The Boy Behind the Door is a tense horror thriller, that is currently taking the streaming service Shudder by storm. The movie follows two abducted 12-year-old boys Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey), trying to escape from a creepy house in the middle of nowhere, while evading a surprising captor. Written and co-directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell, the film is a tight story, and the first horror movie in Lonnie Chavis’s young career.
Lonnie Chavis is best known for his performance as young Randall in the hit TV series, This Is Us. The young star entered into acting early, starring in commercials at six years old. His previous work includes White Famous, a series produced by Jamie Foxx, and a featured role in Disney’s Magic Camp. However, most recently, his performance in the fantasy movie The Water Man, directed by David Oyelowo, has earned him universal praise, and has thrust the young star into the spotlight.
Although Chavis has drama, fantasy, and comedy under his acting belt, he tells The Digital Fix that he thinks that we’ll see him in more horror in the future. In our interview with the young actor on his time making The Boy Behind the Door, we talked about what it was like filming his very first horror movie, his reaction to the shocking script, and the importance of spreading awareness about the reality that is child trafficking.
The Digital Fix: Hi congrats on the film. It was a pretty heavy role, to say the least. What were your first reactions when you read the script?
Lonnie: Ha let me say this first, I really love the script, to be honest. I have never done a horror film before, so I wanted to step into a new perspective, to see if I like this and try it out. And well you know I did like it, so I might be in a couple more horror films now.
My reaction to the ending of the script was a little bit different because I feel like you would never expect the kidnapper to end up being a woman. I feel like that is kind of the message that this movie spreads – don’t trust anybody, haha. A kidnapper could be anybody, and I would have never expected it to be a woman, an old woman at that.
Yeah, she was a surprising antagonist. You said that this was your first horror movie, so what was it like filming it? How did the filming experience differ from your other work?
I think so many people would think I’d say, ‘oh it’s so serious or oh it is so hectic.’ Like no! Haha, it was hilarious behind the scenes. The stunt guy, he got me and Ezra toy guns, and we played with that throughout the entire movie.
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On set me and him were just shooting at each other playing laser tag. It was fun. It was very fun. In the most serious moments, me and him would be able to just make a joke and start dying laughing. I had no idea how we did it, but it was fun, it was fun.
Ha, sounds like it. And I’m guessing that leads into what you touched on before. Can we expect to see you in more horror movies?
Oh yeah, definitely.
Great. You know what, let’s stay on this horror trend for a bit before I break out some heavy hitters. Do you have any favourite scary films?
Oh mushrooms, ha sorry I’m not a morning person, since it is morning my brain keeps farting. Someone else asked me what my favourite horror was and I just forgot instantly. Oh wait, I found out what my favourite horror movie is! Blade and Riddick.
Fun with toy guns aside, Boy Behind the Door is quite a dark film, and an emotional roller coaster. We see your character break down quite a lot. How did you prepare for such an emotionally demanding role?
It didn’t actually take a lot of preparation, I just had to study my lines. I had no idea what to expect, I didn’t even know what the set looked like. But, you know, I feel like you don’t really need to prepare yourself when you are actually in that house, and you have the makeup on, blood dripping down your leg, and you’re in the scene, you have the clothes on, and you have to say your lines, you have to speak to each other. I feel like everything kind of sets itself up, and you just have to do your part.
Your character definitely goes through the wringer, physically as well. Were there any challenges you had during filming? Any scenes that were just plain difficult to shoot?
Maybe almost everything. In almost every scene, I had to scream and cry, and that was very different for me. I’m not even around that area, as far as acting is concerned, in general. But yeah, I had to drink a lot of tea, haha. I remember this one take. I had lost my voice, so it delayed us a lot. It took us maybe like an hour just to film one shot. Just one scene because I lost my voice. It was difficult sometimes, but we got through it.
Yeah, I can imagine. Crying on cue regularly must be challenging, right?
Ha, I don’t know if it is a DNA thing. My mom can cry on cue really good, and I feel like I got it from her, to be honest, because it doesn’t take that much to make me cry. I don’t even have to think about sad stuff anymore – I just cry, haha.
Well, you did a great job; it was a memorable performance. What part of this experience will you take going forward in your career as a young actor?
Boy, oh boy, that is a hard one. I should know this, ha. Maybe the ending, that moment when the police found us, and we got free. I can’t really think of any other beautiful moments that really stick with me from this hectic film because almost every scene is just horror.
