When I call up Katie Stevens on a drizzly Friday afternoon in September, the controversy surrounding Joker has yet to come crashing through Hollywood. It would be a matter of weeks still before the backlash over the glorification of violence reached its full force, resulting in a buffet of think pieces, not to mention the cancellation of screenings across the country.
However, when we speak of horror, the genre best suited to describe Haunt — Stevens's newest film from the writers of A Quiet Place — she sounds almost clairvoyant.
“You don't want to make a movie that gives anybody that idea,” she tells me, referring to depictions of on-screen violence that some fear may spark imitations. “But then again, there's a level of making these horror films that draws awareness," she continues. "I think [they] will give people more of an awareness and caution when they move forward in those kinds of situations.”
Though the 26-year-old from Connecticut — who, lest you forget, was introduced to the public on season 9 of American Idol — has not one, but two horror flicks on her IMDb page, many of her fans will probably recognize her not as a scream queen, but as the sensible Jane Sloan, a buttoned-up yet feisty reporter at a Cosmo-esque women’s magazine on Freeform’s The Bold Type, which was renewed for its fourth season in May.
Stevens admits her most well-known character is “not that far off” from her true nature. Though I can’t see see Stevens when we speak, I can feel her Jane-like energy bursting through the phone — from the articulate enthusiasm about her work, to a fearlessness when delving into the stickier topics, like gun violence. She also expresses a familiar, Jane-like coyness when speaking of her fiancé of 2 years, Paul DiGiovanni.
Stevens's relationship to Jane is one of the reasons she felt compelled to take on the role of the more passive character Harper in Haunt. While both IRL Katie and "Tiny Jane" are probably the type to say "hell nah" to a haunted house like the one in the film, one in which no one can quite tell the difference between faux acts of horror and very real, very "WTF" murder, Harper has a harder time standing her ground — making for an empathetic lead if there ever was one.
Read on below for Katie's thoughts on scary movies, the trials and tribulations of being a bride, and the dogs (in food) of Instagram.
InStyle: Tell me a little bit about how you got into the world of horror films?
It's honestly just by chance. I've always shied away from watching horror films because they're so scary to me. But I always wanted to kind of challenge myself and kind of step into the genre and be able to figure out how to make those stories come to life because they're so different from anything that I've ever done.
I already knew about A Quiet Place, and so when I got the audition for [Haunt], I was like, "This is so cool and this story is so cool."
I was really drawn to Haunt and what [writers] Bryan Woods and Scott Beck did with the story — they made you attached to all of these characters. And I think that especially in horror, that's so important because if you don't care about any of the characters then you don't really care about what happens to them.
How did you prepare for this role then? As you said it's not something that you're usually doing. Did you force yourself to watch a lot of horror?
Well, it was actually nice because the directors kind of sent me an email of all of their horror films that they're kind of inspired by when they write. And so it was actually my fiancé's dream because he loves horror films. And when we first started dating, I was like, "The only way you're ever going to watch a horror film with me is if I'm in it."
I think, [the movie] kind of allowed me to step out of my fears when it comes to horror films, because I was able to kind of see the creation of it, and the behind-the-scenes, and how difficult it is to actually make a horror film, and to make it authentic and to make it real. I really loved the challenge of having to do that.
In other roles that I've played, like Jane on The Bold Type and Karma from Faking It, they're not so far off of who I am as a person, they're a little easier. And so to channel Harper and to be this weaker character ... I feel like "weak" is the wrong word to use because she draws a lot of strength, and we see that throughout her journey.
But she's just kind of an outsider and doesn't really know where she fits in. And I normally play the more boisterous, outgoing, talkative character, so it was fun to kind of channel something different and to kind of prove to myself that I can play more than one type of role.
It seems like more people are talking about horror films these days. There's all these horror films with social messages, like Us and Get Out by Jordan Peele. What do you think about the rise of the genre in relation to these kinds of social messages and this political climate that we're in?
I mean, I think that it's great because I think that the political climate that we're in kind of does feel like a horror movie. And I am a huge fan of Jordan Peele. I love watching his movies and then finding the subliminal messages that are behind it. But I think that everybody lives in some sort of state of fear at some point. And I think that a lot of times horror was used for escapism, and to kind of put you into situations that you otherwise would think you never would be in.
But now I think that horror is becoming more scary because we're putting people in situations that they feel like they are in all the time, and kind of living in their true reality. I think that that's also with Haunt, what is so scary is, I mean in our climate today, you have people that cause so much harm to others with kind of no reason behind it other than to just cause harm. And I think that's what's so scary about Haunt, is the people who are in this haunted house, they are not these like crazy monsters or like ethereal beings or demons. They're like real people who are just, for lack of a better word, f—d up, who have decided to prey on innocent strangers.
