Meet Milly Shapiro, the 15-Year-Old Breakout Star of 'Hereditary' (Exclusive)
By John Boone
Photo Courtesy of A24
Milly Shapiro is just that good. At the age of 10, she auditioned for her first Broadway show, Matilda the Musical, and booked the eponymous role, shared with three other young actresses. The girls won a Tony Honor for Excellence in Theatre. (And were nominated for a Grammy.) Following the show's run, she auditioned for her first movie, Hereditary, and booked that too. As the self-described "queen of the dark side," Shapiro, who's 15, had found her dream job portraying Charlie Graham, the tongue-clicking, bird-decapitating daughter of Toni Collette. ("I was freaking out because she's in The Sixth Sense!")
"I've gotten really good at timing things in horror movies and movies in general and I'll be watching a horror movie with my sister and I'll say, 'Three, two, one,' and someone will get stabbed," she tells me of what drew her to the unpredictably twist plot of what has been hailed as "this year's most terrifying horror movie."
Ahead of Hereditary's release, Shapiro endured her first Hollywood press tour. "In theater, it's a lot more hectic," she explains. She is seated in a corner booth of Culina, the restaurant off the lobby of the Beverly Hills Four Seasons, in a flamboyantly pink dress covered with lace flowers, her black kitten heels tucked under the table, looking very much the opposite of meek, dour Charlie. "I remember when I was in Matilda, we would have interviews in the day and then we'd go to a show and it's just, like, absolutely insane. This is, like, chill and there's time to breathe." Over tea with ET, Shapiro discussed how Hereditary terrorized her Yorkshire Terriers, being compared to a drag queen and filming the film's most gruesome scenes.
ET: How did you first get into acting and know that you wanted to pursue it professionally?
Milly Shapiro: When I was three, I lived in Florida and my mom took me to see the touring production of Cats. And I was, like, absolutely silent -- which for a 3-year-old never happens -- and I turned to her and said, "I need to do this." That's when I started my performer journey. Neither of my parents did anything performance-related, so they were both like, "What the heck am I going to do with this child?" But my sister was into it too, and so we started taking voice lessons. I would take, like, little 15-minute voice lessons because I was a wee child, and I would learn the weirdest songs. Like, the first song I learned was "Call Me When You're Sober" by Evanescence. But I thought it said "silver," so it was basically fine. Then a few years later, I started acting. I did a production of Annie and my sister played Molly and I was Orphan Number 3. It was my best role. [Laughs] Then I had my first audition, which was for Matilda, and I got it and that was really cool. That was two years ago. Wow. And the next thing I did was Hereditary!
How much did you know about Hereditary when you went in to audition?
I got the audition when I was walking home from school, so I went home and I read [the script] and I was like, "Oh my god, this is, like, the best horror movie script that I've ever read. I need this job." And then I stayed home the next day and dove into the audition, because I really wanted it. I read the script, like, two or three times and I just remember being really overdramatic in my reactions to it and my dogs were really concerned. Like, I was sitting at the table and I would gasp and my dogs would run over and be, like, Are you OK?! And I'd be like, Yes! I'm fine!
And then I went in for the audition and I didn't think I got it, because for some reason, when I was there, all of the other girls were redheads and I was like, Oh, I guess they're wanting a redhead. It's very odd to go into an audition and just have everybody else be a redhead. Then I got a callback and I went in and it went pretty well and I was like, Oh! This went well! Then they asked for a director's callback and it went well, but then I didn't hear anything for a while. Then one day when I got home from school, my mom was like, "You got the part!!!" And I freaked out and was jumping around and my dogs were barking at me because they thought I was insane.
Did you do anything to celebrate getting the part?
I did! Me and a couple of my friends went out and we got cake at a restaurant. Cake is a very beautiful thing.
Cake is a very beautiful thing. What was it about Charlie as a character that you connected with?
I just thought she was very misunderstood. A lot of people that see it, they'll either like her or they won't. I think that the thing with her is she's very innocent -- even though she does do all these creepy stuff, because to her, that's just normal. She doesn't think like a normal person would, which was very interesting. All of the characters I'd played before then were very different, and I always like to try new things that I haven't done before.
Charlie's thing is her tongue popping. Is that something you knew how to do already?
