Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Hulu has released “My Valentine” the newest episode of the horror anthology “Into the Dark.” Each episode is inspired by a holiday. “My Valentine” is written and directed by Maggie Levin and stars Brit Baron, Benedict Samuel, Anna Lore, and Anna Akana. “My Valentine” is currently streaming on Hulu. MUSE TV & Culturally Obsessed’s Jennifer Ortega recently interviewed cast members Anna Akana, Anna Lore, and Benedict Samuel.
A pop singer’s songs and artistic identity have been stolen by her ex-boyfriend/manager and shamelessly pasted onto his new girlfriend/protégé. Locked together in a small concert venue after hours, the three of them confront the emotional abuses of the past…until things turn violent.
Anna Akana (Julie)
Jennifer: I loved… I don’t like to call it… It’s not a TV show because it’s a film, they’re all films, and I loved “My Valentine.”
Anna: Oh, thank you.
Jennifer: You were great at it, and it makes me want you to be in a lot of things where you kick people’s ass.
Jennifer: How did the script find its way to you, and had you heard about the director, Maggie Levin, before? Or was this your first time meeting her?
Anna: Actually, Maggie and I have been creative collaborators for years. She directed a bunch of my music videos and my visual album. She also helped me adapt a chapter of my book into a short film.
Jennifer: Are you serious? That’s so rad.
Anna: Yeah, we’ve been friends for a long time.
Jennifer: I love this, and what I love about INTO THE DARKNESS is that they utilize so many amazing women filmmakers and give them a bigger platform because people should know about them. And I think Maggie’s definitely somebody people should know about. But the film was excellent, and I just loved the messages behind it. Everything I liked. The aesthetics of it were kind of like… I was telling Anna Lore that it was like a grizzly “Jem and the Holograms,” which is everything I love.
Jennifer: How was your experience working on it?
Anna: Oh, it was so great. I mean, it’s triggering because… It’s based on a lot of things, like Maggie’s dad is a famous bassist, so she saw all this abuse in the music industry, but also our connection to it is Max Landis, who’s a fucking psychopath and who I outed in 2017 because he’s a serial rapist.
Jennifer: Oh, yeah, I was just talking about him with someone. Yeah.
Anna: It’s kind of based on him as well. And so some of the scenes, like the fight scene that ends up turning into a death, is something that really happened. I actually got into a fight with him at a party, trying to defend one of my friends that he wouldn’t leave alone. So it was really surreal to be reliving some of the traumatic moments of our friendship.
Jennifer: Oh, my God. That’s insane now that I know the background. Because it’s a beautiful film and it’s so powerful. A lot of people know you from movies, from comedy, and then some people know you from your music. So yeah, that makes sense that this would be so triggering. What do you hope that… because the thing I love about the film too is that not only is it dealing with weirdness that happens in the music industry and fans, but it deals with somebody going not only through physical abuse but emotional abuse, which is not always depicted. And that’s one of the aspects I loved about it.
Anna: I agree. And I don’t feel like there’s enough content that deals with emotional and verbal abuse and the gaslighting. One of my favorite lines in the whole movie was when Royal is like, “Stop laughing at me. I’ll fucking kill you. No, wait, I love you.” And then he brings her into a hug. And I think that just encapsulated what women go through all the time that people don’t understand when they’re not in abusive relationships, like that weird push and pull and the mixed messages that you get and the flooding of your system and denying your reality. And I thought Maggie did it so well.
Jennifer: Absolutely. Because I think it’s easy from outside for someone to say, “Oh, it’s a bad relationship. Get out of there.” But it’s tough when someone’s being manipulated, and it’s a slow process. It’s not like overnight they fall in love with someone who’s their abuser. So I think she did a great job with it. I like the role that you embodied, though, too, because you are this really tough embodiment of a female friend. I feel like there needs to be more female friends in films, at least, that are… I mean, you’re really there for her no matter what. You’re just not like this comedic sidekick or… You know.
