Iain Glen on the Attraction of ‘My Cousin Rachel’ and Its Complicated Character Dynamics
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, actor Iain Glen talked about why he was drawn to the story of My Cousin Rachel, the complicated character dynamics, and how easy it could be for any man to be drawn into Rachel’s spell. He also talked about being a part of the hugely successful TV series Game of Thrones (he plays “Jorah Mormont”), when and how he realized the show was becoming so popular, getting to team up with Lena Headey on the feature film The Flood, and his desire to always keep up a variety in his work.
Collider: This story is so interesting because it searches for the truth, but never really reveals what that truth is.
IAIN GLEN: It’s a very disconcerting sensation that the film creates. You think you have a hold of it, and then something happens and you get some new piece of information or there’s some new action that makes you go, “Oh, god, no! I couldn’t have gotten that right!” Your relationship to Rachel, played so brilliantly by Rachel Weisz, changes throughout. You become entranced and enticed by this exotic creature that comes in and turns things upside down, and you spend the rest of the film thinking, “I’ve got ahold of it. I know what’s going on. Wait, no, I don’t!” That’s the psychological thriller that’s at the heart of Daphne Du Maurier’s writing.
Did you get that from reading the script? Is that what made you want to be a part of this?
GLEN: It is, yeah, very much so. I could see what the writer was doing, and I enjoyed that. I knew that she was the great mistress of irresolution, where nothing would become concrete and you’d be suspended throughout. But in amongst that, you feel like you understand and that you’ve just been given a clue, which leads you to one conclusion. But then, before you know it, you’re being dragged back into another conclusion. Rachel does that very well because you feel for her, at times. You feel her hurt sometimes, and then you feel her vulnerability, but then you think she’s being manipulative. She plays it out very subtly, throughout, so that you’re kept guessing.
Your character, Nick Kendall, is in an interesting position because he’s Philip’s godfather and the legal guardian of Ambrose’s estate, but he’s also Louise’s father and has to watch how much Philip’s relationship with Rachel is hurting his daughter. What was it like to be in the middle of all of that, and to work with those actors on that dynamic?
GLEN: It was lovely! It was a very happy time, filming it. Doing a period piece in a beautiful part of England in the summer, it doesn’t really get much better than that. It’s great fun to do. Things become most worrying for my character when he begins to understand that Philip wants to give everything away to Rachel out of love. He goes from his initial position of, “She’s an evil witch and she killed my adored cousin, who was looking after me and who had looked after me since I was orphaned, as a child, and I want nothing but to punish her,” to somebody who’s willing to give everything away to her. You have to hold the audience with you on that, and that’s something that Sam manages very well. You have to believe the hatred, and then you have to believe the love, and you’re with Sam, every step of the way with it. It becomes very awkward for my character when he sees that Philip is willing to give away everything that he’s tried to look after, so that his well-being is assured for his life. He’s caught in that terrible position of not offering advice that’s just going to be rejected, and then, before you know it, you’ve lost that relationship. You have to try to play it cool and remain neutral.
Do you think Kendall can also see how easy it would be to get wrapped up in someone like Rachel?
GLEN: I think so. The world in which Rachel enters is one in which there are not too many fulfilled male-female relationships, particularly physically and sexually. Like so much of the story, we don’t really know my character’s background, where the mother (of Louise) is, or who the mother is. There’s a little exchange between my character and Philip, in one of the scenes where he’s willing to throw everything away, where I say, “Have you asked her to marry you?” And he bites back, “No. Have you?!” That implies that he’s noticed that Kendall has been drawn to her. Everyone who’s within her orbit gets very seduced by her because she’s so lovely, exotic, great fun, and from a different world. In a way, there’s a loss that fuels everyone’s emotions in the piece.
You’ve not only been a part of Downton Abbey, which is hugely successful and much beloved by its fans, but you’ve also been a part of Game of Thrones, which is even more hugely successful and much beloved by its fans. What’s it like to be a part of shows that are not only so popular, but that are also such quality material?
