Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz on Chasing the Unknown in ‘The Vast of Night’

In “The Vast of Night,” actors Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz evoke friendship, mystery and small town camaraderie with poetic flare. This is no easy feat in a film utilizing a genre that is usually associated with sci-fi popcorn entertainment. Director Andrew Patterson, in his feature film debut, chose well in casting these two talents for his story which on the surface is about a UFO sighting in 1950s New Mexico, but it in its very textures is about the feeling of mystery. 

Set in a rural town, over the course of one night, the movie focuses on Fay (McCormick), a switchboard operator and Everett (Horowitz), a local DJ. Both attend the same high school and as a basketball game begins they go out in search of interviews with a portable tape recorder. Later that night a strange sound will interrupt Everett’s radio program. Fay also begins receiving frantic calls about locals witnessing strange lights in the sky. The two then embark on a small quest to find these lights and pinpoint the origin of the strange sounds. 

McCormick has acted in notable shows such as “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “CSI,” while Horowitz is a theater veteran beginning his break into film. “The Vast of Night” announces them as keen talents to watch. Both shared their experiences with Entertainment Voice on crafting this ethereal indie gem.

“Vast of Night” is so different from the usual movie you see about this kind of subject matter. Sierra, what were your first reactions to this role?

McCormick: My first reaction to this script was like, “I need to do everything in my power to be a part of this. I’ll be so mad at myself if I don’t try to be a part of this.” The character of Fay on the page is so full of life and energy and she’s bubbling with enthusiasm and fun and I thought that would just be a fun thing to maintain for a whole shoot. She’s down for adventure and excited for literally everything. But, in particular, the scene with Fay at the switchboard, when all the calls are coming through, that on the page was so engrossing. The script had a clear vision on the page, and I read a wide range of scripts and a lot of them don’t have that. That was very impressive and different. It even caught me off guard a bit. Even most of the dialogue you hear in the movie is verbatim what was written in the script.

Jake, you come primarily from the theater world, so this is a different kind of turn for you. How did you get involved?

Horowitz: It was just one of those things that falls in front of you. It came in through my manager. I didn’t even get the script at first. It was seven pages of dialogue to read in front of the camera for a screen test. At the time I was doing a play where I had a 30 minute monologue, so I was getting used to talking for a long time (laughs). It was relatively easy to memorize but I fell in love with it. The seven pages were like, “oh, this dialogue is like music.” I was lucky enough to get on a Skype call with Andrew a couple of weeks later and we hit it off, then before you knew it I was researching 1950s radio DJs and flying down to Texas. 

Sierra, you capture the personality so well that there is never any doubt Fay is from the ‘50s. What kind of preparation did you do for the role?

McCormick: First of all, thank you! I started with Fay’s inward qualities and how they might be different from mine. Her enthusiasm and eagerness to learn about anything and share knowledge, which might seem weird in that time, I could connect to. But as for the technical side I spent a lot of time researching switchboard operating. There’s a lot of footage on YouTube, vintage footage of mostly women operating switchboards. I noticed this super quick flick of the wrist motion they all had. They would do it so nonchalantly because it was their job that they did day in and day out. So I needed to make sure it seemed super effortless because I have so much to do in all these scenes with the switchboards. I had to learn how to do it without thinking about it. So they moved this switchboard into my hotel room and I would spend nights just practicing over and over, grabbing those chords, putting them in the jacks and doing it over and over. I had never seen one in person prior to this. 

You do it so well in the movie. If you travel back in time you would easily be able to pull it off (laughs).

McCormick: (Laughs) Right?! I would have a career lined up at any switchboard, if I’m ever trapped in the ‘50s. 

Andrew Patterson’s approach to this story differs from the usual UFO movie. Jake, how was it working with Patterson and what was the actor-director relationship was like?

Horowitz: We both seemed to understand this script and what made it work, what made it fun. This is a UFO movie but like if Richard Linklater did it. It takes seriously, and in real time, this idea. This really old tried and true plot of two kids and aliens, or whatever it is. I just always dug that. It made sense to me. All that we worked on was how to take it seriously. What would you really do if you kind of thought aliens were out there? We talked a lot about stillness and tension and holding frame. A great example that he gave me was the movie “All the President’s Men,” which I hadn’t seen. There’s this great phone call that Robert Redford has in that movie and the camera stays on him, you see him take in information. You get the sense he’s coming closer to something. Your job as the actor is to tell it truthfully and let the tension build around you.

As someone coming from the stage, from theater, how would you compare the two experiences? 

Horowitz: That’s a great question. We always talked about the script being like a play, like a radio play. Coming from theater helped me understand the script. When you read a play so much of the story comes from the dialogue, and that was pretty much the same with this. But in film there is a gift in how still you can be and how tense you can make that feel, the stillness of trying to figure out what’s going on. In a play you might have to open up a little bit, on film you can get super detailed. Andrew would have this great saying, “send it through the floor. Send it down, send it down.”

Sierra, you have been in various TV shows and films. This was a small budget indie production, this kind of shoot must have been quite a different experience.

McCormick: Everyone was so down for having fun and goofing off! A lot of those shots in the movie are very complicated and it would take a while for them to set up, so Jake and I would hang out for a couple of hours. You can only run your lines so many times, then eventually we would hang out and listen to music. Most of the time when we weren’t shooting, Andrew, the director, and us would go around Texas eating at waffle houses and catching movies. We all had this fun hangout vibe.

Jake, you and Sierra have this great Mulder and Scully chemistry in the movie. What was it like working together?

Horowitz: It was a dream, man. It was so great, we became the best of friends. We spent every day of five weeks together. We come from different backgrounds, she has this onscreen history while I come from the stage, but we actually connected with our ideas about acting and what good acting is. It was just a great time.

With a movie like this, it’s almost inevitable to ask you about your own feelings on UFOs. Sierra, have you ever seen one?

McCormick: Oooh (laughs). No, I wish I’d seen a UFO! I definitely wholeheartedly believe in extraterrestrial life. I haven’t been lucky enough to witness any sort of UFO myself, but I’m definitely open to that happening. I’d love to see something like that. Every time I think I have it turns out to have been a plastic bag or a star that just happened to be really bright. 

What about you Jake? Any personal connection to the subject matter and have you ever encountered a UFO?

Horowitz: Well I can’t say that I’ve ever seen one. But I can say that I completely believe in them now because this movie helped me to discover that if they ever do come I want to be on the side of people who always said they believed in them. I don’t want to be a doubter. Then I’d be safe and they will invite me to the party, hopefully VIP, and I won’t be shot down or abducted. That’s what I believe.

The Vast of Night” premieres May 29 on Amazon Prime Video.