Pediophobia is a thing. Whether it’s antique porcelain dolls, walking-talking automatons, or menacing-looking stuffed animals, Hollywood has made a fortune exploiting our fear of dolls on the big screen.
“Dolls, right? Poltergeist with the clown dolls, those stuffies in The Shining. ... I’ve always found them a little creepy,” says actor David Lewis.
Lewis has more than a few doll-induced battle scars from his latest project, Child’s Play, a revamping of the classic 1988 film franchise which launched “Chucky” as a nightmare-inducing household name. The film stars Aubrey Plaza as a single mom who buys a Buddi doll for her son (Gabriel Bateman), unaware of the terror she’s about to unleash.
In the original films, Chucky was a demonically possessed child’s plaything. Today’s Child’s Play taps into our twofold fear of dolls and technology: Buddi is an interactive, artificial-intelligence device that is linked to your smartphone, your car, and your home heating, lights and security system. What could possibly go wrong?
There’s no Alexa or Google Home in the Lewis household. “I wouldn’t call myself paranoid,” he says, “but I’ve watched enough of the X-Files I’ve got a piece of paper over the camera on my computer.” In fact, Lewis appeared on several episodes of the X-Files. His long list of credits include The Day The Earth Stood Still with Keanu Reeves, Personal Effects with Ashton Kutcher and Michelle Pfeiffer, Door to Door with William H. Macy, and TV credits including Dead Like Me, The L Word, Girlfriend’s Guide To Divorce and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Lewis fell into acting when he took drama in high school. It seemed like an easy course, he admits, and for “a kid with red hair and pimples” it evened the playing field. He was lucky coming out of high school just when the film industry was starting to explode in Vancouver.
A steady career in acting followed, but Child’s Play in particular has got Lewis’ teenage son and daughter pretty excited. “I’ve been working for a long time and for the most part they don’t really care,” he laughs. “But we’re all big fans of Parks and Recreation so when I told them that I was going to be working with Aubrey they were pretty impressed.”
Lewis plays Shane, the on-again, off-again boyfriend of Plaza’s character, Karen. “She’s great, incredibly professional,” he says of his co-star. “You just don’t know when you get an L.A. actor if they’re going to be willing to play. It’s an industry where we’re trying to be creative on the spot and you’re just hoping that they’re open to being creative. That was definitely Aubrey.”
He’s equally complimentary of Gabriel Bateman, the young star of the film. “He is so good in this, very professional and very comfortable in his own skin. And then when the camera stops rolling he’s being a normal kid trying to scare the hell out of Aubrey. I could definitely see him having a long career.”
It’s not the first time that Lewis and Plaza have crossed paths: “I did this ridiculous kids’ movie, Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever, and Aubrey was the voice of Grumpy Cat,” but the two never actually met until the Child’s Play shoot. Lewis is also bummed not to have met the voice of Buddi, childhood idol Mark Hamill. “When we were shooting we didn’t know who the voice would be. When I found out, I was absolutely shocked,” he says. “What a get!”
Lewis should get his chance to meet his idol next week at the red carpet screening in L.A. That’ll score big points for Lewis with his 16-year-old son, also a Hamill fan and “whose eye muscles are weakening from rolling them,” he laughs. His son is also an actor, a veteran of dozens of commercials. Lewis was “hesitantly OK with that,” but put his foot down when it came to film and TV work. “I want him to grow up in a school and not on set with a tutor. Graduate with a degree and then he can make is own choices.”
Lewis has directed short films and web projects, he teaches and coaches in Vancouver and is also a writer (“as an actor it absolutely makes me appreciate the words and wanting to say them properly because I know how much time and effort goes into them”). But appearing in front of the camera is what he does best.
“I’m really excited for this film, it’s going to be a lot of fun. And the fact that it drops the same weekend as Toy Story 4, is cheeky. It’s perfect!” Child’s Play opens in theatres everywhere today.