‘Master’ director Mariama Diallo, stars Zoe Renee, Noa Fisher talk working on chilling university-set horror film

Noah Levine, Life & Arts Film Columnist

“Master” has come to SXSW after originally premiering recently at Sundance Film Festival. The horror film, hitting Amazon Prime on March 18, follows freshman college student Jasmine (Zoe Renee) and new headmaster Gail (Regina Hall), as they uncover an unsettling history regarding the fate of the first Black student to attend Ancaster College.

The Daily Texan interviewed director Mariama Diallo (“Random Acts of Flyness”), actors Zoe Renee (“Black Lightning”) and Noa Fisher (“Uncut Gems”) about their work on the chilling film. 


The Daily Texan: How did you go about balancing two main protagonists?

Mariama Diallo: It’s a great question. It was definitely challenging because you want to spend enough time with both characters and not lose them in the narrative. In the script phase, (I) spent a lot of time trying to work out balancing Gail’s story and Jasmine’s story. Also, in the edit, it was something that I went back to, and we’d have to kind of think, “OK, we’ve been spending too long away from this one. Let’s rearrange some of these scenes, or let’s move this up a little bit earlier.” It was certainly a process. 


DT: As an actor, what works best for you to act scared on camera?

Zoe Renee: Oh my gosh! I was so nervous about this because I didn’t watch horror before I was in one, so I was really nervous about what my face would look like. I’ve done dramatic work, and a lot of times, we’re taught to be pretty inward and a little smaller with our reactions. It was fun to talk to Mariama and watch different references and what she wanted and (explore) the level that we could go when trying to translate fear. It was different for me, 100%. But it was so fun just allowing myself to get to the point where you have to imagine what is the moment before death? What does that look like? We were definitely working that out. It was a different muscle to exercise.


DT: How do you go about crafting scare sequences? 

MD: When I was writing, there (were) some horror moments that I ended up taking out of the script (because) they didn’t feel true to me. It’s a process. and the ones that work and the ones I kept are all drawn from my life — when I thought I had to challenge myself and ask myself what scares me, what keeps me up? Those are the moments that I put into the film: This feeling of the uncanny. 


DT: Were there any films you watched to prepare for this project? 

Noa Fisher: We had a movie club: Master Movie Club! MMC. 

NF: So right when we took a break for pandemic lockdown, we only got through three weeks of filming. Before that, we decided to all stay in touch by having this movie club that Mariama orchestrated, which was the best thing you could have possibly done. We all kept in touch in that way, watched one movie a week, wrote in our reviews, and then Zoomed and talked about it. The first one we did was “Funny Games.”


DT: Can you talk a little bit about the decision to include those small hand-written phrase interludes throughout the film? 

MD: I really love that question because it’s not something that’s come up a ton. We see Jasmine discover this journal that belongs to the first Black woman to be admitted to Ancaster, and you see her entries and this progression from her optimism into this very troubled and dark place that she reaches. The chapter titles are handwritten and for me, they’re in Jasmine’s hand. (The handwriting) gets more panicked, frantic and intense. (The phrases are) little fragments of lines … that are said around Jasmine, so they’re all things that Jasmine overheard. I imagine it’s almost her record of what’s going on.