If you haven’t watched The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix yet, what are you waiting for?! Whether you like horror films, family dramas, or just well written, beautifully constructed character pieces, the show is definitely for you. Starring Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Katie Siegel (who had all previously worked together in Gerald’s Game), Elizabeth Reaser (who worked with Hill House‘s co-showrunner Mike Flanagan and Siegel on Ouija: Origin of Evil), Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Game of Thrones‘ Michiel Huisman, the Shirley Jackson adaptation certainly feels like an authentic family affair.
We were delighted to chat on the phone with Scream Queen Kate Siegel (seriously, check out her exceptional performance in Hush, which she also co-wrote with creative and life partner Mike Flanagan). The following is a condensed and edited version of our conversation.
Brief Take: You’re one of those rare actresses that can convey so much in your facial expressions and your body movements. Fans of the movie Hush, like myself, really saw that talent of yours there and now we get to see more of you wordlessly saying so much in The Haunting of Hill House. How do you begin to craft your characters and where do you draw inspiration from?
Kate Siegel: Oh, thank you so much! I think as actors we’re really lucky when the script can do a lot of the work for us, which was the case in The Haunting. It’s a beautiful script, the source material is fantastic, and when they would get delivered, Victoria Pedretti would read them out loud because that’s how she processes, and just hearing the language was always a great place for me to start. So I always start with the script and I assume that most of the answers are in the script.
BT: A lot of actors say that they start to craft their characters with the shoes they wear as those characters, but I imagine that with Theo it was the gloves.
KS: [laughs] It was, yes! With Theo, it was also the body language. She’s so cold all the time and has been since she was a child, so that kind of tight feeling. If you just hold your body like that, it says a lot about a person.
BT: I know you had acted with Carla Gugino, Elizabeth Reaser and Henry Thomas before, but had you ever worked with Victoria (Pedretti), Oliver Jackson-Cohen or Michiel Huisman before? Because the Crain group genuinely feels like a family.
KS: I hadn’t! I met my family members when we started shooting. I think it was important to all of us to create a real family.
BT: What did you like best about working with each of them?
KS: Oh my gosh! Let’s see. Let’s start with the top and work our way down. [giggles] Carla Gugino is an angel walking on this Earth. She is one of the most talented and professional people I have ever met in my whole life. She’s such a role model. So it was really easy to kind of slide her into that maternal place. Henry Thomas is a laugh riot. He may be the funniest person I’ve ever met. [laughs] So it’s just so much fun to spend time with him. He’s my go-to when we have downtime on set, to see what Henry is up to. With Michiel and Elizabeth and Olly, they are people who are just even keeled. They’ve done this job many times – all of them have extensive resumes – and so they’re always great to give advice. And Victoria, we really bonded as sisters, you know? It was her first job ever, it was my first series ever, and so we were able to connect on what it felt like to be holding a winning lottery ticket.
BT: There’s an entire fandom devoted to Theo and Trish, and rightfully so. It’s still so rare to see a realistic depiction of an LGBT relationship on screen and one that’s not played for the male gaze or as the one and only aspect of a character. Can you talk a little about that and had you ever worked with Levy Tran before?
KS: I hadn’t. She was fantastic! She brought this sort of alpha energy to Trish that I just thought was dynamite. On the page it reads like Theo is a real frat boy and she kicks out Trish, which is so hard on her. And Levy brought this calm, assertive energy, sort of like Cesar Millan. [laughs] Theo was the misbehaving big dog. And it really worked, because you definitely didn’t want Trish and Theo to move anywhere towards a power imbalance or an emotional imbalance. We came up with this idea that when Theo touches her in the club, it’s one of the first times she touches someone and it was like “I need more of that”, and that’s what scares her away. It’s not that she’s dismissing Trish, it’s that she can see a future with her, and that’s very scary for Theo.
You talk about representation and I think Mike Flanagan did a wonderful job of creating a lesbian character who is a fully fledged person first and her sexuality is second, and I think that is really important in terms of representation. We get to know these people as people, because our sexuality is only one aspect of our personality. Theo is a great example of that – someone who is next wave lesbian because she came out, her parents were accepting of it, and she’s just been that way. That is not what tortures her. [laughs]
BT: As a result you’re now a role model to so many women everywhere. Who are some of your role models?
