Austin Zajur, known for his appearance in the 2017 comedy Fist Fight, is now aiming his talents toward the terrifying in the soon to be released Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Based on a trilogy by author Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark uses folklore and legends to play on your deepest fears.
“It’s 1968 in America. Change is blowing in the wind…but seemingly far removed from the unrest in the cities is the small town of Mill Valley where for generations, the shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large. It is in their mansion on the edge of town that Sarah, a young girl with horrible secrets, turned her tortured life into a series of scary stories, written in a book that has transcended time – stories that have a way of becoming all too real for a group of teenagers who discover Sarah’s terrifying home.” – Source: scarystoriestotellinthedark.com
Fan Fest News had the awesome opportunity to chat with Austin about his intriguing new role in Scary Stories, one that seems to have even surprised him. Check it out!
Linda: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, let’s get right into it. How did the role come up for you?
Austin: I knew the casting director, Rich Delia, because I did the movie Fist Fight, and he cast that. He brought me straight in to a director and producer callback session. I instantly connected in the room with Andre and realized that we work well together. He understood me as an actor, and some of the direction he gave me… that first audition made me start crying in this one scene. After I did that one take in the room, there was a weird feeling where I just kind of knew that this part was for me, and I could tell everyone else knew that. About three weeks later, [I did] a chemistry read, with a bunch of other actors. There were probably three or four different kids for each character. Zoe Colletti, who plays Stella, was actually there at that chemistry read. They just mixed and matched all of us together, so I got super anxious and nervous because I haven’t been in that situation too many times. I kind of psyched myself out. I thought I screwed it up completely and didn’t book it. But then another three weeks later, I got a call to do a work session on tape with the casting director, with notes from the director, Andre. Thankfully, I did that well and they gave me the job.
Linda: Clearly you impressed them.
Austin: Yeah. Like a two-month process, but it was good.
Linda: Were you familiar with the stories? Had you read the books?
Austin: I had been told a couple of stories from my dad, like Harold and the The Big Toe, but I never had actually read the book, to be honest, fully, until I got the job.
Linda: I have only seen the trailer but wish I had time read them all before the movie comes out. It looks amazing! I love the horror genre. Is that something you’re a fan of as well?
Austin: I actually am not too big of a fan of horror, because I get scared super easily. But I am a fan of this movie because of how it’s a time period piece set in 1968. I love doing period pieces. It kind of takes me back to when I first realized that I wanted to do acting when I was 11. I was an extra in this John Adams HBO miniseries. That was based in 1776, and I still like being instantly taken back in time. You feel like you’re just there, living, which is really cool.
Linda: Is that what drew you into the acting?
Austin: Yeah, a little bit. It’s like the ’60s and ’70s are probably the eras that, if I could grow up in a different time, it would be then. It was really cool to work on a movie where I felt that I was actually there.
Linda: Can you tell me a little bit about your character, Chuck, in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark?
Austin: Chuck Steinberg is a rambunctious scrant with a big mouth. He’s super mischievous, and he’s an instigator and gets a thrill from pulling pranks on a lot of people, but mainly his best friend, Auggie and his older sister, Ruth. Chuck, honestly, will sometimes just say whatever to get a reaction out of a person. It kind of seems that he has too much emotion at first, but throughout the movie, you realize how much he deeply cares for his friends, Stella and Auggie, and his older sister, Ruth. He really undergoes a roller coaster of emotions that forces him to reveal his true, I guess, vulnerable self, which is actually deeply caring, sensitive, and loving.
Linda: That must’ve been challenging having to portray him in those different emotional states. Did you enjoy doing that?
Austin: I did, because Chuck is, he’s funny… he’s like the weirdo, funny, goofball comedic relief character. And it’s really rare that the comedic relief undergoes a lot of emotions and has to handle difficult circumstances and situations throughout a film. He has a really good character arc to him, which I found to be awesome. At times, it was challenging with knowing how to be not too funny in certain situations and really just feel the intensity of certain moments.
Linda: Could you describe your connection with the other characters/actors?
Austin: Honestly, it really blows my mind how… I loved working with everybody, but it really is super incredible, because my relationship with Zoe Colletti’s character, Stella, and Gabriel Rush’s character, Auggie, we literally had the most insane natural chemistry with each other, just in real life. Our dynamic as a group was literally the same when we were doing a scene as when we were just offset, going around Toronto exploring and going on an adventure. It was really, really rare and strange. Because that normally doesn’t happen where it’s just instantly natural, like, oh my gosh, this is actually one of my best friends now.
Austin: It was pretty cool.
Linda: That’s very cool. And you got to work with producer Guillermo del Toro. How was that?
Austin: It was fun. It was nerve-wracking at times because he helped with production a couple days on set. Just the genius of the simple things and the simple ideas that he would have just blew my mind. How we’d be doing a scene and then all of a sudden he come up to me and give me a banana and said, “He eats a banana in this scene.” And then I’d have to be like, “Okay, cool.” And then the next day, he would say, “Throw the banana at her, at your sister or something.” And then he would just tell me the most ridiculous things that were just so perfect, but I never would have thought of them.
Linda: That’s great. I mean, it sounds like you guys had so much fun.
Austin: Oh yeah, I gave him a little wrap gift of fake poop and stink bombs at the end of the movie. (laughs)
Linda: That’s great! (laughs) Are you now more inclined to do scarier types of roles? Is there something else you’d like to pursue, or are you open to different genres?
Austin: I’d definitely say I’m open to [different] genres for sure. I’m more drawn to comedy and drama. However, I think I’m just pretty good at doing these kinds of movies, like horror movies, because I naturally get so scared so easily, because I have a crazy imagination. I think I’m good at it, so I’d totally do more stuff with this genre, for sure.
Linda: Yeah, and it’s pretty hot right now, too. I feel like we’re becoming a horror-obsessed society. The scarier the better.
Austin: Yeah, I know.
Linda: It’s a fun time. Is there anyone in particular that you would like to work with in the future?
Austin: Just in general?
Austin: Definitely Will Smith.
Linda: What’s your favorite Will Smith movie?
Austin: Probably The Pursuit of Happyness.
Linda: That’s a good one.
Austin: Yeah. I really liked the message of that. I remember when I first started acting and decided to move to New York to really pursue it when I just had turned 20. I was watching a lot of his motivational videos and interviews, and just his insight and wisdom gave me the courage to actually move and give acting 100% and go all-in with it. A lot of his ability as an actor and his range, I also think he’s just a really powerful figure.
Linda: When you’re not pursuing your acting career, what do you like to do?
Austin: I like to travel around with my friends, and I make YouTube videos. For Fun. I also play the drums. Back in the day I used to play in a rock band, just in high school. I’ve [also] been watching a lot of Masterchef recently.
Austin: Yeah, just to learn a little bit about cooking, because I’m not the best cook, so I’m trying to learn, and just music really.
Linda: That’s awesome. I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but is there any upcoming projects that you’d like to mention?.
Austin: Yeah, I have a movie I’m in called Countdown, which is actually another horror movie. And then Charlie Day’s directorial debut, El Tonto. That I did last year after Scary Stories. Those should come out… I think Countdown might be later this year, and then El Tonto maybe next year. So yeah.
Linda: Okay, great. I’ll have to keep an eye out for those. I wish you the best of luck with everything, and I can’t wait to see Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I’m very excited.
Austin: I can’t wait for you to see the movie. I feel like we really, everyone collaboratively put in so much effort and time and just everything they had into this. I think, after seeing the final cut of what they have so far, I really think it’s something special.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark hits theaters August 9th! Are you ready to let the movie see you? 😉