[This story contains spoilers to the finale of Based on a True Story and Scream VI.]
With a breakout role in Scream VI, a surprising character twist in Peacock’s Based on a True Story and a turn in the upcoming Blumhouse film Totally Killer, Liana Liberato is killing it in horror and dark comedy.
Based on a True Story centers on a married couple Nathan (Chris Messina) and Ava (Kaley Cuoco) who are at a crossroads in their marriage and struggling professionally while expecting a baby. They luckily, if you can call it that, stumble upon the realization that their plumber (Tom Bateman) is an infamous L.A. serial killer known as the Westside Ripper. Instead of turning him in, they blackmail him into making a true-crime podcast about his work, so to speak. In the bloody horror-comedy-thriller, Liberato plays Tory, Ava’s younger sister who lives with the couple when she’s not away at college.
Liberato wrapped Scream VI in August and landed the Based on a True Story role that fall, months before she was unmasked as one of the murderers in the horror franchise’s latest installment. Now that both are streaming — and the season finale revealed she’s in a secret romance with the killer — she’s been enjoying the fan response. “A lot of people are like, ‘Oh my gosh, the Westside Ripper and Ghostface are dating!’” she laughs.
“After playing such an iconic role it probably wouldn’t be super smart to dip back into the bad guy-villain world this early,” says Liberato. “But it is really nice to let people know that I can play that. I think for a long time, throughout my career, people didn’t believe that I could play a crazy bad guy, or a villain, because I have more of a girl-next-door look. It was nice to have Matt [Bettinelli-Olpin] and Tyler [Gillett] trust me with that in Scream VI, and it’s nice to let the world see that too.”
After Based on a True Story‘s release on Peacock, Liberato talked to THR about why she’s drawn to horror and where she’d like to see her character go if there’s a second season.
Let’s start with Based on a True Story. How did you get involved and what made you want to do this project?
It felt really challenging, because I haven’t done a lot of comedy. And the comedy that I have done has been primarily film. I was like, “Wow, it would be really cool to live in this comedic world for a long time” — especially with such good actors. I felt like I could learn a lot from them. The process was interesting because I had just gotten off of another job, and it really wasn’t that clear who I was playing because I had such an old version of the script. It was the pilot that was written before Kaley had signed on to the show, and it was originally a woman in her 40s who had kids and my character was [her] daughter. I remember not reading the real pilot until I had signed onto the show, which was very daunting. But it also [had] such a clear tone from the very beginning. Despite not fully knowing what I was getting myself into, I simultaneously knew exactly what I was getting into.
Do you have any favorite scenes?
One of the first few scenes that I did was when I walk in on the wine and crime girls and I’m leaving for a date. I felt like I stepped into the middle of the show, and I got to see all of these actors that I had only visualized from a piece of paper and see them play and try different lines and improvise. That was really fun, and I got along with everyone so well. I was like, “Dang, I wish I were a wine and crime girl,” which I guess is kind of the point. You want to be a part of that crew.
We also did like a week of filming for episode six, the big dinner scene with everybody. That was really fun to film because we were all together and everyone had been filming for months at this point. We all really felt like we had gotten to know each other and we had a really good time. Unless the camera was on you, for the most part, we were just chilling and cracking jokes.
That fight at the table and the debate about the podcast was really interesting. The audience finds out pretty early on that he’s [Tom Bateman’s character] the killer, but most of the people sitting around the table didn’t know that. What was filming that like?
You have to kind of set aside the audience viewpoint of the story and really lean into your own character’s beliefs. It wasn’t terribly hard for me because I feel like Tory has a really good head on her shoulders and her beliefs in this world are actually quite justified. I am curious if we do get another season where they would take my character and her knowledge of things. It’s obviously fun and funny to be in the dark and let all of these things happen in front of you and you not notice, but I would love to see what Tory would do with the information if she had it.
We filmed a few different variations of the surprise party scene where I do my speech and I learned a lot about Tory that didn’t make it in the cut. I know Craig [Rosenberg, showrunner] wanted to hold onto a lot of information, but there is a deep, deep history between Tory and Ava and the life they came from that further digs Tory into a really interesting psychological hole. It brings out connections to the world that Ava and Nathan put themselves into that you wouldn’t expect, and I really hope we get to explore that more if we get another season.
What was it like going from being in, essentially, a whodunit where you know you’re the killer to being in one where you don’t know you’re dating the killer?
I feel like people who like Scream would like the show, and that was fun to pivot to a similar-ish world. I remember talking with Craig before Scream VI had come out and he was like, “Are you the killer? Because that could affect storyline things.” And I was like, “I am way too afraid to tell you anything because I don’t want get in any sort of trouble, but I’m not the best person.” That’s all I said to him, and he was like, “Okay, noted.” But, yeah, it definitely has been interesting. A lot of people are like, “Oh my gosh, the Westside Ripper and Ghostface are dating!” That’s a really funny thing that I just love. I never thought of it that way.
