*This interview was originally published on September 15, 2019*
Someone recently asked me where all the buzziest movies are during this year’s TIFF. It turns out that they’re in the Midnight Madness program, specifically Rose Glass’ film Saint Maud, starring Morfydd Clark. It’s a fantastic film, with more than one or two “holy shit!’ moments and with an incredible lead performance by Clark as Maud. Saint Maud is about a religious nurse who is consumed with attempting to resuscitate a sick patient. Complications ensue.
Definitely keep an eye out for both Clark, who is destined to be a star, and Glass, as this is her debut feature (!). I sought out interviews with both of them (along with Jennifer Ehle, who gives a memorable supporting turn in the film) before I knew how great the film would be and also before I knew how much I would enjoy speaking with both of them, as Clark was free of pretence and Glass was unique in her introspective answers.
The following is condensed and edited from a series of two separate one-on-one interviews at TIFF in a downtown rooftop space.
Brief Take: This film is very challenging and challenges the status quo.
Rose Glass: Good!
BT: Do you want to challenge the norms?
RG: Totally! I wanted to make films since I was very young, and when I was first getting into movies, it was things that were shocking to a 12-13-year-old, it was that feeling that got me most excited by it. It’s that sort of feeling of watching something maybe that you shouldn’t be and the combination of being shocked and afraid of something, but at the same time, feeling like you get it and there’s something in it that you understand. That feeling is kind of what propelled me into wanting to do this, why I would like to make films that hopefully give people the same kind of feeling.
BT: What were your some of your touchstone films?
RG: Pi, I remember, the Aronofsky film, I found that so exciting because no films like that would ever screen at the cinema where I lived, and it was sort of realizing: “Oh, films can be like that“, they can be really weird, that’s great. And quite early on, when I started getting into that sort of thing, my Dad heard that, okay, so you’re interested in films? Okay, and he sort of turned up from work one day and he gave me a video and he was like: “I walked out of this film in the cinema when I saw it. I don’t get it, but if you’re interested in films, maybe it’s something you should watch”, and it was a VHS of Eraserhead. I was like 13 and I watched that and I was like: “Ahhhhh, amazing!!!” It was all very exciting. Growing up in the countryside of Essex, I found it quite boring, I was sort of a loser, I didn’t have many friends, so watching cool, weird films was…[laughs]
BT: Do you think of Maud and yourself as reserved, quiet people, Morfydd?
Morfydd Clark: I think to a degree, yeah, and I think that I also identify as someone who thinks they do things wrong and wants to do things right, which I think is what drives her hugely. She’s constantly trying to do things properly and gets it so wrong. I think that lots of the doors for lots of the things that Maud had experienced were open a bit and I had to throw them open and dive down to them…yeah!
BT: How did you feel about the themes that are brought up by this film?
MC: I think that what I really like about this film is there’s no villain. I know that Maud does very dark things but I think that the villain is society that’s cruel, and I think that’s the thing that we have to keep reminding ourselves in these current times, that if we want to, we can change that. We can not be cruel and isolating and I feel, yeah, really glad that I’m in something like that because it’s so important. I think that it’s also similar to David Copperfield, because everything that happens to David Copperfield didn’t happen to Maud. It seems like everyone there is like: “If you can help someone, why not?” and reach out your hand if there’s someone out there that needs help to stand up. And being in both of them together has been really interesting to me, because I think they really juxtapose each other.
BT: Do you feel like the film is set in a particular time?
MC: I do feel like the film has a particular time because I live in London at the moment, and I do feel like I sometimes get very overwhelmed by how sad everyone looks if I take the tube and such. Everyone is striving but getting very limited rewards. It’s hard to find somewhere to live, homelessness is on the rise, so all this [sighs] like for example, in London, because stuff’s so expensive, it’s so hard for anyone to try to rent somewhere to live next to their friends. So you have people living all over the place, with no one who they know near them, and that’s not how we’re supposed to be. We need to be around people and in that sense, I think that it’s quite ‘for now’, because I think that everyone has kind of retreated a little bit lately out of fear and circumstance because things are a bit tough.
BT: Can you feel a bit like an outsider in London?