Anna: Yeah, yeah, I agree. And Maggie and I talked about Julie, and she was like, “Well, Julie is basically you, it’s based on you.” And so I felt like my job in showing up in the film was basically to just do that, protect Britt, and be there for her, and understand, no, this man is wrong and what he did to you is wrong, and be the sane voice of reason in all of that fucking insanity. And so it felt very natural and effortless, especially because I’ve lived it before, but there were definitely moments where it was like, “Ooh, this is bringing a lot of memories back.”
Jennifer: What do you hope that people watching this take away from it?
Anna: I really hope that people feel seen, like people who have been in those situations. We’ve got a couple of people who even just worked on the movie or people online who are like, “Yo, I was in an abusive relationship, and it felt so real, and like a realistic portrayal of that fucking nightmare.” And to be able to make people who are ordinarily silent feel seen and feel represented, I feel like it’s so, so, so important. I mean, the whole reason I have a career is that I felt seen and represented by Margaret Cho. Back in the day. And so I feel like… I love that the film empowers women. That ultimately, it’s about a disempowered woman taking her power back, taking her voice back and getting out of a really toxic, abusive fucking awful nightmare. And so I hope women who have gone through that can relate and are able to have this as a very cathartic experience.
Jennifer: I love that you said that. Because when I was talking to Benedict, he kind of said something similar. Like that, he wanted people that feel invisible, feel seen, and I’ve always felt like that’s the most important thing you could do with your art, no matter what it is. If someone feels invisible, I mean that’s a very empowering thing, to feel seen. So I agree with you 100% because I think that’s something we need more of. And the more inclusive Hollywood gets, the better. Because everyone has a story and there are a million different kinds of people, and I think there’s just so many aspects that resonate with watching My Valentine. It’s odd because yeah… You said how it’s kind of mirrors part of your life, like the character of Royal, there are definitely aspects of him beyond the murders. But he does, and that rings so true to people that I know in entertainment. I was like, “Oh my God.” It’s kind of scary how those behaviors are… See it like, “Oh.” It is scary that it is like a reality; unfortunately, that exists. But I just think it’s fantastic. I am so glad.
Have you heard any feedback from your fans? Because I know it’s streaming now on Hulu, correct? And the more inclusive Hollywood gets, the better. Because everyone has a story and there are a million different kinds of people, and I think there’s just so many aspects that resonate with watching My Valentine. Because I know it’s streaming now on Hulu, correct?
Anna: Yeah. A lot of people have been receptive to it, which has been lovely. People are like, “Oh, you died, and I was sad.” And I was like, “Great, but did you take a deeper meaning from the film?” Because there’s a lot of profound things. But I think for people who maybe haven’t entirely gone through that, or perhaps the younger people in my fan base, it’s like a fun horror-thriller ride, and hopefully, it’s like a little warning against them, like, “Stay away from these people you guys.”
Jennifer: Absolutely. I’m a big horror film nerd, and I love the horror genre, but I think one of the greatest things about it is that you’re really able to entertain people but have a deeper meaning that people don’t necessarily think about till the next day. They’re like, “Oh yeah.” I kind of find it the perfect vehicle to explore all these things.
Benedict Samuel (Royal)
Jennifer: Hi. Hi. How are you?
Benedict: I’m very well.
Jennifer: I thought the film was so great for so many reasons. And you are fantastic in it. What spoke out to you in the script when you first read it that made you want to pursue this role?
Benedict: Well, first of all, I think it was a pretty amazing opportunity to be involved in because I know, and it sort of feel like I’m repeating myself, but the complexity of the issues and the characters and then the way the story sort of developed to this sort of cat and mouse. Is it going to be this person… or maybe that person… I think it was a real pleasure to play it in a genre piece and then sort of saw it in that genre piece but dealing with some significant issues at the moment.
Jennifer: Oh, absolutely.
Benedict: And I think that should be discussed. So yeah, it’s complex. I find that the complications and the intricacies of that pretty interesting.
