In YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER, it’s the week before Halloween. Char’s bedridden mother, Angela (Carolyn Bracken), has mysteriously gone missing. All that remains is her abandoned car parked in the middle of a field. When Angela returns home to their North Dublin estate the following evening without explanation, it becomes clear to Char (Hazel Doupe) and her grandmother, Rita (Ingrid Craigie), that something is amiss. She might look and sound the same, but Angela’s behavior has become increasingly erratic and frightening, as if she has been replaced by a malevolent force.
As Halloween approaches, a night steeped in ancient Irish myth and legend, Char must unearth the dark secrets of her family in order to uncover the truth behind her mother‘s disappearance and save her, even if it means potentially losing her forever.
For the release of YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky spoke to Hazel Doupe, where they discussed everything from tapping into her own ancestral roots around the time of the film to how she and Carolyn Bracken tackled their relationship dynamic for the screen, and wrapping with what was the hardest scene for her to shoot.
So, what initially interested you in the script?
Hazel Doupe: Everything, really. The dynamics between the women in the script and the fact that the majority of the script was about women and there were like two male characters that hold their own in a film predominantly made about women, and about the three generations and then how you carry trauma from your grandparents and your parents. Yeah, there was a lot to unpack there.
And then the folktales, I loved everything Celtic and pagan. I kind of started becoming really into nature and exploring Celtic roots that I hadn’t done before and really honoring that side of my Irishness when I was about 16. And so, I started reading books and watching films and watching videos on YouTube, and I found out that a great Auntie of mine on my dad’s side was a bit of like a recluse and was kind of known as the town witch essentially, and she had like a really good connection with animals and other great connection with people. I was just like, This is so cool to check back and see like what’s happened in your ancestry, in your tree.
So, when I got the script in my inbox, I was like, there’s no chance that I’m letting the script go without a fight, and I don’t care who I have to be in the script. Obviously, I landed on my feet with the role of Char. So lucky.
I had read an interview with Kate [Dolan] saying that you were really interested in Wicca and paganism and, in watching the film last night, I was like, Well, you got the maiden, mother, crone dynamic.
Hazel Doupe: We do.
You’ve got the Brigid cross. There’s so many different elements in there that are just so quintessentially Celtic/pagan. It’s a great film for you and for anyone interested in that aspect. So what was it like working and building that dynamic with your, I keep referring to her mentally as the Unmother.
Hazel Doupe: [laughs] That’s a great term to use.
Even though, it’s for a different movie. But she IS the Unmother, and what was it like building that dynamic with Carolyn [Bracken]? Especially given the situation of her character?
Hazel Doupe: Well, Carolyn and I had a screen test before we started shooting. It was maybe like a month, or maybe two months before we started shooting. We had a screen test and immediately when she came into the room, it was just so natural. The chemistry was and the conversation was just flowing. She’s just such a lovely human being. She’s one of the great people that I’ve met in my acting endeavors. I just love that woman and I just felt a very kindred connection with her, and she felt the same. So it was very easy to play mother and daughter.
It was kind of funny playing then, like the inverse of that where she is the Unmother because you have such a good connection with somebody, and then to kind of flip it on its head is a bit weird. But maybe it does lend itself to the film and it feels like a relationship that should be there that’s not and that’s how it felt anyway when we were filming. Yeah, it was funny that we were like recording little videos and stuff before scenes. I have videos on my phone and pictures on my phone of us like in that car scene and we’re just laughing. We’re in hysterics, so that’s what goes on behind the scenes of these horror films.
The other interesting thing too about your character is she sort of has to take on a parental role. It’s like a role reversal too, where again, like the maiden mother dynamic, there’s always that inevitable transition.
Hazel Doupe: Yeah, I agree and it’s kind of funny the relationships between Char and her grandmother, and then Char and her mother, and the Unmother and the grandmother. And it’s funny to see that at the dinner table, and then at the first scene where Char is talking to her grandmother, and she’s speaking to her grandmother as if she would to her mom and she goes into her mom’s room. And she’s like, speaking to her mom as if she would a grandmother. But then, she’s doing things for her mom as if she were her mom’s mom. It’s exactly what you’re saying that kind of triad of relationships.
It all connects in a really weird way.
Hazel Doupe: Hm, like the triskele.
You have some pretty intense scenes in YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER. But I wanted to ask, what was the most difficult for you? Because there are a couple of scenes where I’m like, this might be it or this might be it.
Hazel Doupe: Yeah. I want to get what you think it is, as well. So I’ll say what it is. I think maybe the final bonfire scene was the most difficult. There were a lot of things happening on that day. We had a very short amount of time to get it all done, because we had to wrap and it didn’t get dark until like a little bit later. And so yeah, we didn’t have much time for that scene, and so it was a tiny bit rushed. And then also it was my birthday. I was I think 18 that day. The other thing was I listen to music before I go into an emotional scene or a tough scene. And the song I was listening to was just like, I listened to it so many times before, but it just opened a new door when I listened to it that time, and it really reminded me of somebody that I had lost that I was really pining for the support of. I feel like that was one that I really invested a lot of emotional turmoil into I’m glad that I tried it. I’m glad that I went that route for at least one thing. I don’t know if I’ll do that in the future again, but it was very cathartic. It was like that dry heaving crying just gets that kind of grief out of you. After that scene was over, I was like, Whoa, that was hard. But now I feel like I’m on a new path.
Which is kind of how your character is after that scene. It’s a whole new chapter.
Hazel Doupe: True. Yeah. There’s parallels everywhere.
So the two scenes that I was going back and forth on were the dance scene, just because there’s a physical intensity where it just keeps ramping up. Also as a clumsy person with stairs, I’m watching Char in an emotional state scrambling up the stairs, and all I can think of is, “Is she okay? How are her knees?”
Hazel Doupe: [laughs]That’s so funny. That was my favorite scene to film. I wouldn’t even say that was tough. That was was exciting. I was really feeling the electricity between myself and Carolyn. And, for that scene, I knew exactly how I was going to run up the stairs. It was like a dream and you wake up from the dream and then like a couple of months later that dream happens in real life. You’re like, I knew that that was gonna be there. I knew that fireplace is gonna be there. It was like all of those things just magically fell into place during that scene. So that was good. That wasn’t too hard. What was the other one you were thinking?
The river scene because it looked cold to shoot that.
Hazel Doupe: Yeah, I forgot that scene was as tough as it was. It was freezing that day. It was in the middle of November, and we had to have filled up hot water bottles that we’d like, pour them in down our backs, and stuff. It’s pretty funny.
To wrap things up, are you working on any projects right now that we should keep our eyes out for?
Hazel Doupe: Yeah, I’m not right this minute. I have a bit of a break until July when I’ll be working on another feature film. An Irish feature film. And I’m very excited about that. It’s been a good few years in production. So I don’t know if I’m able to say the name of it yet. But yeah, you can look out for me in another Irish psychological drama/thriller film in the next two years I’d say.
And is there anything you’d like viewers to take away from YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER at all?
Hazel Doupe: Definitely. I think no matter how deep you are, or no matter what your origins are in an issue, in a mental health issue. I don’t want to sound condescending here, but I think there’s a really beautiful takeaway from the film that even though you might have an ancestral history of being prone to whatever kind of mental health condition, you do have the choice. There’s another way, a way of lightness. And if you want to, you can take it. You can take that route. Obviously, a lot of hard work goes in there. I think there’s a really beautiful takeaway that like, things can be okay. You can be okay in the end.
YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER is now available in theaters and On Demand. To learn more about the film, check out our review!
This interview was edited for clarity and length. All images courtesy Magnet Releasing.
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