Continuing my coverage for the release of MIDSOMMAR, I had the opportunity to speak with English actor Will Poulter about his role as college dudebro, Mark. Having first seen him in Rawson Marshall Thurber’s comedy We’re The Millers, it made sense why he would be chosen to play the comedic relief in Ari Aster’s anticipated sophomore film.
However, Will is no stranger to the horror/thriller genre, having once been attached to play Pennywise when the IT remake was under the direction of Cary Fukunaga, as well as staring in Lenny Abrahamson’s The Little Stranger (based on the novel by Sarah Waters) and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. During our chat, Will and I discussed everything from Mark’s unsavory personality traits in the film, to having to ignore the beautiful surroundings of Hungary, as well as working closely with director Ari Aster.
Hi Will, thank you so much for speaking with me today, I’m a huge fan of your work. To start things off, can you tell us a little bit about your character Mark and what interested you in the role?
Will Poulter: Mark felt like the type of character that you sort of laugh at as opposed to laughing with. It was interesting because Mark is the sort of individual that I strive not to be like in my everyday life and I think lots of people should (laughs). It was interesting playing a character who felt particularly regressive and out of touch and someone who was lacking in the art of perception and felt emotionally unintelligent in comparison to the other characters. Also, playing with this sort of dichotomy that sort of existed in what he projects and what he is truly internally, he struck me as this insecure, self-loathing individual. His way of masking that was to be a kind of detractor and often quite mean in his humor and the way that he commented on the people and the things around him. [Mark] felt more layered than I think certain characters that kind of maybe belong to that wheelhouse of comedic relief or college bros. I think Mark isn’t as truly confident as he thinks he might appear to some people.
Mark is kind of like the comedic relief of the film even though he’s not a particularly good person. That said, were you able to improvise at all during the more humorous moments?
Will Poulter: Ari [Aster] did allow for some improvision. It’s interesting, and I’m borrowing from Will Jackson Harper here when I say, [Ari] has a kind of unique visual vocabulary. What that means is every scene comes with a sort of choreography to it. He’s very specific about where you’re placed and your movement and how you appear from a visual perspective in the context of his frame. However, you don’t feel constrained emotionally or from a performance perspective and he does allow room for you to move laterally and do as you please to some extent. I think it’s important for him to establish a trust with his actors beforehand, so we spoke in a lot of detail and unreservedly about our characters so that when we got on set [Ari] was kind of at ease with the idea that we knew who [the characters] were. I think we were always comforted by the fact our director knew the characters so intimately because he was the writer as well. He’d infuse these characters with traits of people that he knew and that he’s interacted with or with himself. Ari had the cheat sheet for us when we were struggling with how to portray our character in any given time. He was the best top stone and that’s what you want from your director.
I fully believe that Ari Aster has made two back-to-back masterpieces, first with Hereditary and now with MIDSOMMAR. What was it like to work so closely with him?
Will Poulter: I don’t want this to sound like I’m speaking pejoratively of people you class sort of like genre filmmakers or whatever, but Ari is so much more than that. I think he’s not so interested in serving any one genre, and even subverting the tropes of that genre, as much as he is about making something authentic that is genuinely affecting. I think with MIDSOMMAR, you could describe it as a psychedelic thriller, you could explain it as a kind of trippy horror film, but you could also describe it as a film that is about human relationships. About grief, about empathy, about our capacity for empathy when faced against the tide of grief and in the context of a toxic relationship – it’s all these that are innately more interesting and human to me. I love the fact that he delves into that.
The landscaping in which MIDSOMMAR takes place is absolutely breathtaking. What was it like filming in Hungary and where there any challenges you faced?
Will Poulter: For me, it was interesting because Mark’s defensives are so rigid and up from the outside that I was kind of actively in a place where I wasn’t looking below the surface. Entering the village, which they built from scratch in a field in a rural part of Hungary, my character wasn’t appreciating the obvious beauty or the fact that it was kind of really a thing of wonder. [Mark] was just instantly looking for things to dismantle and mock. That conflicted with how I really felt about being out there. That was a challenge, to hide how I actually felt about the world I was in and just approach it through Mark’s lens which was very narrow and clouded from a cultural appreciation perspective.
I can only imagine that if Mark wasn’t able to appreciate the beauty of the area that he wasn’t able to appreciate the intricate artwork and symbolism throughout the commune. Did Ari give any direction for what that imagery meant?
Will Poulter: He did but I think it was [more] relevant for Josh (played by William Jackson Harper) and Christian (played by Jack Reynor) being anthropology students. I was aware of it all because Ari told us all but it was about me forgetting it as anything else. I was marveling at the amount of detail and attention that had gone into the symbolism and the amount of hidden gems and narrative clues that are painted on the walls, or in some of the props, and even in the embroidery on some of the clothing. It’s just an amazing level of detail, but it was me trying to actively not appreciate that as Mark.
Lastly, while you were filming, was there anything that you looked forward to finally seeing once it played on the big screen?
Will Poulter: I gotta say, I was very excited about seeing the performances of my cast mates, particularly Jack Reynor and Florence Pugh because they did so much work independently of the rest of us. I was just completely stunned by their ability and I knew they were both talented. This is my third film with Jack and I was a fan of Florence’s work beforehand. Watching this film I just marveled at what they created and I think a lot of the film’s success hinges on how authentically they are able to play those roles and so I was really excited to see it and to see all the stuff that they got up to when I was on my days off. It superceded my expectations which were already very high.