In March, Brianne Tju caught the eyes of critics at SXSW in the Winona Ryder-starring mystery thriller Gone in the Night (previously known as The Cow). As Greta, she portrays a confident Zoomer— a person that wasn’t all that easy to tap into despite Tju’s wealth of experience in the horror-thriller space.
With Gone in the Night hitting theaters, Tju spoke with LA Confidential about the movie, her upcoming role in Uglies alongside Joey King and what we can expect from Tegan and Sara Quin’s TV show, High School.
What was it like to take on a character like Greta?
Greta was such an intimidating character to take on. I remember I had received an audition for it and taped for it and I just didn't really have faith that I could play this part, but then I got the part and Eli Horowitz was the director and he just saw something in me. And so that really pushed me to do as much research as I can and push myself and have a lot of creative conversations with Eli.
I loved playing Greta because she's so overly confident and sure of herself. And I think that being on that side of the spectrum of things is really an interesting thing to play with because I think most people have insecurities. And she has them, she is human, but she is very, very good at hiding any weakness whatsoever and really just sniffing it out and other people. She's like a predator in her own way. It was very fun and challenging to play.
Eli and I really wanted Al and Greta to feel very alien in this world of Gone in the Night. It's funny. We have so many different generations that we're portraying in this one film. And although the age difference is apparent, it kind of feels like Al and Greta are from a different world. That's how disconnected they feel to Winona and Dermot’s characters, and even John Gallagher. Jr.’s character. We're really showing the differences between generations and how it really doesn't matter what generation you're in, everyone has this existential crisis.
As thrillers do, the end of Gone in the Night has a crazy twist. Do you remember your reaction when you first read it in the script?
Oh my god. I remember I was actually filming in New Orleans and I was exhausted and I was like, “Ugh, I don't really want to read this script.” But I'm glad I did. And when I finished the script, I was so into it that immediately I started all over again. I read it back-to-back, twice in a row that same night and it was so good. It's so well written and so interesting. As an actor, it was very intriguing to see the potential of like, “Wow, it's so good on paper already. How is this going to translate to real life? What can I do with this character to make her my own or something different and interesting?” And luckily, Eli is just truly one of my favorite collaborators of all time.
While filming Unhuman, you watched My So Called Life to unwind after days on set. Did you have a go-to show to relax while filming Gone in the Night?
What's funny is that Eli and I agreed that Greta is a psychopath or, to some degree, psychopathic and a narcissist and very much an opportunist trying to serve herself and her own goals. And so I listened to a lot of podcasts about psychopaths and I watched and listened to a lot of true crime.
I didn't really use anything to escape while I was working. I just dove deeper and deeper into the character because I found it so fascinating and so interesting. There's also this like, musical element where Greta and Al like noise music and punk and there's a bit of a lifestyle that they're living and so that was also part of my research. I'd watched Sid and Nancy. This experience was really fun because I just dove in entirely and so did Owen Teague. And it was great because we were just comparing notes and sharing music with each other and it was nice to get lost in something. The shoot was pretty quick for us, so it didn't last too long. It wasn't like we were driving ourselves insane or anything.
Do you typically immerse yourself in a role that much?
I think it really depends on the role. I don't like to set rules necessarily for my process. I think I just let it unfold very instinctually and very naturally. But I do like to do my research beforehand. Before I walk on set, I really like to just be prepared. I think honestly I do that more so to ease my own anxieties.
There have been times where, like with Gone in the Night, where I think I stayed pretty immersed in it. And then there have been times where I just completely need to snap out of it, like with I Know What You Did Last Summer. I did not want to live in my character Margot’s world for longer than I had to, and so as soon as I got off set, I was like, “ I'm done, bye Margot. I am myself.” And I find that oftentimes it’s the healthiest approach to this work.
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Let's talk about Uglies, Netflix’s adaptation of the novel by Scott Westerfeld. Do you think fans of the books will be happy with the adaptation?
I really do. And I don't think I ever like to get ahead of myself and make a statement like that because you just never know and these books really are so dear to so many people. But Joey King and I loved the books growing up. Joey's older sister loved the books growing up and from what we know about the film, I feel like we do a really good job at staying true to the source material while also making it something contemporary. And it's so interesting because this book was written like 15 years ago, and I think it is more relevant now than ever. It was just way ahead of its time.
Why do you think now is the right time to bring the story to life for the screen?
I remember talking to Scott Westerfeld when he came to visit set, and he's such a lovely, lovely human being. He was also saying this movie has been picked up and dropped so many times over the years, but he said how it feels very kismet that now is when it's coming out because with social media and how quickly technology and the internet is expanding and growing and just constantly changing, and how this younger generation is so fully immersed in it in a way that even when I was younger, I didn't have the internet like that. And it's just created a whole new way of life. A whole new way of communicating and a whole new way of really seeing yourself.
In a way, social media is great because it can make the world smaller to spread awareness. It can really give a spotlight to different perspectives. It can also lead to things like comparison and insecurity and unrealistic expectations. And I think that is something that we're still navigating.
Uglies shows you, I think, what the world could be if we valued what we look like more than who we actually are on the inside. And it's obviously an extreme version of that, but I think it's really going to tug at people's heartstrings because it could show you the possibility of something if we really do let this go unchecked.
Can you tell us anything about High School, the IMDb series based on Tegan and Sara Quinn’s memoir of the same name, and your character, Ali?
It takes place in the ‘90s and such a beautiful, beautiful show. When I read the book, I felt completely versed in it. It was just so poetic, realistic and unpretentious and beautiful and it creates this representation for the LGBTQ community in a way that feels so genuine and beautiful. And I feel like that's what the show does. And Ali is a character who… she’s really fun. She's really great.
High School sounds pretty different from most of your other roles. How did it feel to work different acting muscles?
I've very clearly done a lot of thriller and horror and my career, which I love, but it was really nice to fit into something different. At first, it made me a little uncomfortable, but then I really, really enjoyed it. For me, it has the vibe of My So-Called Life. I wouldn't necessarily call it a comedy but it's not necessarily just a drama. It has an unfiltered, poetic nature to it that I think is unlike any young adult show that's on TV right now. I think it'll be really nostalgic for the older generation that really love Tegan and Sara growing up, and then I think that this younger generation is really going to love it because it's showing a very talented cast of young people navigating their queer identities.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photography by: Manfred Baumann