GLEN: I do feel I really lucked out with the things that I’ve ended up in. When you start at these things, even with Game of Thrones, no one really had a clue how it’s going to go. And then, before you know it, it’s built into this huge, massive, global hit. It’s not because you’re in it, in any shape or form. It’s because there’s some very, very clever people behind it, there’s the extraordinary source novels by George R.R. Martin, there’s the perfect fit with Dan [Weiss] and [David Benioff], who are the brilliant screenwriters, and they gathered a fantastic cast. I just feel very, very lucky for that, and you want to step up to the mark, every time it comes around because it’s such a big cast. It reduces, year by year, with a high death count. With all of us that are involved in it, none of us are required all the time, but when we are required, you just want to be on your game, for this story and for the fans, because at some point in the not too distant future, it will all disappear.
Is it ever sad that, when you do show up, you won’t know who’s actually going to be there with you?
GLEN: You hold your breath, every time a new script comes through, to see what’s unfolding. They give you know inkling of what’s going to happen either. That being said, I was there in the pilot. I’ve been there from the start. There’s probably between 10 and 14 characters who have been in it from the beginning, and who are featured in every season, so I feel I’ve lucked out. Whatever happens, I feel like I’ve had a pretty good ride.
Because you’ve been there from the beginning and you could see this cultural phenomenon rise up, when did you realize what you’d gotten yourself into?
GLEN: It doesn’t happen overnight, but the first season did pretty well, and then the second season grew. Half-way through the third season is when we all started to look at each other and go, “Jesus Christ, this is going well, isn’t it?!” There was the interest in it, all around where we were filming. And then, there was the secrecy that had to be imposed and the confidentiality clauses. It’s a gradual sensation, but certainly for the last two or three years, every time we gather back together, we all look at each other, and throw our hands in the air and say, “This is pretty amazing to be a part of!” Wherever we’re filming, there’s such extraordinary support for the series. It’s transformed economies. It feels like a big positive force. It’s really, truly been a joy, from the word go, but it becomes extra special when you feel you’re doing work that people are really enjoying and looking forward to.
Was it fun to get to team up with Lena Headey for The Flood and get to work with her, outside of Game of Thrones?
GLEN: It was! That came about quite last minute for both of us. It’s polar opposite, in the sense that it’s a very micro-budget feature, which is about a very important topic, currently for the world in which we’re all living in. It focuses in on refugees and the British Immigration Services and how they’re trying to deal with these strict controls that the government is imposing because world views on what we should try to do with these vast waves of people who are displaced from their own homelands. It’s a very, very, very good script. It’s an extraordinary piece with some lovely performances in it, from what I saw. That was lovely. I’m very fond of Lena, and I’ve only gotten to know her a little bit more recently. It was lovely working with her. You never know, but it feels like an important film and a film that I hope will make some waves. Fingers crossed.
At this point in your career, what do you look for in a project?
GLEN: It’s always just variety. I had imagined a world of theater because that’s what I was trained in, and I was lucky to work at the National, work at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and do The Blue Room on Broadway with Nicole Kidman. That’s what I was headed towards, and then film happened very quickly for me. That bread a desire to seek variety. You’re only as good as any piece of writing you have, no matter how hard you work. So, I’m looking for different projects and quality of writing, but that’s not always the case. I don’t want to be too self-aggrandizing. Sometimes you do it because it’s a shit load of money and that means you can be close to your mum in Edinburgh. There are various reasons why you might choose to do a job, but I’ve really enjoyed the variety of work and the variety of places. Film takes you to places you wouldn’t normally go, and it leaves you there for longer periods of time than a holiday. You have time off, as an actor, and that’s lovely because it gives you time to get to know different cultures.
Do you know what you’re going to be doing next?
GLEN: There are a couple of things up in the air. I hope to do a Second World War drama with a producer that I worked with on Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. This is a very different beast of a film. And then, I will be doing Cleverman, an aboriginal series that’s in its second season. Its first season went well, and that shows on SundanceTV. And I play Jack Taylor, an Irish private eye, and a series which is very dear to me. I have Delicious, a comedy for Sky, as well. I have a fairly busy time, up ahead. Sometimes you play the lead in things and sometimes you play support in things, but I always seek variety and good writing.
My Cousin Rachel is now playing in theaters.