Adam Sherman’s newest film, This Game’s Called Murder, is out now. The movie follows the eccentric Wallendorf family. Mr. Wallendorf (Ron Perlman) is a fashion mogul who only makes one type of shoe: red high heels. Mrs. Wallendorf (Natasha Henstridge) is his conniving wife harboring her fair share of brutality. Their daughter, Jennifer (Vanessa Marano), dominates social media, seeking love, friendship, and her own path in the world. However, as the family attempts to maintain their public image, their violent tendencies begin to tear them apart.
To celebrate the movie’s release, we sat down to talk with writer/director/producer Adam Sherman, and stars Vanessa Marano and Natasha Henstridge. The three discuss what stood out to them about the film, insight into the characters, and more. Read on to see what the trio had to say about This Game’s Called Murder!
Note: This interview was edited for clarity.
Nerds & Beyond: I’m going to start with Adam. What prompted you to tell this story?
Adam Sherman: I don’t know; I’m a storyteller and I have to tell stories. And I love fairy tales and crazy stories. I try to tell stories that are unique and just out there. I think I wanted to tell a story that was kind of like a fairy tale, and, of course, very dark. But you know, fairy tales usually are. So, I just made a weird modern fairy tale as best I could and let everyone that I was working with help. They were all wonderful at making it even weirder, and so I just went with it, you know. And it became like this cool, crazy thing.
Nerds & Beyond: Similarly, for Vanessa and Natasha, what drew you to this project?
Vanessa Marano: The fact that it was so weird. I mean it’s one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever read in my entire life. There’s something so cool about that, because I think as a performer, as any sort of storyteller, as an artist in general, you always want to be pushing yourself and doing something different. And that’s exactly what this experience was. It was so unique and so special, and there was a tremendous amount of freedom on Adam’s part for us to kind of find these characters and their arcs as we go along and find deeper meaning to the absolutely nonsensical words that they were saying. So, that was really, really awesome.
Also, it’s shot in Los Angeles, which is a huge deal. So many of these independent films take you to the middle of nowhere locations, and it was really awesome to get to shoot in this city and have this city be a part of the narrative. I can only think of a few rom coms where the city plays as big as a role in that it’s a part of the story. I hadn’t seen it done in this type of film before, and it was really cool to infuse that.
Natasha Henstridge: Similarly, to Vanessa, I would say that reading it – I mean, I don’t know if Adam probably hates that I’m saying this, but I’ve always been a fan of David Lynch and just obscure, abstract concepts, ideas. They’re there, but visually they’re interesting. I’ve seen Adam’s other films, and although I’m not quite understanding what I’m saying some of the time when I was reading some of the dialogue, when I first read the script, [there were] undertones and overtones. For me, I got my version of those things. I saw things in there that I was like, “Oh, interesting. I think he’s trying to say this.” [laughs] You can do that to death, right, and part of this is the ride, and it’s the fun. Then it’s getting to do something so off center and just – abstract is kind of a good word for it – getting to act that. And there’s a freedom in that. There’s such a freedom and doing something that’s theatrical in a way.
Then, you know, getting to work with Adam initially and the freedom that we had. There’d be like one comment or two or something that would make you think about something, but there was a lot of freedom involved. So, doing a project where you trust the director, you trust the storytelling process even though the script seems so bizarre, you’re like, “Huh. I’ve seen his other stuff, but I really want to be a part of something he’s doing.” So, for me, that was a big part of it.
Nerds & Beyond: Sort of going off that, this movie is just very zany, and Natasha, I feel like your character really fits into that, you know. She’s got a lot going on. What were some of the challenges of bringing a character like Mrs. Wallendorf to life?
Natasha Henstridge: I think a lot of it – I don’t know if there’s a challenge… well, stabbing somebody while doing a scene and giving dialogue was pretty challenging, not gonna lie… while shooting blood on my face. [laughs] But honestly, I looked at it as even her character with the mirror, and the mirror telling her what to do, when you think of Desperate Housewives – and not to belittle, because they have a lot of… there’s mental illness and a lot of that – but I thought of bipolar disorder, and all of that kind of stuff. But again, not based on the reality. And they had a really sort of intense version of stuff like that. Then I thought if the whole family has people that have so much, and they’re doing some of those crazy things and just expressing that, but in a really, really heightened reality kind of way and making it zany and over-the-top in every possible way. But some of the baseline stuff is that for me, and I thought, “That’s interesting,” and just fun. Just a fun thing to do, just a really fun project to be part of.
And fun costumes. I mean it’s all over the place, isn’t it. Even the hair and makeup and the costume people that we work with. They were so creative. You’re in different periods, and I mean it’s a modern-day film, but the periods and the craziness of all of that. When I read it, I thought, “There’s no way for an independent film they’re gonna come up with [that]. They’re not gonna make this look the way it does in my brain. And then I show up to set one day, and I’m driving up to the house, and Vanessa’s in this crazy outfit, and there’s doll heads hanging, and I’m like, “My god. They managed to do it. They managed to make this as crazy as it read.” [laughs] It’s just fun.
Nerds & Beyond: Bouncing back to Vanessa, I was really drawn to Jennifer and how you portrayed her. Can you talk a little bit about how you approached creating this character?
