‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’: Kate Siegel on Her Secret Character and the Tragedy of Episode 8

     October 18, 2020

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[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Haunting of Bly Manor.]

From filmmaker Mike Flanagan comes the new Netflix original series The Haunting of Bly Manor finds a young American nanny in unfamiliar surroundings in 1980s England. Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) arrives at Bly Manor to care for the orphaned Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), she learns that all is not as it seems with love, loss, and grief permeating the great, good place. Drawing from Henry James‘ novella The Turn of the Screw as well as some of this other notable works, The Haunting of Bly Manor is as chilling and sweeping a story as its predecessor, The Haunting of Hill House.

Collider recently got the opportunity to chat 1-on-1 with actress Kate Siegel about Episode 8, “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes,” in which viewers get insight into the dark origins of a particular ghost who has haunted the manor for centuries. During the interview, Siegel discussed the terrifying prospect of returning to The Haunting anthology after such a successful and well-received first season with Hill House, how honored she is to continue to work and collaborate with Flanagan, what she loves about Viola, whether someone deserves revenge, and the heartbreaking love story that defines her character. She also talked about how the current project she’s shooting, Midnight Mass, will be one of the best times of her life.

COLLIDER: What was it like to be a part of the original first season and to see the response that it got and the effect that it had on viewers, and then to try to do that again, even though the second season is very different?

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Image via Netflix

KATE SIEGEL: It’s a terrifying prospect to go back into something that’s good. If you mess it up out of the gate, you feel like, “Okay, I can go back and do better.” But with the response we had to Season 1, even just the idea of going back to something that had The Haunting in its title put a lot of extra pressure on everyone. The amount of relief that I feel seeing people enjoy this show as well, I feel grateful. I don’t know who gets two base hits like this in a row but here we are.

Did everybody feel that extra weight of responsibility while making this because you had raised the bar with that first season and gave the audience a certain expectation?

SIEGEL: When I got the job, I felt the weight of expectation. But then, once you show up on set, you just there doing your job. You’re working as hard as you can to make Mike’s vision come to life and the rest of it melts away. It was lucky because we were tucked away ourselves up in Vancouver, so there wasn’t a lot of outside pressure, like if we were shooting in Los Angeles or if we had gone back to Atlanta. I loved that feeling of being isolated. It helped on my episode, tremendously, along with the cold, creepy weather that we were shooting in. That helped wash away the pressure of it.

What has it been like for you to work and collaborate with your husband, over the years, through these various projects? How has your working relationship changed and what have you learned about yourself, as an actress, from exploring characters with him?

SIEGEL: I think he’s a tremendous talent. I feel really honored to work with him. I was a fan long before we started dating. I had read some of his earlier scripts, when we were both just pounding the pavement, trying to get jobs and I just knew that this guy had a vision that the world was gonna go crazy for. And so, to fall in love with him on top of that is icing on the world’s creepiest cake. The biggest blessing, as an artist, with working with Mike is that he knows me. He knows me, through and through. He has seen me at all of the different steps of my human emotions, just in reality, so he knows when I’m lying, if my choices that I’m making are false or hollow and he can gently say to me, “Kate, that’s not what it’s like when you are despondent,” or “Kate, that’s not what it’s like when you’re joyful.” He can also say, “Kate, stop making that weird face.” It’s a pleasure to be seen by someone who you respect so much and I think his work reflects that.

What do you like most about the way that he approaches working with actors, as a director?

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Image via Netflix

SIEGEL: He’s like a surgeon. He gets in there and makes just the perfect cut. He spends a lot of time in casting, finding the right people, and I think that’s evident in the children he finds. He does big searches to find such talented young children. And then, he trusts his actors to come to set with their character choices and their acting choices and their beliefs, and he’ll watch. It feels very collaborative because he’ll walk in and give you one little golden nugget of direction that illuminates everything you’ve already set up. I think there’s a lot of trust between Mike and his cast because he uses a lot of us, again and again and again. He builds a sense of faith and trust, and that’s rare in this industry.

What was it like to not only play such a mysterious character but also keep it such a secret from everybody? Does it ever get hard to keep those secrets?

