Advertisement

How Sydney Sweeney and Her ‘Immaculate’ Director Made Their Sexy, Gory Nun Movie as ‘F—ing Extreme’ as Possible

Sydney Sweeney is one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, but fans are sure to be shocked by her wild new horror movie that pushes her creativity in front of and behind the camera to new extremes.

“Immaculate” is the third project that director Michael Mohan and Sweeney have collaborated on, after the 2018 series “Everything Sucks!” and the 2021 thriller “The Voyeurs.” Their newest creative vision is a project filled with twists, blood and a surprising amount of horniness for a movie set at an Italian convent. Sweeney plays Cecilia, an American nun who transfers to Italy and is forced to face a lot of dark secrets hidden in the walls of the gorgeous nunnery. Sweeney is also a producer on the film, which is set to debut on Tuesday at this year’s South by Southwest festival.

More from Variety

Mohan spoke with Variety about the unlikely genesis of the project, the importance of cinema not shying away from sensuality onscreen and how Sweeney was able to make the movie even scarier.

What was the genesis of “Immaculate”?

It’s the first film I’ve directed that I did not write myself. Andrew Lobel wrote this script about 18 years ago, and in the mid-2010s it was about to be made with a studio. Sydney, when she was 15 or 16, auditioned for the lead role. The character wasn’t a nun back then — it was a high schooler — and she was one of the last two people up for the role. Then it just sort of evaporated.

Andrew stepped away from the business at that point. He was fed up and went and worked in video games for a while. Years later, Sydney does “Euphoria” Season 2, and all of her fans are going, “You need to do a horror movie.” She wanted to get into producing too, and so they were reading every single script around town, just trying to find something that resonated. And she said, “You know what? The best horror script I ever read was this thing I auditioned for. I wonder if I can resurrect it.”

Imagine you’re Andrew Lobel, you get a phone call, and it’s Sydney Sweeney on the other end, saying, “Hey, I auditioned for your script 10 years ago. Do you think I could make it?” And she did. She sent the script to me, and when I read it…it takes a lot to shock me. When I saw the different reveals that happen in the script, I genuinely didn’t see them coming, and I’m someone who writes movies with lots of twist endings.

The script feels like it could have come out of the grindhouse era, in terms of being so transgressive with the mix of sex, religion and violence — yet it’s shot with such a sense of style. How were you able to balance those ideas and tones?

I look at the horror movies that were made during the American New Wave. If you look at “Rosemary’s Baby” or “Don’t Look Now,” what I love about those films is that you feel intimate with the main characters, yet they are cinematic. Even though the stories are told in these elegant and classy ways, they have this sense of danger. In “The Exorcist,” there are images in that film that movies today have not topped, in terms of how disturbing they are. So that’s what I wanted to do: make the boldest film I possibly could that will, hopefully, stand the test of time and get under your skin.

What is Sydney like as a creative partner?

It’s like watching someone do a magic trick. I started working with Syd back in 2016 on “Everything Sucks!” The joy of working with Sydney goes way beyond her acting talent. Even back then, she was the type of person who would stay after wrap and shadow what the first AC was doing. She would ask them questions about why they’re choosing which lenses, and she would sit with the sound recordist and talk to them about why they’re using these microphones.

It was that sense of curiosity, the fact that she is a cinephile and that level of respect that she has for the entire crew that inspires everybody to do their best work. As a director, you want that partner with you, because every day is a battle to get your shots. To have someone right at your side that’s helping you rally everybody together — it’s amazing.

One of the things that I appreciated about both her and her producing partner Jonathan Davino, as well as producer David Bernad, who she worked with on “White Lotus,” was they tried to push me to make something commercial. To make something that, because I think the message behind the movie is just too important to limit the audience by making something too esoteric, we just wanted to have the jump scares that audiences have come to love. We wanted to balance out all that disturbing stuff with something that felt a little bit more like a popcorn movie, and she was so instrumental in helping me bridge the gap in terms of not compromising my voice visually or artistically.

IMMACULATE, Sydney Sweeney (center), director Michael Mohan (kneeling), on set, 2024. ph: Fabio Lovino /© Neon /Courtesy Everett Collection
“Immaculate”: Sydney Sweeney (center), director Michael Mohan (kneeling)

Recent studies have found that Gen Z is less interested in seeing sex and sensuality depicted onscreen. “Immaculate” and your previous film “The Voyeurs” have not shied away from either element. When you’re preparing to shoot your films, do you ever consider the “necessity” of sexually-charged scenes?

It is necessary. Movies should elicit a number of responses: Funny movies should be funny, dramatic movies should make you cry. We used to have movies that were sexy, that would turn people on, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s a spice that is missing in our current cinematic landscape that we absolutely need.

In the script, there was a scene where Cecilia and her friend (Benedetta Porcaroli) were having a heart-to-heart. I’m the one who said, “Let’s put them in the bathtub, and let’s shoot it as elegantly as possible,” where they’re wearing these gowns that are a little bit sheer, but not over the top. The fact that it’s sexy is not a bad thing. It is OK to make movies that are sexy. And if that’s something that you’re not into, don’t watch. That’s not the audience I’m going for. I think it’s all talk, because “The Voyeurs” was massively successful on Amazon. They’re watching it, they’re just not admitting to watching it.

Sydney promoted this wild movie with an appearance hosting “Saturday Night Live.” Are you surprised that such a boundary-pushing project is making its way into the mainstream?

It gives me hope. That’s one of the things that I think is so remarkable about Sydney is that she will do a movie like “Reality,” and, in doing so, she brings all of these people who have never been exposed to that kind of slow cinema. I think this horror movie is a popcorn movie first and foremost. It’s a roller coaster ride, but the ending is fucking extreme. People are going to walk away having an extreme reaction to it, and that’s all her. She wants to push the envelope, but she wants to do it thoughtfully. I know she loves the movie, and I’m proud of us for not pulling our punches.

Watch the trailer for “Immaculate” below.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.