Earlier today I had the pleasure of speaking with newcomer Kiera Allen about her breakout role in Aneesh Chaganty’s Run, which will be streaming on Hulu beginning tomorrow, Friday, November 20, 2020. I saw Run a few weeks back and haven’t been able to get the film out of my head. Just like he did with his directorial debut, Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian take a typical thriller concept and turn it on its head. The result is one of the most entertaining films that I have seen all year. I knew after seeing the film that I had to find a way to chat with Kiera Allen about her incredible performance and how she was ultimately selected for the role as Chloe. My entire interview with Allen can be read in its entirety below or if you can watch it by clicking play on the YouTube link above.
Scott Menzel: Hi everyone. I’m here with Kiera Allen, the star of the new Hulu original film, Run. Kiera, before we begin, I want to tell you how impressed I was with this movie, with your performance in it, and how much you held your own alongside the powerhouse known as Sarah Paulson.
Kiera Allen: Oh my gosh. Thank you so much, Scott. Sarah is incredible. So a comparison to her is really the highest compliment I could receive. Thank you.
Scott Menzel: Absolutely. I wanted to begin this interview by getting to know you a little bit better, so I wanted to ask about what made you want to become an actress?
Kiera Allen: It’s such a hard question. When I was in the first, second, third grade, that’s when I decided I wanted to be an actor and a writer and I’ve never gone back since. I was so young and I remember watching movies and theater and being so enamored. My mom’s a writer, so I was a playwright, so I was around theater and seeing rehearsals. But I think for a really long time, I just thought it was so incredible and so magical that I never thought it was something that I could do.
For a long time, I didn’t even really understand that it was something that you could do as a job. I would just watch people on a TV screen or in movies and just think it was like magic, not thinking that these are people who go to sets every day and get in front of a camera and get their hair and makeup done and then go do that. So I think, when I found out there are people who write books and who put words on a page and scripts and this is what people do for a living, I think I was like why does anyone do anything else? I couldn’t imagine wanting to do anything other than being a professional storyteller, to put it in a somewhat cheesy way.
Scott Menzel: And to kind of going off that, growing up, I think when we’re in this industry, we have people who we look up to. Who were some of the people that you looked up to?
Kiera Allen: Growing up, my gosh, I really looked up to Matt Damon, growing up. Brilliant writer, brilliant actor, wrote his own material, wrote his own way into a career in Hollywood and that was something that I really, really looked up to and would love to do for myself as well. I loved child actors as a kid, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, I really looked up to. I just thought it was so cool that there were people who were around my age who were out there doing this.
I remember when the remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory came out, I wrote fan letters to every single kid who was in that movie. I made a day of it. I sat down at the coffee table and was like, Dear Freddie Highmore, Dear AnnaSophia Robb and wrote how I wanted to do what they were doing. So really, anyone at that time who was my age and who was doing it, and anyone who was writing and acting, I just thought that was extraordinary and really inspiring to me to see it is possible. There are people who can do both.
Scott Menzel: I think that’s a fascinating story. And I wonder how many people actually have a connection like that with cinema. I think that’s something that I get from you right off the bat is that you have a love for it and you really wanted to do this, but you also have a love for the craft. To actually sit there and write letters to actors, that says something.
Kiera Allen: It says maybe I was a little bit of a stalker at age eight, or whenever I was.
Scott Menzel: (laughs) No, I think it showed your passion and that you really wanted to break in.
Kiera Allen: I was and am very, very passionate about it. That’s true. And it’s translated into other areas. I grew up a little more and I wasn’t writing fan letters anymore, but I was reading Stanislavsky, Meisner, Uta Hagen, and watching masterclasses. I get very obsessive about the things I’m very interested in. And so I found ways to translate that passion for acting into ways that were more productive, that actually made me a better actor. So I appreciate you saying that. I do have a great love of it.
Scott Menzel: That’s great. So I want you to walk me through what the the audition process was like for Run.
Kiera Allen: It started in July of 2018. My manager submitted me for the role, thought I fit the description, and I got a self-tape audition request. And so I just got a few scenes and shot a video on an iPhone. Actually in this exact spot right here, where I’m sitting right now is where I shot my first audition for Run on an iPhone and my mom reading the lines off camera. After that, I got an email saying that Aneesh, the director, who wanted to talk to me. I got on a Skype call with him and we talked. They also sent me the script. I got to read the script and talk to Aneesh about the character and the full story and her arc throughout which informed my second round of self-tapes knowing everything that she goes through and where she’s coming from in the full script.
