Interview: Betty Buckley on ‘Split’, Working with James McAvoy and Why She’s Not a Nostalgist

By Jose Solis
the Film Experience
April 19, 2017

Nathaniel recently included Betty Buckley’s work in Split on a list of the best performances of the first quarter of 2017 and with reason, she’s compulsively watchable as the empathetic Dr. Karen Fletcher, who seems devoted to her patients. At least the one patient we see her with; the long suffering Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) whose dissociative identity disorder has left him with almost two dozen personalities which threaten his existence and might lead him to violent behavior. In her scenes with McAvoy, Buckley displays a warmth that’s unlike anything in most modern horror films, her Dr. Fletcher becoming the film’s heroine and a timely reminder of how important it is to care for the wellbeing of those around us.

Of course this isn’t Buckley’s first foray into horror films, the fate of her character in Carrie remains among the most iconic in modern film history, and while her film appearances have been sporadic, she makes an unforgettable impression whenever she’s onscreen. Split is being released on Blu-ray today, so I had the chance to speak with Buckley about playing Dr. Fletcher, working with James McAvoy, and why she’s not a nostalgist.

OSE: Split was a fun movie to watch with an audience, I enjoyed hearing people scream and drop their drinks.

BETTY BUCKLEY: Yeah, it’s a good movie to watch with an audience, the group reactions can be quite fun.

JOSE: Were there any scenes that were particularly terrifying to shoot?

BETTY BUCKLEY: Things get pretty awful later in the movie for several people (laughs) but I don’t wanna be a spoiler for those who haven’t seen it.

How was it to work with James McAvoy?

I love him, he’s one of my favorite actors, and I think he’s one of the greatest actors in the world actually. His performance is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, I think he gives one of the greatest performances ever, ever! The scene where the character is breaking down and he goes from one character to the next in a matter of seconds, was so amazing to watch him film that. When he finished the take the entire set cheered, he was remarkable.

Would he give you warnings before shooting your scenes to avoid scaring you?

No (laughs) we had a rehearsal before we started shooting. He’s a very nice man, very down to Earth, humble and so sweet. We both come from theatre so we approach the work in a similar way, it’s all about being connected and spontaneous with one another.

You’d worked with M. Night Shyamalan in The Happening, why did you want to work with him again?

He wrote this part for me and I was so grateful for this gift. He’s also a joy! He’s a passionate, joyous guy, and he has a team of people in Philadelphia with whom he’s made the majority of his movies, they’re all really nice and good at what they do. It felt like a family on set, Night is very mischievous, so is McAvoy and so am I, so we enjoyed teasing each other in between takes.

Other than his two films you’ve been in, what are your favorite of Shyamalan’s films?

I love Unbreakable and I liked The Sixth Sense and Signs. I like them all, I loved The Visit last year, it was the best horror movie of last year, it was incredible how he combined comedy and terror, you’d be laughing hysterically one moment, then screaming the next. The cast in that movie was splendid.

ou’re no stranger to horror movies, did you see yourself when you began acting doing so many of these?

I didn’t exactly have a vision, I just wanted to make good movies with good filmmakers. The films I’ve been in I think transcend that category, they’re great movies, Carrie, The Happening.

As an audience member what would you say has been the biggest change in horror movies? I’m not a fan of gore for instance, and your horror films certainly have abstained from that, they’re more psychological in any case.

I don’t really think of Split as a horror movie even, I think of it as a psychological thriller and I think the story is told so economically and so well, that it keeps you on the edge of your seat. I’m like you, I don’t like gore and violence for violence’s sake, it’s not very interesting, I don’t like slasher movies, but I like a good psychological thriller.

Are there any scenes we might get to see on the Blu-ray that you were particularly fond of?

I think so, there was a whole section about my relationship with a colleague of mine played by Sterling K. Brown, he was trying to help with my theory about the patients. That was all cut, and I think Night said it would be in the Blu-ray.

You’ve been doing a lot of TV work in The Leftovers, Getting On and Chicago Med. Does that mean we won’t get to see you onstage in NY soon?

We’ll see…

You have a new album out as well, I really loved “Old Flame” from Story Songs

It’s a great song isn’t it? It’s so funny.

It’s funny but it also has some haunting moments like when you sing “I’m not living in the past, it’s the past that lives in me,” I know you’re not one to rest on your laurels, but I wonder if you ever look back at your body of work and go “wow”?

I don’t really contemplate my past much. I’m not really a nostalgist, I’m more interested in the present. I’m grateful for the work I’ve been given the opportunity to do, and the incredible collaborators I’ve been blessed to work with. So I guess every now and then it occurs to me it’s been a great ride so far.

Your performance in Split has generated some Oscar buzz, do you get excited about things like that?

I think James McAvoy for sure deserves a nomination, it’s one of the best performances of all time. So I hope the film will be remembered come nominations time on many levels.