Glass: Anya Taylor-Joy and Spencer Treat Clark Find Grace Among Superheroes

Anya Taylor-Joy and Spencer Treat Clark talk comic book archetypes in Glass, Casey and Kevin, and running into New Mutants' Magik.

Glass Anya Taylor-Joy Casey and Kevin

There is a scene early in Glass where Anya Taylor-Joy’s Casey Cooke steps foot back into the same building as Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man whose Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) has manifested itself in unusual ways. Among the 24 alternate personalities fighting for “the light” in his mind, one calling itself “the Beast” previously convinced several others to kidnap and try to kill Casey during M. Night Shyamalan’s Split. By traditional movie and comic book logic, her “Final Girl” status should mean she’d stay far away from the mental institution at the heart of Glass, and therefore the sequel. Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) certainly thinks so when she simplifies Casey’s status to what you might find in a lazy critic’s notebook. “You’re the victim.” What kind of role do you have in this story? Casey’s silent, nonverbal response, however, speaks volumes.

“I think it’s something that’s really wonderful about this film,” Taylor-Joy says, “it’s not really painting anybody as a stereotype while also making a commentary on comic book stereotypes. It’s allowing everybody to see the good and bad in all of these characters, and if you think about comic book characters, they’re incredibly flawed human beings.” In Glass, they’re that, if maybe more so.

It is this ability to bend expectation and subvert genre norms that makes M. Night Shyamalan’s deconstruction of superhero storytelling so unique, as well as a true homecoming for both Taylor-Joy and co-star Spencer Treat Clark, who each expressed genuine surprise in our discussion that there was room for them in Glass. While Casey was introduced as early as 2016’s Split, she had no idea at the time it set-up for a crossover with Unbreakable, or if there’d be space for “the victim” in it, just as Clark was blindsided when Split was revealed to be a sequel to a movie he did as a child in 2000… a movie he’d also given up hope of revisiting as Joseph Dunn, the son who never stopped believing his father David (Bruce Willis) was a superhero. Coming back to Joseph as an adult, and the Shyamalan-created world around him, was its own superpowered gift.

“So much of his mastery as a director was lost on me as a child,” Clark says. “He was amazing with me and was so kind… [but now] I definitely tried to shadow him as much as possible.”

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For The Witch and Split star, it was about finding a greater peace and understanding of Casey, as well as being on the same page with Shyamalan on why she would, as Ellie Staple pondered, come back to help the man who attacked her—or at least the soul trapped with that monster. For as Taylor-Joy is quick to point out, Kevin is not the Beast, and the Beast is not Kevin.

“The experiences she went through in Split began a healing process and allowed her to become more comfortable with herself, and in Kevin she sees a mirror; she sees a mirror of her pain and her suffering, and of somebody that could not cope with reality, and they both went about trying to deal with their traumas individually,” Taylor-Joy says. “She’s really reclaimed her own power herself, and then she now chooses to extend a forgiving and gracious hand to the body of somebody who kidnaps her? Good for her, man. She deserves it.”

You can find our full discussion below, including what it’s like to suggest a change to Shyamalan, as well as that time Taylor-Joy ran into her New Mutants alter-ego, Magik, at least in a fashion, during Casey’s trip to the local comic book store.

I think a good place to begin is with the surprise ending of Split a few years ago. I know that Spencer you were surprised by it, and Anya you probably knew it was coming, but did either of you expect that Night was bringing you back for the trilogy closer?

Anya Taylor-Joy: I didn’t actually know it was happening, Night didn’t tell anybody on Split what was going on. I found out in a car park in Arizona, during a screener test thing that Night flew me out for just to watch the movie for the first time. So, the answer to that is absolutely not. So the answer is absolutely not, we had no idea. And Spencer was a kid. [Laughs]

Spencer Treat Clark: Yeah, I had no idea. I didn’t talk about it for a while, but it had been so many years, and then Split came out and that was as shocking for me as it was for anyone, more so. But even that, it took a while for them to announce there was actually going to be a sequel, and then you know I had no assumptions that I would be a part of it. So it was pretty cool to get that phone call from Night.

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read more: How Sarah Paulson Lived Inside Shyamalan’s Mind

So much time had passed since Unbreakable, what was it like coming back to working with Night as an adult versus when you were working with him as a child?

STC: Oh man, it was so cool. So much of his mastery as a director was lost on me as a child. He was amazing with me and was so kind, and I was still learning so much—not that I’m not now, it’s a constant process—but now as someone who has an interest in directing, it was so cool to get the data and witness these long takes and this intricate camera-blocking that he’s so well known for. And I know that I definitely tried to shadow him as much as possible, like you know when I would wrap the day or even on days I wasn’t working, I would come to set and try to tuck into the corner of the camera tent, and watch him do his thing. Not to mention watch all these other actors do these amazing performances. So it was pretty cool coming back and getting to see him do his thing all over again.

Anya it is really fascinating how Casey comes back as well. Could you talk about how Night approached you about it, and what do you think draws Casey back toward Kevin, considering he tried to eat her just not that long ago?

