[The following story contains spoilers for Smile.]
Smile may have been a nightmare for Sosie Bacon’s character, but the experience has been a dream come true for the actor.
The Parker Finn-directed horror film was not only Bacon’s first time atop the call sheet, but it was also her first number-one film at the domestic box office, grossing $22.6 million this past weekend. In Smile, Paramount’s sixth box office victor of 2022, Bacon’s character, Dr. Rose Cotter, inherits a supernatural curse from a patient who committed suicide in front of her, all while smiling in the most maniacal and disturbing manner.
Ultimately, Rose would not become a “final girl” per the genre’s convention, and Bacon is more than content with the outcome.
“I would’ve been more bummed out if this movie had a happy ending,” Bacon tells The Hollywood Reporter.
In a recent spoiler conversation with THR, Bacon also discusses the most horrifying scene to film on set, as well as why Rose isn’t responsible for her childhood trauma.
So have you prepared yourself for the likelihood that random strangers are going to flash their creepiest smiles at you for the rest of your life?
(Laughs.) Honestly, I don’t mind that. I just don’t want anyone to yell at me to smile. Women get told that enough.
I should probably knock on wood to avoid jinxing the rest of your life.
(Laughs.) How dare you!
During the casting process, did everyone have to put their most maniacal smile on tape?
No, I don’t think anyone did! I really don’t. I think [Parker] just cast people that he knew could do it. Kyle [Gallner] has talked about how his smiling scene was the scariest day for him. He told me he was panicking before he had to do a smile. I was like, “Kyle, it’s okay.” (Laughs.)
During filming, did you and Kyle bond over the fact that you’re both victims of Ghostface in the Scream franchise?
(Laughs.) No, we didn’t talk about it [at the time]. But we did interviews together the other day, and I was like, “We’re Scream alum!” That’s our alma mater.
So, Smile was your first time being number one on the call sheet. Did you change the way you do things in order to set the tone and lead by example for the rest of the cast and crew?
Definitely. Up until this point, I’ve been supporting other actors, who are amazing, and I’ve been able to really watch how they behave and how they lead. Number one does set the tone. So everybody kind of is however the number one is. So I was excited to take on this job, which was difficult. I think the most important thing that I did succeed at was just being very committed. I care a lot. I know my lines. So I think that encouraged everybody else to do the same, not that they wouldn’t anyway. So everyone was incredibly committed and respectful of what we were doing. I definitely didn’t do everything right; I’ve got a lot to learn. (Laughs.)
Rose is a workaholic. She has a hard time letting go and decompressing at the end of the day, and it’s probably how she distracts herself from this unchecked childhood trauma. Did you also have a tough time turning this character off at the end of each day?
For sure! I didn’t really put her away much. I didn’t continue to work because I was exhausted, but my way of numbing was reality TV. Sometimes, I wouldn’t be able to sleep, so I would just watch shitty TV till the morning. It was my distraction. So, yes, it was tough to put her away.
I’m assuming you shot out of sequence like most movies. So prior to each shooting day, did you have to chart or calibrate where Rose was at in her unraveling?
Yeah, Parker was really helpful with that. I gave him total carte blanche to remind me of what happened before and what’s happening after, with each scene. The beginning at the hospital is when she’s more put together, but we shot that at the end, so it was up to hair and makeup and wardrobe to make this corpse look alive. (Laughs.) But it was actually helpful because there is a real heaviness to her at the beginning, and that’s because she has such a dark past.
As a cat owner, I sensed the Mustache moment coming from a mile away, and it still shattered me. Are you a cat owner at the moment?
I don’t have a cat right now, but I have dogs and a horse. So I’m an animal lover, and yeah, that was rough. It was really, really sad.
Of all the disturbing images you watched play out as Rose, was the Kal Penn and Jack Sochet scene in the hospital room the most insane one on the day?
