Brittany Snow Calls Her Own Shots

Brittany Snow in character as Bobby Lynne
Courtesy of A24.

“I’m the last person in the entire world that would’ve ever thought I would do that,” Brittany Snow tells me when we meet in the lobby of the Roxy Hotel to talk about her new film X, an erotic ’70s slasher directed by Ti West and produced by indie powerhouse distributor A24. The film, and especially her role in it, is a departure from the mainstream fare she has become known for in her career, like the Pitch Perfect series and a handful of mid-aughts rom-coms, including John Tucker Must Die. If you would have told her 15 years ago that she’d be stripping down on screen to play Bobby-Lynne, a porn star with a heart of gold, she probably wouldn’t have believed you.

“I’ve been ready to do something different for a really long time,” the actress says. When we meet, the blonde Marilyn Monroe-esque locks she sports in X are dyed copper, and her demeanor is what can only be described—in contrast to Bobby-Lynne—as much more relaxed. In X, a team of wannabe stars, played by Mia Goth, Kid Cudi, and Snow are joined by their screenwriter and director, played by Martin Henderson, and a small crew consisting of an aspiring auteur cinematographer played by Owen Campbell, and his unwittingly involved girlfriend-slash-assistant, played by Jenna Ortega. They hop in a bus, travel to a small farm in a rural, conservative area of Texas, and are met with ire by the farm’s owners, an elderly couple.

Why on earth would this motley crew go all the way to a remote town in Texas to shoot a pornographic film, makeshift sound technician Lorraine (Ortega) asks? “Because it is possible to make a good dirty movie,” her camera operator boyfriend snaps.

The farm is the type of surrounding easily identified by the viewer as what will soon be the site of a grisly murder, thanks to the film’s ’70s slasher predecessors, like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. But you’d never guess that the swampy environment was actually located in a town near Wellington, New Zealand, where the crew filmed during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. “We were playing with stereotypes and archetypes, but also we were getting to do something that was completely taking us out of our element. It was so fun and necessary to escape into another character, another world,” Snow says of making the movie. “You not only have this escapism into horror, but you have an escapism into time,” she remembers. “It wasn’t going to be a caricature of movie.”

When the actress first heard of the project a couple years back, her agent sent her a note about the “significant amount of sex and nudity” in the script. She hesitated, but under West’s direction, she felt she was in good hands. “We connected on a lot of themes [in the movie]—it wasn’t just about sex. It was really important to me that it wasn’t a male filmmaker trying to make a movie about the gratuitous act of sex in a horror movie,” she says. At least with X, Snow was comforted by the film’s goal of subverting some of those classic horror film tropes. “It was poking fun at the idea that people die when they have sex in horror movies: this whole movie’s about sex, so is everyone gonna die?”

The cast also worked with an intimacy coordinator for all of the sex scenes. “It was so sensitive,” Snow says. “Ti was so careful about crafting everything with us, so there was no shot that was just out of the blue. I was pretty proud and scared, but proud, mostly, of how I pulled it off.”

“The themes of ageism, your life not amounting too much, fear of getting older—that’s what the movie was about,” she adds. Snow is right to say that the film doesn’t simply center a sleazy crew making a pornographic film cheekily titled “The Farmer’s Daughter,” but it does ask some bigger questions, such as, “Why do we demean people for owning their sexuality and for being sex-positive?” Snow says. It also touches on our attitudes toward older people and their relationship to sexuality over time, a topic that is not often investigated with much nuance in most films. There was also the fact that she and West made sure that Bobby-Lynne would “feel like a respectable, smartest-person-in-the-room type of woman.”

Just before the flick turns into a grisly horror show, X treats audiences to a short musical number that comes about midway through the film. I tell the actress it wouldn’t be a Brittany Snow movie if there were no musical scene, but she good-naturedly demurs. “It’s really funny that I’m in so many musicals because I don’t really sing,” she says humbly. But what about Hairspray and the three separate Pitch Perfect movies in which she stars, I ask. “I’m fooling everyone now that I’ve done it for so long!,” Snow replies. “I do think it’s really cool that I get to do this and so many people want me to exercise this muscle, but I never set out to be a musical person.”

What she has set out to do, though, is write and direct her own film. Titled September 17th, Snow’s feature directorial debut will follow a character who has been discharged from rehab after struggling with her body image. “I want to tell a particular story,” Snow says. “Not to sound cheesy, but there’s a part of me with an intuitive sense that says, I think I’m supposed to do this. Even if it doesn’t result in anything grand, at least I know that I followed this feeling.”

“There is a part of me that really cared about what people thought about me and my body and my life, and I think that my career choices [at the time] were very much coming from that,” she adds. “X is just such a great first exploration into taking risks and doing whatever I want.”