I spoke with AnnaLynne McCord for 20 minutes, but I could easily have spent an entire day and night speaking with her and still want to know more about what goes on in the mind of this woman. Anyone who has ever listened to McCord’s podcast with fellow former 90210 actor Shenae Grimes knows that she is an open book. Vibrantly funny and warm with a certain mischievous bite to her words, McCord is openly opinionated on everything and, rare for an actor, does not hold back on expressing these thoughts even if they don’t fit in with the popular narrative.
McCord comes across as entirely fearless, though with the staggering amount of reading she has done on both psychology and philosophy, she would probably deny this. Maybe say something along the lines of fear being a necessary component to humanity and growth. She would know; McCord has spoken refreshingly candidly both about her experience as a CSA survivor and her diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder. She began noticing symptoms right around the time that she worked with Richard Bates Jr. the first time in 2012 on the bloody but surprisingly tender horror film Excision.
Since then, McCord has become a frequent collaborator with Bates, with roles in Tone Deaf and Trash Fire and now the release of his latest film King Knight, a film about a witch named Thorn (Matthew Gray Gubler) and his journey to confronting a childhood secret. Every Bates film is a loopy surreal adventure that still has a strangely human quality to it, whether it be the desperation of familial love in Excision or the self-acceptance journey in King Knight, Bates is never afraid to take a slightly twisted journey to spelling out his message for the audience. It’s no wonder that he has found a bit of a soulmate in McCord — they are both fearless individuals, filled with zaniness as well as heart. I spoke to McCord about her role in King Knight, her love of female villains, her podcast, and, of course, witchcraft!
So, this is not your first collaboration with Richard Bates Jr. How did you end up linking up again for your role in King Knight? Is this your first time doing voice acting?
I’ve actually had a couple before King Knight since 2012. I am now required by law to do all of Richard’s films. After 2012, he had one that followed and we didn’t work together on that one, so he was like, “OK listen, every one of my films you need to be in!” So I’ve done a few things since then. But he called me on a Tuesday night and was like, what are you doing Thursday? Can you come to my house and film this scene? And I was like, what are we doing? And yes, obviously, but what are we doing? So that’s how it works. Ricky and I have been working together since Excision, his directorial debut, and after that we became family. So I just pop up wherever, but it was in fact the singing and then it made sense in editing to give it the hilariousness of it being a crazy hallucinated walkie-talkie voice.
I think he literally had an entire camera crew come and set up a scene in his new house, done the decor, done all the things. So he goes, I love you, and I’m like, duh obviously, and then he’s like, I cut you out of my film. And I was like, what the hell? He tells me my voice is still in it, but, and then he showed me the animation, which was hysterical. We are in it to win it with each other, as are most of the characters in the film, a lot just come back like Ray Wise and Matthew Gray Gubler, we were all in may original film Excision with him. It becomes a family reunion whenever we film together.
The movie is very different from Excision while still being very loopy and surreal. I imagine it was a different experience especially since you have mentioned that in Excision you were dealing with some undiagnosed mental health issues?
I think we all are at 20! At that time I definitely got a healthy load of mental trauma to navigate, so I was going through that. I was going into the fourth season of 90210 and there was a lot of drama on that. I was navigating so many different things and this film was very … Ricky as a director really dives into you as the person playing the character in some of the films he has done, especially with Excision, so he really pulled on some of those things that were probably the cause of my mental health concerns. Like, you are an asshole! But he got the performance out of me and in a way I probably owe him money for therapy, because I think I probably released a lot of things without even knowing it and that is the gift of being an actor, you get to put on the shoes of another person who might be able to express more than you are and in that way you can have a cathartic experience on film and he pulled that out of me and I feel that that was a part of that as well.
Your work has been SO diverse with things like 90210 and Excision and now Power Book. How do you choose your projects? Is there anything you haven’t done that you would like to do?
I think they were doing a remake of Basic Instinct, but I don’t think they will ever do it properly if they don’t cast me. I want to be Catherine Tramell, that is life goals. I love the intelligence and cunning of Sharon Stone. This character is so clever and so powerful and manipulative and so yummy and delicious and an anti-heroine before the time of anti-heroines, and I obviously often play the villain and I fully embrace that because I don’t believe in villains. I don’t think they exist in the world. Playing enough of them, I know that they think they are human and doing what they need to do to survive their circumstances. When you see horrible things in the world, perpetrated by people. And I’ve had those things done to me so I can really speak to this. I don’t even look at those perpetrators who have caused harm to me as villains. I see them as people who were little children who would never hurt anybody, and then something went wrong in the system. To be able, as an actress, to embody that, play the richest most villainy character but to acknowledge their humanity, takes an ability to not judge someone for who they are.
