For the upcoming release of Sebastian Gutierrez’s latest film ELIZABETH HARVEST, Shannon had the chance to speak with the extremely talented and accomplished actress Carla Gugino. During their chat they discussed everything from her role as the elusive Claire, the notion of morality, and the feminist themes that the film incorporates.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Carla, thank you so much for speaking with me today about ELIZABETH HARVEST. To start things off, can you tell us a little about your latest role and how Claire fits into the story?
Carla Gugino: I am a big fan of Angela Carter who had a short story titled “The Bloody Chamber” which was basically a feminist take on “Bluebeard”. When director Sebastian Gutierrez brought up the idea of doing a modern update of “Bluebeard”, I was really drawn to the story. In “Bluebeard”, the story centers around a nobleman who brings his wife home to his castle and tells her everything that he owns is hers but there is one room of his that she can’t go into. He gives her the key to the room and, of course, leaves and curiosity gets the best of her and when she goes into the room she sees the torture chamber. The perspective that’s interesting is that character has always been dealt with as this sort of sympathetic villain; he’s doing these terrible things but there’s always this strange sympathy given to that character. Sebastian was very interested in making a movie that was a modern updating of that, but from the woman’s perspective.
In ELIZABETH HARVEST, we are basically seeing a very brilliant scientist, played by Ciaran Hinds, who has married a young woman, played by Abbey Lee, and has brought her to his beautiful home where there are two servants there, myself and a wonderful British actor named Matthew Beard, and something is just…off. The audience then sees how everything begins to unfold while Elizabeth learns about herself. In regards to the character of Claire, she’s much more than meets the eye in the beginning. I was intrigued by the notion that with this character you can’t give anything away about them for a long time. I tend to be an actor that’s more visceral, wearing my emotions on my sleeve, and I was interested in playing someone who was trying desperately to be the voice of reason. She’s trying to make sense and justify something that has nothing to do with reason, it has to do with a desperate, deep, kind of love, which she has never, and will probably never, experience in her life. I always gravitate to an auteur as I’m interesting in someone having a strong perspective in which they want to tell a story. That’s one of the things about this movie that I really loved, that yes, it is part love story, part detective, part feminist manifesto, but that’s what gives it something that allows it to stand out from other films in the genre.
Nightmarish Conjurings: As we start to learn more about Claire, we find out just how much of a complex individual she is and how she rides that fine line of morality. Was this an aspect of the character that drew you to the film?
CG: In terms of the emotional – a friend said to me a long time ago, “You know Carla, we are all capable of everything”. We would like to say “I would never do this or I would never do that”, but the truth of the matter is, unless you are pushed to the limit, you’ll never know how you’ll behave in different circumstances. It’s obviously a simple statement that we all learn as life goes on, but I am always interested in exploring the ambiguity of morality. What is a moral decision, what’s the barometer of what is good and what is bad, what’s fair and what’s not fair, did you have religious indoctrination or not, and if you didn’t how come so many of us have that feeling of Catholic guilt? In this particular film, I was intrigued by a woman who only looked at life one way, who was absolutely brilliant and who was able to compartmentalize her entire life until she came face-to-face with something that she couldn’t really grapple with. I think in the name of science, she ends up making decisions she absolutely regrets, and then has to live with those consequences. I was also really intrigued by that relationship with my character and Abbey’s character, because I think when she starts to see this woman as a real person there is a part of her that can no longer watch what happens. She’s very strong in certain ways and very weak in others, and I guess that is always interesting for me to explore. We are here to help people, including ourselves, and to have empathy while seeing the world through different people’s eyes. It’s always my job to not judge a character, but to try to boldly allow them to make the mistakes they are meant to make in hopes that it’s interesting to watch.
Nightmarish Conjurings: The cast is rather small, which I’m sure led to a much more intimate experience working together. What was it like working so closely with Matthew Beard, Abbey Lee, and Ciaran Hinds?
CG: It was really special. Ciaran and I have worked together before, so I was really excited to work with him again. I didn’t know Matthew or Abbey, but I had actually seen Matthew in a play on Broadway that he was so good in and I had become a fan of his from that. We shot the film in Bogota, Colombia, which was bananas, and predominantly in that one house, so it was a really intimate experience, especially since we were in a country where only Sebastian spoke Spanish, none of us spoke Spanish. The film was low budget and we shot it rather quickly, so it was fast and furious in that way but it really lent itself to that feeling of isolation and these people being your lifeline.
From an acting perspective, they were all a joy. Obviously Ciaran, I think, is one of the most extraordinary actors that we have. Abbey, who doesn’t have a huge amount of experience acting, as she’s been working as a very successful model, really carries the film and was really passionate and serious with the work. With Matthew, as you can tell he’s thin and beautiful but unfortunately his English stomach did not do as well in Bogata, so he was also suffering physically while shooting but still delivering a great performance, so he gets extra points for that (laughs). Dylan Baker, who is also amazing, came down and played with us for a couple of days which was also great. I couldn’t have felt like I was in a better company of actors and it was interesting because it was definitely different than if we had been shooting on a stage in Los Angeles or something.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Last but not least, can you tell us a bit about some of your incredible upcoming projects?
CG: I’m currently filming something that I’m really excited about called JETT, which is a show that Sebastian and I are doing with Cinemax that’ll come out next year. I play a master thief whose name is Daisy “Jett” Kowlaski and basically she makes one big mistake, gets pregnant, has a child and is now a liability. She’s never had any instinct to be a mother and she doesn’t really know how to do it. At the beginning of our story she comes out of prison and is basically trying to live a straight life and figure out how to raise her daughter and ends up taking that proverbial “last job”. The first season is the fallout with all the characters that are involved. It’s an amazing cast of people that includes Giancarlo Esposito, Gil Bellows, Elena Anaya and many more. What I love about this woman is that she really goes to the beat of her own drummer and it’s been really fun to play.
I also have THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, which is a vastly different character, but the cool thing is, and I know that I can’t say too much, it takes place in two time periods. You have the family in Hill House, which shows the parents at a younger age with their young kids, and then the kids having grown up and the repercussions of what happened to them. We get to go back and forth between the two periods in a really interesting way. It will deliver, for sure, because Mike Flanagan is so good at that balance, but it’ll deliver in terms of the genre because it’s using the genre in a way that I love. I feel like the Shirley Jackson novel was so brilliant and nuanced and poetic, so there’s even more wonderful things that we get to do that incorporate some of the text from that. It’s really an exploration, as well, of the haunting in ourselves, the fact that we are monsters and that families are filled with ghosts. When I read the script there was several other things I was being asked to do but I just felt like this was something that I was so much more interested in as an actor, but also as a viewer. There’s so much that’s made in the genre now, and it is such a successful genre, which is great because I really do love it.
ELIZABETH HARVEST arrives in theaters in New York and Los Angeles August 10, 2018.