And so I think that that's what's the scariest because I think that that's happening in our world all the time now.
Are you referring to anything in particularly, like mass shootings and terrorism? Maybe all of it?
I mean, absolutely. People are scared to do anything nowadays. You're scared to go to the movies. You're scared to go to school. You're scared to like go anywhere.
But my brother and I always had this discussion like, what is stopping some like psychopath from coming into [a haunted house] and actually causing harm? Nobody would know the difference. You walk in and there's like the people who are like, "Help me, help me." And you're just like, "Oh my god, that looks so real."
Then when this script came in front of me, I was like, "Oh my god, that's literally what this is about." But I think that it's like the tough balance because you don't want to make a movie that gives anybody that idea. But then again, there's a level of making these horror films that draw awareness around these things, which I think will give people more of an awareness and caution when they move forward in those kinds of situations.
I wanted to pivot a little bit to The Bold Type. Early on in the show, there were a lot of comparisons to Sex and the City. How do you feel about your core group being compared to these iconic roles?
I mean, I think that it's fantastic. I love Sex and the City, so to be compared to that is incredible. I think that the fundamentals of what Sex and the City was about was these four women that were there for each other no matter what. And they came from all different walks of life and experiences.
And I think that we're similar ... we're also navigating what it's like to be in your mid twenties and defining your careers, and figuring out what you want out of relationships and just life in general.
I get so many people that come up to me and they're like, "I'm 50, I'm not really in your demographic." And I was like, "I can't tell you how many people come up and say that exact thing." So I don't really think we have a specific demographic, but I think that it's nice because Sex and the City did so much for female positivity, and showing, portraying strong women on television.
Would you say that you identify with any of the core group on The Bold Type?
I mean I'd say I'm definitely like Jane. I think we're all pretty similar to our characters.
True to casting.
Yeah, I think our characters are like a little heightened extra versions of ourselves. I always say, especially where it comes to sex and sexuality, I feel like I learned so much from Jane. Because I am similar to Jane, where I'm not a person who uses my sexuality, but I feel like playing Jane has allowed me to step into the fact that I can own that I am a sexy woman and that I'm a sexual person.
I think a lot of times as women, we think that if we lead with our sexuality, that that doesn't make us as strong. And I think that it's like drawing strength from saying, "This is who I am. I am a sexual person, I am sexy, I am smart, I am driven," and you can be all of those things, you don't have to just like fall under this one umbrella. And I think that I'm learning that along with Jane.
And you're getting married soon, congratulations.
Yes, thank you.
Is there anything that you can share about the wedding planning process, or when you do plan to get married? Is it approaching?
It's approaching. I'm keeping the date under wraps.
But I will say that wedding planning is a different beast than I thought it would be. I think that there's some aspect to weddings that should be a crime, like how much things cost.
But overall it's been really lovely. I mean, Paul and I have been engaged for almost two years now, which has been so great. We've just kind of gotten to like live in this really wonderful phase. I feel like, sometimes people are like, "Wow, you're waiting a while to get married." And I'm like, "Well if I know I'm marrying him, like what's the rush?" Like let me just like enjoy every phase that I'm in. Because I find that as I'm getting older, I do realize the whole 'life goes by really fast' mantra that everybody says is true.
That's an excellent point.
I think we're just treating our wedding now like our dream party that we want to have. And it's going to be cool because every person whose made us who we are and brought us on our journey and basically led us to each other is all going to be in one room, which is really special.
Do you have an Instagram account that you're currently obsessed with?
Ooh, I do. It's called Dogs In Food.
Oh my god, that sounds amazing.
It's literally an Instagram where somebody has superimposed dogs into food. It sounds exactly like what the Instagram name is.
Astrology, yes or no?
Sometimes … I’m not very good at [it]. Sarah Hyland is my good friend, and she's like all about it, and she is also Sagittarius like me, and so I just feel like I listen to what she says.
Who was your first celebrity crush?
Off the top of my head, I'm going to say Chad Michael Murray in Cinderella Story.
And what's the favorite item of clothing that you own?
Ooh, probably my Lululemon sweatpants because that's just the only thing that I could bring myself to wear to work in the morning. It’s so funny because on The Bold Type, we're like always wearing these like fashionable things and heels. And I'm like, "Yeah, I'm just going to probably wear sweat pants there."
What is the one thing that you wish more people knew about you?
One thing I wish more people knew about me, that I'm really sensitive, I guess. That I find that sensitivity is my biggest strength, and it's what allows me to move through the world as an empathetic person.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Haunt is streaming on VOD and digital