Allison Williams on Why Get Out Is the Scariest Film You Never Saw Coming
Warning: Major spoilers ahead.
By this point, someone has probably told you to see Get Out. And if for some reason they haven't, I implore you to do so immediately. Jordan Peele's directing debut about a young black man who visits his girlfriend's family home in a bucolic and predominately white suburb with a (very) dark secret is both brutally honest and downright terrifying. The premise—that the town's white residents hypnotize black people into forced servitude—is a searing social commentary on racism and injustice in America.
In the film, Allison Williams takes on her first feature role as Rose, the seemingly innocent white girl who lures her doting boyfriend, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), into her family's twisted, sadistic trap. On the surface, Rose has all the qualities of Williams's Girls character Marnie—perfect coiffed hair, a thin figure, clothes plucked from the racks of Ann Taylor—but inside, she's a psychopath who targets and seduces black men before committing them to a life in "the Sunken Place," where they lose control of their own consciousness.
Here, Williams gets candid about the project, race relations, and that creepy milk scene.
What drew you to this role?
I had been looking for something that would really delineate me from Marnie and shock everyone into thinking of me as someone else, and Jordan was in the midst of looking for a person to play this part who was immediately trustworthy in a meta sense because of the other things that they'd done, so the audience wouldn't see something else coming. All of his casting reflects that—Bradley Whitford is [The West Wing's] Josh Lyman to so many of us. You would never think anything bad of him. Catherine Keener is everyone's dream sister slash mom slash aunt. When Jordan reached out, he was like, "You're the only one I can picture to play this part." When I started to read the script, I thought, I wonder what that means. As I kept reading and discovered what Rose was like, I realized it was exactly what I was looking for. It uses this thing about me that's been really hard to shake off—this sheen of uptightness that people can't seem to separate from me—against itself, which is kind of the perfect solution. And the script was incredibly strong. I love the idea that I'd be able to embody this person and reset people's associations with me, even if that association became one of terror and evil [laughs].
Girls fans love to hate Marnie, but Get Out urges the audience to side with Rose from the get-go. Was it refreshing to play someone who's so likable right off the bat—at least for a little bit?
Jordan wanted people to be really surprised and caught off guard by Rose's switch, but he also wanted them to wonder what the people who weren't surprised could see that they couldn't. Part of what's so fascinating about the movie is that people's trust in Rose breaks down along racial lines. I've talked to black people who saw the movie and they didn't trust her from the beginning, and every white person that sees it says they were shocked. That sensation of being in an audience and hearing some people say, "I knew she was in on it" and others just reeling from that fact is a revelation in and of itself, as is the response to the police lights at the end. So many of the interactions and events that take place are meant to be a teaching moment for audience members so you can wonder why you are responding differently from other people.
How did you get into character as the malevolent Rose?
We called her Ro Ro. Rose is essentially an actress. I wanted to figure out the character underneath, so I started to think about what personality she would have, what her life has been like up until this point, what she has been able to develop and what she hasn't been able to develop based on the fact that she's in character most of her life playing different people to this one end. Slowly this idea came to me of someone for whom everything must be just so—someone who is stunted and stuck developmentally at the age when she started doing this because she stopped becoming who she was and just became other people for brief periods of time. As I got to know that person, everything else fell into place. But I dreaded the experience of being in that mindset. It was not fun. To get there I had to really be there, which sucked. I didn't really talk to people. As an actor, I love the feeling of being on set and the camaraderie of working on something together. When I was in character for Ro Ro, I just sat in a room upstairs by myself until we were ready to shoot.
There was a physical transformation too, when she loses her bangs. Was that intentional?
The haircut was important. Having bangs was super annoying, but I think it's exactly what Ro Ro would've decided was the right move to get Chris. There was something about that look that was just so trustworthy, which is also why I asked Jordan if I could pull my hair into a ponytail as soon as Chris was put back into the Sunken Place. My thinking was that she could not wait to get her bangs out of her face because she had them for five months and they were driving her crazy.
The last outfit she wears is also very telling. Were you involved in choosing the costumes?
I worked with Jordan and our costume designer, Nadine Haders, to come up with the perfect aesthetic landscape for Ro Ro. The phrase that kept coming back to me was "just so." I pictured someone who wanted everything to be tidy. When I was little, I used to watch Disney movies all the time and it drove me crazy that Cinderella's tights wouldn't gather at her ankle when her foot bent, so I kept trying to make sure that I didn't get those little creases on my ankle because Cinderella didn't have them. I kept picturing that instinct of a little girl trying to look like a cartoon, and if I hadn't continued developing, what that would've evolved into. We wanted to present someone who didn't even seem to have a sexuality or a feminine identity, who reverts back to this completely blank slate. There was a true androgyny, so that whatever she needs to do next or whoever she needs to become, she's not prohibited by too much of a sense of self. It all became about not having a single wrinkle in anything and keeping everything perfectly pressed. You think Marnie's a control freak? Meet Rose.
That scene with her eating fruit loops and sipping a glass of milk was ... something.
There's so much going on in that tableau. Out of context, it's impossible to explain why. In and of itself, it's this completely chilling image.
The end is left slightly unclear. Is Rose dead? Or should someone put out a distress call to the NCAA?
Rose has this sadistic smile because she realizes that, in her last moments alive, she's succeeding in bringing Chris to the brink of becoming a beast—to use Jeremy's word—and she's just imagining what the repercussions will be. And then when he loosens his grip, she realizes that, in what is likely her last act, she has failed to do that. The disorientation she experiences from that is what we see on her face right afterward. And when the cop car comes up, she's more than happy to quickly switch into victim mode, which is excruciating because so much of the audience assumes that this is the end for Chris. Then when you find out that it's Rod, the look on her face is defeat. I think part of why Chris is content to let Rose perish slowly on the road by herself is to leave her with the knowledge that, not only did she fail at the job that she thinks she's so good at, but she also failed to break him in the way that she was so sure she'd be able to do.
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The movie famously earned a coveted 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes upon its initial release. Were you surprised by the critical praise?
I'm just excited people are seeing it in theaters, because the audience is an active participant in the experience of watching this movie. It's an opportunity for people look inward and think about their own behavior and values. The best-case scanario is that it would cause conversation and thought and reflection. I couldn't have seen any of this coming, but I'm so happy that people get to see this world Jordan created with so much care and attention to detail. If people look at me strangely for the rest of my life, that will be my donation to the cause, even if it's donating a person that I have no admiration for whatsoever.
Get Out is in theaters now.
Check out the trailer above.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.