Braden R. Duemmler's What Lies Below blends what turns out to be something atypical family problems and morphs them into a mystery and, later, horror. It's the kind of dynamic star Trey Tucker has to balance as John Smith. He's the boyfriend of a single mother, Michelle Wells, played by Mena Suvari, and tries to gain the trust of her daughter Liberty, played by Ema Horvath. I had a chance to speak with Tucker about how John ticks, what drives him, and developing chemistry with his co-stars.
"I was a fan of [Duemmler's] work off the bat," Tucker said. "I had a chance to work with Mena and Ema. It was promising. I get to be somebody where…there is a wide variety of things to do with John Smith, and it was an attractive idea to have a big room to play that way." As the story unravels, we find there's far more to John than meets the eye. "For me, it starts on the inside in having knowing that there are layers to what's going on and let those thoughts underneath affect what I was physically doing," he continued. "I didn't do a lot of looking up things for ideas. It was sort of constantly trying to get this motor running where there are different thoughts popping into my head that are different from what I'm trying to communicate with these two women I'm sharing scenes with. I let the body do that kind of work."
The advantage of turning a story like this into horror is how organic the story's place of origin can come from. "The nice thing about it is if you set up to tell the story of people who have their issues," Tucker said. "Sometimes there can be change, or it can self-sabotage with the people. We had a director we felt like we could trust to guide you into a good path and also give you the freedom to play and figure out how something needed to go. I don't want to say it's 'easy,' but it felt like there's a noticeable lack of barriers to create a process." Tucker said creating his own backstory helps but wanted to make sure it didn't conflict with the story Duemmler already had in mind. "Most of the stuff I had on my own," he said. "Of course, I had talks with Brad over those things. I think when you create history for a character; you have to be sure it's connected to the story that's on the page. Most of that stuff was things I did on my own." When it came to his co-stars, the actor credits Suvari and Horvath's work ethic and dedication for the film to thrive.
"Mena and Ema are delightful people to know in their own right," Tucker said. "To get to work with them is an extension of that. They're charming, professional, hard-working, and enjoyable to be around. I think the chemistry off-camera is very different than what you're supposed to show on-camera. The benefit is that the ease of which you can connect with a person can really help you accomplish all that you want on the camera. The three of us got along quite well. It made it easy to play and to explore different things to see what worked and what didn't." What Lies Below also stars Troy Iwata, Olan Montgomery, and Haskiri Velazquez. The Vertical Entertainment film is available on-demand and digital.