Vanessa Marano: Yeah! I know, it’s so funny, we do these interviews back-to-back, so I’m sure Adam and Natasha feel like I’m a broken record at this point. [laughs] Once I really pieced together this idea of like fairy tale, Disney princess, going on an adventure but with the attitude of a Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard, who was like, I’m so famous, but it’s so dark, and no one understands me, and also maybe I’m going to murder my boyfriend by the end of this, maybe not. We’ll see who ends up in the pool. Like that really was Jennifer encompassed. That with an alcohol problem. I’ve never chugged so much ginger ale as a stand in for champagne in my entire life. [laughs]
Nerds & Beyond: Bouncing back to Adam, you’ve all been talking about the way that this film was able to look, and I really, really like the general aesthetic of it. How did you go about choosing what you wanted this movie to look like?
Adam Sherman: It was really a lot of work, a lot of hard work, and a lot of great people to work with. I worked all the time. I physically helped with some set dressing. I collaborated with some wonderful people, and you know, I just did my best.
Nerds & Beyond: And a part of that is these very vibrant reds, especially those red shoes. And this one is for all of you. In the context of the film, what do these red shoes mean to you personally? How did they enhance this experience for you?
Adam Sherman: I wanted something kind of iconic and simple. And that goes back to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, like the fairy tale of the red shoes. The red shoes are a thing where the lady dances in them until she dies, and so I wanted it to be red shoes. Then the glossy red shoes were just something that I thought would be iconic and beautiful visually, you know.
Natasha Henstridge: That’s so interesting, Adam, because I always thought there was some connection to Louboutin – you know Christian Louboutin – these very expensive red, bottom shoes, and I thought there was some connection to that. But it’s interesting to hear you say that it goes back to the fairy tales. I don’t even know the one you’re talking about but fascinating. I need to look that up, that’s interesting.
Vanessa Marano: I think also it’s a stand-in for something so simple. Like it’s a simple red pump and all the corruption that follows it, and sort of that commentary on materialism, consumerism, and advertising. And the world has to have these very, very simple things. Adam revealed in another interview that even ramen in the movie is a very, very simple, cheap thing that, to put into a grocery store, it actually costs way more money to distribute that way. So, it’s a commentary on consumerism in that way, and also the actual buying and selling and the labor involved in the material things that we purchase, and how it’s advertised to us as something we have to have is a huge theme in this movie.
Adam Sherman: Yes. What she said. [laughs]
Natasha Henstridge: Yeah. [laughs] That. That’s it.
Vanessa Marano: Did I figure it out? Did I figure out what the movie’s about?!
Natasha Henstridge: You did! You finally unravelled the whole thing, yipee! [laughs]
Nerds & Beyond: Going back a little bit to your characters, I also thought it was interesting how these women really do depend on Mr. Wallendorf in some respects, but they also have no problem scheming against him. I mean, obviously it has a very shocking ending in that regard. What was your experience like having to play a mother-daughter duo like that who have this one thing in common but don’t really have a great relationship with each other?
Natasha Henstridge: I personally have a lot of experience. I have two children of my own, and so no matter what you do – I mean I’ve got good kids – but no matter what you do, how hard you try, and what you give, and how much you sacrifice and whatever… Mrs. Wallendorf is a little, you know, I mean this is an edgier version those things. But the undertone of that, like even I was saying earlier, even in the trailer there’s a scene where she’s giving advice, and she’s being philosophical, and she’s doing these things, and Vanessa’s character looks at her and is just like, “I hate you.” And it’s just deadpanned. And honestly, even though that’s a crazy, silly, bizarre scene, it struck a chord with me. So, it was like, I’ve been there, I’ve tried, I’ve been, I’ve done all these things. So, it’s a very heightened version of something that actually to me, I responded to in a weird way that I think we all have. I mean I was kind of used to her response to me in the film [laughs] in some ways, you know. What about you, Vanessa? What did you see in our relationship?
Vanessa Marano: I think Jennifer is toeing a line between rebelling against her mother and becoming her mother. I think that’s constantly the thing that leads to rebellion. You’re trying to push yourself so far away from the thing that has raised you, to the thing that you think defines you, to the thing that you think you can’t stand. And ultimately through that rebellion it ends up making you even more like that person. In many ways, Jennifer falls into that trap in some regards with how she ends up handling things at the end. She handles things the way her family has been handling them, in a way to burn it all down, though. So, she kind of accomplishes both of like getting away with it. Or getting away from it but becoming it in order to do so.
Nerds & Beyond: My final question for all of you is what do you hope viewers take away from this movie?
Vanessa Marano: I said it before, I hope they laugh. I hope that they find big enjoyment with the humor that’s infused into this incredibly unique and bizarre world.
Adam Sherman: I just hope people see it and understand that it’s a satirical dark comedy and not something that’s meant to mean something drastic about you and I. In reality, it’s a movie. I just hope someone watches it and they enjoy it. That’s all.
Natasha Henstridge: I’m with that. I go with that, too. [laughs]
Thank you to Adam, Vanessa, and Natasha for taking time to chat with us! This Game’s Called Murder is out now in theaters and On Demand. Find tickets and digital watch links here. Check out the trailer below.