Dave Fraco made his directorial debut this past weekend with The Rental. The story starts off with two couples using an online rental service to plan a weekend getaway in a beautiful house in the Northwest. Far from having a peaceful weekend they experience surprising events leading to the paranoia of perhaps not being alone. Sheila Vand plays Mina in this thriller and shares her experience being a part of this cast and much more.
The Rental can be seen in theaters and VOD.
Check out our exclusive interview below.
Nancy Tapia: Hope you are doing well. I must ask, how do you feel about rentals after The Rental?
Sheila Vand: I feel like I should be more scared than I am! The movie hasn’t really stopped me from renting short term houses or vacation homes. To be honest, I feel like we all give away so much of our privacy anyway these days. With social media and all the apps we use, all of our privacy and data gets exploited and sold all the time. If the killer in The Rental took off his mask, it would probably be Mark Zuckerberg under there. That guy is the real monster to be worried about. It’s funny to be scared of hidden cameras when we willingly carry around cameras everyday on our cellphones and laptops and they’re known to be very easily hacked. At this point, I’ve accepted that no one has privacy anymore. That’s our world these days.
Nancy Tapia: How did you get involved in The Rental?
Sheila Vand: Dave (Dave Franco) offered me the role based on my past work in We The Animals and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. It means a lot to me when I don’t have to audition for a role. It shows me that the director believes in me and doesn’t need any extra proof of my abilities. So anyway, Dave sent me the script with an explanation of his vision for the movie and I thought it was a great premise for a horror film. We met up after I read the script and connected immediately. Right away, I could feel his passion for the project and I wanted to support his vision.
Nancy Tapia: What attracted you to take the role of Mina?
Sheila Vand: Mina is such a great character because she goes through a lot in the movie. I was excited to have such a spectrum of emotions to play with. There’s some drama, some lighthearted fun, and some full blown horror. I was also excited to play a Persian-American leading role that has just as much screen time as the White roles and isn’t tokenized or a stereotype. Those parts are still so rare and when there finally is an ethnic leading role, it’s put under so much scrutiny by Hollywood. It feels like mainstream Hollywood wants us to fail so they can absolve themselves from all the years they excluded ethnic actors in their films. So it was very important to me to not only seize the opportunity of playing this part, but also to show Hollywood how grossly wrong they’ve been about the abilities of ethnic actors.
Nancy Tapia: Your character is the one with the sixth sense. And not only that but is the one that feels to be experiencing some sort of racism. Doesn’t stay quiet, instead confronts it. Have you ever experienced something similar in real life? If so, did you confront it?
Shaila Vand: Yes, sadly, I have experienced racism and discrimination. I’ve been marginalized and dismissed. But I’ve also benefited from the lightness of my skintone, which makes me cringe. I’m still processing my own privilege and how best to use and spread it. As far as confronting people in those moments of prejudice, it’s not always easy to do. Sometimes the prejudice is implicit or under the surface, so you can’t just call it out easily. Other times people have gaslit me and made me feel like I was imagining the discrimination. Like what happens to Mina in the movie. I’ve been outspoken about racism when it happens to others, but it’s been much scarier to speak up when it’s happening to me. I think because when you feel discriminated against, you don’t feel safe, and when you call the perpetrator out, sometimes it feels like you’re putting yourself in even more danger. But we all have to speak up, no matter how much it scares us, or nothing will ever change.
Nancy Tapia: How was it to work with Dave Franco?
Sheila Vand: It was such a great experience working with Dave. I really can’t say enough good things about him. Besides being a natural at directing, he always led our cast and crew with the utmost respect and kindness. He was so prepared for the shoot and I was really impressed at how well he executed his vision. Dave managed to deliver exactly the film he set out to make, which is no small feat! He was collaborative and hyper-focused and I think his passion and dedication to the project was contagious.
Nancy Tapia: In the credits it says there was a stunt double for Mina. Can you share for what scene?
Sheila Vand: My stunt double Brittany Servidio was incredible. It was for the scene where Mina falls down the stairs and Brittany nailed it on her first take. It looked so painful and real. She was like banging and bouncing down a big flight of stairs and I remember rushing to her after and being like “holy shit, are you ok?” She was cool as a cucumber, like it was nothing. Stunt actors really amaze me. It’s like a magic act when you see good stunts. I also have to shout out our stunt coordinator, Anthony Molinari, who was amazing to work with. He always made us feel safe and was so great at showing us how to sell the physical moments. Also fun (spoiler) fact – Anthony plays the Masked Man. It’s funny to see him be the scary bad guy because he’s such a sweetheart in real life.
Nancy Tapia: Thank you for that spoiler! I actually wondered if maybe it was Dave Franco for fun. If not mistaken, you started in theater. Do you miss it? What classic play would you have loved to be a part of?
Sheila Vand:I do miss theater, but I still do it when I can! I try to do a play every couple years just to keep my acting sharp and because the process is often a lot more rewarding than on-camera work. I love theater so much. You really get to play with the long rehearsals and table work, whereas on-camera acting can feel so technical sometimes. What I hope to do more of in the future is more experimental theater. I’d love to do something wildly abstract on stage. The stage is a magical arena. It’s really quite different to perform live than performing on camera where there’s such a big separation between you and the audience.
Nancy Tapia: Is there something you can share that you may be working on or will start to work on?
Sheila Vand: Yes! I’m starring in Shirin Neshat’s next feature film, which we’ll be shooting as soon as we safely can. The film is a surreal and satirical meditation on the American Dream. With so much turmoil in our country, I think this movie is more relevant than ever. It explores some of the identity issues of being an American. Shirin’s one of my idols too so it’s just a real honor to be working with her.
Nancy Tapia: Thank you for your time Sheila and good luck with this new project.
The Rental can be seen in theaters and VOD.