Jonathan Groff & Ben Aldridge on the motivations of their “Knock at the Cabin” characters

Jonathan Groff & Ben Aldridge on the motivations of their “Knock at the Cabin” characters
Ben Aldridge, Kristen Cui, and Jonathan Groff in Knock at the Cabin Photo: Universal Pictures

M. Night Shyamalan is known for the creepy twists in his horror films—not so much for LGBTQ+ characters. But his latest thriller marks the first time the Sixth Sense director has centered a film around a gay couple.

In Knock at the Cabin, based on Paul Tremblay’s award-winning 2019 novel The Cabin at the End of the World, out actors Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge play Eric and Andrew, a married couple spending some time with their 8-year-old daughter Wen (played by newcomer Kristen Cui) at a secluded cabin. But what was meant to be a quiet family vacation turns deadly with the arrival of four strangers. Led by Leonard (Dave Bautista), the intruders take Eric, Andrew, and Wen hostage, giving them an impossible choice: willingly sacrifice one of their lives to prevent the apocalypse.

Ahead of the film’s release today, LGBTQ Nation spoke with Groff and Aldridge about their characters’ differing reactions to the harrowing situation, and how those perspectives were informed by their experiences as queer people.

LGBTQ NATION: The film is being released at a time when I think a lot of LGBTQ+ people who are paying attention to the news and politics may feel under threat—both by a tide of anti-LGBTQ+ political rhetoric and probably by the general state of the world. Of course, those are major themes in the film—a gay couple and their child being attacked and the end of the world. So, I’m not sure when you came onto the project or were filming it, but was that something you were thinking about or are thinking about now?

BEN ALDRIDGE: You can’t be a queer person without being aware of the narrative that a lot of us have lived through, which is feeling either intense shame or bigotry of some kind. And I think this film, what it does is, it doesn’t erase that. It places this queer couple at the center of it, and it honors that history that we all relate to without centering it, without the film being completely about that. And I really loved that about it. At the same time, what it’s doing is it’s placing a family at the center of a studio-backed film that wouldn’t normally be there. It’s really preaching the message of that universal, love-is-love element of it.

You could watch the film and really tap into that as a queer person, you could have your mind changed potentially. I don’t know. I’m not quite sure of the power of [the film] yet, but I know that certainly any LGBTQIA+ story that I’ve told over the last three years has had a deep effect on me and has been very transformational as an actor and as a person. Meeting myself in my work has been really an incredible thing to do. They layer between me and what I’m playing feels so much thinner. There feels like there’s so much more access to me emotionally. But also it’s a more vulnerable time in my acting career than I’ve ever had before—one that I’m really enjoying, but I feel less protected. But I wouldn’t change it for anything.

LGBTQ NATION: I think for a long time when something we heard a lot about gay characters in film and on TV was that “they just happen to be gay,” kind of as a way for writers, actors, and directors to convey that gay characters are just the same as any other characters. I think what’s really interesting about this story is that, on the one hand, Andrew and Eric do just happen to be gay in the sense that these four strangers say they aren’t targeting them because of their identity. But on the other, and this I think is really powerful, the film doesn’t pretend that Eric’s – and particularly Andrew’s – experience as gay men isn’t influencing how they interpret and react to this horrific situation they’re in.

JONATHAN GROFF: There’s the flashbacks of the characters, obviously. And there are some flashbacks that we shot that aren’t in there. And in the book, there’s a real deep dive into both of those characters. I know that we both got a lot of inspiration and information about the characters from that. Eric’s parents were hesitant at first to accept his sexual identity, but then ultimately came around. Which I think informs the power of change in Eric’s mind, that you can start out believing one thing and change and be moved to something else.

And Andrew, his parents never really accept who he is, and he also has the trauma of the attack in the bar that happens in an extremely tender moment. So, I think the backstories of both of those characters definitely affect how they respond in a moment of extreme shock and extreme trauma. Even in the way that they relate to the intruders. Eric’s tactic is—he also has a concussion, so that’s part of it. But he’s speaking quieter, he’s trying to level with them. He’s trying to reason with them, because his previous life experience has led him to believe that people can change, people can grow, people can be talked into or out of things. Andrew comes from the experience that people don’t change, and there’s a lot of anger there. That was sort of the basic impulse for both of the characters.

Ultimately, I think Night has decided to tell a story about the importance of sacrificing for the [next] generation. This choice ultimately was for Wen. Ultimately the impulse to believe is because they want to make a world for their daughter and the generation that comes after them.

LGBTQ NATION: Something I’ve been thinking about since seeing the film is how this situation changes Eric and Andrew. Eric, partly because of something that happens to him physically, is not himself in many ways. At the same time, Andrew seems to me to have been kind of galvanized into a very specific version of himself — who he is and what he stands for really clarifies for him. I’m curious what you think of that read on your characters. 

BA: I think you’re totally right. Andrew is a much more skeptical person. I think he doesn’t believe in anything beyond himself—a higher power of any kind. I also think his work as a human rights lawyer, as we learn in the movie—If Leonard is there trying to save humanity, Andrew rebuts that argument with, “I’ve seen the worst of humanity. I don’t know if there is a reason for us to save what we’re part of.” I think he really believes that.

He’s in denial of what’s happening, and essentially the evidence stacks up. That final plane in the sky is the moment of it dawning, I think. And still, it’s such a hard choice for him to make because he loves his family so much and doesn’t really believe in keeping what we have here going. There’s so much going on for him. But ultimately, the love for his family motivates everything for him. The fierce protector that he is, right from the beginning. It’s everyone’s worst nightmare. But to be confronted by a group of people who have ultimate belief in something that you know not to be real—it really reminded me of the final scenes of The Crucible, where you’ve got these two extremes. People are fighting for their lives and one fight is not true and the other is completely real. That was what it felt like to play Andrew.

I think what Night is doing there—and Paul Tremblay, the author—is playing on our collective fears of the end of the world. But also, truth is a hard thing to access in our world now. We’ve learned that you can just deny truth and deny facts and then that makes it true. And if enough people believe in one thing, does that also make it true? I think he’s examining that, and that’s more the case than ever in the world we’re living in right now.

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