Jennifer: I loved it, too, because… You were talking about it… It really… It shows a lot of emotional abuse. There’s physical abuse, but it… There’s not a lot of films that explore that so in-depth and especially, your character, you really see the manipulation and the weird narcissism. And I think it’s really interesting. I liked the message of the film, but I’m so glad that that’s the direction they went with. It’s so fascinating.
Benedict: I really appreciate it. And you know it’s one thing as well, sort of dealing with such a disgusting person is that I wanted to make it clear that there were no redeeming qualities. And I didn’t want anyone to be like, “Oh, poor Royal. He’s just misunderstood.” I wanted to confront the fact that this is not the way that you should interact with anyone. It should be obvious enough so that people can identify it themselves. I didn’t want it to be cloudy. I just wanted him to be the deplorable character that he was.
Jennifer: I know what you mean because, sometimes… I feel like sometimes… There’s a toxic character, and there’s, even just in literature, the habit of people kind of romanticizing him. And I’m like, “No, that’s not a redeemable person at all.” So I appreciate that you did that…
Benedict: Nothing romantic about him at all.
Jennifer: No. And it’s funny too because I think there are parts of Royal, unfortunately, definitely characteristics that I have seen in other people in entertainment. I’m like, “Oh God, that reminds me of so and so. That’s a horrible person.” So it’s very relatable even in a movie that you wouldn’t think it would be.
Benedict: Yeah. I think my parents wish that I would play some nice roles
Benedict: When are you going to do something that I can watch?
Jennifer: I was thinking, “I bet you’re a really lovely person.” Because anytime I’ve met somebody who plays somebody awful, they’re always the loveliest person in real life.
Benedict: Well, I mean it would be a disaster if I was like Royal.
Jennifer: Oh, God. It would be.
Benedict: I think that’s what was so enjoyable about working on this project is that Maggie made sure that there was a safe environment. The murder material can be very triggering in the beginning. And to sort of bringing that to the forefront so that we can discuss it so that we can listen to it, the environment was undoubtedly pretty safe and very comfortable to be able to go into those places. And I have to give my hats off to Brit and Anna. To be ready to tackle those issues, head-on is no small feat. And I think we did a really good job with it being sensitive to that material and how people can be affected by it.
Jennifer: Oh, absolutely. Even some of the lines, like when you say things like, “No one’s going to love you like I love you.” Somebody that’s maybe in beginnings of a relationship… that should be a red flag.
Benedict: I know. I read that stuff. I was like, “Oh my God. This guy is awful.”
Jennifer: And the good thing is he comes out horrible. As you said, you didn’t play him with any redeeming qualities. Thank God.
Benedict: I’m glad. I’m glad that I didn’t.
Jennifer: You did an excellent job of being horrible.
Benedict: Thank you.
Jennifer: What do you hope that audiences take away from watching My Valentine?
Benedict: I hope that the audience can have fun and enjoy the genre aspect of it. There are those moments where you’re like, “Yeah. Finally. You got it.” And that’s always a pleasure to just sort of feel the audience come along with you. And I also think, not to get too deep on it, but I hope it gives people the confidence to have their voice heard. Some people have their voices taken away, and I think if that could give someone strength to stand up and not put up with problematic behavior, that’s a wonderful achievement.
Jennifer: I love that you said that because I think one of the most powerful things a film could do is make somebody that feels invisible, feel like they’re being seen.
Benedict: Yeah, yeah. That’s what I think. No one is a walking open book. People are complicated.
Jennifer: Oh, absolutely. What did you have to do to kind of get in the mindset of your character? Because he is, like you said, deplorable, but it’s a fascinating character to play.
Benedict: Well, you know, I think, I think I felt guided and held by Maggie. And so when a director is that sort of generous and sort of acts like a referee, you kind of become free to explore and you permit them. And also, a lot of that comes down to the script and, of course, the material. Then, you just try to bring it to life. And having Maggie there and then, of course, you have Brit and Anna. That makes for a sort of an exciting creative space to work from. And so all the work comes from her and from them, too.
