Akin to Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Tale (2019) and The Witch (2016), William McGregor’s upcoming folk horror-drama film GWEN is a period piece that tells the tale of a young woman reeling from the disappearance of her father and who is living with a mother who has been ostracized by a male-dominated society. Actress Eleanor Worthington-Cox, who plays the titular lead protagonist, enthusiastically spoke to me about her preparation for this role, her passion for being a part of this film, and what she ultimately wants for people to take away most from her performance as Gwen. GWEN is now in theaters and on VOD and Digital HD.
First off, how did you get involved with GWEN? What was the casting process like?
Eleanor Worthington-Cox: Gosh, so I got in through the script, through my agent, and I immediately fell in love with the project. It was something that spoke to me. I really connected with Gwen’s character. So, by the time I went to my first meeting, I just got so lucky to even be in the room, that I didn’t even think about the next few things. I was meeting writer/director William and our producers. I was just completely blown away that I’d even been included in something as beautiful as this process. I had two meetings, and that was it with the project!
Gwen suffers from trauma after the disappearance of her father and her struggling mother. What steps did you take to channel that kind of trauma into your performance?
Eleanor Worthington-Cox: It’s such a deeply complicated character. She’s so vulnerable to what’s happening around her, and to try and experience what somebody would have been through after having that amount of loss and grief and strain from the family— that’s really challenging as an actor. But I love a challenge, and it’s something I’m always up for. So, when I realized that it was going to be such a complex and deeply traumatic role, in terms of the subject matter, it just drew me to it even more— and I knew it was something I wanted to do, and I was passionate about.
Were you inspired by other performances in preparation for this role? Or did this mainly come from an internal place for you?
Eleanor Worthington-Cox: I would say that, before the project, I definitely thought about what films should I be watching (and) what research should I be doing. But, instead of doing that, I trusted (director) Will’s perspective and his vision, really. And we did our own research. We went to a slate museum in one of the local areas to where we’d be filming so we could actually learn about what this community would have been through and the etiquette of women at the time. We didn’t bulk ourselves down with…well, I didn’t really look at any films or any specific performances to compare myself to, or to base my performance upon, simply because I just wanted it to feel as fresh and as new to me as when I read the script for the first time. I didn’t want to do something that has been done before; I just really wanted to go with Will’s vision and see where that took us.
How did you and Maxine Peake (who plays Gwen’s mother) prepare for your strained dynamic on-screen? Did you rehearse crucial scenes prior?
Eleanor Worthington-Cox: So, we did some family bonding before we started (laughs) and that included Jodie, who played my little sister, and that was really valuable for all of us, I think— to get that family unit completely secure and to have that trust and that respect, and a lot of deep love that, even before we started filming, we were doing these scenes which were deeply traumatic, or something where it was dark subject matter— we felt like we could trust each other and that we had a good working relationship, so that we could act in a comfortable and safe environment.
GWEN feels like it may have been an intense film to shoot. What kind of mood/dynamic did director William McGregor keep on set for you and the rest of the cast?
Eleanor Worthington-Cox: I know it may look like it was a pretty intense, bleak shoot, but even through all these intense conditions and real hardships that we had to go through, it was one of the most fun and rewarding shoots I have ever done. To be with an entire crew of people that banded together and trusted each other so much…It really was this community of people that spent five or six weeks…We just lived, slept, and breathed this film, and we were all so passionate about it that it couldn’t have been further from the subject matter in terms of tone. We were all just so proud to be doing what we were doing, and I guess if anybody felt like they were getting a bit negative, it’s because it was (high) winds or it was minus 17 degrees wind chill. We were all able to put a smile on our faces, band together…and if anybody needed a cup of tea, and just move on (laughs).
Finally, what do you want people to take away most from the film and the character of Gwen herself?
Eleanor Worthington-Cox: To take away from Gwen’s character, I would hope that anybody watching this film, whether they’re a young person, an older person, a young woman, or any person who’s seen this film…I would hope that they see this character and can take away the fact that through hardship and trauma, you can always come out stronger and with dignity, and hopefully with hope in your heart and something to keep you going. Whether that’s relying on a family member or remembering that teenagers often falling out with their parents and thinking that they could be the bad guy— that (parents) always have your best interest at heart, and to just remember that family is the most important thing.
For more on GWEN, read our review here.