In 2018, British actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen made a significant splash within the horror genre when he took on the role of the tragic albeit sympathetic character Luke Crain in Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel, “The Haunting of Hill House.” As someone who has recovered from addiction, his performance left me shaken to the core and to this day I consider it to be one of the best portrayals of addiction. Fans of his were eager to see what project he would take on next and lucky for us we didn’t have to wait long. Soon after, it was announced that he would be playing the pivotal role of Adrian Griffin aka The Invisible Man in Leigh Whannell‘s modern adaptation of the 1930’s film. In THE INVISIBLE MAN, when Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) leaves her abusive ex Adrian, she learns that he has taken his own life, leaving her with his vast fortune. However, she begins to suspect that his death was a hoax after experiencing a slew of dangerous coincidences that find not only her own life in danger but those of her loved ones as well.
Prior to the release of the film, we had the chance to speak with Oliver Jackson-Cohen about his performance as Adrian/The Invisible Man. During our chat, we discussed everything from the differing degrees between Luke Crain and Adrian Griffin, his favorite Universal Monster, and the importance of Leigh Whannell’s story.
When I found out you were going to be playing Adrian/The Invisible Man, I was so excited because your role as Luke Crain in The Haunting of Hill House had such a lasting impact on me. What was it like going from playing a character who truly was trying to do the best for himself and his family to one as calculating and terrifying as Adrian Griffin?
Oliver Jackson-Cohen: The Haunting of Hill House was such a special kind of experience and a very personal one for me, too. I will be forever grateful to Mike Flanagan for writing Luke and for allowing me to play him. It sounds really stupid but I really miss him [Luke] and I miss playing him. Adrian is a completely different can of fish, but it’s fun in that respect, to be able to explore so many different parts. When you talk about those two characters next to each other… I have this thing, well I had it with Luke, it’s about choice and you can choose to try and do good. You have a choice, you can either try to hurt or you can try and do good. The whole crux of Luke is he was trying, with everything that happened to him, he was trying with every piece of him to be good. With Adrian, he chose the other way. When you break it down like that, it’s two polar opposites of what human behaviors about. I don’t know how much of a comfortable experience it was playing him [Adrian] because he’s a real piece of shit (laughs).
Was that something that interested you in the role of Adrian since it was such a drastic departure?
Oliver Jackson-Cohen: I don’t know if it was like, “I want to play someone really different.” The interesting thing was when Hill House came out and it ended up being what it was, it was quite hard cause everyone wanted to know what I was going to do next. I was tied into doing the second season [The Haunting of Hill House] so I knew I had to do that, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. It wasn’t that I wanted to play a villain, I just thought the script for THE INVISIBLE MAN, as well as the story and the message, was such an important one to tell. I just wanted to be a part of it. Leigh wrote a script and made a movie that’s ultimately about domestic abuse and gaslighting women, something that we witness happening all the fucking time. The dynamics between Adrian and Cecilia was that she probably tried to leave him before, talked to a friend, and they said, “But you live in that nice house” or “He’s handsome” or “He’s so charming”, we downplay [abuse] as a society. I just thought it was so brilliant that Leigh was tackling The Invisible Man, this iconic character, and doing it in such a human way. It wasn’t that I selfishly was like, “I want to play a bad guy,” I just wanted to be a part of that storytelling. Similar to Hill House, it’s a very honest portrayal of what seems to happen.
Because the dynamics between you and Cecilia is so intense, were you able to spend much time with Elisabeth Moss prior to filming?
Oliver Jackson-Cohen: Oh yeah. Leigh, Elisabeth and I sat in rehearsals for three weeks and talked everything out. Then we would go off and each of us would read something or watch something and then we would just talk about it. It’s very interesting doing all these interviews because people are like, “Dude, you got to have the whole movie off!” (laughs). Leigh, Elisabeth, and I, all felt it was very important that we treated this relationship with respect and we didn’t exploit it in any way and it needed to be as truthful as possible if we were going to ground it in so much reality. I did so much work on Adrian. Even though you see him so little we still needed that relationship and that dynamic to be so clear in our minds that he could then permeate the movie without even being there.
Have you always been a fan of Universal Monsters? Was there one that was your favorite?
Oliver Jackson-Cohen: I feel like The Invisible Man (1933) is pretty iconic. Claude Rains going mad, you think I’m mad, he is so brilliant (laughs).
Did you watch The Invisible Man prior to filming?
Oliver Jackson-Cohen: I didn’t for this because it’s such a departure from what we’ve done here. It didn’t feel necessary in that way.
How about 2000’s Hollow Man?
Oliver Jackson-Cohen: (laughs) You know what, I haven’t. The interesting thing is a lot of people have been like, “Oh, you’re remaking Hollow Man?“. It’s weird, I was probably 11 or 12, or maybe a bit older than that when Hollow Man came out. I remember, similarly to Cruel Intentions, thinking it was the best movie I’ve ever, ever seen (laughs). Then I re-watched Cruel Intentions a couple of years ago and was like, “Huh” (laughs). I was telling everyone how brilliant that movie was and so I fear I don’t want to revisit Hollow Man for the fear of it not being as great as I thought it was.
You mentioned Leigh Whannell a few times in this interview. Can you elaborate on what it was like to work with him on this project?
Oliver Jackson-Cohen: He’s incredible and the fact that he’s an actor as well was incredible. I’ve worked with quite a few writers/directors and understandably sometimes writers/directors are very precious about their dialogue and intentions. Sometimes actors come in with millions of ideas and they [writers/directors] are like “no” and you have to respect that. With Leigh, after he wrote 80% of the script he then hired me, Elisabeth, Storm, etc. to finish it, to come in and use our talent. He gives so much room for collaboration and he’s not, by any stretch, a pushover. He knows exactly what he wants but he welcomes ideas. When you collaborate with someone, especially someone as intelligent and sensitive as Leigh, it only makes the movie better and he was fully aware of that. Elisabeth and I came in with, “We want to do this!” and things he agreed with we would do and things he didn’t we wouldn’t. I would work with him over and over and over again if I could. He’s also, this sound really trite, but he is a really kind man and it’s so rare to work with people that aren’t egomaniacs (laughs).
You’ve done a slew of films in differing genres, but is there something you really enjoy about working in the horror genre?
Oliver Jackson-Cohen: I think the horror genre, specifically in the past couple of years, has opened up to a point where the characters that are being written and the stories that are being told are really quite fascinating. You approach it like a drama, you know? I’ve experienced it will Hill House, we were fundamentally shooting a drama about childhood trauma and abuse and all of these things and then there is the horror element that’s added in post. There’s so much freedom as well as incredible stories being told. When you look at something like Hereditary… The Invisible Man… you look at those stories being told and they’re horror films but there is so much substance to them. Someone asked me earlier, “Do you only like doing horror” and I said, “No, but that’s where the really interesting characters are.” Adrian Griffin is a fascinating character and he’s in the movie so little but he’s so fascinating. Luke Crain is also fascinating. I’ve found so much joy creatively in that space.
THE INVISIBLE MAN is now in theaters and you can read our review here.