Jennifer: I think you’re terrific. And this was such a blast for me to watch.
Benedict: Thank you very much.
Jennifer: I figure it’s going to appeal to a lot of people, and just like you said, it gives a voice to people that don’t have a voice. I think that’s very powerful.
Benedict: I hope so.
Jennifer: But thank you so much. It was such a pleasure to talk to you.
Benedict: Thank you.
Anna Lore (Trezzure)
Jennifer: Hi Anna.
Anna Lore: Hi, how’s it going?
Jennifer: Good, how are you?
Anna Lore: I’m doing good.
Jennifer: First of all, I loved MY VALENTINE. I think it’s just fabulous, and it’s aesthetic, and everything is totally up my alley.
Anna Lore: I love that.
Jennifer: But I love the series…it has such great female directors. Some of my favorite female directors have the past episodes and now Maggie. And you have worked with Maggie previously, I believe?
Anna Lore: Yeah. I have, yeah.
Jennifer: Did she tell you about this project? Or how did you come about it?
Anna Lore: So I kind of knew that she was working on it, but then the audition just came through my rep, and I submitted a tape for it. And I think the tape was like a couple of days before the table read, maybe. Before everything was… all of the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed, et cetera. So yeah, it was like a super-fast…
Anna Lore: Yeah, it was crazy fast.
Jennifer: I love, first of all, the voice you do for Trezzure is amazing.
Anna Lore: Thank you.
Jennifer: I was like I love that because I know that because I’ve seen your other stuff. I’m like, I know that’s not you, but I love the voice of her. But I think there’s such a right message in this particular film, just about self-love, and it deals with so many important topics like abuse and just being authentic to yourself. What do you want audiences to take away from watching this film?
Anna Lore: You know, the main I think is so interesting about the script is the depiction of emotional abuse.
Jennifer: Yep, you’re right.
Anna Lore: I think that’s something that we don’t usually get an inside look at. And everyone knows someone who’s experienced emotional abuse before. And there was obviously… there’s definitely physical abuse in the film as well, but just that one we don’t really see.
Anna Lore: And the thing that I think was interesting for me, especially with Trezzure, is that Trezzure is completely in love with Royal. She’s in love with him. Even though from an outside perspective, we’re like wow, this is fucked up. But within that relationship, I think it’s so interesting to see how that kind of manipulation works, and that kind of crazy clouded state that an emotionally abusive partner keeps you in. And so I think that that’s going to be interesting for people who maybe haven’t experienced that, or don’t know what that’s like. Or you know, “Why would you stay?” that kind of thing. I just think it’s interesting to see it laid out the way that it is.
Jennifer: You know what’s so funny, because it is entirely accurate, and while I was watching it, I was very aware it’s emotional abuse and the manipulation that goes on, but I didn’t even put two and two together that, you’re right, that isn’t something that we ever see. When abuse is depicted, it’s always physical, but it rarely goes into this deep into how people are manipulated.
Anna Lore: Yeah, yeah, exactly. It’s just so insidious, and it’s interesting to watch from an audience perspective, I’m sure. It’s hard for me to like look at it from the outside looking in, you know what I mean? I’m on the inside of it, sort of. But the honesty, I think, in the relationships, the way everyone plays those relationships, even though the circumstances seem so larger than life and the style of the film is so larger than life, I think that everyone did an excellent job of finding the reality of what’s going on. And Benedict just did a phenomenal job with his character.
Jennifer: Oh, he’s fantastic. And the scary thing is, I’m like, oh, there’s parts of his character that completely remind me of people I’ve encountered in entertainment, unfortunately like the weird narcissism and stuff. I’m like, oh my God, they remind me specifically of a person. So definitely, even though it is heightened circumstances, all the characters are genuine and relatable.
Anna Lore: Yeah, in a way where you’re like, “Oh no, I’ve met that person.”
Jennifer: I love too, how the film, it goes between… and kind of Maggie’s background is in music. So it does go-between like these choreographed kinds of music videos, visually, and then what’s happening in reality. And I just love all of that. To me, it’s almost like “Jem and the Holograms,” but very visceral and raw, which is totally what I want to watch.