SIEGEL: Oh, no, it was a joy. I love to be sneaky. I’m a sneaky person, in my real life. I’m always keeping secrets and planning surprises, and stuff like that. I absolutely adore it. So, when I got to do it now, I really love messing with Twitter. I hope that everyone sees, when I would post gif responses to their questions about who my character was, all of the gigs I would post were in black and white. At the time nobody even knew it but I was letting you know a little secret.

At what point in the process of all of this did you find out about what the season would be and who you would be playing, and how did you react when you did find out?

SIEGEL: It was pretty late in the game. Early on, before Season 2 even started writing, I had just had a baby, so I knew that my footprint in Bly was gonna be smaller because I had to stay home with my screaming monster instead of fighting screaming monsters on TV. I knew that Victoria [Pedretti] was gonna get to do something awesome. I knew that Oli [Jackson-Cohen] was coming back and Henry [Thomas] was coming back, and I was so jealous. Eventually, Mike called me into the writers’ room and he had Leah [Fong] tell me the story of Episode 8. As she was telling it to me, my jaw was on the table. It was so beautiful and I felt so lucky. When they told me I was gonna get to play Viola, I thought I was just given the greatest gift. They could have excluded me completely because I had responsibilities at home but instead they created this perfect little gothic fairytale that I got to go create with Katie Parker and (director) Axelle [Carolyn] and (cinematographer) Jimmy Kniest. What a joy it was.

Actors often talk about wanting to play characters that challenge or scare them. How did this character do that for you? In what ways was she different from other characters that you’ve played?

SIEGEL: One of the things I love about Viola is that she’s a story within a story within a story. In the whole of Bly Manor, you have the wedding, and that’s the first story. And then, within that, you have this story that Carla Gugino is telling. And then, within that story, she tells another story. And so, it was quite a challenge to know that I was playing someone who is three times removed from humanity. It’s really a parable. It’s really a message about love and stubbornness and the gravity of grief. I had to create almost an old school, old Hollywood monster, like Nosferatu, as opposed to Theo Crain, who was based in reality. That was a wonderful challenge and I quite enjoyed that 

This character has such a tragic story with her illness, being smothered by her sister who goes on to marry her husband and mother her child, and then being tossed into a lake. How do you view her? Do you see her as a tragic character? Do you see her as somebody who deserves it to get revenge?

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Image via Netflix

SIEGEL: In her heart, Viola is there to create a passion so intense that it pulls down everybody at Bly. They say in the episode that she creates a gravity well. So, I just knew that, above all, she had to be strong and she had to have an emotional weight and depth to her. I’m not sure that she deserves revenge. I don’t think anybody deserves revenge. That’s a very egotistical way to deal with pain but Viola is deeply egotistical and has to be. She’s the monster of the season. She’s made terrible choices out of her grief and pain. And so, maybe she doesn’t deserve revenge but she’s so incapable of vulnerability that all that’s left for her is revenge.

What’s it like to actually be able to so fully explore a character in just one episode?

SIEGEL: In some ways, it’s just a short film. I dove into it with that intention, not thinking of it as an episode of TV but instead thinking of it as shooting a 70-minute film. I gave her the attention I would give the lead of a film, not a character who’s only in one episode of the season.

The episode is also so beautiful to look at.

SIEGEL: It’s so great. And what a risk for it to be black and white. When Mike told me it was gonna be black and white, I was confused and a little trepidatious but I think it ends up really selling the story.

Did you actually play the Lady in the Lake yourself, at any point, or was it always somebody else?

SIEGEL: I did, a handful of times. When it’s the completely faceless ghost, dragging people through the house, that is a stunt performer named Daniela Dib. She did a lot of the heavy lifting for me, so that I could be home breastfeeding my child, as opposed to being stuck in a silicone mask, walking around a freezing cold set. I’m very grateful for her, and I think she did an incredible job.

What was it like to see that and to see how those two aspects of the character are woven together?

SIEGEL: I loved it. I thought it was such a great and spooky tactic to present how Viola is disintegrating in these decades of time spent under the Lake. I thought the sense that she’s being washed away, not only in her memories but physically, was so beautiful and haunting, to use an overused word. And then, in Episode 8, Viola’s face is so expressive. I don’t really have dialogue, so her face, her bone structure, her body, her wardrobe, and her presentation to the world is big and wild. To see that become the Lady in the Lake, who is stoic and slimmed down and walking in this rhythmic way, all of these flourishes of Viola are just gone and all that’s left is a need. It’s heartbreaking.