It’s a similar balance of tension and drama and laughs and blood, and it’s happening in a world where there’s some level of self-awareness. Scream exists in a world where horror movies and real murders happen, and this show exists in a world where people are obsessed with true crime.
Also, something that I thought of recently was the storyline in Scream. These characters are affected by the fans and the fandom and the obsession over Ghostface, and that’s very prevalent in the last Scream. You do kind of find that Ava and Nathan are the fans, especially Ava, and you get this inside look at how that interest and obsession affects the choices you make.
What got you into horror?
I’m a fan of the genre, obviously. I like watching horror movies. I used to be terrified of them and I eventually got to a point in my early teens where I was so sick of being scared that I just started desensitizing myself with horror movies. I started watching Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining and Signs, all kinds of horror movies, and fell in love with the genre. Growing up, this is strange, but I always loved like crying on cue and screaming. It felt very therapeutic for some reason to spend your day just releasing that kind of energy. I feel like I would come home and be so much more relaxed, maybe because life doesn’t really ask that of you often.
I did this movie, when I think I was like 22, called The Beach House and we were filthy the entire movie. We were just covered in sweat and dirt and crawling through the mud, and I was covered in bruises all the time. I remember finishing that movie and feeling really proud. Maybe because I was a kid actor, I definitely grew up with that pressure, especially as a woman, to look a certain way, act a certain way, and I finally got to step into a set where none of that mattered. It was actually cooler and more attractive to be this like feral wild badass and survivalist and it felt very freeing because you mentally can’t live there. If you’re covered in sweat and dirt and crawling on the ground, you can’t be thinking, “Oh, I hope that this angle looks good on me on camera.” Your brain has to be in survival mode and in this character’s head, and I really liked that. I love stepping into horror movies and not being afraid to look absolutely terrible and being really wild. That must be why I’m attracted to them, because of the societal pressures and pressures that I probably put on myself as a young actress.
Have the kinds of roles you’re approached about changed since Scream VI came out and people realized you were among the Ghostfaces?
You know, I’m not sure. As of now, I’m trying to take a little bit of a break in the bad guy world because I don’t want to be pigeonholed — and also I do feel like that might be a little predictable if I were to do another role immediately after where I was [the villain]. I try to never be too picky in my choices. Honestly, if I gravitate toward a character I’m going to do the role. I really just try to go after a feeling. If something feels exciting and challenging then I’m going to do it.
How much can you say about Totally Killer, the upcoming Blumhouse film you’re in?
I can speak on my experience on it. It was so fun. My character is very funny, and it’s a character I have never in my life played. That was really empowering and also daunting at the same time. All of last year was being handed roles that I had been wanting to play for a really long time and now all of a sudden people trusted me with doing it.
We had the best time filming. There are some really great up-and-coming actors in the movie that I’m excited for people to see their performances. Kiernan Shipka is so good. I remember doing our first table read and getting to listen to her and I was like, “Oh my gosh. She’s so perfect for this role.” And Olivia Holt, who’s a good friend of mine. That was a really cool reunion because we were kids when we first met. We had a little dream together and then getting to see each other again in Vancouver on a Blumhouse movie we were like, “Who would’ve thought that this would happen?” If you had told the little versions of ourselves, I don’t know if we would’ve believed it. That was really cool. It felt very full circle.
How old were you when you met?
I was probably 11 or 12, and she is two years younger than me. We were very young. We both were kid actors, so we had moved to L.A. and we lived in the same apartment complex that housed a bunch of actors during pilot season. We were running around at the Oakwood apartments, climbing trees and swimming in pools and playing hide-and-seek. We were just such littles and it was crazy to have that connection with someone. You meet so many people throughout this journey and you never see them again. Getting to work with someone that you grew up with, and you shared this pipe dream together, it was crazy.
What else do you have in the pipeline that you’re allowed to talk about?
I do have a movie that I can hint at. Hopefully we’ll be shooting soon and I’m working with a very dear and close friend of mine. It’s a really great script. I wish I could talk about it. It also feels like a really fun full-circle moment because this is a friend that we’ve both kind of walked with each other through the trenches of this industry and it’s really exciting to see him climb this ladder. It’s a great role for him. I’m excited for him and I get to be a part of it. So I’m really excited, but I wish I could say more.
I’m also really excited to film Face. Justine Bateman is amazing, the book is amazing, the script is amazing. So I’m stoked about that.
Interview edited for length and clarity.