48 CinÉireann / Issue 9
There's a lot going on with your character: mental illness, disfigurement, stress, and the burden of masculinity. How as an actor do you begin to unravel that?
Will Poulter: I think that its interesting that you touched on a lot of the things that are in the concoction that is Rod. Like the film, Rod is a very textured, layered character, emotionally speaking. He has a lot going on and is wrestling in the dark. Some fairly toxic masculinity rules that he felt that he needed to abide by. The obvious PTSD from the crash that he experienced. Then as a burn survivor and in the kind of environment that he is in, he felt that he had to be confined to the home. And then also i think that we are dealing with a period in British history, post World War II, where there are some major social shifts. And those that belonged to aristocratic society were dealing, for the first time, with the
fear of losing dominance, of losing status, and of losing financial wealth. Seeing him deal with that was also a reality. So a lot of things going on. Then, of course, there's the supernatural elements that are harder to explain. But all of that was taking its effect on him.
You had to spend six hours a day in the make-up chair for this. Did that not zap the energy from you before you even starting filming?
It was tough. I became best friends with black coffee and my iPod. I'm still pretty good friends with those two things, to be honest. That was a little bit tough, but I was in the best hands in the industry. That team was so incredible. Barrie Gower, Sian Grigg, Duncan Jarman, that whole team were just an amazing bunch who really really did so much to make me feel as comfortable as possible. And to make that process as painless as possible.
Your face is one of the tools of your trade. How hard is it to express yourself when you have that much prosthetic on you?
It's interesting. In some ways I felt like half the work was done for me. Half the expression, half the character's interior was being projected, in lots of ways, through the work that the makeup team did in advance of me even properly stepping into the role. I felt very grateful. it felt like cheating a little bit. I owe half of the performance to them, for sure.
What sort of research did you do to get into the character, particularly the emotion of it?
Like every film, I feel that the research can be compartmentalised quite a bit, in the sense that you have the technical elements that refer to the history that that film has in and around it, sometimes there's the unique skills or craft that my character might have, the sociopolitical climate, and then you have the emotional side of things. Sometimes those things are more tied up together than others, but I try to compartmentalise like that. To know the history of the character and the time that it is set in, and then, aside from various skills or tools that they may have, look at the emotional side and the sensitive fibres that make up the character.
Your character has the most agency in the film. You have the strongest character arc...
Ruth Wilson: She does have a journey in it. It was interesting. She's quite a complex character and I partly feel like a lot of the characters in this piece don't really know what they want or who there are. They are
sort of finding it as the piece goes on. I think that Caroline eventually says what she wants and that's when it's stamped out. Also what is great is that people have picked up on the patriarchy theme.
What did you learn about the character of Caroline? What drives her?
I asked Sarah Waters about it as I wanted a bit of back-story because on the page it is all through Faraday's eyes, she is seen through his eyes. He is the protagonist in the novel and it's all about his subjective view of who this woman is. And he fetishes her. He looks at her legs, he looks at her body. It is pretty grim actually, in the way that he really observes her. So it was interesting. I had to pull away from that and kind of find an objective version of that, but also what he might look at. I asked Sarah about her past. Where has Caroline been prior to this? She was at war. She was a WREN. She would have been amongst women. She would have had freedom, a taste of freedom. She would have not been within the constraints of her hierarchical breeding. She would have been out of class and they all would have had a singular purpose.