KS: Oh my gosh, Ruth Bader Ginsberg! I would say my mother, Hillary Clinton, Anaïs Nin, Shirley Jackson, who was a feminist writer even before that was a thing. I guess I gravitate towards a tortured soul. [giggles]
BT: Who are some of your on-screen heroines?
KS: [excitedly] Ohhhhh!!!!! Ripley from Alien. [giggles] There’s always a touch of Ripley in everything I do. I think she’s just amazing. There’s this scene, I believe it’s in Aliens, where the monster rears up behind the female pilot and this chick, and I gotta find her someday, she doesn’t scream, she doesn’t wince, she goes for her gun, and of course she gets eaten alive, which is terrible. For me, whenever I’m creating a character, I want someone who goes for their gun first.
BT: I don’t know if you’ve seen, but there are message boards and Twitter feeds and Buzzfeed listicles devoted to Theo. Why do you think she’s resonated so much with so many viewers?
KS: I think that Theo is struggling and people are struggling, and when they see that in real life and they feel it, it resonates with them. It’s that aspect of Theo that the character reveals in contradiction – that she is so tough and so hard to get to, but so clearly wounded and so desperate for human connection. I feel that in my real life and I know that other people feel that as well.
BT: You’ve worked with Netflix a number of times now. What do you like to watch on Netflix?
KS: Oh my gosh, I watch so many things on Netflix! I just binged Big Mouth season 2, which is so funny and inappropriate and delightful. I highly recommend it! I watch Maniac, I thought that was fantastic and Emma Stone is doing some incredible work on that show and I’m just mesmerized by her. I’m always watching new scary movies on Netflix because they put out great horror features.
BT: What else have you seen lately that you’ve loved?
KS: I have a small child at home so I’ve seen a lot of Little Baby Bum and Mother Goose Club. [laughs] But I will say that I just completely watched all of Channel Zero in one sitting. It’s the SyFy network’s horror show and it is awesome! I love watching that show. I’m a huge, HUGE fan of it and I’ve watched every season the day it comes out.
BT: At this point avid viewers of The Haunting of Hill House have found all sorts of easter eggs within the show, such as spotting all the ghosts and Bruce Greenwood as the ghost. What is something else that they should look out for?
KS: Oh, see if they can find the Oculus mirror!
BT: What do you like best about working with Mike?
KS: You know, he’s my family. He’s my husband and my family, so I feel very lucky to be able to work and create with the man I love. Also I think he’s a genius, so every time he puts me in one of his projects, I feel like that’s an ego boost.
BT: Who are some of your dream collaborators?
KS: Oh wow. Terence Malick – I think he’s working on another level and I love that. I’d love to work with Greta Gerwig. It looks like she creates a really inspiring set and I think it would be beautiful to be in her universe. I would love to work with Meredith Averill again, she was our co-showrunner, and I think her writing is so dynamic and exciting and I would love to be involved in her world. And you know who else I have a work crush on? Grace Coddington. [giggles] She’s the Vogue creative director and I’d love to do a shoot with her. I watched a documentary on Vogue and just listening to her talk about art and fashion, I’d love to spend time with her and just pick her brain.
BT: Viewers are really clamouring for a second season of the show, even though the final episode established closure for the Crains. That being said, do you think we could be seeing more Theo in the future?
KS: [laughs] Oh man, I am always the last one to know. [laughs] If people are interested they should tweet at Netflix and let Netflix know. They make the decision whether to bring it back.
BT: What do you hope people take away from the show?
KS: I hope that people take away from the show that the walls that divide us are also the walls that keep us so lonely. I also hope that it makes people reach out to their families, whatever that means to them. If they’re a family of choice or a family of blood or a family of a culture, I hope that people realize that that’s the answer to this loneliness that I think is pervasive in our day and age.
The Haunting of Hill House is now streaming on Netflix