ATJ: [Laughs] Well, so, here’s my first bugbear with that sentence: Casey has never believed anything other than the truth in DID, so Kevin never tried to eat her, the Beast did. And the Horde has it out for her, but Kevin is a completely different story. When it comes to Night, I feel very blessed that I have a really good relationship with a lot of my directors, but Night and I definitely have a very intense connection where I feel like I’m kind of in his head, so I sort of know what he wants before he wants it, or at least I try to.

And with Casey, we both knew exactly how we wanted her to be, we were completely a mind about what her approach was going to be in the situation. Then, I think, for the character herself, the experiences she went through in Split began a healing process and allowed her to become more comfortable with herself, and in Kevin she sees a mirror; she sees a mirror of her pain and her suffering, and of somebody that could not cope with reality and they both went about trying to deal with their traumas individually. So she’s fascinated by him and she wants to reach out to the first person that she feels has ever understood her.

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Yes, there’s this great scene where Sarah says to your character that you’re just the victim, and you’re allowed to respond without any dialogue. Does it feel like you and Casey are subverting maybe what audiences expect from this genre and from Casey?

ATJ: Absolutely! I think it’s something that’s really wonderful about this film. It’s not really painting anybody as a stereotype while also making a commentary on comic book stereotypes. It’s allowing everybody to see the good and bad in all of these characters, and if you think about comic book characters, they’re incredibly flawed human beings. They’ve all been through something. They’re just not super-strong for no reason. They all have an origin story, and with the aspect of Casey in it, she’s really reclaimed her own power herself and then she now chooses to extend a forgiving and gracious hand to the body of somebody who kidnaps her? Good for her, man. She deserves it.

Night said in a Q&A that he wrote to his actors in this one more than he has in the past. Did both of you feel a kind of creative feedback loop and trust going into this movie?

STC: Yeah, absolutely. Night’s very vocal about what he wants.

ATJ: You know if you’re on the right track or not.

STC: Yes, he has a really clear vision, and all the storyboards are written out. Sometimes on other sets, it’s like, “Okay, we’re going to play with this a little bit and kind of see where this takes us.” And that’s not the case with Night. He knows exactly what he wants.

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ATJ: Night’s already seen the movie in his head.

STC: Totally, you know he’s so talented and his vision is so clear that you know you’re going to be taken in the right direction, and we also had a lot of rehearsal time to work with him and that was really valuable, sort of rebuild that trust.

ATJ: And actually as a filmmaker, something that I communicate as—you know I’m still very young, so I’m growing up on these movie sets, and something Night’s given me, which I love, is if you go up to him and you’re like, “Hey, I don’t think this is working,” he’s like, “Sell it to me. Why is it not working? Why is this, why is that, why is whatever?” That really means that all of your choices are so deliberate. If they’re going to make him change from the movie he’s already seen in his head, you better have a good idea.

STC: Yeah, I remember normally for Night, with any of the suggestions, it would be a big thing. And I remember James had an instance where he had like—again, Night is so clear about where he wants the people standing for all his shots, and James at one point muses, “You know, what if I crawl up on top of the van?” And I was waiting for Night to just be like, “That would be cool, but no.” And it totally shocked me, because Night was like, “Yeah that would be awesome!” And then of course James gets in Beast mode, and he’s like, “I think it might be something kind of like this!” And he got in character crawled up on top of the van, and Night’s eyes just lit up, so it was kind of cool to see that.

So he’s definitely not unbending, but he has such a clear vision of what he wants in general.

That would’ve been fun to see.

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STC: You have no idea how fun it was to watch James McAvoy do it.

read more: The Witch Has One of Horror’s Greatest Endings

So there is obviously more of an open consideration of superheroes in our culture in this one, did you guys both have to do deep dives, like your characters? I know Anya that you probably have a foundation in X-Men lore at this point.

ATJ: What makes me laugh about that is there’s a scene, unfortunately one of the few scenes that Spencer and I have together, but we’re both in a comic book store, and it made me laugh so much that I walked in, and “I’m as Casey, I’m as Casey,” and then all of a sudden I find an Illyana figurine, and I was like “Oh!” and I’m out of character. [Laughs] That was too weird.

Yeah, I have a background in comic books because of my involvement in them, but I think Night’s doing a non-comic book, comic book movie. Which is kind of awesome, he’s grounding all of this very much in reality and posing those questions, not even hypothetically. He’s posing the question: What would it take for us to have a super-strong man or somebody who has really brittle bones, or somebody that can change their body chemicals with their thoughts? It’s interesting.

STC: Yeah, I’m a big of the genre in general. I totally go see all the movies, and I’ve worked on Agents of SHIELD, the Marvel show. I did a few seasons of that, so I know how rabid the fanbase is. It’s gonna be cool—you know, Unbreakable came out in the time before these comic book movies were such a cultural phenomenon. I think a lot of people were second guessing Night as to whether or not this is even a topic that you should delve into. I think people thought it just wouldn’t work. So it will be interesting to see how Glass is received with an audience that’s so well versed in the genre now. So obviously it had its perks, but it’s just become so mainstream now.

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David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.