By MICHAEL GINGOLD
After venturing into the dark Romanian crypts of THE NUN last year, actress Taissa Farmiga will now be seen enacting a classic American Gothic in WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE—which was actually filmed before NUN. She sat down with RUE MORGUE for an exclusive chat about the film.
Opening in select theaters and available on VOD tomorrow from Brainstorm Media, CASTLE was directed by Stacie Passon and scripted by Mark Kruger from the novel by Shirley Jackson (THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE), and is set in early-1960s New England. Farmiga and Alexandra Daddario (TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, TRUE DETECTIVE) play Merricat and Constance Blackwood, sisters who have lived in isolation in the family mansion since the deaths of their parents, along with wheelchair-bound Uncle Julian (Crispin Glover). A pariah in the nearby town due to the Blackwoods’ history, Merricat believes that spells she has cast via totems in the woods have protected her and Constance from harm—but the arrival of their cousin Charlie (MCU regular Sebastian Stan) threatens to upend their existence.
Merricat is kind of damaged goods for the entire film…
She’s an interesting character. She definitely walks to the beat of her own drum. She’s looking for acceptance, and to be comfortable in her own body, and part of being comfortable with yourself sometimes involves having outside people accept you. And for Merricat, Constance is the only person in the world who shows her warmth and kindness, and accepts her kind of wild outlook on life, and her incredibly vivid imagination.
Had you read Shirley Jackson’s book before doing the film?
I read the script first and fell in love with it, Skyped with the director and then immediately bought the book. I wanted to read it before I talked to Stacie, but these things move fast. Then I read it about six times from when I picked it up to when we finished filming. Part of the desire of everybody attached—the director, the producers and actors—was to stick as close as possible to the novel. And when we couldn’t, because things don’t always translate to the screen, we wanted to at least stay close to the essence of what the book is about.
The main house is an impressive, and oppressive, location. Did you shoot on sets, or in a real mansion?
We shot on location; I don’t think we filmed in studios at all. We were in Ireland, in the Wicklow Mountains, and the exterior of the house you see, the interiors were done in there as well. There may have been one or two rooms where they added a wall, but otherwise, everything was as you see it; they found a perfect setting. We basically lived in this little castle for five weeks.
Did that add to the intensity, being in the house all that time with everyone?
Oh, for sure. I understood the mentality where you go a little crazy, being stuck in one place and you’re not allowed to leave, for whatever reason. For Merricat and Constance, it’s the townspeople and the fear of their judgment and the fact that they shun these girls and this family, but for us actors, we couldn’t leave until we were done filming [laughs].
How did you develop your onscreen sisterly relationship with Alexandra Daddario?
Well, I adore Alex; we’re still friends. When we were both cast, Stacie passed on our contact information, and we met up in Los Angeles. Since Constance is supposed to be this wonderful chef, Alex was talking about taking cooking classes—and I love to cook and she didn’t really like it at all. I was like, “Oh my God, I’m so jealous that you get to take cooking classes as research,” and she said, “Do you want to come with me?” So we bonded over making steaks and bread pudding, and we connected immediately. The relationship between these two sisters is essentially the entire movie; it was important to feel like we really had that connection, and it didn’t require much effort. Everything just clicked into place.
By the same token, did you isolate yourself from the rest of the cast?
That was one of the biggest challenges for me. Merricat doesn’t really respect anyone else besides Constance, so she doesn’t look them in the eye when she talks to them, and sort of ignores their existence. So when I was doing scenes with Sebastian and Christian—especially Sebastian, because although Christian and I are in scenes together, and I talk about Uncle Julian, we never acknowledge each other or interact much—but on the other hand, when Sebastian as Charles was trying to talk to me and get reactions, I would never look at him. I would give him, like, side looks, but I would never maintain eye contact.
That part was hard, because when I’m on set, it’s hard not to be buddy-buddy with the actors and crew. I’m someone who’s very joyful and happy, so when I’m not in the moment and we’re not actively filming—between “Action” and “Cut” I was Merricat, but as soon as they called “Cut” I went back to being me. At that point, we were all just friends.
How was it shooting the intense final act, with all the action and physical stuff going on?
It was exhausting, but then, that was what we’d been working toward. I believe we got to shoot the majority of the film, not fully in chronological order, but close enough. We did the town stuff first, and then we were in the house, and there we had more flexibility to pick which scenes we were going to do. So it was all building up to that ending, which was a lot more physical, but at that point, we were ready for it. Everything had been bubbling under the surface, and as an actor I’d been experiencing all this stuff and waiting for this volcano to explode.
For a lot of the destructive scenes, though, Constance and Merricat aren’t really involved, so a lot of that happened when Alexandra and I were sitting in our trailer. We’d hear a noise and be like, “What’s happening? You want to go look?”
With CASTLE and THE NUN, you have two spooky period pieces coming out in less than a year…
Yeah, but we filmed CASTLE almost three years ago, and it just happened that the timing of when they were released was different. I did CASTLE, then I did a few other movies, and since THE NUN came out last fall, I had three other films released: WHAT THEY HAD, a family drama I filmed in Chicago, [Clint Eastwood’s] THE MULE and a comedy called THE LONG DUMB ROAD. It’s funny, because I did all these projects, and the way I’ve experienced them is different from how the world ended up seeing them.
Is it a strange situation, coming back to CASTLE so long after filming it? Can you look at it with fresh eyes?
Yeah; there’s almost a bit of confusion, and then your eyes are opened again. I had such an emotional connection to this movie and this character, but then I moved on, and it almost feels like it was a different lifetime. But then I watched the movie and looked over all my notes on the character, and I was like, “Right, I get it, I remember her.” That’s what’s cool about promoting your movies: You have a reminder of the past. Being able to go back and see yourself, in something filmed during a period where you were somebody completely different, is really wild.
Is it especially fun or challenging doing period pieces like CASTLE and THE NUN?
It’s a bit of both, because you want to stay true to the time and the characters and how people acted in those timeframes. But it’s also exciting, because it’s like playing dress-up, and for me, hair, makeup and wardrobe are what make me feel transformed into the character. Obviously you look transformed, but you have to feel transformed too; you have to feel different than you felt when you walked into your trailer in the morning. So in a period piece, especially THE NUN, where it was almost ritualistic every morning getting dressed, putting on the different layers of the nun outfit—I loved it!
Do you feel WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE’s story has relevance today, in terms of issues involving women?
Oh, sure. Everybody in the movie, whether it’s the men in the family or the townspeople, is putting Merricat and Constance in a corner, putting them in a box, and has expectations for who they need to be and how they should act. And it’s a struggle for a woman to know what societal expectations are of you, and also wanting to be your own individual self, and figuring out what your own expectations are. So even though it’s a period piece, I think, unfortunately, some of the struggles that women were going through at the time are still part of the conversation we’re having today. So it’s definitely relevant.