From director Adam Wingard and based on the famous Japanese manga written by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note follows high schooler Light (Nat Wolff), who comes across a supernatural notebook. Upon realizing that it holds a dangerous and scary power that allows its owner to write someone’s name in it while picturing their face, resulting in their death, Light quickly becomes caught up in the godlike ability, attracting the attention of his classmate Mia (Margaret Qualley), as well as the mysterious L (Lakeith Stanfield).
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Margaret Qualley talked about why she wanted to get involved with Death Note, the appeal of this world, how much the supernatural notebook affects her character, the dynamic between Light and Mia, the most challenging aspect of the shoot, working with green screen, and who she found herself rooting for. She also talked about her work on the HBO series The Leftovers, working with a big group of women on Novitiate, and shooting Adam on the streets of New York.
Collider: How did you get involved with Death Note?
MARGARET QUALLEY: I read the script and I loved it and auditioned. I was a big fan of (director) Adam Wingard. I loved You’re Next and The Guest, so that was my initial draw to it. And then, I became more familiar with Death Note, as a whole, and now I’m a big fan.
Was the script your first introduction, or had you been familiar with the manga?
QUALLEY: Yeah, I wasn’t terribly familiar with it prior to reading the script. I just got into it afterwards. There wasn’t exact research for me to do, as far as Mia goes, because she’s kind of a new character, but I wanted to make myself familiar with the world, and then I just became a big fan. It’s so cool!
It sounds like your character is the most different from her counterpart in the manga, and that she’s much more active and involved in the story now. Was that important to you?
QUALLEY: Yeah, it definitely was important. I think what’s interesting about her is that obviously she’s Light’s girlfriend and they bond over using the Death Note and have a romance. I think they do properly love each other, and it is that young love and first love, but at the end of the day, what’s most important to Mia is doing what she believes is right. She doesn’t let anything deter her from that, even love. Her priority is justice.
How does the Death Note change Mia? Do you think that without it, she would have ended up being a very different person?
QUALLEY: I definitely think it really changes her. She was a cheerleader and somewhat popular in school, but she was aimless and misunderstood. And then, she meets Light and it feels like the first person to really understand her, and the Death Note gives her a greater purpose and something to really be ambitious about. She’s so driven, and it gives her an outlet.
Light starts off seemingly well-meaning, by only killing criminals and bad people. When you’re a part of telling a story like this, that calls itself supernatural but isn’t really that far off from real life, do you think about how enticing something like this Death Note could be?
QUALLEY: Absolutely! It’s a fun movie. Despite the fact that it’s about killing people, it’s even comical. But, there is an underlying message. I think we’re in a place right now where everyone is really frustrated, and there’s a lot of hate in the world and a lot of bullies and bigotry. Having the opportunity to get rid of that would be amazing. I wish that I could write down a whole concept, rather than a specific name. Rather than kill somebody, I’d like to write down “evil” in the notebook. That would be fantastic!
What do you think it is that draws Light and Mia to each other?
QUALLEY: Despite her circumstances, she still feels like an outsider because she doesn’t really feel a great connection to anybody. And Light is an outsider. So, coming together means having somebody that she feels could actually understand her and that she could be herself with.
Is it fair to say that Mia falls out of love with Light and falls in love with power, or does she still have feelings for him?
QUALLEY: I don’t know that she necessarily falls out of love with him. I think that it’s not her priority. Her priority is this great responsibility that she feels. She ultimately finds Light to be somewhat of a coward, I think. She doesn’t let anything deter her from doing what she believes is right, and that includes Light.
What was the most challenging aspect of making this? Was there anything you were really nervous about pulling off?
QUALLEY: The most challenging part of making this was shooting in the rain. It was very cold. I don’t know if you know this, and I didn’t know this before, but movie rain is very different from regular rain. Move rain is very heavy because it has to be seen on camera, so you’re just instantly drenched. We did lots of scenes in the rain. There was a lot of shooting in the rain, for hours and hours and hours. So, I think the most difficult part of shooting this was just maintaining warmth.
Were there any physical aspects of this role that you were most excited about getting to do?
QUALLEY: It was my first time ever doing green screen. The Ferris wheel stuff was green screen. I had heard negative things about it, but I had a harness on and was swinging back and forth in the air, and that was really fun. I felt like I was a little kid on a playground again.
Light and Mia seem like nice kids when we meet them, but they both sink deeper and deeper into the power of the Death Note. And then, L seems very controlled when we meet him, until we see him start to lose control. Do you find yourself going back and forth between who to root for, or do you find yourself easily siding with your own character?