ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy spoke to Crawlspace star Henry Thomas, who plays Robert, about balancing tones and his intimidating role in Doctor Sleep. The film is available through digital platforms now.
“After witnessing a brutal murder in a cabin, a man hides in a crawlspace while the killers scour the property for a hidden fortune,” reads the film’s synopsis. “As they draw nearer, he must decide if the crawlspace will be his tomb or the battleground in his fight for survival.”
Spencer Legacy: In the beginning, what drew you to Crawlspace?
Henry Thomas: Well, I read the script and I thought this is kind of like Die Hard meets Home Alone, underneath a Cabin in the Woods. It could be really great because it’s pretty much a three hander, you know? Get a good actor to play the villain or the villains and have a compelling lead. And I feel like we did that. It’s a fun summer movie and it was fun for me to play an action hero, or as close to an action hero as I’ve gotten.
There are these different tones in Crawlspace where it’ll be really tense, but there’s also some dark comedy. What was it like to balance that tone?
It was fun because, of course, everybody was laughing on set when I said the zinger of, “I’m a plumber, I deal with-” But you never know what the audience is going to think. So the last thing you want is them to go, “oh God” at that moment, so you have to have them by then. And it’s really funny because action movies, as a genre, are pretty formulaic, but the formula works. , it’s just, you have to set it up in a compelling way. And that was the challenge of this, was not to, you know, not to break the fourth wall too much, but to wink at the audience sometimes.
What was it like to film in that tight space? Was that difficult?
Yeah! I’m slightly claustrophobic, so going into it. I was like, “well, I don’t know, is this a good idea? Because I might freak out, but you are the lead in the film, so maybe you should suck it up.” And so I did. And then I got down there, and they had built the set on a stage, and it wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t bad being in there for an hour or two. What was bad was being in there for four weeks.
That’d be pretty intense, especially if you’re already claustrophobic.
It was tough on the crew and everybody, because nobody could stand up all the way in there unless you were a child. So by the second week, everybody had these back braces and cool knee pads and elbow pads and they’re wearing bike helmets and stuff. I was the dummy that was like, “no, I don’t want any knee pads. No, you’ll see the knee pads.” So I looked like I got peppered with some kind of shotgun that fired rubber pellets. It looked like I got ambushed in a ravine and somebody just shot me from all angles, all over my body. I went to the pool with my kids and they were like, “oh my God, dad, what happened to your back?” And I was like, “what do you mean?” And apparently I had pebble-sized bruises all over my back from rolling around in the crawl space.
That’s real commitment right there.
It was like, you get beat up doing an action movie, because even if it’s fake and even if you’re not hitting something full force or whatever, you’re still doing it like 20 or 30 times that day to get the shot. And the repetition and everything, it just beats you up. Plus, every time you do a fight scene, you always get hurt somehow, stunt doubles or no. Plus I’m not 22 anymore. So I really felt this production for weeks afterwards.
You have a very diverse career, but it seems like from your filmography that you gravitate towards thriller and horror projects. Is there something about that genre that stands out to you?
It isn’t by choice so much as it is by happenstance, because of my collaboration with Mike Flanagan and his involvement in that genre. Over the last few years, that’s been the bulk of my work, because he’s hired me in everything he’s done since 2014, pretty much. So it’s been it’s been great collaborating with him. I’m excited to see a Mike Flanagan film that isn’t in that genre, but it’s exciting to also have a chance to do things like this, like Crawlspace, and to work outside of that. Especially after working in this genre kind of exclusively for so long. I’ve done other things as well in between, but the bulk of my work has been horror, thriller, [and] suspense the last few years.
One of those roles was in Doctor Sleep. Was it intimidating to have to follow Jack Nicholson?
Oh yeah. And you know, Mike called me up and said, “Hey, I have a role for you in this film, but if you don’t want to do it, I understand.” Which is sort of the golden hook for me. You know, what do you mean? Like why would I not want to do it? Tell me what is challenging about this character.
So it’s kind of the old bait and switch. He’ll be like, “you probably don’t want to do this one. It’s too tough.” “What is it, Mike?” And then he’ll say, “oh, well, it’s Jack Torrance. But it’s not Jack Torrance, but it is Jack Torrance, but you know, we have to have the hairline like Jack, you’ll have to shave your head for one day’s work,” it’s like stuff like that. But I was super intimidated to do it, but Mike said, “Hey, do you want to join me in painting large targets on our foreheads? We can do it together.” I said, okay. And the rest is history.
It’s such a great role too. You did really well.
It was a very, very talked about … it was hashed over quite a bit, not just the scene, but my hair and the wig and the whole bit was very heavily scrutinized. It’s the most work I’ve done for a character to be on set for such a short time. It was pretty intense, but it was fun and I think it paid off and audiences seemed to dig it, which was my biggest concern because I didn’t want people to go, “aw, it’s not Jack Nicholson! Who is this flunky?” But thankfully most of them didn’t, or the ones that did didn’t come up and talk to me.