If you want to date Kathryn Newton, don’t let her sketch you. “If I ever draw a boy who I have a crush on, I never end up with him,” the 27-year-old star of Lisa Frankenstein says. “It’s kind of a curse.” On February 9, Newton will appear as Lisa, who brings the undead to life in the Diablo Cody–written, Zelda Williams–directed hor-rom-com Lisa Frankenstein. The film is a maximalist’s delight, replete with a magic tanning bed, a leotard-wearing evil stepmother, and an impressively horny, casually murderous heroine. In the film, Newton plays Lisa as cutting and callous, with a piercing stare that only the most terrifying of teenagers can muster. Lisa’s romantic interests, on the other hand, are a turtleneck-wearing newspaper editor and a gentle but homicidal zombie.
Much like her character, who writes Plath-esque poetry for the school newspaper, Newton has literary interests, too: “I’m a new autodidact,” she says. “I didn’t go to college and I miss school … So I do try to keep myself on a schedule of reading or learning something.” But unlike Lisa, the actress admits she has a preppier side. When she isn’t filming, you can find her out on the green, regularly putting in golf tournaments and one-off matches (she almost played the sport at USC, but she booked her role on Big Little Lies the day after meeting with the head coach to discuss joining the university team as a walk-on player). Calling from her home, in front of a bookshelf displaying thick volumes and wearing a multicolored Valentino neck scarf she fashioned out of a napkin, Newton talks all about being a “big ’80s girl.”
The aesthetic of Lisa Frankenstein is so deliciously ’80s — from the colorful set design to Lisa’s outfits. You were giving Madonna. Did you have a favorite look or a favorite prop?
My favorite prop in the movie is a golf club. I’m a golfer, and I feel like everything I do, I somehow sneak golf into it. As far as outfits, I’m a big ’80s girl. I wear a lot of clothes that are, I would say, very extra, but I think they’re just derivative of the ’80s, from bright colors to leg warmers or oversize bomber jackets. Big tutu skirts — I’ve always loved tulle and things that make you stick out.
I was the jock in high school; I had the varsity letterman jacket because of my golf team. I was never a cheerleader, but I always admired the cheerleader. They stood for a lot in my eyes. So I love Taff’s costume. Our costume designer Meagan [McLaughlin] pulled a lot from her own closet, because she grew up in the ’80s. One of my favorite pieces is I wear these vintage ’80s dachshund pajamas. We did not have dupes of that, and she ruined her pajamas for the movie. So thank you, Meagan.
I also loved that the tanning bed was such a pivotal element in the plot. Have you ever used one in your regular life?
I’ve never used a tanning bed. I’ve used an infrared sauna with a blue light — you know, for, like, your skin and your hormones. But I’ve never used a tanning bed. However, I have gotten spray tans, and let me tell ya, I love them.
Considering how much this movie centers on the undead, did you have any superstitions going into it? Did anything freaky happen on set?
I’m a very superstitious person. I like to do things the same way to run into the same energy or the same good luck. I remember on Blockers, a movie I did a long time ago, for every audition I had I parked under the same tree. I hugged the tree. Kay Cannon, our director, saw me hugging the tree before my last audition. And it just goes to show: Hug that tree! Do you, and if you stick to your guns and do your thing, proudly, you’ll get what’s right for you. So in that regard, I’m super superstitious.
When it comes to the afterlife, I totally believe in ghosts and definitely feel like I’ve had supernatural experiences or at least connected to some other veil or dimension that we can’t see. When I did Paranormal Activity 4, which was my first horror film, I was 14. I watched all the movies by myself in my room and I turned all the lights off. I was petrified. That night, my house lost power. When I went to my screen test, the directors were like, “You know, our house lost power.” There’s some kind of synchronicity there.
Lisa is a poet. Have you ever dabbled in poetry?
Absolutely. I’ve got Dante’s Love That Moves the Sun and Other Stars right up there. I have Walt Whitman. I also write poetry, but trust me, it’s nothing I’m gonna share. I sketch as well. If I ever draw a boy who I have a crush on, I never end up with him. It’s kind of a curse. But I do draw merch for my friends’ bands, or characters that I do in movies. For Lisa Frankenstein, and every movie I’ve done, I will sketch out all the characters and paint them with watercolor. And then I print them on mugs and give them to the cast.
What watercolors do you use?
