Scream Queen Madelaine Petsch Dives Deep Into Her New Film, The Strangers: Chapter 1

It’s easy to see why Madelaine Petsch is this generation’s scream queen. While she won’t admit it herself (she wants the audiences to decide for themselves), she tells me her vocal cords would certainly agree. 

The 29-year-old, better known as the sassy Cheryl Blossom on Riverdale, has loved horror movies and starred in her fair share of them – Polaroid, Sightless and Jane. Although now, the actress stars in The Strangers: Chapter 1, a remake of the well-loved 2008 classic starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman. 

The Strangers: Chapter 1, now playing in theatres – follows the young couple Maya (Petsch) and Ryan (Froy Gutierrez), who are forced to spend the night in a remote cabin after their car breaks down in an eerie small town. It’s not long before they are terrorized by three masked strangers who strike with no mercy and seemingly no motive.

Petsch, who is also a producer on the film, worked on making Maya more three-dimensional and real, which was important to her. The actress also filmed chapters two and three in the trilogy over 52 days, before she returned to filming her show. For the actress, the versatility between characters is what she loves as part of her job. 

We sat down with Petsch to discuss horror movies, her career and OG scream queens. 

What was it that you were looking for at this stage of your career and how did this film fit the bill?

“I shot this in 2022 and it kind of fit perfectly between filming a movie I was doing and going back to a show I was on. So I had this very small window and this fit perfectly into it. I was excited about three movies at once – I’m the kind of girl who will always take on a challenge. I’m like, ‘If you tell me it’s gonna be hard, I’m in…which is sometimes not a great trait to have’ but it worked out in my favour here. And on top of that, I’m a huge fan of the original. At first, I was like, ‘How could anybody ever try to touch this?’ and then I was like, ‘If anyone should do it, it’s me – because I care about it so much.’ So it kind of happened naturally. Then, as I got more into the character, I thought what a blessing it was to be able to shoot all three movies at one time as it takes place over five days of her life, it makes it much easier to dive into the character and build out this arc of a person who is pushed past the breaking point and asking, ‘Who is she now?’ And that’s such a fun thing to play. There’s just so much delicious character stuff in these movies that excited me as an actor.”

In one of your interviews, you said that you liked being invested from the ground up, and you like making the characters your own. So what went into making Maya?

“They sent me this giant script, it was like 280 pages and she was great on the page. But I felt like we’ve got to find more real human moments. So when I came on to set, I started rewriting a lot of her storyline with our producer, Courtney [Solomon] and our director, Renny [Harlin]. Together we found this really interesting version of her that you met in the first film of this resilient and tenacious individual who’s passionate and caring and with time, we were able to chip away at the person she was, into the person she becomes in the third film. It was truly one of the coolest character studies I’ve ever done. I think people will be able to see the change in her physical, mental and emotional state throughout these three films, which is just kind of an actor’s dream.”

Since you mentioned that you love the original, what is something that you loved about the movie the original one and wanted to capture and make sure you brought into this one? 

“I feel very strongly that the original is the first and maybe one of the only films that have stuck with me in a haunting way throughout my entire life. There are still moments when I’m alone in a foreign place where I’m terrified to be there because I’m thinking of a scarecrow showing up from 2008. So it was just so bone-chilling and unique for its time and home invasions are a very real thing that can happen and it scares me. I also think that the relationship between them even though they were fighting in the original, you still can tell they love each other a lot. I think that was important to us, you want people to be invested in these characters and to care about them the way we did with Scott and Liv.”

How have you pushed the boundaries and the limits of what people have come to expect from you so far, and especially when they see you in this?

“That’s a great question, I feel like that’s kind of what I wanted to do with this film. This film shows another layer of me and I believe that any actor can kind of do any role, every actor is an actor. We’re pieces of clay, we are meant to be moulded into something else – like we’re chameleons. So I like being able to do things that feel like a big departure from the last thing I did. There’s nothing more of a departure than playing Cheryl Blossom to a character caked in mud running through the woods from a serial killer while trying to make it to some sort of shelter. There’s just nothing that could be further of a departure. So as long as I have a long and steady career, knock on wood – I would love to continue doing large departures from the last character I played. The most fun thing in the world for me is versatility.”

Have you figured out the secret sauce to perfecting the scream queen on screen, especially when you look back at the horror icons?

“God, I don’t know. I mean, maybe you should ask people who watch it that question because I have no idea. I never thought about that. I love our OG Scream Queens Neve Campbell and Jamie Lee Curtis. I mean, I hope so. Man, I hope so! I think my vocal cords would say yes.”

The Strangers: Chapter 1 is now playing in theatres.