(Featured image: FEAR STREET PART 3: 1666 (L to R) JULIA REHWALD as LIZZIE, OLIVIA SCOTT WELCH AS HANNAH MILLER, and KIANA MADEIRA as SARAH FIER. NETFLIX © 2021)
Just like Michael Myers himself, the slasher genre never seems to truly die. The Halloween and Child’s Play franchises made comebacks in the last couple years, with Scream set for its own big-screen return next year. Hollywood is dead-set on introducing its icons of horror to a new generation, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for fresh meat on the slasher scene. The newest witch on the block is Sarah Fier, a vengeful spirit who has haunted the town of Shadyside since her execution in 1666. Netflix’s aptly-named Fear Street film trilogy tracks Fier’s reign of terror back through the decades as a group of teens take it upon themselves to right the wrongs of centuries past and finally bring peace to their hometown. Of course, the witch’s ability to possess and reanimate her victims to carry out the killings makes things just a little more complicated.
It wouldn’t be a high school story without the cheerleader who has more under the surface than she may appear, and that role in Fear Street goes to the fierce but loyal Kate, played by Julia Rehwald. TV Wasteland had the opportunity to talk with Rehwald about the ambitious new trilogy, the love she felt both on and off screen, and that bread slicer scene.
Warning: This interview contains major spoilers for the first Fear Street film, 1994. However, there are none for the following two installments, 1978 and 1666.
Joking that she was “never very gifted athletically” growing up, Rehwald began elementary school with theater as her extracurricular activity. From the first time she stepped onstage as a first grader, she knew that acting would end up being more than a hobby to fill the time. She named Into the Woods’ Red Riding Hood as one of her favorite parts, but no theater teen’s resumé would be complete without some Shakespeare, and Julia’s run as the titular heroine in Romeo and Juliet proved to be her most influential. “It was the shift from doing musical theater to deciding to focus on just plays and acting.”
Somewhere in the years of school plays and community theater productions, performing became “a very central pillar” in Julia’s life, and that drive (combined with the immortally angsty words of Shakespeare’s teen lovers) inspired her to continue studying her passion at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts as a part of the Playwrights Horizons Theater School. “The thought process of that studio is [that] they teach you all the different aspects to theater-making. You take acting classes but you also have to write and direct and learn some design elements.” Even though she admitted that directing is not something she envisions for her future, Rehwald appreciated the approach of the studio matching up with her own personal philosophy that “there is no right way to act,” avoiding the countless methods that promise an Oscar-worthy performance with a few easy steps. “The downside to that was that there was a little bit of a lack of structure for me, which was kind of followed up perfectly by studying abroad.” Rehwald traveled to the Royal Academy in London for a semester, where she followed a more classical and structured program that “taught acting specifically for Shakespeare,” the type of path that had been Julia’s dream ever since playing Verona’s iconic lover. There, she had the opportunity to play Desdemona in Othello, a role that she would love to someday bring to the screen. “Those two programs combined kind of gave me everything that I needed as an actor.”
Fresh out of college (and a semester early at that), Rehwald immediately went back to high school for Fear Street. Growing up, she’d actually been a fan of R.L. Stine’s original book series, so receiving the script for the film adaptation was a sort of nostalgic reminder for her. “I went through a phase where I was super fixated on them… I’d read them constantly.” She was so drawn in by their snappy action and quick pacing that it felt like the literary equivalent of binging a Netflix show. Even beyond the childhood memories, the Fear Street scripts felt special to Julia simply because of Kate’s role. “When I read the script, I was like, ‘Wow.’ Everything I would’ve wanted to play in a character is all here, in one.” Nasty cheerleaders and tough, gutsy fighters who are “secretly very caring for their friends” were two character types that she’d always dreamed of inhabiting, so the care that writer-director Leigh Janiak took in crafting Kate with both of those archetypes in mind stood out to Julia. To her, every character felt particularly special within the horror genre, where limiting character development to cookie-cutter molds can often be used as a way to get to the brutality and the kills faster. The citizens of Shadyside may feel boxed-in by their reputation, but as characters they’re anything but.
