By MICHAEL GINGOLD
It’s been a long wait for North American audiences to see Morfydd Clark’s starring role in Rose Glass’ SAINT MAUD, but she and the movie are worth it. Originally set for a U.S. debut in April 2020, SAINT MAUD was delayed by the pandemic and can now be streamed exclusively via Epix, and we got some in-depth words from Clark about this, her first horror lead and most challenging role.
The actress, who previously had small parts in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES and Alexandre Aja’s CRAWL (both of which she also addresses below), comes into her own as Maud, a devoutly religious girl who takes a home-care job looking after former dancer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). The older woman and Maud develop a bond, but the deeper differences in their outlooks on life ultimately come between them, sending Maud down a path of twisted faith and dangerous behavior. The film (reviewed here), writer/director Glass (interviewed here) and Clark have won rapturous praise and awards for SAINT MAUD, which looks to launch the actress to a higher phase of her career and win her many fans in the horror realm. Among other honors, she’s been nominated for a BAFTA Rising Star Award, which is open for public voting here.
How did you find your way into Maud’s headspace?
I found it quite easy, which I think is slightly unnerving for people to hear. She made so much sense to me straight away. One of the big things for me with Maud, and with many of the characters I’ve played, is there’s a huge element of masking to her–like, she changes her name–and that’s something I kind of understand. When I was in school, I was in trouble a lot because I had ADHD and I was medicated, and just frantic. This kind of freaks people out when I say it, because it sounds scarier than it is, but I suddenly realized that I could be a good student in school, and I wouldn’t actually be learning anything. And Maud has taken that to an extreme point.
Maud is giving a performance of her own, in a sense, so how did you relate that to giving your performance as her?
I wonder, maybe Maud would have enjoyed being an actress, but probably not… That element really worked for me, because there’s such high stakes in her being potentially found out, so there’s this underlying, constant fear and panic about that in everything she does. Even when she’s checking Amanda’s pulse or tidying up the kitchen or cooking, she’s keeping a secret. That really helped me keep that sense of fragility.
How important is religion in your life, and if it is, how did you apply that to playing Maud?
I’ve grown up with half of my family being very religious and the other half not, so I’ve always thought about the fact that some can believe and some can’t, and both people are very, very close to me. So I was fascinated by that aspect of Maud: that she has not believed and now she has believed, and there’s this fear that she could not believe again, and that would be devastating. I’ve often thought, “Maybe I could believe in God tomorrow, and what would that do to me?” And then the idea that I would hold onto him so tight, because there would be such comfort there. Maud’s world before God was so hard, and the urgency and desperation to hold onto this one bit of softness in her life, even though she chooses to inflict harm on herself–I loved the hugeness of that idea within this very small life.
How did you work with Rose Glass to create the character?
Rose’s writing is just brilliant, so I saw who Maud was quite clearly, quite quickly. And then we just spoke a lot about everything, about life and stuff. We’re very similar in many ways, which is why she wrote Maud and I could play her. We had two days in this slightly dilapidated old music hall, and we went through the whole thing with me playing Maud and Rose playing every other character. We couldn’t go there for the final day, and we did one of the final scenes of Amanda in bed at Rose’s place. Rose was lying there trying to portray Jennifer, and her cat was incredibly noisy in the litter tray for the entire scene [laughs]. It was limited prep, but that didn’t matter because Rose had written such a complete character.
Were you able to spend any time with Jennifer Ehle before you started shooting?
Again, very briefly, because Jennifer was coming in from America and was only here for a certain amount of time. But she’s very warm and nurturing, and was lovely to me, and not having spent that much time together before shooting these two particular characters ended up being very useful. For the very beginning of Maud and Amanda’s relationship, mine and Jennifer’s reflected that, and then they quickly diverge in very different directions.
Was there any levity on set, or was it as serious during filming as it is on screen?
No, it was lovely to film. It was very relaxed, and I think that came from Rose and the producers. They trusted everyone, and always assumed we were doing our best, so everyone felt very free, and very passionate about wanting to make it the best it could be. But there was humor from certain members of the crew, and a lot of laughter brought to me in between takes, and I didn’t realize how important that was until after I was finished. I was like, “Oh gosh, if it had all been very doomy, I would have been empty by the end, possibly.”
Did you shoot the whole film on actual locations, and if so, did that help you create the character?
