Editor’s note: This interview was conducted prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike that officially began on July 14, 2023

The cast members and director of Disney’s Haunted Mansion have discussed how the film is probably more touching than anyone would ever expect.

In interviews completed before the SAG-AFTRA strike, Shadow and Act Managing Editor Trey Mangum talked with director Justin Simien and stars LaKeith Stanfield and Rosario Dawson about the film and how much it connects to family.

Simien said that he didn’t ever think a Disney film would be his next project. But the script, he said, left him in tears. It’s also a film that combines many of his own directorial styles together.

“Weirdly, Haunted Mansion is both of my two first features smashed together. On one end, it’s an ensemble comedy about people who would not hang out with each other if it weren’t for their circumstances,” he said. He described how his characters in Dear White People wouldn’t actually be friends if it weren’t for the fact that they went to the same university.

On the other hand, he added, that it’s about horror “genre flourishes” and horror camp, which he explored in Bad Hair.

“Here,” he said of Haunted Mansion, “We have this ensemble comedy, we have these genre flourishes, we have all these different set pieces and campy fun that we can get into, but at the end of the day, it’s in service to a real human story. At the center of the movie is a Black man who feels his feelings and finds a way to be a father to a kid he just met. That’s an important story to tell. It moved me to my core.”

Stanfield, who plays Ben, a character traversing grief in his personal life, said that grief is something that can best navigated with others as well as with an internal dialogue with yourself, both of which Ben faces in the film.

“I think grief, like a lot of less than favorable or neagive emotions can be seated in the soul as something that can start to bog you down over time if it’s not properly therapized and not learning how to deal with those harder, tougher questions,” he said.

“…I think Ben finds himself going through those things and he feels isolated and alone and until people show up who give him an opportunity to interact with others and interact with things he thought he knew the answer to, but he had to humble himself and re-ask these quesions and make new dcisions in order to discover new things,” he continued.

Dawson, who plays single mom Gabbie, also talked about how her character deals with her own emotions, particularly when it comes to rallying the characters together to save everyone, including her son.

“I love playing the mom and the hostess. I think she feels a lot of responsiblity. I think she feels a lot of guilt, as you do as a single mom and you’ve put your child a precarious, dangerous situation…She also [has] a lot of conviction,” said Dawson. “She’s very strong person and she’s constnatly always wanting to put her best foot forward. I just loved how she didn’t succumb to her guilt, she didn’t succumb to her anger, she didn’t succumb to her guilt or her shame. You could see that her driving force was her love of her son, and her faith and her belief that something better could come from it if they put their effort towards it.”

Watch the full interviews below. Haunted Mansion comes to theaters July 28.