The star and director of horror film Come Play dish on making SpongeBob a key part of the story.

By Omar Sanchez
October 30, 2020 at 01:30 PM EDT
Credit: Jasper Savage / Amblin Partners / Focus Features

Azhy Robertson has had a meteoric rise of late. The child actor stole scenes over the past year-and-some in both Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story and HBO's The Plot Against America, and now takes center stage in the new horror flick Come Play (now in select theaters). But while on the phone with EW, Robertson has something perhaps more familiar to his age group on his mind: just what makes everyone so obsessed with SpongeBob Squarepants. (And yes, he knows about the memes.)

"He sort of speaks his mind," Robertson says. "Usually most shows, or most comedy shows, now have some emotional layers. But SpongeBob is just pure zaniness and silliness all the time. I think it's a bad thing for some shows. But I think it complements SpongeBob."

Let's back up for a moment. Starring alongside Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr., Robertson stars in Come Play as Oliver, a lonely child on the autism spectrum who uses an audio reader app to help him dictate what he wants to say. When Oliver's home life begins to crumble, and kids are bullying him at school, Oliver begins to get haunted by the technology that helps him communicate in the first place. That includes the SpongeBob episodes he watches on a daily basis.

Writer-director Jacob Chase tells EW he got the idea to include SpongeBob in the movie after his wife, who works with kids on the autism spectrum, told him how instrumental SpongeBob episodes are to her children.

"SpongeBob is so pure and sweet. He never does anything with a bad heart. There's no filter," Chase, 34, says.

Seeing SpongeBob pop up in a horror movie can be jarring, so it may be even more surprising to learn Chase made his decision to include the series in the script early on in the process. Chase originally made his story into a short film, Larry. He trusted that his story of a kid bracing for his biggest fears would resonate with Nickelodeon, the Bob's original home. And it did. Chase says he had no problem working with Nickelodeon to use clips from several different episodes.

Robertson hopes kids who feel alone, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, can feel less so after watching his new film. "It sucks not being able to see my friends in person," he says, adding that he's been up to playing a lot of video games and catching up on Anime to pass the time. "I'm very lucky to even be working right now. I think it's been really amazing," he says.

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