And then after that, they flew me out to LA and I did an incredibly intense, nerve-wracking three hour audition with the full team, Aneesh and Sev and Nat and filmed it for the studio. And the last one was just a chemistry read with Sarah, which was of course intimidating because it’s Sarah Paulson. But it was actually a much more chilled out audition. There were no cameras, it was just Aneesh and Sarah and me. We weren’t even off book because it was so last minute. They called me two days before and were like, “Can you get on a plane tomorrow? We want you to read with Sarah Paulson.” And so it was kind of an impromptu thing, but that was it. After that, like two days later or something, Aneesh called me. He called me on Skype because he said he wanted to see my face when he told me and got on and just said, “You’re it.” And that was it. I was in school at the time, so I went to my advisor and submitted the paperwork, said, “I’m taking a leave of absence,” and up to Canada.
Scott Menzel: Wow. That’s an incredible story. A really incredible story.
Kiera Allen: Well, it was quite a journey, especially because the last month that I was doing those auditions, I was in school. I was in college. And so trying to set up my schedule and study and also flying out to LA every other week. I remember sitting in the airport, waiting for my bags to come out on the carousel and having my phone out and trying to read my readings for the class that I had that day after coming off the red eye. It was a month of a real juggling, but I think it’s prepared me for this moment because I’m in school now as well actually. I’m in school full-time. I’m in six classes and got this movie coming out. So I think that intense month of auditioning and going to school really prepared me for this.
Scott Menzel: I mean, you’ve been juggling a lot, I know that. And you’ve been running back and forth and you even attended a premiere during a pandemic.
Kiera Allen: Yes, I know. I didn’t think that was going to happen. Originally it was Lionsgate and was going to be in theaters in May and then it moved to Hulu. And I was very happy about that because Hulu is wonderful and produces really quality work and was really behind the film. But the one kind of sad thing about it was like I wish I could have had an event to celebrate with all my friends and the people I was so proud to work with. And so when we did get that, when we got the news that we’re going to have this premiere in LA, we got the best of both.
Scott Menzel: So, I wanted to ask you three more things. The first is actually working with Aneesh. I was a huge supporter of his first film, Searching. And, I am a big supporter, as you know, of this film as well. I know this is your first film, but what is something that you learned from him?
Kiera Allen: Oh my gosh, I learned so much from him. I learned how a movie gets made from him. I’ve never done a film before, or not a feature film before, and just to watch him work because he’s writer and director, the way he brought his script to life every day, being willing to be flexible and to make adjustments, but to be really true to your vision and true to your story. That’s the process of bringing a script to life because you have to be true to your vision and you have to really care about the story that you’re telling, but at the same time, you’re trying to make it in real life. And there are certain logistical challenges that come with that.
And so to be able to say on the spot, we’re going to change this line to this, or we’re going to shoot it from this angle instead, or we’re going to have you wear this instead. To have that kind of thankfulness to your vision while also being flexible, I think, was something he did extraordinarily well. Especially given that he’s so young. I found out midway through shooting that he’s younger than my oldest brother. And I was like, I cannot believe that you’re out here making this brilliant film and totally in charge and totally knew what he wanted and how to get it. I just think he’s amazing.
Scott Menzel: I think he’s a superstar. I think he takes a very traditional stories and turns them on their head. It was what he did with Searching. It’s what he did with this film. His loyalty to actually putting people who need to be in front of the camera is what I admire the most about him. To put an Asian American family in his first movie, and then to put you, and you’ve been saying this so much over the last couple of weeks, the first wheelchair user in 70 years in a film, that says something about Aneesh and his importance of staying true to the craft.
Kiera Allen: Yeah. First wheelchair user to star in a major thriller in over 70 years, absolutely. And I’m thrilled obviously that they decided to cast authentically. And I think that’s really what they’re all about, Aneesh, Sev, and Nat. They care very much about authentic representation. And something that Aneesh has said before, I’m going to paraphrase him on this and probably butcher it, but he said, “If we can make every film we make a win for representation in some way, why not do that? If you have that opportunity, why not take it?” And I love that philosophy of his.