To prepare for filming, Julia rewatched her favorite slasher movies, especially Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. The performances of Rose McGowan (Tatum) and Sarah Michelle Gellar (Helen Shivers) in those two films particularly influenced her approach to Kate. “I’ve never identified with the final girl… There’s always been another character that pulls my eye a little bit more, personally. I think those characters really helped me figure out who Kate is.” Janiak assigned both of those films to the cast to watch for preparation, along with The Goonies. The latter was recommended mostly for the focus on the friend group’s dynamic during their adventure, and Rehwald thinks that “that energy really influenced a lot of our scenes in 1994.” To get everyone “in the zone” for the time period’s vibes, the director also made a ‘90s playlist for the cast, the majority of which can now be found in the film itself. Julia remembers watching the movie for the first time and feeling both surprised and excited to hear all the songs she’d blasted in the car on her way to set, perfectly matching the vibe she’d been working to reach every day.
The other aspect that has marked Fear Street as special to both Julia as a reader and millions of audience members as viewers has been its strong dedication to stories of compassion and love. Not unlike Romeo and Juliet, Deena and Sam of 1994 are navigating a forbidden romance, and even prickly Kate allows herself to open up to something (and someone) new. “What makes the death of these characters or the violence towards them so awful is that you grow to really care about them. You want them to survive because they’re genuine and real people.” The films are in no way lacking in shock value, but they also never use those gory surprises as a replacement for deaths that really mean something. Whether it’s the romance between Deena and Sam, the platonic love between the five members of their friend group, or the Berman sisters’ sibling relationship in 1978, love is what motivates them to put themselves in harm’s way for the chance of saving each other. “To see these characters really fight for each other non-stop and have such a persistent love, I think it’s so beautiful.”
Speaking of gory deaths, no conversation about 1994 would be complete without hearing about the bread slicer scene. In the film, the masked killer finally tracks down the friend group in a supermarket, where he quickly sets his sights on Kate. Naturally, she puts up a good fight, but ultimately he overpowers her and puts her head through a bread slicer. It’s one of the most innovatively shocking horror deaths in recent memory and has already built up enough chatter to have a spot reserved for it in the slasher kill hall of fame. On set, an entire day was dedicated just to that small sequence in the bakery section, and Rehwald named that day as her favorite of all of production. “I have pictures in my trailer from after we filmed, and I’m just covered head to toe in frosting and blood. It was just a mess, but it was so fun.” She found it difficult to really sit down and prepare for the scene just because of how difficult it would be to conceptualize the sheer terror involved in such a horrific moment, but once the cameras were rolling, “it was so fun… gnarly and exhausting. When I finished that day, I was like, ‘I need to sleep for days.’” The crew made a prosthetic cast of Rehwald’s head and shoulders that was pushed through the machine, and after some visual effects (and a few gallons of fake blood to splatter), the sequence was finished, which Julia emphasized looked “so sick.”
The three installments were filmed back-to-back, so after all of the location changes and cast switch-ups, production ended up being about six months long for the entire trilogy, demanding a lot of stamina from the cast and crew but also providing a great opportunity for making strong connections off set. After filming their separate projects, the casts of 1994 and 1978 reunited on 1666 to play different characters (American Horror Story-style), the original Shadyside settlers involved in the origin story of Sarah Fier. “We had one of our many overnight shoots where we finished filming at like six in the morning when the sun was rising.” While they were all getting on their bus to go back to the hotel, someone had the brilliant idea to ask to take them all to iHop instead. “Even though we were so exhausted, half-asleep but in that state of delirium… we all ate breakfast together, and we were all just out of our minds. Our poor waiter was like, ‘What the heck is going on with this group?’” A message to all high school theater kids out there: your post-show pancake trips never need to end!