Yeah, Amanda’s house and Maud’s bedsit were next door to each other on the same road, so we were there for three weeks, and felt very at home there. We all had lunch above Maud’s bedsit and things like that, so there was no base we were leaving to get to set; we were there all the time. There was a feeling to it of being on a school trip, in a way, which was really nice. Then our last week of filming was in Scarborough, and we finished with the final shot, which had an element of exorcising ourselves of this story.
How was it shooting that cathartic moment, with all the onlookers there?
By that point, we’d been in Scarborough for a week, and the town was so welcoming to us. Many of the supporting actors were just people who worked in shops, so I’d met quite a lot of them, and they’d really wanted to be in a film set in Scarborough. When you watch that scene, they’re doing quite a lot; they’re collapsing to their knees repeatedly [laughs], on a beach in December, so there was true excitement and generosity toward getting it done. I find that moment very sad; I want Maud’s story to be different, but it isn’t.
That’s one of the great things about the film: The audience is with Maud through the whole story, even when she descends to a place where she does unspeakable things. How did you maintain that sympathy for her?
I’m a big Maud apologist; I found it very easy. My mum’s a pediatrician who’s worked a lot on inequality and social justice for children, and she has always blamed society for everything, and I think she’s right. Like, you can’t blame the individual; I think the real villain is the world that isn’t kind to Maud, a world that isn’t generous.
Have you felt any sense of frustration or anticipation given that the pandemic delayed SAINT MAUD’s release for so long?
To be honest, the whole thing has been very surreal anyway, and I could never have imagined it would be seen to the degree that it has, even with it obviously being a very different way of it coming out. The hunger for it on Twitter and so forth has been so heartening, and also, I feel very glad to be able to offer some new content. I think new content is just keeping us all going right now. Certain parts of the industry have been shown to be less important than you might have thought they were in the past, but other aspects have been shown to be more important; the escapism of stories and film has saved a lot of us, I’d say.
Getting back to your previous genre roles, what was your experience on CRAWL?
I was there for one day, and I had the worst period of my life! When I think about CRAWL, I get cramps [laughs]. It was so weird; I was on it for such a small amount of time, and obviously just doing a very domestic part of it. And then watching it, I was like, whoa, there are a lot of alligators in this, oh my God! That was a very different experience for me. CRAWL is great, and Kaya Scodelario is awesome in it. I love the scream queens, and Kaya is a wonderful one.
So you’re a horror fan yourself?
I don’t have enough conviction to be a super-fan of anything, but I love horror, and I particularly enjoy the discourse surrounding it. I think the thirst for new things and the applauding of bravery for trying different approaches is a wonderful aspect of horror. And also, so much of it is so inexpensive that many interesting things are done. A lot of horror feels like a studio play, where sometimes you see the most interesting, inventive things happen. Also, there’s an allowance for stuff to crash and burn in horror, which is ultimately the most creative thing. I am now such a fan of many horror-fan Twitter feeds, because their takes on stuff are fascinating. It’s a very open part of the film industry.
Your big moment in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES was cut out (but can be seen below). What happened there?
Well, I played Georgiana Darcy, and the reason I was sad this was cut was actually ’cause it was when Mr. Darcy was in his wet shirt, which is a vital part of the story for me! I arrived on set, and I had never done any kind of stunts, and we were in these Georgian dresses, and they asked me, “Can you swing a mallet in that?” which was something I’d never imagined when I was watching Jane Austen growing up. They said, “OK, we’ll show you how to do this stunt,” and I thought, “OK, cool. What trickery are they going to use?” And they were like, “You just hit him on either side of the head with these mallets.” I said, “What?” and they said, “Yeah, you just hit him. They’re kind of soft.” I was like, “This doesn’t seem like a stunt, this seems like beating up this man!” It was really fun, and it was a lovely cast as well. Lily James is a sweet, kind, lovely person.
Are you working on any horror-related projects right now, or do you have any in your future?
I don’t have super-future plans at the moment, but I would love to be in more horror. I watched MANDY the other day, and I was like, “I’d love to do something like that!” What I love about horror is that, and I feel this a lot watching MAUD, it also shows a world without horror, on the other side of the coin. There’s a lot of empathy in horror, and I want to go forward with empathy in the stuff I do.
Have you talked with Glass about reteaming on future projects?
Oh, I’d love to. I know she’s busy writing something at the moment, and I’m just like, “What is that brain making now?” I’m sure it’ll be something wildly different that none of us could imagine. I believe everybody who was on SAINT MAUD would leap at the chance to work with Rose again.