Scott Menzel: Absolutely. I have to ask you about the scene in the film that I don’t know how the hell you pulled off, which is the rooftop scene. How daunting was that? I’m sorry, I know it’s probably going to be a long answer, but I need to know how you pull that off. Break it down for me, please.
Kiera Allen: Sure. I can give you all the details if you want it all broken down. Am I allowed to give spoilers here?
Scott Menzel: Yeah, you can because the movie is going to come out tomorrow and I’ll make sure I put a spoiler warning in the interview.
Kiera Allen: Cool, so the rooftop scene was something that I knew was going to be really important from the audition process. This is something that I was talking to Aneesh, Sev, and Nat about before I even got the part, long before I ever got on set and they said this was a very important scene for them for obvious reasons. It’s an extremely important moment in the character’s journey. I think between my third and fourth auditions, I actually got a call from Aneesh, Sev, and Nat being like, “Hey, look, we can’t make any promises, but you’re in the final running for this part. You might get it. I think you should start working out, start getting ready for these stunts because it’s going to be intense.” And they told me it was my Rocky montage moment.
So then actually, as part of my campaigning for the part, I shot a whole Rocky montage for them. I shot it on my iPhone, as I was moving into my dorm room at Columbia, my parents shot me doing this dorky little Rocky montage. I put the Rocky theme in the background and sent it to them being like “give me the part.” Which is also to say, I knew it was a very important scene and was preparing for it early on. And then when I went up to Winnipeg, I was working with Rick Skene on stunts and they were preparing me and we were doing it all on mats and on the floor and trying out different harnesses and wires to prepare for that. And then Mark Raichle, who was one of our special effects guys, made me a carbon fiber harness that was fitted for me. He draped all this plaster over me to give me this perfectly fitted harness, which was a pretty strange and cool process. And then they had wires and so when I was shooting, because I also had a stunt double named Kristen Sawatzky, she shot on the actual roof. And I cannot guarantee this, but I think without wires, definitely without a harness, Kristen may have just shot that like totally on the roof doing it herself. And you said spoilers are okay, right?
Scott Menzel: Wow, Yeah.
Kiera Allen: Okay. Also the scene where I fall down the stairs, that’s Kristen as well. They did not throw me down the stairs. Kristen went head first down. There was no padding. There was nothing. She just went. It was a crazy night at like 2:00 AM to watch someone who looks like you in your clothes, going head first down a set of stairs, five times in a row. Anyway, that was a tangent. But yeah, she did some amazing work on the roof.
And then for me, they had me, so I would not accidentally fall off a roof and die because I’m not a professional stunt person, they had me on a set. And so it was all blue screen around and they recreated the roof of the house. They had it tilted, so ordinarily the wall would be like this. I don’t know if you see that. And then the roof would be like this and they tilted it so the wall was tilted this way and the roof was flat. And then in the edit, they tilted it back so it looked like it was blended because it’s very, very, very hard for anyone to crawl on a tilted roof. Only Kristen can do that.
I think they even had Aneesh try it and Aneesh couldn’t go on up through. And then I did the crawl. It was our last day of shooting and they had me on these wires. Actually the hardest thing about the crawling was that I had a blanket wrapped around my neck. That was part of the character. She needed this blanket when she gets to the other side to throw it down and to be able to protect herself from the glass shards. But what happens when you have a blanket wrapped around your neck and you have it under your body and you’re crawling is that when you go forward, the blanket stays behind and chokes you. (laughs) So the first thing I’m like, “God.” So one of our prop guys, Chad, who was amazing, was in charge of fixing the murder blanket, as we called it.
So we would do a take and I’d be like, “Chad, can you please come help me with the murder blanket?” And that was one of the biggest challenges that we didn’t anticipate because we didn’t practice with the blanket. But yeah, that was pretty much it. Just spent the whole last night of shooting at like 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 AM crawling across the roof on this blue screen set. It was very fun.
Scott Menzel: That’s a fascinating story. I appreciate you so very much for sharing that and with so much detail. That is truly inspirational in so many ways, but wow, incredible.
