Interview: ‘Boarding School’ Mom Samantha Mathis Talks Character, Chemistry And A Career Of Proud Parts

In the arena of memorable female film characters that embody spirit, strength and sass, nobody plays them more truthfully than actress Samantha Mathis.  Hitting a homerun early on portraying the awesomely outspoken Nora Diniro, the bold teen who pushes a quiet Christian Slater out of his comfort zone in the 1990 hidden gem Pump Up The Volume, Mathis has made a long career out of playing colorful characters that have a lot going on beneath the surface.  (Plus she just signed on to play the powerful new COO of Taylor Mason Capital in Season 4 of the hit Showtime series Billions – can’t wait!)

Her latest is a horror thriller from the mind of The Rookie scribe and Remember The Titans helmer Boaz Yakin called Boarding School (out August 31 from Momentum Pictures) that sees Mathis playing a concerned mom of young 12-year old boy who becomes fascinated with the persona of his dead grandmother and gets shipped off to an ‘off the beaten path’ private school for misfits with plenty of secrets of its own.  Talking to the mighty Mathis has been on the interview bucket list for a while, so we jumped at the chance to chat cool characters with her.  Starting the dissection with the ever-surprising and captivatingly creepy Boarding School (to which we also snagged a little extra writer/director Boaz Yakin insight too!) and then turning to past work that screamed for more detail, we put Mathis through the career interview paces to get the skinny behind the scenes of some of our favorites.  From Pump Up The Volume to Broken Arrow, American Psycho to The Punisher, here’s our walk down memory lane with Boarding School star…



As just a story Boarding School covers a ton of great terror territory – what was your reaction to reading it and did writer/director Boaz Yakin ever reveal if he drew anything from his own personal experience?

Samantha Mathis: When I read it I thought it was a disturbing film and unlike anything I’d ever read before – that excited me.  And the character also excited me because she was something I’d never played before.  You’d have to ask Boaz about what he drew on – I don’t want to talk too much about that – but I would say that he had things that he was (laughs) exploring.

(For the record we DID ask the man Boaz Yakin himself the question and here’s what he had to say…

Boaz Yakin: Boarding School does not connect to my experience in a literal way, but it is very much about embracing the things about myself that growing up created a feeling of weakness and shame, in fact, sometimes they still do, till this day.  As I have matured I realized that it’s only by owning those things that one is able to become whole and strong.  And that’s what the movie is about.  Even though it doesn’t really announce itself as such, Boarding School is very much a Holocaust movie.  It’s about the residual effects of traumatic experience.  When I was a kid, I knew that my entire family on my mother’s side, in Poland, were wiped out by the Nazis.  And perhaps not surprisingly, this created in me a feeling of shame.  Like, what kind of pathetic losers would allow themselves to be wiped out like that?  Now, that’s clearly a child’s mentality— but it’s prevalent and it can last deep into adulthood.  And the traumatic effects of a childhood with feminine figures that were both strong and unstable— also influenced by traumatic experience— created a feeling of hatred and distrust of my own inner feminine, which I have always had an extremely strong connection to.  So it made me hate that side of myself and regard it as weak.  This movie is about embracing the power and heroism of the feminine.  It’s a hero’s journey— only instead of discovering his father’s sword, which is the usual metaphor, the protagonist in Boarding School discovers his grandmother’s dress.

…fascinating insight right from the horses mouth – thanks Boaz!)

Playing a mother to seemingly low-key but troubled kid played by Luke Prael it felt like the two characters had a rich history before the film – did either of you ever discuss or flesh out events and/or characters before the events of the film?

SM: That kind of work really came mostly between me and the director, with Boaz and I making decisions about what led them up until this point and what her father had been like and things like that. I think he did a different kind of work with Luke.  But it was more important for me personally to do that work with Boaz just to know where he wanted me to be starting from.  We talked a bit about what the dynamic was between the two of us, but this was also Luke’s first movie.  What’s exciting about that is just this raw talent and I think it’s an incredible brave thing for a young man his age to be playing this character, but I didn’t want to overwhelm him.

Again with so many twists and turns and even lessons to be learned what would you say is the moral of the sinister story of Boarding School?

SM: Don’t go to boarding school!  (Laughs)  Don’t go.  Watch out – don’t piss your kids off!  It can come back to haunt you.  But it’s all in the eye of the beholder so it’s up to you to decide what you pull away from it.  I think it was an interesting landscape to explore what the ramifications were or the after effects for my character having been raised by someone who went through the Holocaust and what ghosts of the grandmother are visited on the son as it were – that was a pretty powerful part of the story for me.

Past work – The free spirited character of Nora Diniro in Pump up The Volume is forever ingrained on my brain – she was #1 on a previous list of my Top Five Free Spirit Female Film Characters back in my Starpulse.com days.  What is it about assertive, strong female characters that are not afraid to lovingly push another out of their comfort zone that makes such a lasting impression?

