Holliday Grainger on the Romantic Drama ‘My Cousin Rachel’ & Working with J.K. Rowling

     June 8, 2017

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The dark romantic drama My Cousin Rachel, written and directed by Roger Michell and adapted from the 1951 novel by Daphne du Maurier, tells the story of a young Englishman named Philip (Sam Claflin) who wants to meet his mysterious and beautiful cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz) because he believes that she murdered his guardian. Even though he has plotted revenge against her, his feelings quickly become complicated as he finds himself not only falling in love with her, but becoming truly obsessed.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Holliday Grainger talked about loving the open-ended nature of this story, why the character interested her, the vibe on set, and that the quality of a script is important to her, when looking for her next project. She also talked about what drew her to the Strike TV series, from the J.K. Rowling novels about Cormoran Strike, and her episode of the Amazon series, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams.

Collider:  Why did you want to play this character, and what did you most enjoy about exploring who she was?

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Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures

HOLLIDAY GRAINGER:  Mainly, I loved the story and that it was so open-ended. I also wanted to work with Roger Michell because I really admire his work. I’ve had some friends who said he was a joy to work with, and he is. He really creates a world that he fully believes in, therefore, as an actor, you can enter into that world knowing that nothing is left un-thought of and it gives you the confidence to play. And I think Louise interested me because she had this friendship with Philip, from such a young age. They’re childhood friends, but Louise has grown up faster than him and she wants a deeper relationship, and he’s maybe not able to give her that yet. And then, Rachel comes along and Philip’s world is turned upside down, and therefore, Louise’s is, too. I loved her because she has this patience and self-restrained that doesn’t allow her to show her jealous. She’s allowing herself to be there for Philip, even though you want her to tell him that he’s being an idiot. I really respect that, in her. That was interesting to play.

This is a story that searches for the truth, but never really reveals what that truth is. Did you come to your own conclusions about Rachel, or did you try not to do that?

GRAINGER:  From reading the novel, I absolutely had my own conclusions, but they were in the grey area. People always ask, “Is she guilty? Is she not guilty?” But I always think, guilty of what? Is she poisoning him, or is she not? Is she manipulating him, or is she not? It’s a world that’s very psychologically complex, but it’s a real world. People have complexities in a time of grief, which Rachel and Philip do. The story is not only exploring how they deal with their individual grief, but also how they deal with their situation in life and how they deal with their relationship with each other. Through that, there’s a grey area. Not everything is black and white in life.

What was it like to work with the two men who you share most of your scenes with, Sam Claflin and Iain Glen, and then what was it like to also share moments with Rachel Weisz? What was the vibe like on set, for shooting something so intense?

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Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures

GRAINGER:  It was great! When we did the dinner party scenes, Roger would throw out to people, “Oh, tell this story,” or “Sing this song.” It was a very fun family atmosphere ‘cause that’s the atmosphere that Rachel was trying to create and people were on a level pretending they were in. Everyone wants people to think it’s normal when it’s not. The depth of the emotions is always restrained, so the atmosphere on set was always fun.

At this point in your career, you’re playing such an interesting variety of characters, but what do you look for in a project? Are you very picky and selective?

GRAINGER:  I’m getting more selective, the more I do. As an actor, you want to do a variety of things, but first and foremost, it’s the script, the quality of the script and the part. If the script is great and it’s a part that I believe and I believe the world, that’s rarer than you think. It’s always a project that I want to be involved in, if it’s a world that I believe. As an actor, when you’re put into a world that you believe, you’re given the freedom to do what you want with the character.

You have the TV series, from the J.K. Rowling novels about Cormoran Strike, that will be airing on HBO in the U.S. What drew you to that story and character, and what did you most enjoy about playing her?

GRAINGER:  I just love Robin. One, it’s contemporary, and I had been dying to get out of a corset. Robin is the closest character to me that I’ve done for awhile. I just recognized myself and my friends in her. She displays the aspects of being a woman that my friends and I would certainly like to have. I just felt like a king with Robin, and I wanted to portray her.

Did you get to work with or talk to J.K. Rowling about the character, at all? 

GRAINGER:  Yeah, she’d come to all of the read-throughs and she was quite involved with watching all of the footage and giving feedback. It was great to be a part of a world that she has created. J.K. Rowling has created worlds that we all know and love.

You’re also going to be in an episode of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams. What is your episode, “The Hood Maker,” about and who are you playing in it?

GRAINGER:  I’m playing a telepath. It’s a world that’s post a media shower that’s destroyed the internet. It’s about secrets and how much we hold to ourselves and prejudices. That’s probably all I’m allowed to say!

Had you been familiar with the stories and work of Philip K. Dick, prior to doing this?

GRAINGER:  I’ve not actually read any of his books. I know the film adaptations of his work, like Blade Runner and Minority Report, and I’ve been watching The Man in the High Castle, which is taken from his work, as well, but I haven’t read any of his books, which I should do.

Do you know what you’re going to be doing next?

GRAINGER:  I’m still just finishing Electric Dreams. I sort of know, but I’m still not sure yet.

My Cousin Rachel opens in theaters on June 9th.

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