It sounds like a latter-day version of The Odd Couple -- petite, American actress Katie Holmes (Mrs. Tom Cruise) paired with portly Mexican writer/director Guillermo del Toro, a gothic horror film devotee known for Hellboy and Blade franchises.
But their new film together, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark which hits theaters on Friday, is anything but a comedy in the vein of The Odd Couple.
Rather it is a serious scare-fest that also stars Guy Pearce and Bailee Madison and an army of evil little creatures who invade an old house and terrorize its occupants.
Holmes and del Toro recently sat down with Reuters to talk about the film, what scares them (and Tom), and why people get a kick from being afraid in movie theaters.
Q: Katie, are you a big horror fan?
Holmes: Yes, I like classic horror films. But I'm not a big slasher, gory type of horror film fan.
Q: So I assume if this was full of slashing, you would have been be a little less eager.
Holmes: Right, and I don't think it would have Guillermo's name on it.
Del Toro: No. The movies I've tried to produce, write and direct, I'm very proud to say as far as I can remember I've never written a female victim, a scream queen or a part like that. I always try to create very strong female characters, in many cases stronger than the guys. Certainly in 'Don't Be Afraid.'
Q: What's the secret to a really effective horror film?
Del Toro: I think characters, good characters. The scares of course are necessary but it's the human characters.
Holmes: I agree. You have to be able to relate to the people and relate to the world and be invested in them. And then, suddenly as an audience member, you are those people going through it -- and what would you do?
Q: So what scares you?
Holmes: People who like to take the wind out of your sail because there's a lot more they're doing. If they're doing that to your face then they're doing more. So that scares me more than, like, a monster.
Del Toro: (laughs) Politicians -- a lot. They are so deranged, especially these days. And human pettiness. Oh my God that's scary. It's so horrifying. I've seen a UFO, and I've heard ghosts twice -- once in New Zealand and once in Mexico, but those are not the scariest things. The scary things are real things like every day.
Q: Katie, has Tom seen this?
Holmes: Oh yes. He saw it before I did, like a year before.
Q: So what did he think?
Holmes: (laughs) Well, he had to watch another movie afterwards in order to go to sleep because he was so scared. I'm not sure what he watched. (laughs) Maybe 'The Sound of Music'?
Del Toro: I think it was that Adam Sandler comedy, '(You)Don't Mess With The Zohan'.
Q: You have to protect your character's daughter in the movie. Does having your own daughter affect the way you approach a role like this?
Holmes: I think being a mom myself, when I read my character and I saw the journey she takes and how we see her make sacrifices for her child -- I think I didn't understand that until I became a mom.
Just how much you love this person. You will do anything for that person, and you have strength you didn't know that you had, which is what I like about my character. So I think that being a mom definitely gave me much more insight to this character.
Q: But you might not feel that way about sacrifice when Suri becomes a teenager.
Holmes: (Laughs) I don't know. I think she's pretty special.
Q: Why is it that people loved to be scared so much? Do you like to be scared at movies?
Holmes: I do and I like to be affected when I watch a film. And when you watch a scary movie and it's well done it does take you on that roller coaster and you do feel exhausted after but in a great way. I think it's more than entertainment. It's a relief and it's a release, and it's what entertainment and performance is and screenwriting and storytelling is supposed to do. We're supposed to identify and feel something from it.
Del Toro: I think we live in a regimented world where we don't experience a lot of the emotions we need almost at a mammalian level, and you need a release for this thing. So a horror movie or a roller coaster, you scream and you get the thrill of that in a regular situation.