Weirdly, no. I don’t think so because fight stuff like that is so technical. The most gruesome moment for me was probably Caitlin Stasey’s character cutting her neck and then lying on the floor in that position for so long with all the blood. It was just gnarly.
If I was an actor, I would do whatever it takes to get a horror movie. The genre is almost a rite of passage. I also think every actor should get to do a period piece of some kind. Do you think about your career in those terms at all and wanting to tick certain boxes?
We have a lot less say in our careers than people think. I would love to map out my career, but I’ve taken every single job I’ve ever been offered before this movie. Those jobs were just the ones that I got offered, but I always knew I wanted to lead a horror movie. It was a dream of mine from when I started acting. So Smile is more like a dream come true. As far as a period piece, I was told once that I couldn’t play period and that it wouldn’t work for my face. And I was like, “What the hell?” But a Western is next.
Diving into major spoilers, Rose was in a lose-lose situation. Either she dies by suicide, or she has to kill someone else to disrupt the curse. So even though this entity ultimately won, were you relieved at least that she didn’t resort to murder?
Yes, absolutely. Gosh, it’s so hard to think about actually going there. Moving forward, I don’t think that she would have had a happy life had she killed someone. So I was glad that she didn’t resort to murder.
When her sister (Gillian Zinser’s Holly) referenced tearing down their old house at dinner, I hung on to that line, and when it looked like Rose actually burned down her childhood home, I thought it made perfect sense that the key to defeating this curse was for Rose to finally deal with this monument of trauma. But then the rug gets pulled out from underneath us. So were you stunned that you weren’t “a final girl” in the end?
I was bummed! It’s just so sad for her. She went into the house knowing that she would either get eaten by the monster or that she would burn the house down, if she could. But at least she wasn’t going to pass [the curse] on, which was the idea. So that was her value, and I was more sad for her that she didn’t get either of those things. But I think I would’ve been more bummed out if this movie had a happy ending.
Yes, she unintentionally passed the curse on to Kyle’s character (Joel), but she did everything she could to isolate herself from him and her loved ones. She was thinking of other people up until the very end.
Absolutely. It wasn’t in her control, but that’s what she was trying to do.
I understand her sister Holly’s purpose in the story, but when Rose falls through the glass coffee table following the Mustache moment, is there any defense for Holly not rushing to her aid? For all we know, Rose was bleeding to death.
Yeah, I can defend everyone. I can defend her fiance’s [Jessie T. Usher] treatment. I can defend her sister. The other thing to remember is that her sister dealt with the same trauma that Rose did. It wasn’t all the same, but she was there. So everybody plays a role in their family, and they all have their negative attributes. So I don’t think there should be judgment for how anybody reacted to Rose. Her behavior was erratic and frightening. I don’t have any judgment for anyone, really.
As a child, Rose basically let her unwell mother die. She could’ve called for help, but she didn’t. So it’s such a fascinating response to trauma that she devoted her entire adult life to helping complete strangers.
Yeah, I thought that Baby Rose was brave for protecting herself as a child, and the unfortunate thing is that she didn’t really process and understand that she did it to survive. It’s not her fault that her mom died. Kids don’t have the same tools, and when we grow up, we try to apply the tools we have as adults to our childhood selves. It’s pointless. So I wish that she hadn’t been so angry with herself, but she became a therapist largely because of guilt. As somebody who has experienced things, she just has a certain understanding that her fiance Trevor doesn’t have. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have his own trauma, but a lot of the time, therapists and psychiatrists have been through things themselves, giving them a deeper level of acceptance.
Decades from now, when you reminisce about the Smile experience, what day on set will you likely recall first?
Oh gosh, there’s so many, but one of the craziest nights was when we drove out to this field where her childhood house had been built. That was the night we were going to light it on fire. So we really lit that house on fire, and all of these water trucks were there. It was somewhere in New Jersey, and all these union water truck guys were there, along with the fire department. So we lit the house on fire, and it was both awesome and crazy.
Smile is now playing in movie theaters. This interview was edited for length and clarity.