[Interview] The Bad Seed Returns’ Ella Dixon Talks About Creating Tension With McKenna Grace and Playing Into Kat’s Vulnerability

Photo: Lifetime

Here comes trouble. Emma is back in The Bad Seed Returns, written by star McKenna Grace and her father. I talked to Ella Dixon, who plays the new character Kat about working on a film written by someone her own age, her favorite psychological thrillers, and creating that chemistry with McKenna Grace.

What first attracted you to the role of Kat?

I auditioned for the part. And then I let it go. And about 10 days later I was at Disneyland with my family and I was notified that I was shortlisted for it then I go the role. Honestly, just being to work with McKenna was such an amazing experience and it was something so exciting for me as an actor, having watched her growing up and now being able to work with her. And she’s an amazing actor, an amazing scene partner, and was just a really, fun, down-to-earth person. It was a great experience.

McKenna wrote the movie with her dad. How was it like to read and act with a script written by someone around the same age as you?

It was really exciting. Obviously, to work on someone’s writing debut is an honor, for sure. And as someone as gifted and talented as McKenna, the script really did feel professional. Just looking at it you wouldn’t have been able to tell that a 15-year-old wrote it. I’m really excited to see what else she creates down the line.

This is one of your first major roles. What was it like to shoot this movie?

Honestly, it was such a magical experience. To be able to shoot with McKenna and our director Louise Archambault I was just really encouraged to play and explore my character Kat’s vulnerability. Just from day one I felt very welcomed on the set, very relaxed, and just given the freedom to do my job and play Kat to the best of my ability. There was a moment working with McKenna, obviously, this film has dark tones to it, but there was a moment when we were in the middle of the shoot. And there was a scene with myself, McKenna, Marlo Zimmerman, and Gabby Bee and we were all in the cafeteria, and Marlo, Gabby, and McKenna were on one side of the cafeteria, and I was on the other. We had been doing this scene for about six hours give or take. And throughout the entire time, I was reading my book on the other side of the cafeteria and I could hear them laughing. I think they were stealing each other blueberries or something, I don’t know. But I could hear them laughing and there was a moment where McKenna had to cross the room and McKenna stands a few feet away from me, and we were off camera, but we couldn’t move from our marks, so we were staring at each other in the eye quite intensely for like 20 seconds and you can hear Marlo and Gabby start to laugh really quietly, and we saw each other steal each other blueberries and I gotta tell you it was the most difficult 20 seconds trying not to laugh, we were just about to burst, it was so funny. That entire day was so filled with goofiness and moments of real bonding. I think the biggest thing was that we were able to bond on set. It was really fun.

What else did you do for downtime on set? I know it can be a bit difficult with COVID and those restrictions.

It was really interesting. I think COVID played a part, but we were able to hang out as much as we could in between shoots and in between setups. We would all go to the green room together and lounge around, and relax, we danced a lot. It really felt like we were just teenagers playing around making a movie. It never felt like work it felt like were having a good time and creating things together.

How would you say you’re similar and different from Kat? Did you have to dye your hair and get the nose rings or did you already have that?

I had to dye my hair and the nose ring was a little clip on so I didn’t have to make any major commitment with that. I would say the biggest things Kat and I have in common is our vulnerability. That’s something I really tried to work on and bring to Kat was a sense of vulnerability. Under the surface, there is always this kind of storm that she’s wrestling with, but bringing my vulnerability to her really helped to connect myself with her. I think one of the biggest differences is honestly the hair. I was going to say clothing but I love her outfits. The girl is a style icon, I want to steal her wardrobe for sure.

The movie is a psychological thriller/horror. Do you have a favorite horror movie or psychological thriller?

I mean, a classic is The Shining, that’s a masterpiece right there. As far as psychological thrillers go I really like Black Swan. I think Natlie Portman’s portrayal of a psychological down spiral is really interesting to watch. And the entire filmmaking behind that is so amazing. I would say The Shining and Black Swan are pretty good.

Speaking about Black Swan, I feel like your back and forth with McKenna’s character is very similar to that, with so much tension. How did you guys go about having that chemistry with all that tension when obviously you aren’t adversaries in real life? 

I found it very easy to play off her. She’s done so much great work of bringing Emma to life, and me coming in and knowing my character of Kat and diving right into it, there was this kind of organic chemistry and not knowing who that person was at the beginning that brought that to life. McKenna is such a gifted actress, and to have her as my scene partner really helped. I think the difference in our character’s really helped with that tension, for sure.

Did you have a favorite scene that you shot?

That’s a tough one. The biggest one that stands out for me as far as memories go would definitely be the blueberry one, which was such a fun day. There is a scene towards the end, and I can’t say too much about it, but [while filming it] Lousie, our director, really encouraged McKenna and me to play, and we got what we needed. And Louise came up to McKenna and me and said “now go play.” So McKenna and I were able to go through the scene and we didn’t know what the other person was going to do, and we were able to play off of each other and explore our characters in a much deeper, and more intense way. And that entire scene is something I’m never going to forget and it’s a really great memory.

Yes, I’m pretty sure I know what scene you’re talking about and it played really well. What’s next for you?

I’m reading scripts, I’m auditioning. And I’m a writer as well. And I recently completed a five-part limited series. So I’m hoping to get that produced at some point and be able to share that with the world. I’m pretty excited about that. As far as acting goes I’m staying open to what the world has to offer me. Whatever I do next I really hope to continue to develop in my craft and go deeper and deeper into that. And work on roles and actors and filmmakers who really demand the best of me and demand to delve deeper into my creativity. I’m excited to see what happens.

The Bad Seed Returns premieres Monday, September 5th 8/7c on Lifetime.