From director Lenny Abrahamson (Room, Frank) and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon, and adapted from the book of the same name by Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger tells the story of what happens when Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) is called by the Ayres family to Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked, to attend to a patient. The house and grounds of the vast estate has suffered and is now dilapidated from neglect, which adds to the creep factor, as he begins to wonder if mother (Charlotte Rampling), son (Will Poulter) and daughter (Ruth Wilson) are being haunted by something more supernatural in nature.
While on location in Hungary, where he’s shooting his next film, actor Will Poulter jumped on the phone with Collider for this 1-on-1 interview to chat about the unsettling vibe of The Little Stranger, how imposing it was to work in an estate like the one in the film, the ambiguity of the storytelling, and going through the process of putting on the make-up and prosthetics. He also talked about what drew him to Midsommar, director Ari Aster’s follow-up to Hereditary, and why he fell in love with his character, as well as what he looks for in a project, and his long dream list of directors that he’d like to work with.
Collider: This movie creeped me out, in the best way possible, and I mean that as a compliment, so thank you for that.
WILL POULTER: Oh, good! I’m glad to hear that.
I love movies that have an eerie, creepy vibe to them, that bothers you and makes you feel unsettled for hours after watching it. It’s much more fun than having that be in your face.
POULTER: That’s cool. I agree. It’s not that I don’t think those kinds of stories can’t be skillfully executed, but I’ve always been drawn more to those films that disturb and create a sense of unease. That’s probably true of The Little Stranger, and that’s credit to the way that (director) Lenny [Abrahamson] ended up handling the movie. After you’ve finished watching it, the feeling of unease lasts and it bleeds into life outside of the movie theater, afterwards, for quite an unsettling amount of time. I felt that way watching it, too.
It seems as though nothing good ever comes from people living in isolation in an old, crumbling manor. How imposing was it to walk into and work in an estate like that?
POULTER: I would probably say that The Little Stranger was the closest thing that I’d ever done to horror, and I always wondered, if ever I was going to work on a film that did have slightly scary or disturbing elements to it that were borrowed from the horror genre, would I, myself, be horrified? Would I find it too scary? There was something really disturbing in having discussions about what was going on in that house. There was actually something genuinely unsettling about being in there and playing through the dialogue. And the house itself did begin to take on a creepy character. We felt that. We were very cognizant of that, during the shooting process. It actually informed all the choices that we made. That house is a principal character in the story, and that’s true of the book, as well.
Because there are so many different things at play in this story, and you aren’t really sure if what’s going on could be supernatural, what impression did you get, the first time that you read the script?
POULTER: I loved the fact that it wasn’t easily definable as belonging to one single genre. What I liked about it was that I saw elements of pure drama, elements of mystery, and thrilling aspects to it. And then, there are the supernatural elements that cause the movie to lean more towards the classic horror genre. Truthfully, I was very excited about the fact that all of these things could be combined in a really beautifully synchronized way. That’s what drew me in. What’s interesting with the character of Roderick, in particular, is that he is a character who I think is highly disturbed because he’s unable to explain exactly what’s happening to him, and everything that has happened to him up, until the point that we meet him in the story. If you were going to take the highly scientific perspective on it, this is a young man who suffered a terrible accident, and it was just simply an accident. He’s a burn survivor, and following that experience, he has some PTSD, some psychological trauma, and he’s an alcoholic. If you’re to look at it through the lens which rests on a lot of the other action that surrounds him, potentially that wasn’t an accident. How far back do the supernatural elements occur? Is he simply psychologically unreliable, or are there beings in his mind? Has he been infected by the supernatural, in the way that other parts of his life have? That was interesting to me. His disturbia is dismissed as war shock, which is quite frustrating for him because he seems to be one of the first people to really call out what happened in the house as being supernatural, as opposed to just evil explained by science.