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So yeah, maybe the freedom part. It is pretty beautiful. There is a sunset, and these kids have finally got freedom, and they are about to go and live on with their happy lives.
You have had another film that recently came out, The Water Man, and it’s fun to see the parallels in both roles. In this movie and that, you are almost a protector character, going on a quest to save someone. Did you ever find that your experiences with the scripts were feeding into your performance? Do you think there were any subconscious crossovers?
I feel like both roles were something different that I had never done before. Ha, for Gunner [The Waterman], I also had to cry a lot, maybe a couple less scenes, but I had to cry a lot for Gunner too. It is something I haven’t generally been around before, same with Boy Behind the Door. They are both two things that I have never done before. So I was just stepping out into the blue, and trying something different with both movies. And I like it. I like challenging films like these because I feel like they make you better as an actor, and maybe even better as a person.
Yeah, definitely. You know, Boy Behind the Door, I think part of its challenge comes from how it touches on a universal fear of abduction. How do you want audiences to feel after they watch this, after they see you in this film on Shudder?
I want them to spread more awareness. Awareness of being abducted, and child trafficking. But also to remember, and I can’t exaggerate anymore, then I just exaggerated it. I was very shocked when I realised [that the kidnapper] was a woman. I thought it was a joke. I was very, very shocked, so I want people to spread more awareness that a kidnapper can be anybody, and watch your back always and at all times. I was very surprised.
Friendship plays a big part in the movie too. Your character escapes but decides to go back to save his friend. If it were me, I would have just legged it.
I want to know, would you have done the same thing as your character Bobby in that situation? Would you have gone back for your friend?
Haha, that depends on which friend it is.
Ha, you better hope that the right friend reads this interview then.
Yeah! Haha, I guess. I hope that the right friend gets into that situation with me. It really depends on which friend…actually, no, I will probably run back in for everybody. I mean, who doesn’t like a bit of action in their life? I would probably just run back in, and be like, “ah, I haven’t done anything in a while anyway, I’m bored, I will just go back in.”
So what you’re telling me is that Covid-19 lockdowns have you so bored that you’d run back into a kidnappers house?
Yes, haha, that is exactly what I’m telling you.
How was it like working with David and Justin? What was it like working with two directors on set?
I feel like it is way better to have two directors, because they can both give me their perspective on the take that they are trying to make me do. One of them gave me a direction, and I had no idea what he was talking about, but the other one came in. He stepped in and gave me clarity. So yeah, I feel like it is a little bit easier with two directors. They both really did everything very easily. I mean, they did everything in a heartbeat; it was like a walk in the park working with them. Yeah, it was pretty easy.
Do you remember what that scene was?
Oh yeah! It was the one where I got shot. One of them was like, ‘can you make sounds?’ and I was like, ‘um, what?’ Haha. What do you mean by that? And the other one came in and was like, ‘you know, how it feels like when a person gets shot?’ and I was like, ‘haha, no, not really’. So then he told me that he’d need me to picture it out of my mind, and just to do my best.
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They were like, ‘I’m going to need you to scream, and I’m going to need you to breathe, I’m going to need you to pray. Remember you just got shot, your blood is rushing out of your veins, and I’m going to need you to scream.’ And I was just like, ‘ok’. So that is how I went on and did what you saw in the movie.
Watching yourself in this film, in such a dark role, I can imagine that must be a strange experience. What was it like seeing yourself perform in your first horror movie?
I feel like I have a different perspective of horror movies now, just because I am in this movie. I don’t look at horror movies the same way anymore. I don’t focus on the lines or the action. I focus on the camera roll, like the camera angle. I focus on the continuity. I watch movies back like a real actor now; it is annoying, haha. I can’t go back to how I used to be. I can’t just enjoy American Horror Story; I have to look at the camera work; it is weird.
Talking about your love for camera work, how did you find the cinematography for Boy Behind the Door? Were there any moments where you just thought, wow, what a shot?
Oh yeah! The scene where I am going upstairs. That one clip of when I am going up these stairs, and you see that red light in there, it is just wow. I was actually very scared to be up there because it was an actual attic with a bunch of spider webs everywhere. It was definitely very creepy, but I feel that that was a really cool shot.
Totally agree. It was one of my favourite scenes in the film too. Ah, I see that we have run out of time.
Well, that sucks.
Haha, I know. It was great speaking with you.
You too! Thanks for having me.
You can now watch The Boy Behind the Door through Shudder. If you are looking to sign-up to the horror-centric streaming service, and support The Digital Fix here check out this link.