Writer/Director Rose Glass talks making new chiller Saint Maud...
As all of 2020's remaining blockbusters scatter to the winds and run headlong into 2021, one of the year's most exciting movies is sticking around, new chiller Saint Maud.
The film stars Morfydd Clark, who won plaudits for her roles in The Personal History of David Copperfield and Mark Gatiss's new take on Dracula, and Jennifer Ehle, she of Pride and Prejudice fame.
Clark plays Maud, a newly devout hospice nurse, who becomes obsessed with saving the soul of Ehle's Amanda, a dancer who is dying of cancer. It's an obsession that very quickly turns dark...
In her debut feature, Rose Glass both writes and directs, while Lily Knight, Marcus Hutton, Lily Frazer and Turlough Convery co-star.
We spoke to Glass about how she put together this chilling horror, her influences and why she chose Scarborough for the film's unique setting...
When did you come up with the idea for the film? Has the gestation process been a long or short one?
"It was fairly long. I started coming up with an early version of the idea as I was finishing film school in 2014. We started shooting four and a half years later."
You’ve described Maud in other interviews as this "young Catholic female version of Travis Bickle", were there any other key influences on the script?
"It's a bit of a mixed bag, but mostly a lot of gothic-tinged psychological thrillers and dramas; Persona, Through A Glass Darkly, Misery, The Servant, The Devils and Repulsion were all floating around my head at various points. I love a claustrophobic melodrama!"
It’s your first feature film, did you enjoy the process? Were you nervous about making the move from short films and into a longer feature?
"Most of my fear and loathing during the process was frontloaded; I got incredibly stressed and quite unwell whilst writing. I've wanted to make feature films since I was very young, so I think the pressure I'd built up in my own head to not waste the opportunity became immense and very out of touch with reality."
"Fortunately, I managed to sort myself out and get some perspective just before we got greenlit. Once we actually got going with a full team on board it was honestly the most fun and exciting thing I've ever done in my life. I feel very very lucky that things worked out the way they did."
When did you settle on Morfydd for the title role? Did you speak to many actresses about the part?
"We saw a lot of really wonderful actors for the role, but it wasn't until Morfydd appeared almost a year after we started looking that we knew we'd found the right person. She's phenomenal."
How was it coaxing a performance like that out of somebody? Did it make for an intense shoot?
"All shoots are intense by nature, just from the quantity and variety of work that goes into them. Aside from that, I'd say the general mood of this shoot was pretty chipper and light! Morfydd came in so prepared and her performance is so nuanced but somehow she made it seem effortless. We'd only had a few days of rehearsal together, but I think as long as you've cast the right person and they understand the material, there isn't too much coaxing involved at all."
"On set, she seems to be able to just switch it on and off and would be laughing and joking in between takes. I like to think neither of us are too precious about our 'processes' or anything, I've come to believe that filmmaking works best when it feels like you're playing."
When did Jennifer Ehle come into the picture for the role of Amanda?
"Fairly late in the day. Once she came on board it was basically all systems go. I'm so grateful to her for taking a punt on a weird little British film by a totally unknown director as she's basically what gave us the green light from financiers."
What was it like seeing Morfydd and Jennifer build a working relationship? Was there instant chemistry?
"I didn't have a chance to see them together until we were actually shooting! Jennifer lives in New York and was only able to come over a few days before we began the shoot. Most of that time was spent finalising her costumes and the bald head make-up. Her, me and Morfydd all went for dinner and we shot a few camera tests with the two of them in half-finished costumes and makeup, so that was reassuring because you could instantly see that they worked well together."
"I mean I wasn't too worried about whether or not they got on because they're both amazing actors and deeply lovely people, so I felt pretty confident that they would. Plus the characters aren't supposed to know each other when the film starts and we shot those scenes first so it all felt pretty natural."
You shot a lot of the film in Scarborough, when did you settle on that being the right location for the story?
"Fairly early on once we had the project in development with Film4, so I was just starting to write the script. Me and one of my producers went on a little recce around the UK coastline and saw a bunch of different places. Scarborough just had everything we needed plus so many elements we hadn't planned but became a big part of the film's visual language - namely all the narrow, windy little staircases."
"I wanted somewhere with heaven and hell and descent-into-madness symbolism a-plenty! I find English seaside towns often have a wonderfully timeless, forgotten quality to them, which helps with a film that is supposed to take place in its own, insular little universe. It's a beautiful part of the world but quite haunting as well."
Do you have your next project lined up? Can you tell us anything about it?
Saint Maud is released into UK cinemas from tomorrow (October 9th) and will be available to pre-order on DVD in the coming days.