I would say that most people who watch horror films have a Rolodex of their favorite villains in their heads. Some range from classic slashers such as Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers to more modern icons such as Jigsaw and Bughuul. However, one performance that has always stayed with me has been that of Christabella in 2006’s video-game-based horror film, Silent Hill. I was so traumatized by Alice Krige’s performance as Christabella that the character has not only been seared in my brain but has also become hugely iconic to me.
I’m sure you are wondering why I bring this all up and it’s because I had the chance to speak with Alice Krige about her role as The Witch in Osgood Perkins’ upcoming dark fairytale/horror film, GRETEL & HANSEL. As terrified as I was of Alice’s performance in Silent Hill, I quickly learned during our interview that she is one of the nicest and warmest humans I’ve ever had the honor of speaking with. During our chat, we discussed everything from her experience working with director Osgood Perkins, the complexities that inhabit The Witch, as well as the diving into the darkness and light that comes with the horror genre.
I’m so happy to see you back in such a dark role! I had read that originally you were hesitant to take on the role of The Witch. What ultimately made you decide to move forward?
Alice Krige: Really, what made me decide to take on The Witch was one, the shooting script and two, meeting Osgood [Perkins]. Also, the character is an absolute icon. I think most of us know the story one way or another about Gretel and Hansel. It exists in one form or another in almost every culture of the abandoned children and the dangers that they face in the wide world. In most cultures, there are one or more versions of this story, so I think it’s kind of embedded in most human beings.
What was wonderful for me was meeting Osgood because he’s a hugely empathetic, sympathetic, compassionate human being and I just knew that his take on The Witch was going to be extraordinary. I mean, who eats children and why? It has its own horrifying logic, its own internal compelling logic. The Witch has a child who she utterly loves who almost dies but doesn’t, who is beautiful but also has a thread of such darkness in her somewhere that she is then taken away. She can’t bear the idea of either having children or having any other children take away. She then eats her children so that they won’t be taken away; however, she can’t stop. It was a horrifying logic. When we finally meet her in the forest she can’t stop and she’s horrified and ashamed and she reaches a point where she can’t stop herself yet again and she almost wishes it was all over.
It was wonderful to be able to explore that with Osgood and Sophia [Lillis]. I think the experience of compulsion is an intensely human experience. To some degree or another, we’ve probably all experienced it. I understand not being able to stop myself in whatever form that might take – whether it’s eating that donut or drinking Coke or cleaning your house. I think somewhere most human beings have a bet with themselves that is perhaps slightly out of control but they can’t quite necessarily get a grip on. So The Witch is an archetype of that in all of us. It’s a great privilege to be allowed to explore that and actually explore it with a level of empathy and compassion which is what Osgood brought to this story and that’s what makes it out of the ordinary. I have not seen the film, I have no idea how it turned out, except that I knew to make it was extraordinary. I hope that it fulfills that potential because all the people involved gave it everything they have. I hope it’s memorable and that it’ll stop people in their tracks.
You kind of touched upon this, but The Witch is a character that is so layered and complex. When it came to bringing her to life, did Osgood work with you closely in terms of giving you specific research to use or did you have more free reign to mold her the way you wanted to?
Alice Krige: It was such a wonderful exchange but on a certain level I don’t know where Oz stopped and I began, do you know what I mean? We would just work together and it was just a kind of flow and exchange. I did what I did and Oz came in and said what he said and I hope it brought the best out of me. As I said, I don’t know where I began and where he stopped. Whatever Oz suggested or offered in terms of what I was doing just enabled me to go further, to go deeper, and to do better. He created the space in which stuff happened kind of effortlessly which is what, as an actor, you hope for. I have the greatest admiration for him.
In GRETEL & HANSEL, Osgood created this terrifying but beautiful fairytale. How was it working in that atmosphere, both in the woods of Ireland as well as this modernized non-candy structure that is your home?
Alice Krige: It’s interesting because candy is, if you think about it, kind of poisonous isn’t it, in the end? Too much candy is seriously bad for you (laughs). The house wasn’t gingerbread and full of icing and M&M’s but it was kind of shocking to see in that beautiful forest. GRETEL & HANSEL was one of those wonderful experiences that happens to you as an actor when you feel like most of the time you are dreaming. You work, you go back to the hotel, you sleep, wake up and go to set and you start dreaming. You walk into the space and it becomes a dream; the set was extraordinary.
The exterior was built in the forest and when we would go back to the studio is where the interior existed. It was kind of seamless, it just felt as if you had walked to the forest into the set – every element that everyone brought created the dream. The set design, the costume design, everyone’s costumes took you into this other world. It had an extraordinary dream-like quality to it, for me, walking into that place every day. Every member of the crew participated to make that happen.
The majority of films that I have watched have been within the horror genre. One of the most iconic performances that you did, for me, was that of Christabella in 2006’s Silent Hill. However, you’ve also had iconic roles in other horror films such as Ghost Stories, Sleepwalkers, etc. Is there something about the genre that specifically draws you in?
Alice Krige: It’s always about the arc of the character’s story. In horror, when it’s not just about sensationalism or an effect, it’s about looking into the darker side of what it is to be human. But looking into it without judgment but with an attempt to understand because the human condition is dark and light and every shade in-between. We have the gift of creativity but it’s a double-edged sword. We create beauty but we also create horror and darkness. The world, at the moment, is both extremes – Australia is burning and there are people in Australia who running into the fire to rescue koalas. Right at that moment the horror and the beauty are ripped very, very large. When genre illuminates the human condition it’s wonderful because it looks at the archetype. The best horror, hopefully, evokes that in you. The best of the genre is not just about blood and gore and feeling terrified, the best of it leaves you with something that makes you think about what it is to be here, to be human.
GRETEL & HANSEL arrive in theaters everywhere on January 31st, 2020.