Julia named writer-director Leigh Janiak as the “mastermind” behind all of Fear Street, taking R.L. Stine’s original book series and creating something classic yet wonderfully modern from the massive collection of spooky tales. “We worked really closely with her every step of the way, and she was just incredible.” Rehwald recalled being surrounded by a strong female presence behind the camera, which she didn’t even realize until afterwards. With no other professional sets to compare Fear Street to, she hadn’t originally recognized how special that strong team of women truly was, not until someone else brought it up and her eyes were opened to the fact that most Hollywood projects don’t have that level of gender balance. “I feel extra lucky that I got to be welcomed into this to begin with.” With both twentieth-century timelines centering around love between two women, “I think it was really nice to have a big female presence to tell that story.”
“I feel so lucky that for my first professional acting job that I got to do it with this group of people and have such a good, supportive cast and crew to experience my first project with.” The cast’s off-screen friendships really bleed through on screen to make their performances that much stronger and more believable. “We were not only really close friends, but we could trust each other as actors, too. There was room to try new things, to play, and you knew that your scene partner was always going to back you up and help you out… It was really a team effort.” The whole cast is still really close to this day, seeing each other whenever they’re in the same area, and Rehwald remarked how “it’s nice to get to go through all these firsts with them.” Julia admitted to being nervous for the premiere of the first film, unsure of how to handle all the interviews and the red carpet, but “as soon as I arrived, I saw that everyone else was also there, doing the same thing, and it just calmed my nerves.” The support that she felt from all of her friends at the premiere immediately canceled out any anxiety she would have been feeling otherwise, seeing as how she could “take pictures then turn around and give Olivia [Scott Welch] a hug.” Kiana Madeira and Welch herself were actually the two cast members Julia named as the two most likely to end up as final girls in their own horror films.
When the Internet noticed that Rehwald and Fred Hechinger (who played Simon, fellow Sarah Fier victim) were returning for 1666, theories spread about their characters’ possible returns from the grave, but we’ve since learned that they’re both playing new characters in the timeline of the settlers. For the end of the series, Julia took on the role of Lizzie, who is new but still has reflections of Kate in her personality and temperament. “When you watch it, you’ll see that they’re all kind of reminiscent of our original characters that we played,” signifying the cyclical aspects of the witch’s curse on Shadyside. “Where Kate’s a little more goal-oriented, very strong, and very ambitious, Lizzie is more mischievous.” Even the seventeenth century had its party girls, and troublemaker Lizzie is always looking for the best way to get everyone to have fun. Rehwald enjoyed this new role because the brutality of 1994 didn’t offer much opportunity for Kate to have a lot of fun before things went seriously downhill, so the fact that Lizzie wasn’t being hunted in the same way allowed for lighter and more fun sequences to film. After spending an entire movie having to hate Olivia Welch’s character Sam, Julia also appreciated the switch-up just for how they could finally have scenes where they could laugh together and let their real-life friendship be reflected in their performances.
As mentioned before, horror reboots are all the rage right now, and if I Know What You Did Last Summer ever gets the update treatment, Rehwald would love to reboot Helen Shivers for the twenty-first century. Of course, she also hopes to bring more of the Bard’s plays to the screen in the future, namely the aforementioned Desdemona and Hermia from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Julia is currently reading scripts and going on auditions to search for the perfect next role, though she’s mainly looking for something different in tone from Fear Street, more of a romantic comedy or an understated drama. She’s open to more horror, but “it’d have to be something where I love the script and story and characters as much as when I read Fear Street.” The last thing she wants to do is be pigeonholed in horror roles, so while she doesn’t have anything particular in mind, her main goal is to branch out and explore all the different avenues she can, and with all the talent she’s just displayed as Kate and Lizzie, we’re sure that she’ll succeed on every new path she follows.
All three Fear Street films are available to stream on Netflix now, but only if you’re ready to never see a loaf of bread the same way ever again.