Yeah, kind of! I wasn't really the best at it and I was like, How am I gonna do this? Me and [director] Ari [Aster] talked over a few versions of it, and we settled on one. And now everyone is, like, freaking out about it and I've seen some people comparing me to the drag queen Alyssa Edwards, which is really funny because RuPaul's Drag Race is amazing.
I told Ari about tongue popping being big in Drag Race culture and he hasn't seen the show but said, "I'm glad I could ruin something for you." By the end of shooting, were you so sick of tongue popping?
Not really. [Laughs] I thought it was funny! And it's funny, too, because whenever people see the movie, when they're walking out, you'll just hear them doing it to scare everyone else. Then everyone else will be like, Oh my god... It's fine! It's fine! It's just a movie.
Get ready because once the movie comes out, everyone is going to be asking you to tongue pop for them.
Some of my friends at school, since it's in some of the trailers, have been asking me to do it. My physics teacher asked me to do it!
Do you oblige?
Yeah. I do! I'm just like, OK, whatever. It's just a tongue click. I might as well!
What was the most difficult scene for you to film? Or which scene was most daunting when you read the script?
The scene that I was most worried about, I don't want to mention because it might spoil things...
Read on for major spoilers:
The thing that I was most worried about was the allergic reaction scene. But I had actually had that type of an allergic reaction before -- because I'm highly allergic to red ants. I was, like, five or six, so I had an experience with it, which I thought was absolutely hilarious, that I was going to have to act that. But I was really nervous because I thought that I would get it wrong. I was just worried. Everyone was really great with helping me through it and Ari and I worked together to get the perfect breathing and action for it. I was really nervous for that.
How many times did you do that full performance?
We did a lot! We did one in a soundstage and we did another outside. I did it a few times. I was nervous. I overdid it a bit too, because I didn't realize till afterwards that in the soundstage, [when] I had to hang out the car, I had bruised my side from banging around so much. I didn't realize it because of the adrenaline, and I never realize when I hurt myself. I put my all into it and I hope that everyone likes it.
How did you feel at the end of that day?
I was really hyper, because I was like, Oh my god, it's over! I did it! Especially when we did it outside, because I got to hang out of a real, moving car and they had me tethered in and people were holding my legs and it was so much fun. It was basically like a roller coaster while acting and I was like, This is like everything I love! I was really hyper afterwards and it was, like, one in the morning and everyone was dead tired and I was jumping around, very excited! They were like, "What the heck..."
After your death scene, we get this incredible shot of--
My head. Covered in ants.
Was that a mold you had to sit for?
It was. I went to Canada for a day for that. I always think it's absolutely hilarious that I went to Canada for a day. I went there and it took, like, 20 minutes. They put this silicone mold over my entire head and shoulders, then I sat there for 20 minutes and they just had holes for your nose, so you could breathe. It was over your eyes and in your ears and you're just sitting there. They told me that a lot of people had freaked out, but, for me, it was, like, really calm. It's kind of like being in a sensory deprivation tank because it's dark and quiet and I was like, This is like taking a nap but not sleeping. It's very weird, but it was very calming.
Were you still shooting when they filmed the portion with your head? Or did you not see it until you saw the completed movie?
I didn't see it until I saw the movie, because that was in the day and they went back and did that. But I did get to see the head, which I thought was amazing. I didn't get to see it all put together until I saw it at Sundance, so I had no idea what to expect. I really want them to give it to me! I really do! I kept mentioning it. I'm like, "You know, since you're not filming anymore, you can just give me the head..." They're like, "What would you do with it?" And I'm, like, little do you know how much I would do with it. I keep trying to convince them to give it to me and then I'm trying to convince my mom, if I do get it, to let me just put it in the center of the table as a centerpiece. Then put fruit around it or something. Some of my friends agree with me that they think it would be funny, but others are like, "What is wrong with you?"
Having starred in the movie and seen the technical side of how it's made, are you still able to be scared by watching it now?
A bit. I was scared a bit. But I do watch a lot of horror movies, so not a lot of things scare me anymore. It was one of those things, like when you see The Shining or The Exorcist, you can't stop thinking about it and you're trying to stop because it's freaking you out, but you can't. You're scared in the moment, but afterwards, it's stuck with you forever and it will never leave you be. Not a lot of horror movies these days are like that.