Did you do any research into what it would have been like for someone to be in a situation like this, having to experience it and go through a sickness like she did and how that could affect them?

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Image via Netflix

SIEGEL: Yeah. I looked into tuberculosis and the plague at the time, and the different symptoms and the hallucinations that you would get as you were losing oxygen, and having oxygen deprivation over time and the way that your brain would start to disintegrate because it’s just not getting what it needs, and leeches and the bleeding and the different techniques that were really torture, not medicine. And so, yeah, I did a bunch of that but mostly, knowing that Viola is a story within a story within a story, I needed less to play the disease and more to play what she becomes – that Nosferatu monster that haunts everybody. It was more important that that was strong and there to be explained and latched on onto, rather than if I was correctly displaying tuberculosis.

There is a lot of talk about how this is about love and all of the facets of love, whether it’s sweet and beautiful or obsessive and possessive. Do you feel that it’s love, however misguided, that really drives your character?

SIEGEL: Without a doubt. Episode 8 is a love story about Viola and her sister, and about how their love disintegrate. It’s not about the love triangle between Arthur, Viola, and Perdita. It’s the love of Viola and Perdita that’s broken apart when Viola has a daughter. When Isabel shows up, Viola turns her back on her sister. It is the truest love of her life, her daughter. It is the only thing that remains years, decades, and hundreds of years later – this single desire to be back with her child, which to me is that very maternal love that makes people lift cars and move mountains.

Bly Manor is full of scary and creepy moments and feelings, throughout the season. What are the scariest moments for you? What are the things that have really stuck with you from this season?

SIEGEL: I think most of Episode 5. Rahul [Kohli] and T’Nia [Miller] do an incredible job breaking your hearts in the most terrifying way. Not only does she realize that she’s trapped, she realizes that love just slipped out of her fingers in the last possible moment. It was right there and she just missed it, and now she’s trapped without the man she loves. To me, that’s such a lovely parallel to what Viola is going through. She’s trapped without her daughter and Mrs. Grose is trapped without Owen, and it’s so heartbreaking. To me, that’s one of the scenes of terror and horror that gets planted in your brain and it just pops back up in the middle of the night and makes you go, “What if I’m dead? What if I’m a ghost and I don’t know it yet?”

You’re also working with your husband again on Midnight Mass for Netflix. What are you most excited about with that project and what you’ll get to explore there?

SIEGEL: Midnight Mass is a group of artists who have been trying to get together for almost 10 years, between Trevor Macy, Michael Fimognari, and Mike Flanagan, and then we’ve got a great cast of people. We’ve got Henry Thomas, Sam Sloyan, me, Michael Trucco, and this group of people who have been scattered throughout the Flani-verse through Mike’s whole career. And now, to finally get us all together, it’s electric. It’s like magic. We’re doing some kind of dark magic up here.

What’s it like to get to have an experience like that?

SIEGEL: I think there’s a German word for being nostalgic for the time that you’re currently in, and that’s how it feels. I’m already looking back at this as the best time of my life but I’m in the middle of it, which is completely bizarre considering the pandemic and the fact that we’re all under masks and face shields and getting COVID tested three times a week. There’s something about getting to do this show with these people that I know in my heart, I will be looking back at this, the rest of my life, as one of the most joyful times. It’s very bizarre.

The way you describe what you’re having to go through just to do the shoot sounds like it’s its own horror story within a story.

SIEGEL: Yeah, it’s so bizarre. I think we’re gonna see a lot of horror stories about the pandemic. Well, maybe not me. I’m not gonna be watching a lot of that because I’m living it. But I think it is something that makes people focus, that makes people realize what’s important, and it makes the set feel special. When we finally do go through all the check-ins and get to take off our mask, that moment where you get to speak to another human, face to face, feels special and magical It brings something to all of the performances. It’s amazing. All I wanna do is stare at their beautiful faces and touch them, all day. But HR has a problem with that.

The Haunting of Bly Manor is now available to stream on Netflix. For more on Episode 8, find out what inspired the show, according to Mike Flanagan, and get a full breakdown on the Lady in the Lake mythology.

Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.

 

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