[Editor’s note: The following interview was conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike began on July 14, 2023.]

Heather Graham may have a legendary decades-long career in Hollywood, but she’s never done horror…or rather, never shed her skin completely for a project quite like “Suitable Flesh.”

In the film, Graham plays psychiatrist Elizabeth Derby, who becomes obsessed with a handsome younger patient (Judah Lewis) who is suffering from extreme personality disorder. Yet Elizabeth soon realizes there is a dark occult danger within his presence, and after consummating their relationship, she too becomes possessed by an otherworldly spirit.

Turns out, Elizabeth Derby was in fact originally written as a man, and it was director Joe Lynch’s decision to flip the gender of the lead star.

“Just to get to play sort of like that powerful male role as a woman, you never usually get to play one where you’re like the ultimate villain that can’t die. It’s just like a something I’ve never gotten the chance to do,” Graham told IndieWire in an interview conducted during the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike.

“The original story was sort of about this older man who falls for this younger woman and they were saying, ‘Well, this is a story we’ve seen a million times. But what about the story that’s sort of about the woman’s sexuality and her kind of going on this kind of thriller, horror, erotic journey?,’” Graham said. “And Joe kept referencing kind of some really amazing erotic thrillers, like ‘Basic Instinct’ and ‘Body Heat,’ and I feel like they haven’t made those movies as much recently.”

She continued, “They sent me the script and I loved the idea of being a therapist. I guess I’ve always really been so intrigued by psychology and, in my fantasies, I do sometimes picture that I could have been a therapist. It was just an interesting, complicated, intelligent, flawed, likable character. And then I also got to body swap with a demon. I mean, how often do you get to body swap and turn into a demon? When you get to play three characters in one movie, it’s very juicy as an actor. I just thought it seemed really fun.”

“Suitable Flesh” stretched Graham’s acting prowess, leading her to collaborate with a new acting coach to create memories and backstories for the various characters. “For Dr. Elizabeth Derby, I created a whole entire life story in the seminal moments throughout her childhood, teenager, adulthood, which was interesting,” Graham said. “And then for the entity, that was kind of freeing because it was more about the entity’s desires to dominate. The entity is very sexual and is sort of the humor of the movie. Of course, I always love things that have humor. There’s a fun cult movie aspect to it. I think it’s unusual and fun and that it has aspects of things that you can relate to, but it’s also its own thing.”

“Suitable Flesh”

A newcomer to horror, Graham admitted that the genre isn’t necessarily one of her go-to’s to watch during her down time. “I mean, to be honest, it scares the shit out of you!,” Graham said. “I do like it and there’s certain horror movies that I love, but sometimes I’m still too afraid to watch it, especially if I’m home by myself. It’s such a beloved genre and it’s fun to kind of break out of what I normally do and just try to tell a story that’s totally terrifying.”

Graham’s sophomore directorial outing “Chosen Family” (which she also wrote) is eyeing a 2024 release, and the multi-hyphenate credited “Suitable Flesh” filmmaker Lynch for championing a female-led film, along with co-star and horror icon Barbara Crampton.

“For me, it’s been very hard [to get a movie made],” Graham said. “Maybe there’s a few women out there that just all the doors open and it’s super easy. But I would say in general, the industry is more sexist and does kind of block a lot of these stories from being told, so for me to get to be part of something like [‘Suitable Flesh’] is very fun.”

She added of the Lynch-helmed film, “Men can be amazing at supporting women telling their own stories too, like even the director of this movie switched the gender of the main character and made it a woman. There’s so many men out there that are supporting these kind of stories and hopefully we’re like evolving in general as human beings to be more understanding that like we can see things from not only that white male perspective and especially a gender perspective too.”

She concluded, “I think that’s where like the most exciting stories come from because we’ve seen a lot of that perspective, but from people of color, from women, what are our stories that maybe haven’t been told as much because we didn’t have the platform to tell them?”

An RLJE Films release, “Suitable Flesh” hits theaters and will start streaming everywhere you rent movies on Friday, October 27.

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