Searching writer-director Aneesh Chaganty is venturing beyond computer and smartphone screens for his follow-up film, Run — but not too far. Most of this intimate thriller (in theaters May 8) takes place in one house, and the film is focused almost exclusively on just two characters: Diane (Sarah Paulson) and her 17-year-old daughter Chloe (newcomer Kiera Allen).
Diane has raised her daughter, who uses a wheelchair (as does Allen), in isolation, keeping her totally sequestered from the outside world. But when Chloe uncovers her mother’s sinister secrets, everything she knows begins to unravel.
“She leapt off the page from the first time I read the script,” Allen says of her character. “She’s super smart and tough, and Aneesh and I spent a lot of time just talking about the character, and the reasons why we connect with her.”
Allen, who’s making her big-screen debut in Run, recently spoke to EW about adjusting to the filmmaking process, working with Paulson, and what makes Run a quietly groundbreaking film. Read on for more, and to see more exclusive first-look photos from the film.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you tell me a bit about how you got involved with this project?
KIERA ALLEN: It started about a year and a half ago now. My manager saw a casting call for this role he thought I could be right for, and I was immediately very excited by the project. I submitted a self-tape audition, and after that, I had a Skype call with the director, and we talked about the role and about the story. And then I was flown out to L.A. for two auditions in person, one with Sarah. So all in all, it was four rounds of auditions, a three month process. And I got the part, and a few days later I was on a plane to Canada.
This being your first movie, what was the experience of making it like for you?
Oh my God, I don’t even know where to start. I’ve said this before, even if the movie never came out and no one ever saw it, it would still have been a life-changing experience for me to have done it. It was just so incredible to be in that place with so many creative brilliant minds, and to have them put trust in me and to collaborate with me was a really exciting thing. Especially someone like Aneesh, or like [writer-producer] Sev [Ohanian] and [producer] Natalie [Qasabian]. All of them were so supportive of me, and gave me a lot of creative space, as well as being a huge source of guidance for me.
Was there anything about the process that particularly surprised you or challenged you?
I come from theater, so there were so many small things that I didn’t know about, things like continuity and eyelines. There’s so much granular work that goes into every little shot that I had never even thought about. I would just be like, “I’m gonna be spontaneous and free, and do the shot!” And they’d be like, “Oh, well, you were holding the spoon in your left hand, so we have to do that again.” So things like that were constantly surprising. It was just a new set of challenges and a new way of doing it, which was really fun.
How did you feel about taking on a movie that was so kind of intimately focused on your character?
It was very exciting until I got the part, and then it was terrifying. When I was reading the script, I was like, “Oh my God, I cannot believe I have the opportunity to go out for a part like this.” And even to read opposite someone like Sarah was so exciting. And then I had to do the job, which was very, very scary. Just realizing how much trust they had put into me, and how much of their own work they were willing to put on my shoulders, was a huge show of faith, which gave me the courage and confidence to follow through. By the second week, it was just kind of like, “Oh, this is my job now. And it’s the coolest job in the world!”
What was your relationship with Sarah like on set?
Sarah was immediately so warm and welcoming and kind. She made such an effort to make me feel included, to make me feel confident. I felt like I could come to her with anything I was struggling with, and she would help me from a place that was really genuine and vulnerable and giving. I definitely felt like she had my back all the time. And so any day I was on set with her, I felt safe.
How did the two of you work together to develop your characters’ dynamic?
We didn’t have that much time together before we started shooting. Because, you know, she works all the time, so she was just coming off of a job, and we just had a few days in pre-production. We fit a lot into a few days: Talking with Aneesh, and just getting to know each other, talking about the characters and our relationship. We traded emails, and just talked about acting in general, what we love about it, what’s hard about it, all of these things. And then by the time we got to set, we just kind of had to be like, “Let’s do it, we’re doing it!”
I know Aneesh was very insistent on having a performer with a disability play this character. What did it mean to you to participate in a project with that sort of inclusivity?
I believe this will be the first studio movie ever starring a wheelchair user, and just to be part of a historical moment like that is really, really exciting. But the more exciting thing for me was just the character and the story, and to be able to play a part that was really about the character and not about the disability. And it was written so richly, and with such specificity and detail, which really gave me a lot to play with. But I never felt like he was casting just to be inclusive, I really felt like it was a collaboration.
Do you know what’s next for you?
Well, I’m in college right now. This movie, believe it or not, actually comes out on the first day of my finals week. So I definitely have a very full life right now, in wonderful, wonderful ways. But my hope is definitely to do more projects like this, to do more movies, to hopefully do more theater. I would love to be an actor for the rest of my life.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Run (2020 movie)