Kiera Allen: It really was some movie magic. I’m so glad you asked because a lot of people have asked about the roof crawling scene, but I don’t know if anyone else was as interested in hearing that much detail. So I’m so glad to speak to a fellow film enthusiast, who’s excited to hear all the details of how it all went down.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, that was incredible. I’m actually probably going to cut that out and put that up as a separate video because I think that was a great explanation of everything. I know you have to go, but I do want to just bring up this one last point. In a recent interview, I love this quote by the way, “I came onto this film to play a person, not an idea or a disability.” Can you talk a little bit more about that? Elaborate. I’m so taken back by that quote because nowadays I feel like everyone wants to be defined by something. It’s become a big thing. Oh, I’m disabled. I want to be defined by it. And this is the second film that I’ve seen this year, the other one The Sound of Metal, if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it, where it deals with disability. And also has a similar line about not letting a disability define you so I just want to ask you a little bit about that.
Kiera Allen: Yeah. Was that the quote from my Collider interview with Perry?
Scott Menzel: No, it was actually, oh god, I don’t remember which one it was.
Kiera Allen: No, was that In the Know? Yeah, It was In the Know, I said something similar.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, it was In the Know.
Kiera Allen: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s right, absolutely. Yes, that’s definitely something that I feel very strongly. It’s a bit of a complicated question because disability is part of my identity and I’m very comfortable with using the term disabled. As I understand it, the majority of the community is fine with the term disabled. Some people prefer person-first language and say person with a disability, instead of disabled person. I have no problem calling myself disabled because I would have no problem using an adjective for any other part of my disability. Like I don’t feel the need to call myself a person with femaleness or a person with whiteness. If there’s nothing wrong with that part of your identity, then I don’t see a problem with adjectivizing it and using it as a descriptor.
It’s not the only descriptor that I would use for myself. Many, many, many, many others. And that’s what I love about this character is she is disabled and she is many, many other things. She’s passionate and she’s funny and she’s smart and she’s a burgeoning engineer and she has these dreams and she’s resourceful. And if you took away the disability, this would still be a very rich, interesting, well-rounded character. And that’s not always the case for characters that are written as disabled. And so to be able to play something where I didn’t feel like I was being called upon to play an idea of a disability or an archetype or an inspiration story or a pity story, or any of these kinds of tropes that we see, it was just like this is this person and she is disabled and there are 50 other adjectives you could use to describe her.
And so to get that opportunity to play someone like that, that’s every actor’s dream, disabled or not, is to play a character who’s so varied and has so many different colors to play. In any given scene, she can be sweet and tough and vulnerable and strong. It was really a great gift as an actor to have this part come into my life.
Scott Menzel: Well, I appreciate you so much for doing this film. I’m rooting for you.
Kiera Allen: Thank you, Scott.
Scott Menzel: And one last thing, the best line of this movie is the scene where you’re in the drug store and you’re going through the line and you’re like, “I’m in a wheelchair. Feel sorry for me.” I loved it. I loved it because it is how so many people think and it made that moment so funny. I busted out laughing. I thought that was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
Kiera Allen: I’m so glad you said that. I love that line as well. I love that moment because as I’ve just said, this character is so resourceful and she’s an engineer. She knows how to use tools. She makes use of anything that’s in front of her. Whenever you have her back into a corner, she will find something that will get her out of there. And so she takes this stereotype, this trope, this cultural attitude that people have for disabilities that actually hurts people with disabilities, that they’re to be pitied and that they constantly need help and need special treatment.
She’s aware of that. And she uses it to her advantage. And I love that. It’s a tool like any other. It’s a tool like the soldering iron. It’s a tool like the blanket. It’s a tool like the glass of water. And I love that because it comes at a moment when we’ve seen what a bad-ass she is, and we’ve seen how in control she is, and she’s come up with this ingenious plan. And so we see that there’s a bit of dramatic irony. We’re looking in on this like we know she doesn’t need to be pitied, but they don’t. And that’s where you kind of get the little laugh of like, oh, that’s what you think.
Scott Menzel: Love it, love it. Thank you so much, Kiera. I really appreciate you taking the time today to talk to me. I’m so happy for you and I wish you nothing but the best of luck with this film and all your future endeavors.
Kiera Allen: Thank you so much, Scott. This has been such a delight. So much of this stuff I’ve never talked about in an interview before, so thank you for your wonderful questions.
Scott Menzel: No problem at all. And hopefully I will talk to you sooner rather than later.
Kiera Allen: I hope so.
Scott Menzel: All right. Take care. Have a good one.
Kiera Allen: Thank you, you too. Bye.