Anna Lore: Yeah. Totally. My little brother texted me, and he was like, “Dude, your movie is awesome. It’s the coolest thing you’ve ever been in”.
Jennifer: It super cool. It’s really is cool.
Anna Lore: Thank you.
Anna Lore: I feel like visually, I was just going to say it’s so rare that you get to be a part of something that’s so stylized, right? Because I feel like there’s only a handful of directors working that really want to do something that’s stylized. Like Edgar Wright, or obviously like Wes Anderson. Different vibe, but also very a film where the visuals are a part of the story, and they work so hard to make the visual aspect of it its own character almost, right?
Jennifer: That’s amazing. Yeah.
Anna Lore: Like in most films you’re trying to show real life, and you want it to look real, and you want it to feel a certain way, but then in those other films, the style is part of the script, is part of the story-
Jennifer: It really is.
Anna Lore: And it’s so fun to be a part of one of those.
Jennifer: Really, it is like its own character. Like the glitter and everything. And it’s so interwoven with the story and what’s going on today in just media and entertainment. It just works so beautifully together. And I just really loved it a lot.
Anna Lore: I’m so glad.
Jennifer: Also, I loved the way too the fans are depicted in it, which kind of scarily it kind of rings true… that’s why I love horror movies because so much of it rings true of what’s going on currently. And makes you kind of meditate on it. Like the three fans… what are they called? The Trezzies.
Anna Lore: The Trezzies and the board is the Treasury.
Jennifer: Yes. It’s very much like things that are going on today, especially online. If one celebrity is feuding with somebody else, all the hate the other person gets all of a sudden is so intense. I don’t know. I think people lose sight that, okay, everybody is a human being and a person. So I loved that commentary.
Anna Lore: Right, exactly. I feel like it really is an art form to be able to weave current pop culture things into a script without it feeling like pandering or like buzzwordy kind of… like one of my favorite examples is “Knives Out” has like a lot of sort of little social media quips in it, but it doesn’t feel like it’s like, “This is someone who doesn’t know about social media writing about modern things. Wow, Twitter”. And Maggie just sort of effortlessly weaves that into the story where it just feels so organic. And I feel like it’s like obviously, the Trezzies would be a part of this story, and again, the things they’re saying. We’ve seen that. That’s something I’ve seen.
Jennifer: And what you said is true, because so often, I think, when writers try to capture… and you’re a writer yourself, so you know when dialogue seems phony. Sometimes, yeah, it comes off really disconnected. But this was super organic, and it just felt real.
Anna Lore: Yeah, yeah.
Jennifer: What did you take away? Like did you learn anything about yourself, or did you take away something from working on this film with Maggie?
Anna Lore: Wow, that’s a great question.
Anna Lore: I mean for me personally, it was sort of an exercise in research because I feel like… I mean, it’s kind of funny to be saying this because I guess a lot of the things I’ve done in the past are a little character-y. My role on Doom Patrol is a bit of a character, and Miss 2059, which is the other project I did with Maggie, I play an alien. So it’s weird to say that it was fun to do the research. It made me feel Joaquin Phoenix.
Jennifer: I love it.
Anna Lore: I have like another life to look into here, and I have a person who has an experience that’s completely different from mine to do a lot of research on, and what’s it like to be a pop star, what’s it like to be mega-famous? Oh, how do you shoot a music video? How do you move like a pop star moves? And then what effect does that have on you when you’re… how do you interact with fans like that when you’re swarmed with them? How is that different than your interpersonal relationships? So for me, it was just fun to do that kind of process, you know what I mean? Instead of just playing a different version of myself, it was kind of like, oh, I have a lot to sink my teeth into here.
Jennifer: I love it. I think it’s amazing. It’s like my pastel neon dream of a movie, and you’re amazing in it. It’s been so lovely to talk to you.
Anna Lore: It was so lovely. Thank you.