They’re called Windsor and Newton. They’re really good. And they’re small. They come with a little brush, so you can take them everywhere. They’ve been with me on every movie.
Where do you get your best culture recommendations from?
My best friend, Georgica. She lives in New York City and she’s a real artist. She’s always telling me plays to read or galleries to visit. I wouldn’t even know where to look. New York City as a whole, just walking down the street you get the best culture. I live in L.A. You’ve got to search for it.
You’re hopping in an Uber XL and you can bring five celebrities dead or alive. Who’s coming?
Madonna, because she’s gonna know where to go. Drake, because he could have the aux cord. Jack Harlow, because he’s of the times and he’s my age, and I think that this group together meshes really well. Willem Dafoe — I think that he would add a lot to the group and hopefully we could talk about a few future projects together. I get one more, right? Hmmm … Joan Didion. Oh, wait, no, wait, I take it back. Joan said she’s too tired. She didn’t want to go out tonight, she’s too busy writing. I’m going to ask Coco Chanel to join. She’ll give me my outfit for the night.
What is your comfort rewatch?
Girls on HBO. I just did a rewatch. I actually made a book list of every book Hannah reads in the series, and I’m reading them now. This just happened, I finished it two weeks ago.
What are you reading now from that list?
The one I’m getting through Is Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus. I love it. It’s one that she teaches when she’s a substitute teacher, and she gets in trouble for teaching the kids. The other comfort rewatch that I just finished is Fargo season five, with Juno Temple. Not very comforting, but let me tell you, I couldn’t stop watching. No books to read in that one.
I love that you’re getting further culture recommendations from the culture you’re already consuming.
Actually, that’s the truth. Like, when I get a book — I just read Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan. It’s because I saw it was mentioned in a movie. Or I hear a song in a film, and I save it. I didn’t go to college — I got into USC to play golf — and I miss school. So I do try to keep myself on a schedule of reading or learning something. Not all fiction novels, some of them are historical and kind of boring, but it’s great for your brain. I can’t just scroll on Instagram all the time. I have a time limit.
What is the best piece of gossip that you’ve heard?
The last good piece of gossip is I found out I was dating someone that I wasn’t dating. You don’t have to be someone in tabloids to relate — hasn’t every girl been there, where you hang out with someone and then you hear from someone else that you’re dating, and it’s a newsflash for you? It also happens where I find out on Twitter or Instagram. I get tagged in something and it’s like, Oh, cool. I have a boyfriend. Never had one before. This is great news.
Do you have a favorite game to play?
I love blackjack. I’m new to the poker scene. I can’t say that I’m going to be taking anyone’s money anytime soon. But I’m a fan of blackjack at Christmas or gin rummy. A lot of people play cards on set. It’s a good way to pass the time. I’ve done a lot of mahjong; Julia Roberts is a big mahjong player. We did that in between takes. Apparently I need to learn how to knit. That’s what all the real actresses do. I think I would really like it — better than Candy Crush. I’m a big Candy Crush girl. I’ve gotta stop. I don’t want to brag about it, but I am on level, like, 4,000 or something.
What do you listen to when you’re alone?
This morning, I was listening to “Let ’Em In,” Paul McCartney. I listen to a lot of the Rolling Stones. And a lot of Ludovico Einaudi, if I’m really alone and don’t want to go somewhere and maybe I want to read and be quiet. He’s a pianist. I like podcasts. I love SmartLess because I feel like I’m hanging out with friends.
What would your last meal be?
Probably spaghetti and meat sauce from my childhood-favorite restaurant called the Big Cheese in Miami. It’s delicious. And some garlic rolls.
What’s the best and worst advice you’ve ever received?
This one’s kind of contradictory. Some of the best advice I ever received was from Reese Witherspoon. She told me to always say hello first. It was the second-season table read for Big Little Lies, when Meryl Streep walked in, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so excited.” And I just kind of froze, and Reese was like, “Go say hi.” I said, “No, no, no,” and she was like, “Always say hi first.” I thought that was really good advice. If you recognize someone who maybe you haven’t seen in ten years, if you say hi, you know you’re gonna win and say hi first and just get it over with and move on to the next person. But the reason it’s double sided is because what if they don’t remember you? You gotta be prepared. No expectations.
Speaking of Big Little Lies, season three was just announced!
What an honor that season three could happen, because the show was life-changing for me — and I think it changed TV. I want to be back in Malibu filming.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.