As people set out to achieve their biggest desires in life, often times they’re also forced to embark on a distressing journey to find their true sense of self and ideals in the process. Their wish to obtain their personal goals is often tested as they begin to face conflicting values and obstacles that are brought against them by the people who seemingly care about them the most. Director Guillermo del Toro created another captivating fairy tale that explores that all-important process of self-discovery during times of disconcerting struggles between families in his upcoming horror fantasy film, ‘Crimson Peak,’ which is set to be released in theaters by Universal Pictures on Friday.
The Academy Award-nominated scribe, who co-wrote the script for the drama with Matthew Robbins, and several of the movie’s actors, including Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston, recently participated in individual press conferences at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City. The writer-director and actors all discussed how the ideological evolution of the characters in the film’s equally credible and mythical universe relatably contended with their wish to find true love and start a new life, even though they knew they could never actually escape the ghosts of their pasts.
‘Crimson Peak’ follows Edith Cushing (Wasikowska), a young aspiring author who’s living with her father, Sir Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), in Buffalo, New York, at the turn of the 20th century. Since she was a child, she has been haunted by the loss of her mother. She’s also struggling with her ability to communicate with the souls of the dead, who mysteriously warn her to beware of Crimson Peak.
Considered to be an outsider in high society, due to her willful imagination, Edith soon finds herself to be torn between two suitors: her childhood companion, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), and the seductive Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), another outsider who embraces her for who she truly is. When Edith’s father then suddenly dies a mysterious death, Thomas sweeps her away to his luxurious family estate, Allerdale Hall, which is a vast gothic mansion in the remote British hills. Set atop a subterranean mine, the blood-red clay that seeps through the snow and stains the mountainside earns the land the name of Crimson Peak.
As she begins to adjust to her new life in the towering gothic home, Edith must also adjust to also living with her husband’s sister, Lucille (Chastain), an alluring woman whose affection to her new sister-in-law hide a secret agenda. Edith must also contend with her nightmarish visions and crimson ghosts, and is forced to decipher the mystery of what she’s seeing as she’s soon forced to fight for her life. At the same time, Thomas must decide whether to fight to save his wife or sister, Lucille must keep her dark past hidden and Alan is forced to contemplate how to save the love of his life from a continent away, as love turns to madness and nightmares become reality.
While initially discussing how Edith’s ever-evolving personality is reflected in her diverse outfits throughout ‘Crimson Peak,’ Wasikowska noted that the horror film had a fantastic costume designer, Kate Hawley. “There was a lot of symbolism in the costumes, not only in the colors, but also the shapes,” the Screen Actors Guild Award-nominated actress revealed. “Guillermo and Kate always had this idea that Jessica’s character was like a moth, and my character was like a butterfly. So they always had these costumes that included these various sized wings for me…So yes, I do think there was an emotional connection to the costumes, which show how (Edith) becomes more vulnerable…as she ends up in this troubled romance that isn’t what she expected.”
Chastain also chimed in on the comparisons her and Wasikowska’s characters have to the animals, saying “From the very beginning, Guillermo talked about moths and butterflies. We see Lucille talking about that in the beginning of the movie, and she says, “Black moths thrive in the dark and the cold, and butterflies are beautiful and fragile…Lucille sees Edith as a butterfly. Even though Lucille sees Edith as fragile and not being able to survive in this world, and she sees herself as being capable of surviving in the dark and the cold, there is this love for this person…She starts off wanting to protect this fragile, beautiful girl.”
In addition to collaborating on Edith’s costumes, Wasikowska added that it was an overall great experience to work with del Toro on ‘Crimson Peak.’ The performer stated that the director has such “a creative artistic vision for his projects. As an actress, working with a filmmaker who has that vision really helps you know where (your character’s) coming from…so that experience is really wonderful. It helps give you a strong sense of who you are, and where you’re coming from.”
