[Editor’s note: Some spoilers for Books of Blood are discussed in the below interview.]
From director Brannon Braga and based on the acclaimed horror anthology written by Clive Barker, the Hulu original film Books of Blood tells the stories of two very different women – Jenna (Britt Robertson), a troubled college student trying to piece her life back together after suffering a mental break, and Mary (Anna Friel), a college professor who debunks psychics but then is challenged by one claiming to be able to speak to her dead son. As their stories interweave and we learn about the mission of a mercenary (Yul Vazquez) who’s trying to retrieve a book worth an extreme amount of money, the twists will keep viewers guessing on the outcome for these characters until the very end.
During a virtual press junket for the film, Collider got the opportunity to chat 1-on-1 with Britt Robertson about what drew her to this project, learning about the reveals for her character, how she’s always been a horror fan, that bugs are her Kryptonite, what she did to understand the hypersensitivity that her character experiences, and what she thought of the ending of Jenna’s story.
Collider: This is a story and character that seems like it must have put you through a lot, emotionally. When this came your way, what were you told about the project? How much did you know when you read it and how much was revealed to you as you read the script?
BRITT ROBERTSON: Pretty much all of it was revealed to me as I was reading the script. It was such a crazy read because it very much unfolds. For me, as an actor reading a script, you’re analyzing the character from moment one and a large part of what makes Jenna so interesting is what you find out about her later on. And so, I think that reveal, which hopefully audiences will be able to watch and find out in the same way that I did, as it’s told to them in real time, ended up being the draw and the reason why I wanted to figure out who this person was and find ways of making her relatable. And then, I also wanted to lean into this idea that Jenna is a young person who’s clearly having a difficult time handling life and is not able to work through her own issues. She is escaping every version of existence and eventually needs to escape herself. She is her own worst enemy, a little bit.
This type of horror, where it is so personally connected to the characters, is the kind of horror that really lingers with me. When it comes to horror, what type of horror do you find most effective? What most deeply scares you, when it comes to scary movies or horror stories?
ROBERTSON: I’ve always loved horror films, since I was a kid. Those were my mom’s favorite movies to watch, from when I was young, so we would often watch them. I always found that the most effective types of horror were psychological and about the darkest parts of the human experience. That’s the reason why I gravitated towards this character in this specific project.
Your portion of this has bugs and needles, which are things that I personally can’t handle? How was it to shoot those scenes? Is it different when you’re an actor and you’re just playing a moment, or is it still hard to handle that sort of thing?
ROBERTSON: I don’t like bugs. Bugs are my Kryptonite, especially cockroaches. It’s my worst nightmare. I’m not into the bug thing. Once I found out that it was gonna be a visual effects situation, I was much more calm about that concept. And to be fair, even when we were shooting it, the one specific scene of the dream sequence where the cockroaches are so close to me, I wasn’t even thinking so much about the cockroaches. I was playing different elements of that experience. But the needle stuff, I don’t really have a problem with needles. That was about creating a heightened level of danger, which always helps, as an actor, when you have something to play that’s active. Different strokes for folks, in terms of what gets you going in the fear realm.
Were there ways that she particularly challenged, as far as doing things that you hadn’t gotten to do before?
ROBERTSON: Yeah. Most of my scenes were by myself or were reacting to things that weren’t there. The thing that the Jenna character allowed me to do was really find this point of understanding within myself, as an actor. There were a lot of reactions to things. It wasn’t a heavy dialogue character for me. It was all about what was happening on the inside and making sure that worked on the outside. That was a very big challenge. And she was a very still character, most of the time, unless she was reacting to crazy things that were happening around her. Living in that stillness was really interesting.
How did you find the experience of working on this with Brannon Braga?
ROBERTSON: I found Brannon to be a huge resource throughout because he helped co-create this character, if you will. And he suffers from this hatred of sound, as well, so he was a huge resource, in that way. The great thing about Brannon is that he’s a very straight shooter. There’s no guessing what he wants or what he needs, and I find that to be very useful, as an actor.
What did you do to try to understand what it must have been like for someone like her to experience this hypersensitivity?
ROBERTSON: I can only relate it to how I recently just got into meditating and I’m terrible at it, but I’ve been trying to practice this idea of isolating different senses. It’s hard to articulate but it’s almost like your body is falling asleep a little bit. I would often feel that when working through a lot of these attributes with Jenna. I would often feel a hypersensitivity to other senses. Because she didn’t like sound and was almost trying to turn that part of her off, it makes everything else even more heightened. Even just playing with this idea of being aware of your senses in that way was very new to me but educational, nonetheless.
How did you feel about the full journey that this character takes? Did anything change your perspective of her?
ROBERTSON: I always try to find the largest amount of empathy for a character, when approaching a role, because that helps me find my way in. In this case, the more you learn about Jenna, the easier it is to have that sense of empathy and to feel for her. Honestly, it evolved throughout the filmmaking process. I always find that some of the best or most exciting performances can be those that you find on the day, while you get to know this character more, on a day to day basis.
Without spoilers, what did you think of the ending of her story?
ROBERTSON: The ending of Jenna’s story was the thing that attracted me most about her. I’ve read articles about psychological warfare and what it does to someone’s mind, when you manipulate a situation and things get very dark. I was very intrigued by that. But also, there was this idea that Jenna was incapable of existing in her own spaces. You hear about her fleeing college and she flees her family, but really the thing that she was trying to escape was herself and her own mind.
Is there a type of character or a genre or something that you would like to get to dip your toe into that you don’t feel you’ve gotten to do yet?
ROBERTSON: Not really. I’ve run the gamut, in terms of genre, aside from a 1800s period piece, or something. It’s not really genre specific for me. It’s always just character. Even with this, I wasn’t like, “Ooh, I wanna do a really cool horror film.” For me, it’s always character based and script based, and if there’s something new I can do or feel excited by, and feel connected to, in some way.
Books of Blood is available to stream at Hulu on October 7th.
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.