MC: I feel very Welsh and I’m glad that I got to play Maud as Welsh. I’ve not really ever thought of how Welsh I am, [chuckles] but when I was watching the movie, I was like “All these people in Toronto are watching a Welsh woman go through something really weird”. I felt really proud and pleased that I was part of that representation. [giggles]
I think that another thing that I liked about Saint Maud is that we’re often not interested in quiet women and we don’t think that they have an inner life, and her inner life is way beyond and darker and more violent because women who are a bit meek and quiet, it’s a bit like the idea of when they go home out of people’s eyes, they disappear like they don’t exist. A bit like: “If a tree falls in the wood and no one’s around to hear it” [chuckles] and that’s what I love about this. I also love that the audience isn’t allowed to ignore her in the way that it’s being filmed. She’s right there, no one else in the world is looking at her. No one cares, but we’re forced to be like: “Look what we’ve done!”
BT: You did an interview discussing female-driven films, but I would still be interested to hear more about your unique viewpoint on the subject.
RG: Well I think that’s a sign of progress, already, hopefully, because the fact that it’s been so important, that it’s obviously been a very good thing, that there’s been such big public discussions about gender in film, representation and how women are treated. But obviously, as a filmmaker, I’m not as interested in that. I want to make films and have people judge them on their own right, and if they like them, great! If they don’t like them, I don’t want my gender to come into it, really. But I’ve personally had a very positive experience. It’s not really a thing about which I very much think, but I’m aware that this is a very different experience for women working in this industry in the past, so I guess that’s a good thing. [laughs]
BT: This is a funny film!
RG: Thank you! I kept saying in development: “It’s going to be funny, I promise”. And in development, people would be like: “Really?” They wouldn’t be quite so convinced. Because I guess that on the surface of it, there’s a version of the story that could be incredibly bleak and depressing, but I never wanted it to be entirely that. I wanted us to be with Maud and for it hopefully to be a bit of a roller coaster and an exciting experience.
BT: How much would you like audiences to lean into its metaphor or would you like them to create their own interpretation?
RG: I’m happy for people to decide for themselves, really. I mean I’ve got my interpretation of what I think is and isn’t happening. I like the idea that potentially someone, like you or someone that has faith and belief in God, you could kind of interpret the story that still works at that level, even if you don’t think…I don’t know! I like people to decide for themselves.
BT: Do you want to start a conversation with this film?
RG: Totally! I mean I wouldn’t want to in any way prescribe what should be that conversation or message. I’ve spent the last years of my life sort of obsessively thinking about every aspect of this film and story, and I feel like anything I would say….I wouldn’t say it as well, I don’t know! [laughs] I’m not as good at talking about it, but if it gets people talking and thinking about things, then that’s only a good thing.
BT: Do you feel like Saint Maud is a game changer for you?
MC: I feel like it’s the type of story that I have always wanted to tell, which is that it makes people feel that they want to be more compassionate and kinder. I have ADHD and have always embarrassed myself because of my impulse control, so I’m very much aware of what it feels like to do stuff wrong and feel like an idiot. I kind of wish that this face [makes a face] would be gone from human vocabulary, like “that’s weird” face. I think that Maud’s experienced that on a huge scale, and I think that it’s such a gift of a role. I feel so grateful to have done it.
BT: What do you think is the role of this film to bring about social change?
MC: I think that despite being such a dark film when I see something that’s horrible or dark, it always makes me think of the opposite. I hope that by showing the darkness, the opposite is showing, that where there wasn’t, there could be light. I feel that it keeps me awake at night a lot thinking about being of any use and making sure that what you are putting out there is not harmful but also can add something. I think it can because when I’ve been at low points, so many films have brought me out of it, but also films have made me love people and they’ve made me understand people. And that’s what, in terms of female-driven films, is really exciting about now- obviously there’s casting opportunities, but as a woman, it’s great being an audience to all of these. I definitely understand myself more. For, from example, Eighth Grade was a film that was like: “Oh, I wonder what that would like, if I’d seen that at the age of 13”. That was another film that I just wanted to go in and embrace her.
BT: Where would you like your personal arc to head from here?
MC: [pauses] I would really like to do things that make people…I love representing weirdos. [laughs] I really do!
BT: Like the Patron Saint?
MC: Yeah! [laughs] I think I find that very satisfying and in a self-serving way. I feel like [chuckles] I am helping the world and understanding myself by showing that, like I think that we should all be nicer to strange people, [laughs] which maybe I think of myself as one.