But Wasikowska also admitted that in some circumstances, the visuals the director created did “suppress the emotional freedom that you feel (as a performer), since things are pre-planned, and you have to abide by him the best you can. But Guillermo never really sacrifices the emotional drive for anything visual…he’s always so free with us actors, and is always willing to move something, or do whatever it takes to help us emotionally.”
While Chastain also embraced working with the BAFTA Award-winning filmmaker, she laughed as she admitted that playing a character like Lucille that he created was daunting. But the actress insisted that it was exciting to not only collaborate with del Toro, but also Hiddleston and everyone else who worked on the horror film, as “I think they’re all incredible. But I really underestimated the toll that this character was going to take on me. But I was really excited to play Lucille, and I get really happy when I see her in the film.”
The two-time Oscar-nominated actress also revealed that playing her role in ‘Crimson Peak’ was so emotionally stressful at times, however, that she decided to leave the movie she was scheduled to take part in right after she finished working for del Toro. She laughed again when she added, “There was never a day where I thought, this is a fun, light day for Lucille!”
Wasikowska, who previously worked with Chastain in the 2012 crime drama, ‘Lawless,’ also said that it was enjoyable to act with her, as well as Hiddleston, on the fantasy drama. The performers who played the newly married couple in ‘Crimson Peak’ previously co-starred in the 2013 romantic horror drama, ‘Only Lovers Left Alive,’ which lead the main actress to say, “It’s always nice to work with people who you know, as there’s a level of comfort there. Tom’s very devoted to his craft, and is lovely.” She then divulgled that their characters and their on-screen relationship in their upcoming film is different from their first collaboration.
When then asked why Edith would be attracted to Thomas, who’s revealed to have villainous qualities throughout the story, Wasikowska admitted that “There’s that terrible thing that women do at least at least once, where the mysterious person is more attractive than the constant, stable guy. Charlie Hunnam’s character probably would have been the better choice” for her protagonist.
Lucille “is definitely the darkest character I’ve ever played,” Chastain admitted when she was asked if her equally corrupt character has any redeeming qualities, besides loving Thomas. While the actress did emphasize her character’s antagonist ways, she added that “I found that every act she commits is to give and receive love…Whenever Thomas would do anything wrong when they were children, Lucille would take the punishment for him,” the performer explained. “The way she showed love for her brother was to be beaten for him.”
Chastain added that while they were filming, she said to Hiddleston, “I don’t understand. Everyone tells me that playing the villain is the most fun. But I’m not having fun. What’s going on?” She added that her co-star told her, “It’s fun to play the villain when they’re having fun doing what they’re doing.” She laughed when she then noted, “Lucille doesn’t really have a good day. Maybe if I got to play a character who was enjoying the suffering she was putting on people, I would play a villain again. But for a little bit, I’m going to look for more positive characters to play.”
When asked if he feels his villainous character is misunderstood, Hiddleston admitted that he hopes Thomas “confounds the expectations of the audience. Initially, he is very charismatic and charming, but behind the charisma, you see somebody who has some guilt and shame. Behind the guilt, you also see some vulnerability.”
The Marvel Cinematic Universe actor was also asked if he’s drawn to play characters who are master manipulators, and laughed when he answered,, “I see the inclination of the question…I don’t know why I play those characters, but I haven’t just played those people. I always want to play different types of people.” Hiddleston added that as a performer, he’s interested in “complexity, and exploring different shades of humanity…I’ve also played a lot of soldiers…I’m interested in life, as it isn’t easy for anybody. When I see characters in scripts who are struggling with something, I find that compelling.”
Hiddleston also spoke about the parallels between Thomas and Loki, his character in the Marvel films, including that people become responsible for their actions as they strive to protect their family’s legacies. “I think we become responsible when we become conscious (of our family’s sins), and we do nothing about it,” the BAFTA Rising Star Award-nominated performer admitted. “One becomes accountable when one becomes aware of the costs of one’s actions, and continues to follow that course of action,” he added.
“Part of being alive is shifting through your inheritance, and not just parental inheritance, but also the cultural inheritance from your friends and teachers. I think it’s good to question what’s being passed onto you from other people,” the actor also admitted.