And I think with King Knight, there is this hilarious, wild trippy hallucination journey that you are taken on by the high priest Thorn, Matthew Gray Gubler’s character, taking you down this witchy experience. But they’re really talking about growth and self-acceptance and how you can’t grow without it. Until we see that, we have both the good guy and the bad guy in all of us, until we see that we have a shadow like Carl Jung that really drives the point home that there are two masters within us, until we acknowledge the second, which really is the one that drives us. And the second is the subconscious. We know our conscious mind. But the subconscious, we do shady shit! I’ve got a shady shadow! Like I do a lot of good stuff in the world, but I’m also a little shady and I had to acknowledge that. I had to come to terms with that; I had to dance with her. So to play a character that is so … you can’t get around her, you can’t get past her, she is so nasty but also you love her. It makes me so happy because it makes me think that maybe I’m contributing to you looking at your shadow with a little less judgment and a little more understanding.
You also have a podcast with Shenae Grimes where you guys talk about everything and anything. What inspired you guys to collaborate on this? How do you gain the confidence to be so bold and honest?
On Unzipped, we want you to come and unzip with us, so that means we have to unzip with you too. One of the biggest parts of being a human being is not becoming something and we are taught that we are supposed to always be becoming something but I think we come here as exactly who we are and what we are supposed to be when we arrive in this planet, but then we get a little screwed up and we have to unscrew ourselves up. We need to return to who we are. So for me, the confidence comes from being able to really hold space for all the parts of myself and say when I was cheating on a partner and lying pathologically and doing all these fucked up things that I have done in my life, I have to say of course I did those things. I didn’t know any better. I was trying to survive and I thought I wouldn’t unless I did what I did.
I’ve apologized and tried to make amends for things absolutely, and I learned my lesson, absolutely, but of course I did them. I’m not holding judgment against that part of myself, because she was trying to survive. I am still alive because she did. I honor her, I honor that she was a cheater and a liar. I honor those parts of myself because I wouldn’t be there without her and now I know that I can still be here without doing those things. That’s the lesson I’ve learned. We live in a culture that is just cancelling everyone, it’s fucking insane. It makes no sense. There is not one person on this planet that has not done something that by their own terms, if they cancel people, is worth being cancelled for. We have all done something.
I always quote a prophet, who ever be without sin cast the first stone. We are out here creating a shame culture and it is so antithetical to anything redemptive. You can’t have a movie without redemption, you can’t have King Knight without redemption. The redemption is that you learned the lesson, we aren’t letting anyone learn lessons anymore because we cancel them before they can. It has to stop.
I am very vocal and probably a little too confident but I don’t give a shit because my question to the cancel culture is show me where it works. Is it working? Is it making our world better and more full of peace and love and calm and joy? Or is it just stressing people out because I think it’s the latter. So I unzip. I unzip with you, I unzip with our podcast. And I love doing films that put a little more than just … at the heart of King Knight is the hero’s journey. The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, if you have ever read him, it’s literally the journey every human being goes on, asking what am I doing now? How is it messing things up? What do I learn form it and who do I become as a result? Or for me, how am I going to unbecome them and go back to being that free little child self that doesn’t want to hurt anybody and is only made of love.
Any other projects you’re working on now that you are looking forward to?
I am in development on a couple projects, which is very exciting since I’m going to be shifting over to a more creative space behind the camera. I don’t think I can really share any hard details but you guys keep me in your mind because I’ll be popping up in other ways very soon!
If you were a witch, what kind of witch would you be?
Because I’m a witch you mean? It’s so funny because I told Ricky, hey I just got my reiki masters, are you making fun of me with King Knight? Literally my friends are like, you are such a witch! I love King Knight because this is my vibe. I have the crystal meditation room, it’s a whole thing. I am definitely a witch that is for the highest good of all human beings so I guess I’m Glinda the good witch. I am not over here springing beetles on you. I will say though that I am into sex magic. I do it with myself, it can be done with a partner. It is all about high-level consciousness. It’s an ancient tradition, kundalini, and it needs to come back. I want the taboo energy around sexuality to be erased, and I say that as a survivor of sexual abuse and sexual assault. I have been through every kind of thing that you can imagine in sexual inappropriateness that has been done to me in this industry. And I fully own and am so grateful for my freeness with my sexuality and that expression has been something that has been the biggest part of my healing journey. It’s been coming into ownership and sovereignty over that energy and learning about some very ancient modalities that make me very witchy and are also a lot of fun.