Daughter Cast and Producer Dish on Intense New Thriller
Feb 14, 2023
The thought-provoking new film titled Daughter — now in select theaters, digital, and on-demand — champions POC actors, alongside veteran actor Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers). “We shouldn’t have to only just tell stories about the [Vietnam] war,” says producer and star Vivien Ngô. “There are so many other ways we can exist.”
From Dark Star Pictures, Daughter is a frightening psychological thriller that follows a young woman (Ngô) who gets kidnapped and inducted into a bizarre family as their new surrogate “daughter.” As she navigates through this twisted dynamic, awful secrets about the past are revealed and lead to even darker implications about the future. Shot on 16mm film with a predominantly Vietnamese cast, Van Dien’s new starring vehicle is a uniquely diverse and genre-bending tale in the vein of Dogtooth and even 10 Cloverfield Lane.
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We recently caught up with stars Ngô and Elyse Dinh, whose characters had the chance to speak authentic Vietnamese with each other throughout the film. The actors also dish on a past collaboration and other projects in the works.
Producer-Star Vivien Ngô on Wearing Multiple Hats
MW: What was it about Daughter that first drew you to the project?
Vivien Ngô: Me and [writer-director] Corey [Deshon], we started this journey together. So it was, I think, the idea of making a film with some of my favorite people. And then Corey spit out this weird script. And, you know, I’ve always believed in them, I’d known them for a few years, I’d always believe in their work… And I mean, I’ve worked on new plays with like, living playwrights, but I’ve never had a script written for me. So that was written for me and people I loved. And getting to explore this world that none of us have been able to — like, I haven’t been able to exist in a weird, surrealist world like this.
MW: What was it like wearing multiple hats, starring in, and also producing the project?
Ngô: It was truly a lot of blood, sweat, and tears — and emphasis on tears, because I had never produced before in my life… I was doing a lot of the grunt work because I was the least experienced of the team, doing a lot of paperwork, making lots of calls, and wrangling other people… And then a lot of very little sleep. I think for two months, I slept like two-three hours a night.
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MW: What was it like working with Casper Van Dien?
Ngô: A joy. I adore him. He’s just a dad, and he’s just so fun and goofy… He understands the importance of creating, setting the tone. So you know, it was a quick shoot, it was 12 days. So it did get intense. Some of us had moments of frustration, little tension here and there, as you do on set. And I think Casper did an incredible job to just alleviate. He’d always be cracking amazing dad jokes… And also just getting to play with somebody who’s worked on some very iconic things and also to see him do something so different than what he’s done in his career. And we were just very, very thankful and grateful that he wanted to join, and he was so excited. He came in every day with so many ideas. He really wanted to collaborate. So that was really a joy.
MW: With such an intense film, what was the most challenging scene to shoot?
Ngô: I mean, there were a lot of challenges… I come from a theater background, so doing really long, long scenes isn’t hard for me… And actually, this is the first time I’ve done full-on scenes in Vietnamese. And I speak Vietnamese, but I’m not, like, crazy fluent… It was my first language, but it slowly shifted to English being my native tongue by the time I was like 8 or 10 years old… And Vietnamese is a very tonal language, so if you change tones on your vowels, that suddenly changes the meaning… But thankfully, we had a good amount of crew that were Viet. And in between shots, they would give me notes. But that was a major challenge, especially with that really long scene, that is my favorite scene, the eight, the one shot with me and [co-star] Elyse [Dinh].
MW: What can you tell us about your upcoming film, The Accidental Getaway Driver?
Ngô: You know, that is a special film as well. It has a very special place in my heart. I grew up in Orange County. So I played a character based on somebody that went to the same high school as me… The Accidental Getaway Driver was the first time I shot something actually in the center of Little Saigon. So both films, in their own way, are very special to me in this moment, in my life and career, where I’ve been really fortunate to just work on a lot of Vietnamese-specific roles… Seeing these Vietnamese characters in both [Daughter and The Accidental Getaway Driver]… humanized in a way that I personally have never seen them… They are both really different films, but I do think they exist on the same spectrum of like… we shouldn’t have to only just tell stories about the [Vietnam] war. There are so many other ways we can exist.
Elyse Dinh on Challenges and Sundance Projects
Dark Star Pictures
MW: Going back to square one, what was it about Daughter that first drew you to that project?
Elyse Dinh: How it came about was, I worked with Vivien Ngô who plays “Sister,” in Queen Sugar in 2018, and we played mother and daughter. And we just had so much fun. And she’s like, “I want to do a movie with you. I want to work with you. I want you to be my mommy again.” I’m like, “Sure! Sign me up.” When someone says they want to work with you and created a role for you, of course, you say “yes.” And so, she talked to Corey about it, and then I got a script, I mean, not that long after. Corey is a fast writer. He’s a good writer. He’s a fast writer. And so we got a script… and I was like, “Oh my gosh, it’s so scary.” I’m actually a scaredy cat. I cannot watch horror… But I’m like, “It’ll be fun to do”… All of that tension was evident on the page. And I love the complexity of “Mother,” and Corey was such a good writer. For me, it’s always about the writing, right? Nothing happens without a good script.
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MW: What was it like working with Casper Van Dien?
Dinh: He is the nicest, and so respectful and completely different from [his character] “Father.” He’s just so nice and shows up, and he’s such a hard worker… He just wants to work hard. No errors, no anything. And there were scenes [that] didn’t make the final film — but let’s just say Father was not nice to Mother… [But Casper] was always so respectful. I always felt very safe with him. You know, I never felt scared… He was always like, “I want to talk it through.” Can we have rehearsals?”… And that is something that is important in a movie like this, when it’s scary, when there are certain things done to certain characters.
MW: Are there any other projects that you’re currently working on that you’d like to share about?
Dinh: I do have a film that went to Sundance, it’s called The Family Circus. And I worked with another Starship Troopers star, Michael Ironside… It’s written and directed by Andrew Fitzgerald. And that was also an amazing experience we’ve gone to Sundance, and we’re also going to South by Southwest. I actually have two short films in South by Southwest.
MW: Do you find yourself ever gravitating towards a particular genre?
Dinh: I have my hopes, of course. I would love to do more comedy because it’s so fun to make people laugh… I’m goofy by nature. It’s weird. I mean, I just am. And so, I just want to let it all hang loose… I would love to play middle-aged or even older… like an older unassuming woman in a show or something — and then something happens, like maybe a robbery… and [my character] just kicks [expletive] and just lays waste to everybody… And subvert the idea that women, especially Asian women, were supposed to be small and weak… I actually am trained in Taekwondo… And look at Michelle Yeoh. She’s 60, right? And she’s out there kicking butt… But of course, also as a POC actress in this industry, I know that I’m lucky just to be able to work. And I’m lucky to have a good script in any genre, you know? So it’s a little bit of both. There are things that I hope for, but if it’s a good script and I want to be a part of it, I will take it no matter the genre.
Daughter is in select theaters, on Digital, and On Demand as of February 10, 2023.
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