Hiddleston also divulged that Thomas’ personality and actions do change once he marries Edith, as he feels that “love is a powerful force. I do feel that Thomas falls in love with Edith, and it changes the course of his life and his choices…What he does as a result of that does change all of them. The story is about the power of love, particularly a love that’s pure and honest with Edith,” as opposed to the twisted love he has with Lucille.
Wasikowska added that while Edith and Thomas do develop that pure and honest love, she may have sympathized for Hunnam’s character the most in the film. “Alan was still drawn to Edith, even after she married Thomas. He’s the reliable, dependable guy who’s overlooked,” the actress said. But she also admitted that “It’s easy to lose your way as you get caught up in the blur of romance, so I can sympathize with Edith (in that sense).”
When he began discussing the female characters’ feelings of love in ‘Crimson Peak,’ del Toro revealed that he wanted them “to take charge of themselves, and acquire confidence. The really important love story for Edith is that she learns to love herself and survive.” The director added that he loved the role reversal in the scene when Wasikowska said, “Wait here, I’ll come back for you, I promise. That’s the line that guys usually say in movies.”
“You really rely on the director to guide you in the right direction, and educate you about the tone of the film,” the film’s lead actress explained when asked about collaborating with filmmakers like del Toro on fairy tale stories. But she added that ‘Crimson Peak’ felt different in quality from other gothic, fairy tale and historical-inspired films she has previously starred in, such as ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Jane Eyre.’
Wasikowska also explained that she’s attracted to the films with dark themes, as people are “more repressed in everyday life. There’s always an emphasis on being polite and kind, as people should be, as that’s a civilized society. But I think there’s a certain release you get from exploring the dark side of your psyche.”
While she then admitted that she’s not a fan of slasher films, Wasikowska added that she feels like ‘Crimson Peak’ “is a mix of drama and romance. The horror’s very much in the context of the film.” The actress laughed as she added, “While (Edith) spent a lot of time in this film being sick and in bed, Guillermo did promise me, ‘Next week you can stab somebody!’”
Chastain also divulged that playing the dark, action-driven scenes in the horror fantasy film were difficult. But she felt that working with del Toro was helpful in bringing those dark moments to the screen, as the director and co-writer “had written each of the characters a 10-page biography. It started from the moment the character was born, and continued until when the movie starts.” The details the filmmaker included in Lucille’s biography helped the actress figure out the reasons behind her menacing actions.
Besides relying on del Toro’s biography ofLucille, she added hat “Whenever I play a character, I always think about three movies I can be inspired by. For this film, I thought of ‘Misery,’ ‘Rebecca’ and ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?.”
Hiddleston also spoke of the preparation process he took on for the horror film, saying it was really focused on syncing his ideas and visions with del Toro. “He gave me some books to read, and guided me to Ann Radcliffe’s ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho.’ It’s a classic gothic romance novel,” he explained.
The actor also divulged that del Toro “had such extraordinary collaborators” on his crew, including Hawley and the film’s production designer, Thomas E. Sanders, whose work also helped him understand Thomas’ motivations. “Within about half-an-hour of me saying ‘Yes, I’ll take the part,’ Guillermo loaded me into his car and drove me over to (Pinewood Toronto Studios, where the fantasy film was shot). Tom Sanders showed me a miniature model of the house. So I got to see Crimson Peak five months before we began shooting. So I went back to London with the house’s image in my mind,” Hiddleston noted. He also revealed that Hawley created a big wall that was filled with “paintings and images that inspired her from the 19th century, including the way people worked on the land.”
Also speaking about creating the look of the Sharpe mansion on Crimson Peak, del Toro said that he decided to make Allerdale Hall full of “curves and gothic revival,” so that it can reflect the life the family has been leading. “Gothic revival is super swanky. They decided to build a four-story foyer, but then they couldn’t afford to repair it when the ceiling rots. So that tells you the story-it’s a grand mansion with a hole in the heart,” del Toro explained of the Sharpe’s deteriorating finances and place in society.
