ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy spoke to crawl space star Henry Thomas, who plays Robert, on balancing tones and his intimidating role in Doctor Sleep† The film is now available through digital platforms.
“After witnessing a brutal murder in a cabin, a man hides in a crawl space while the killers scour the property in search of a hidden fortune,” the film’s synopsis reads. “As they get closer, he must decide whether the crawlspace will be his tomb or the battlefield in his struggle for survival.”
Spencer Legacy: What drew you to Crawlspace in the beginning?
Henry Thomas: Well I read the script and I thought this is something like die hard meets Home aloneunder a cabin in the woods† It could be really great because it’s kind of a three-handed thing, you know? Get a good actor to play the villain or villains and provide a convincing lead. And I feel like we did. It’s a fun summer movie and it was fun for me to play an action hero, or as close to an action hero as I’ve gotten.
There are several tones in Crawlspace where it will be really tense, but there is also some dark comedy. What was it like balancing that tone?
It was fun, because of course everyone on set laughed when I said, “I’m a plumber, I deal with-” But you never know what the audience is going to think. So the last thing you want is for them to go “oh God” at that point, so you have to have them by then. And it’s really funny because action movies, as a genre, are pretty formal, but the formula works. , it’s just, you have to set it up in a compelling way. And that was the challenge of this, not to, you know, not break through the fourth wall too much, but wink at the audience every now and then.
What was it like filming in that cramped space? Was that difficult?
Yes! I’m a bit claustrophobic, so I’ll get into it. I was like, “Well, I don’t know, is this a good idea? Because I might freak out, but you’re the main character in the movie, so maybe you should suck it up.” And so did I. And then I got there, and they had the set built on a stage, and it wasn’t that bad. It didn’t hurt to be there for an hour or two. What was bad was that I was there for four weeks.
That would be pretty intense, especially if you’re already claustrophobic.
It was tough on the crew and everyone as no one could stand up there all the way unless you were a kid. So by the second week everyone had these back braces and cool knee pads and elbow pads and they were wearing bike helmets and stuff. I was the dummy who said, ‘No, I don’t want knee pads. No, you see the knee pads.” So I looked like I was laced with some sort of shotgun firing rubber bullets. It was as if I had been ambushed in a ravine and someone shot me from all angles, all over my body. I went to the pool with my kids and they said, “oh my god, dad, what happened to your back?” And I was like, “what do you mean?” And apparently I had pebble-sized bruises all over my back from rolling around in the crawl space.
That’s real commitment there.
It was like getting beat up doing an action movie because even if it’s fake and even if you don’t hit something with full force or whatever you still do it 20 or 30 times that day to get the shot to make. And the repetition and everything, it just beats you up. Plus, every time you do a fight scene, you always get hurt in some way, stunt double or not. Besides, I’m not 22 anymore. So I really felt this production for weeks.
You have a very diverse career, but from your filmography it seems that you are drawn to thriller and horror projects. Is there anything about that genre that catches your eye?
It’s not so much a choice as it is a coincidence, because of my collaboration with Mike Flanagan and his involvement in that genre. In recent years, that’s been the bulk of my job, as he’s hired me almost for everything he’s done since 2014. So it was a great collaboration with him. I’m excited to see a Mike Flanagan movie that’s not in that genre, but it’s exciting to also have the chance to do things like this, like crawl space, and work beyond. Especially after working exclusively in this genre for so long. I also did other things in between, but most of my work was horror, thriller, [and] tension in recent years.
One of those roles was in Doctor Sleep. Was it intimidating to have to follow Jack Nicholson?
Oh yeah. And you know, Mike called me up and said, “Hey, I’ve got a part for you in this movie, but if you don’t want to do it, I understand.” Which to me is a kind of golden hook. You know what do you mean? Like why wouldn’t I want to do it? Tell me what’s challenging about this character.
So it’s kind of the old bait and switch. He’ll be like, “You probably don’t want to do this. It’s too heavy.” “What is it, Mike?” And then he’ll say, “Oh, well, it’s Jack Torrance. But it’s not Jack Torrance, but it’s Jack Torrance, but you know, we’ve got to have the hairline like Jack, you’ll have to shave your head for a day work,” is that sort of thing. But I was super intimidated to do it, but Mike said, ‘Hey, will you work with me to paint big goals on our foreheads? We can do it together.” I said, okay. And the rest is history.
It’s such a great role too. You did really well.
It was a very, very discussed… quite a bit of talk about it, not just the scene, but my hair and the wig and the whole piece was scrutinized very heavily. It’s the most work I’ve done for a character to be on set for such a short period of time. It was pretty intense, but it was fun and I think it paid off and the audience seemed to like it, which was my main concern because I didn’t want people to go, “Aw, it’s not Jack Nicholson! Who’s this sucker?” But luckily most of them didn’t, or those who did didn’t come up to talk to me.