Carla Gugino is no stranger to the realm of horror. She previously worked with Mike Flanagan on Gerald’s Game, based on Stephen King’s novel. She then teamed up with Flanagan again for the critically acclaimed series The Haunting of Hill House.
As a horror fan, I was excited to chat with Carla, who plays Olivia Crain on the series. Carla dishes on the character influences, relating to Olivia and reveals what her Red Room would look like. She even shared with me her ghost experience during filming. Read on to find out! ~Marriska Fernandes
I’m such a huge fan of the show. Did you ever think Hill House would resonate with fans to this extent?
Thank you! Well, I knew it would be good. I really knew from the very start, having done Gerald’s Game with Mike Flanagan, that when he told me what he wanted to do with Shirley Jackson’s novel, I knew it was going to be very special and more than what people would expect. But I don’t think we can ever anticipate when something will connect in the way that something like this did. It’s something that took off the second it was released on Netflix and was a huge part of the conversation within a day. Those are things that are hard to anticipate.
The show’s success is also due to your portrayal of Olivia. What were your influences when channeling such an intricately balanced character?
Well, thank you. I just fell in love with Olivia. There are a couple of things that really influenced me. I started reading a bunch of Oliver Sacks, a wonderful neurologist and writer who wrote Awakenings. He’s really an amazing man. He died not too long ago. His writings always have a poetic nature. One of the things I was really intrigued about and felt was really relevant for Olivia was the notion of the migraine and what they do to a person. I kind of thought that was a notion we could incorporate into the character. Mike, because he’s such a great writer, took that and ran with it. I felt that that was something interesting in understanding kind of why she might have been more susceptible to the house than other people were and maybe why her family wouldn’t notice too early that she was starting to behave strangely. So that was one influence.
The other one for me was the profound nature of the lengths a parent would go to for their child. You hear about parents who will lift up a car to save their daughter who is underneath it — things that are superhuman and theoretically impossible. To me, the fight that Olivia has the whole time, from her perspective, is what she wants to do is to save her children, particularly the twins, who are the most untouched by the world. She wants to save them from the horrors of the world. Whether it may be ultimately misguided or objective or not, she wants to keep them in her house forever.
How did you relate to Olivia?
The last thing she would ever do in the world is hurt her children. And yet the irony is we see what her actions are. I think I related to that kind of blind love that you can have where you cannot see the forest for the trees and the tenacity of wanting to keep your children safe.
That scene when Olivia wonders if she should homeschool her kids… we were talking about how it’s strange that two parallel conversations are happening about parents who have young kids now because these are really scary times. Unfortunately, a lot of that felt very relatable.
Watching it gave me the chills. Oliver [Jackson-Cohen] said filming this was the most intense experience. What was it like for you shooting such a series?
Well, it was really difficult I would say, in the sense that it was so drawn out. I flew in and out over a span of eight months. Olivia always had to be sort of bubbling on the back burner. It wasn’t like I could put her to sleep and come back to it. She kind of was always percolating in the background because her big episode, where we finally get to see where she’s coming from, is not until episode nine. So I really felt I was the horse at the gate, just ready to run. I had to wait for each episode to do that. That character is really a slow burn. So it was really, really challenging.
I have been a Mike Flanagan fan since Hush. You worked with him before on Gerald’s Game. Can you talk about collaborating with him?
I really loved collaborating with him. One of the things I can say very clearly is that he never tries to make you smaller. He will always be supportive of you digging deeper into your character and finding complexities. He is someone who has a very strong vision of the way in which he wants to tell a story. So while being quite collaborative, I always do find that a director with a strong vision only helps me as an actor be freer and take more risks because they are taking care of telling the story, and I therefore can help them be specific through the character I’m playing. It’s one of those things where when we did our first movie, Gerald’s Game, that within 10 minutes, I thought, this is a filmmaker I want to work with and collaborate with.
Mike Flanagan previously said: “Every family is a haunted house, and everyone is wrestling with their own ghosts from their own childhood.” Did filming this bring you back to your own childhood?
I think for sure. What we all start to realize as we get to be adults is that any trauma that we experience as a child, you have a survival mechanism… it’s a trick to get into adulthood by pushing things to the side so that you can move forward. I think all of us have had different challenges in our childhood — it’s the nature of being alive and parents don’t have any guide as to how to be parents, they’re just doing the best they can but they are also flawed human beings. But you also get to the point where you go, “I have to look at some of the stuff” because it’ll have more power over you if you don’t look at it. The notion of “if it stays in the shadows it’ll have more power than when you bring it into the light” — that’s a very universal element that we’re all going through so I really loved the psychological aspect the show has. I think if it was just a great horror show, you watch it once, get scared and be done with it. Because this functions on so many psychological elements, that’s what makes it something you want to revisit.
I completely agree. Have you ever had a supernatural experience… a ghost encounter?
Oohh, I will tell you… I’m not a huge believer in ghosts — not that I don’t believe in them, I just don’t have the experience of seeing them and things. But I will tell you, when I was shooting The Haunting of Hill House, I had a couple of crazy experiences in the middle of the night where I had a door next to me slam or something — things that seemed absolutely impossible. And I came to find out that the apartment that I had rented had previously been a police station and then it was a crack house for many years where many people had passed away. I am pretty convinced that it was actually haunted. I’m not saying I was more susceptible because of the character I was playing, but I was like, “I’m a pragmatist” and yet, I’m pretty sure that I was living in a haunted space.
That’s a good story. The Red Room provides a place for solace for each person. What would your personal Red Room look like?
Well, I have to go to my ultimate… it would be with my feet in the sand in somewhere far far off in turquoise waters (laughs). That would be my ultimate red room. And the flip side of that would be sitting at the dinner table with a great meal, with a beautiful bottle of wine and my best friend. That would be two juxtaposed rooms and would be a tough one to choose.
That sounds lovely. Thank you for the chat, it’s been a pleasure!
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