When asked if the Sharpe’s house shocked her at all while she was filming, Wasikowska said that “It’s a strange thing to remember what it’s like to be scared in those circumstances, as (the set’s) always super bright. Even if (a scene was) dim in the film, there were still about 100 lights on the set. There were also 100 people standing around, so it’s the least spooky place to be.”
The filmmaker added that besides creating a biography for the house, he also felt compelled to do the same for the principal actors and their characters. He added that as soon as he chose the cast for the horror film, he began working on the characters’ biographies, and they were then “passed to the wardrobe design and production design (departments)…I told them, you have to embody these biographies, including what they wear,” as well as the world the audience sees them live in, the director further explained.
When asked what her favorite scenes were to film after receiving Lucille’s biography, Chastain laughed as she said, “Not playing the piano! That was a very stressful thing. I probably enjoyed the scenes where Lucille’s in her nightgown, even though they were violent. There’s something in the moment when she loses the constrictive clothing. She’s then free to be who she truly is.”
The Golden Globe-winning actress added that she tries to make each of her characters as realistic as possible. She explained that she feels that’s important, because “When you look at genre films, you constantly see the incredible female performances, like in the three films I mentioned earlier. But then you also have Nicole Kidman in ‘The Others,’ Sissy Spacek in ‘Carrie’ and Naomi Watts in ‘The Ring,’ and you realize again what phenomenal female characters there are in this genre,” Chastain said. She thinks these performances are a result of the situations in these films being heightened, as well as the fact the characters “go through a huge emotional journey. So I try to make a human being from the words on the page, and try to make her as real as possible. That’s why it was so difficult for me to live in (Lucille’s) skin.”
When asked if she believes that the experiences Edith has with the ghosts in ‘Crimson Peak’ can actually happen, Wasikowska revealed that “I believe in the slightly more metaphoric ghosts, as people, events and things can haunt you. What I think the film points out, which is very true, is that the most dangerous thing (in life) can be people.” The actress also admitted that “The ghosts in the film are there to remind her that the people she’s with are the ones she should be scared of.”
Also speaking of featuring ghosts in ‘Crimson Peak’s story, del Toro said, he didn’t want to use them “in the normal way, where they are evil or demonic. I wanted to use them in the way that (writer) Henry James described gothic romance. He said in gothic romance, ghosts prevent the characters from moving into the future.”
When Wasikowska was also asked if she specifically choose not to make Edith appear as though she was not just afraid of the ghosts she sees, but also Lucille, for most of the movie, the actress revealed that “Over the course of filming, that changed a little bit. I was worried that (Edith) would be very submissive from the beginning” if she did seem to be frightened of her sister-in-law from the time they first met. “I think to get out of that mental torture and abuse, you have to have a strong sense of who you are in the beginning (of the story)… Guillermo was great in allowing Edith to keep that strength, and to be aware that something wasn’t right from the beginning, so that she wasn’t too victimized.”
One of the emotional challenges Chastain experienced while playing Lucille was that she filmed ‘Crimson Peak’ at the same time she shot last year’s crime drama, ‘A Most Violent Year.’ Earlier this year, she received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture, for her role of Anna Morales. “So I was flying back and forth between New York and Toronto. I would be playing Anna when I was in New York, and she’s so open and sensual…She was fun to play. Then I’d have to go to Toronto and play this uptight woman, who doesn’t allow any vulnerability,” the actress noted. She added that in order to ease back into her role of Lucille when she flew back to the Canadian city, she would look at pictures of the most disturbing images that she could find, which she hung in her trailer. “That really helped me decipher between the two characters.”
Chastain added that about a month after filming on ‘Crimson Peak’ wrapped, del Toro emailed her and said, “‘I’m in the editing room, and it looks amazing.’ I emailed him back and said, ‘I had a really hard time leaving the film. I had to leave another movie, and I’m just starting to feel like myself again.’ I think the only thing you can really do to remind yourself of the goodness in your life (in such situations) is to be around your loved ones.”
Written by: Karen Benardello