SM: Because they are tough and strong and assertive and willing to push others and willing to push boundaries and that’s exciting.  It’s exciting to see a woman have agency and Nora was a rebel and brave.  She was everything I wanted to be in high school and didn’t feel like I was – she was cool in every way that I wanted to be.  I think also for the time we were just coming out of all of the John Hughes movies and I love those movies forever, but this was a little bit grittier and dirtier and darker and messier and I think that’s also why it appealed to people – it was a bit more alternative.

That long lingering walk kiss bit in Pump Up The Volume is so memorable that it also made a best kiss list of mine ages ago.  What was the thought behind the sequence, whose idea was it and even though the single passionate kiss comes after a long walk and tease why was do you think it’s so damn good?

SM: Well, I can’t recall how much was (writer/director) Allan Moyle and how much was our DP (Walt Lloyd) – I think that they probably constructed it together.  But I remember working on it and that they brought in a steadicam operator for that so we could get that flowing sort of feeling which is intoxicating and like you’re really spying on these two people.  And he wanted us to be really close, physically close.  I remember Allan also wanting me to take off some of my make-up because he wanted to see my skin.  He wanted to see it flushing – not too much base to cover it up.  So he was after something that was really intimate and hot.  And there was this chemistry.  Just what happens between two people, two actors – we had chemistry and you can see it on screen.

Broken Arrow was only John Woo’s second American film after great success in Hong Kong – what was that experience like on that film working with him?

SM: I knew I was working with a master – I was in awe of him.  To work with him and see how he used the camera, that’s one of the things he’s known for is his incredible angles and the way he cuts something together, so I was really excited to see what he would do and how he would construct scenes.  There was one scene where we had eight cameras going at the same time and as an actor an action sequence like that is like a tight wire act – it’s really exciting and it gives you a high.  And he was incredibly sweet and soft-spoken man for someone who made some of the most violent movies of that time.  But I loved John and I got to work with Christian again and John Travolta who I was also in awe of – that was a fun experience.

American Psycho had everything from an early tasty turn by Christian Bale to helming by brilliant female director Mary Harron – what did you take away from that film?

SM: I loved working on that movie and I felt Mary Harron made a fantastic film.  I thought that she and Guinevere Turner really adapted Bret’s novel beautifully and brought all the best pieces of it to the top of the surface.  I had worked with Christian a few years prior on Little Women and he was literally a young man and then had turned into Patrick Bateman.  So it was a phenomenal experience for me to walk onto set and see who he’d transformed himself into and that was a big turning point in terms of seeing Christian Bale evolve into this man.  I was just blown away to the point of being creeped out.  I remember shooting a scene in the back of a cab and he just wouldn’t break character, he wouldn’t break the accent.  I said to him, ‘You’re really starting to freak me out – can you just please talk like Christian for a minute?’  He was like, ‘Why…why am I making you uncomfortable…’  (Laughs)  I was like ‘Stop – it’s too much!  Stop it Patrick!’  I loved working with him – and it’s an amazing performance.  Very proud to be part of that movie.

There was talk that the tone of The Punisher was something that was tinkered with against the wishes of the director and star Thomas Jane – so much so that Jane made a truly five-star dark fan-film follow up called Dirty Landry to show the original intention of the tone and character.  Was there a more somber feel making that film as opposed to what ultimately came out in theaters?

SM: I don’t know – I’ve never heard this before.  And I find it somewhat hard to reconcile because the director’s wife was the producer on the movie and they’re still married so I don’t know to what extent that’s true.

I was one of the proud TV fans who was a die-hard Harsh Realm junkie – why do you feel that series didn’t quite connect with a big audience and why does it then still have a cool cult following today?

SM: I mean, did it actually air?  My recollection on having done that was that it was greenlit into production when one person was the president of the studio and when we aired someone else was the president of the studio and as often times happens things just get abandoned because they were made by the prior regime if you will and people want to clean house.  But I thought that was a very interesting provocative landscape and I was excited to work with Chris Carter – that’s all I really remember about why that didn’t launch.

Looking back on the films you’ve done, on your vast body of work what would you say is the film that you’d like to be remembered for?

SM: Pump Up The Volume always holds a special place in my heart.  It was my first movie, so I was really proud to be a part of it.

And finally what’s next for you?

SM: I did a movie called The Clovehitch Killer that’s coming out in September that is with a fine young actor named Charlie Plummer and Dylan McDermott.  A very dark and disturbing coming of age movie about a serial killer.  And I did a movie last summer that premiered at SXSW and I think they’re still making a distribution deal or figuring that out and it’s with Jim Gaffigan called You Can Choose Your Family and that was a lot of fun to make – I’m a huge Jim Gaffigan fan.  Different landscapes to play in.  And I also made a small movie in February called All That We Destroy, which was directed by a young woman named Chelsea Stardust who was a sort of protégé and has worked with Jason Blum for some time.  And she’s made a bunch of short films and this is her feature debut and Blumhouse picked it up to be part of a series they’re doing on Hulu for a year starting in October, which is going to be a movie released every month that relates to some holiday in that month – so ours will be the mother’s day movie next year.




I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

  1. No Comments