Tate Taylor’s new Blumhouse horror film, Ma, examines what happens when a lonely middle-aged woman befriends some teenagers and decides to let them party in the basement of her home. But there are some house rules: One of the kids has to stay sober, don't curse, and never go upstairs. They must also refer to her as Ma. But as Ma's hospitality starts to curdle into obsession, what began as a teenage dream turns into a terrorizing nightmare, and Ma's place goes from the best place in town to the worst place on Earth. Screen Rant recently got the chance to talk with Taylor about his approach to the film and being a director who is considered by many actors to be highly collaborative.
Congratulations on the film. What a wild ride you took me on when I was watching that movie, so much fun. I think that the greatness of a director is versatility, and you absolutely show that here, unlike anything from your previous filmography. So what is it about this genre and this world that you wanted to play with?
Tate Taylor: It’s always about the story first. And if you had told me I would have done a movie in this genre – in what the genre is specifically defined as – I would have said no. But when I saw this character of Ma and the sense of nostalgia rushed into my own life of sitting outside of a liquor store every weekend as a kid, we all did, getting someone to buy liquor for us or beer. Bud Light 18-pack in my case. What would happen if we got the wrong one?
And it was just – and then that made me think, “Well, I want to know why they’re acting like this.” And so then I said, “I’ve not seen this before.” Also, you have so much sympathy for Ma that it’s almost hard to root against her. But at the same time it’s like you’ve got to.
Tate Taylor: Thank you. That was the intention. That’s why Octavia played it and why I created the whole need of a backstory. I think that when people come to a movie like this, with escapism on the brain and just wanting to have a blast, their guard is lowered about having something hit them in the gut. And that’s why I think it’s the perfect genre to dip into some themes that you otherwise wouldn’t go to a movie if you knew that they were there.
Right. Because most horror movies you’re either dealing with a monster or a ghost. This isn’t that; this is more something that could actually happen. What is it that you wanted audiences to see in that?
Tate Taylor: You know, I’m not a political movement type of guy, but we are in several movements right now. And I think it’s hitting at a perfect time of being a cautionary tale of what happens when you aren’t kind to people, when you do things to people while their brain is still developing. It can have horrible consequences, and I think the knowledge of that makes you – not root for Ma but understand it. And I think knowledge of humanity and the cause and effect of how we treat people is… Things can go wrong.
Right. And you know Blumhouse is changing the game when it comes to being a production studio. I have to know, are you in talks to work on any other projects? And is Ma dead, for maybe a Ma 2?
Tate Taylor: You’d have to ask Ma. It was too hot in that house for me, I had to get out of there.
I don’t know. Me personally, yeah, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of her.
Tate Taylor: I wish I knew.
Last question I have for you is: everyone’s talked about how collaborative you are, especially with them almost informing their own characters. Talk to me about that process a little bit. Because Octavia and all the kids, they –
Tate Taylor: That’s their job as an actor. No, I came out here as an actor. I studied and came up through the Groundlings program, improv. And improv is “Yes, and…?” And you work with your team and make it the best it can be. So that’s how I direct; I’m an actor’s director and the one thing that can make your show go wrong is to tell an actor no. If there’s a bad idea, it will usually reveal itself. And people will realize it, and then you’ve had no drama.