/director Travis Stevens on Jakob’s Wife
With the film finally coming to wide audiences following its celebrated world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with prolific horror producer Travis Stevens to discuss his latest co-written and directed effort, the Barbara Crampton-led Jakob’s Wife.
WARNING: SPOILERS LIE AHEAD FOR JAKOB’S WIFE
ComingSoon.net: Last time we talked, it was actually before the film premiered at SXSW, and now that it has, what is it like for you to see the really positive response that it’s gotten so far?
Travis Stevens: Really, I feel incredibly proud, and people have really responded to Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden in these roles. It’s so nice to see because I have such respect for them as performers and for people to come out of the movie getting the same joy from watching them work that I got while making the movie, it’s been great.
CS: Was there anything you were specifically worried about people taking away from the film, either in a negative or positive light?
TS: Well, I think your concern is always whether or not people are going to get your intention. There’s certainly, with any sort of feedback or criticism, there’s stuff that you agree with in some regard. I think I was really happy to see that so many people understood that the tone of the movie changes along with Anne. As she starts changing, the movie starts changing. So I was really happy to see that.
CS: I think one of the interesting things is the sort of low body count for Anne’s character, especially for a vampire movie. What was it like trying to figure out how many people she kills and who exactly she kills, and for what reasons?
TS: It’s an interesting question because, in some ways, there had been existing drafts before I got involved, so in some aspects, I’m working with what’s there and trying to tweak it to make it fit my vision. I think with any sort of kills, you want to anchor it around the value it has to the character’s arc, so there are times when Anne takes action in this movie. I think of her as she’s still sort of getting control of her powers. It’s like superpowers, and she doesn’t quite fully have control over it yet and just sort of gives in to them, to the animal aspect of becoming a vampire. Let’s say in a future movie, I think body count stuff would be different, but in this movie, there are a couple of times where she loses control, which is different than this person’s embrace of who they are. We’re gonna follow them as they go around town killing a bunch of people like that didn’t seem right for her character.
CS: When I first read the synopsis, I initially thought The Master would be this suave character committing a series of murders around town when coming into Anne’s life. Were there ever drafts, or was there ever a time you considered that The Master would be someone committing the murders and then teaching Anne along the way?
TS: I don’t think that was in any of the drafts I saw. I think The Master was presented as much more of a traditional sort of seductive character, who is kind of there to lure Anne away from her husband. We didn’t spend much more time with The Master out and about in the town in any of the drafts that I saw. I think primarily this movie is using the vampirism as an allegory, and it’s really a movie about a woman reclaiming her voice. So every time we are away from that woman, it is going to impact that a little bit.
CS: What was it like trying to find that balance of world-building and the allegories of the story, especially with scenes away from Anne?
TS: It was a lot of trial and error and putting Anne’s character in scenes that maybe originally she wasn’t in and just trying to make sure we didn’t lose her in the story. You know, there’s so many factors at play when you’re making a movie at this budget level, so in terms of world-building, how much of that world are you going to be able to show? How effectively are you going to be able to live in it? You know, like a movie like Blade, you’re able to live fully in the world of these vampires because they’ve got the money to show that world, and that’d be fucking awesome. We had to lean a bit more towards Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction, where it’s much more centered on one character and that there’s little flashes of the world on the side.
CS: So even though you didn’t really have the budget to show these things, did you sort of have like a Bible to help flesh out that world for your own mind, as well as for your cast?
TS: Sure, I mean, it wasn’t a full Bible, but every actor kind of needs an understanding of who this character is, what their experience was before the movie begins, how that character functions. Because the design was going to be an homage to sort of classic Nosferatu, Salem’s Lot-style vampires that made it easier to fill in some of the details in terms of shipping crates and the dirt and the rats and the clothing and all of that.
CS: Was there any part of you that wishes that you got more time with The Master on screen instead of the Jaws-like approach for their presence?
TS: It’s hard for me to know at this part of the process. I’ve certainly seen some feedback that people love the character and would love to see more of her. But it’s hard to know because this is a movie primarily about Anne and The Master is just there to help spark the transformation Anne goes through. I think there’s there’s room in the future to explore that more, but in this particular movie, I don’t really have any regrets because to add more with The Master might mean having to take away some of the other stuff.
CS: One thing I find interesting is when you have thematic-heavy films in the horror genre such as this, those in the same role as Larry Fessenden’s character often wind up dead by the end of the film so the female lead can embrace their new empowering life, and yet Larry survives in this film. How did the decision to keep him around come about?
TS: There’s a value to movies being black and white, but that was not this movie. This is not the story of a good wife and a bad husband. It’s a story of a relationship that over time has stopped working for both people, so because the victory, in this case, is Anne speaking up and using her voice to say, “Hey, I’ve got things I want to do, and I’m confident enough now to express those,” wasn’t necessary for her husband to die for her to reach that victory. Just her telling her partner, “Hey things in this relationship needs to change,” that accomplishes the goal. So it’s a little more of a subtle resolution, but I think it’s true to life, and certainly, that’s the point that I wanted to make. This is not a movie about a terrible relationship, the terrible husband, and in order to be happy, she has to kill him, and then she can be free, and now everything’s perfect. Maybe that’s a victory, but that’s not the only victory like in any relationship where the two people really genuinely care about each other. The victory is listening to your partner and their needs and then making the adjustments necessary for you guys to move forward happily. Which is maybe silly for a horror film where blood is like splashing all over the set, but it is what it is. [laughs]
CS: To look away from the film for my final question, I’m curious, are we going to see you and Ted Geoghegan get back together for a project soon?
TS: I think Ted has a bunch of things going on right now, I am a Ted Geoghegan superfan, superfriend, and if he ever needs me to do anything, I am there to help.
CS: What would be your hope for a project together? Would it be you directing? Would it be Ted directing? Would it be in the horror genre? What’s your big dream project to get back with him?
TS: I think it would be really fun to work with Ted on our version of an ’80s slasher movie, and then Ted has such an encyclopedic knowledge of horror sub-genres that he could do something incredible with that format.
The film centers on Anne, who is married to a small-town minister and feels like her life and marriage have been shrinking over the past 30 years. After a chance encounter with “The Master,” she discovers a new sense of power and an appetite to live bigger and bolder than before. As Anne is increasingly torn between her enticing new existence and her life before, the body count grows, and Jakob realizes he will have to fight for the wife he took for granted.
Alongside Crampton (We Are Still Here), the ensemble roster for the film includes Larry Fessenden (Stake Land), Nyisha Bell (Coming 2 America), Mark Kelly (The Hot Zone), Sarah Lind (Wolfcop), Robert Rusler (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Vamp), Bonnie Aarons (The Nun, The Conjuring 2) and Phil Brooks (aka CM Punk, Girl on the Third Floor).
The horror-thriller is directed by Travis Stevens (Girl on the Third Floor) and co-written by him, Mark Steensland (The Special) and Kathy Charles and is an AMP production, produced by Bob Portal (It Came From The Desert), Inderpal Singh (The Hoarder), Crampton and Stevens. RLJE Films is a business unit of AMC Networks, while Shudder is the studio’s premium streaming service for horror, thriller and supernatural titles.
Jakob’s Wife previously made its debut at SXSW in March and is now available in select theaters and on digital platforms and VOD!