Drop whatever you are doing right now and stream The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix. It is a beautifully crafted, timely and layered project coming just in time for Halloween, although the scares on the show are of a different variety (you’ll see what we mean). As the gardener in the eerie setting of Bly Manor, Amelia Eve is a revelation, a discovery perhaps equalled in surprise (who’s THAT), by her co-star Victoria Pedretti in Mike Flanagan’s previous chilling tale The Haunting of Hill House.
Speaking on the phone from London recently with Amelia, it was a strange but pleasant experience as she sounds different than her character, Jamie and…you know what, watch the show and come back to this condensed and edited version of our exquisite phone interview with the lovely Amelia Eve, the breakout performer of The Haunting of Bly Manor.
Brief Take: You’re such a major aspect of this project and it’s like you were fated to be at Bly Manor. How did you come to be involved in this series?
Amelia Eve: What a fabulous question! Well, I cast for it. I sent off an audition tape. I actually only sent off one audition tape with four different scenes in it. And I didn’t hear from them for a couple of months and they booked me, straight off of that, which was pretty, pretty incredible! [laughs] Yeah, it was off of one take, which was very cool.
BT: This was a pretty magical series in that it develops in an unexpected but beautiful way. What was it like to film it?
AE: It was incredible. I feel very, very blessed to have had this experience. When I first auditioned for it, I had no idea what the character was. I kind of thought that my character was dead. [laugh] Because I figured it was some kind of The Others vibe, something was happening, I wasn’t sure, they don’t give too much away when you get your sides. I had no idea that my character would grow into what she became. And yeah, just… [singsongy] my heart is so full [laughs] so full when it comes to Jamie’s progression in this story. Very, very cool.
BT: How did you craft your portrayal of Jamie? What do you lean into to play her?
AE: I was quite lucky. So my character was one of the few that wasn’t taken from a Henry James novel. Jamie was created by Mike (Flanagan) specifically for Bly Manor, which was very cool. When I first met Mike, he was so wonderful and he explained how much Jamie meant to him because of this and was super open to collaborating with me, which was amazing. I kind of sat there working away on my backstory [chuckles] and my character’s history and what she had done in her life, based on the information that Mike had given me. When I shared it with Mike, he loved it so much that he incorporated a lot, a huge amount of the work that I had researched and put together to create her and incorporate that into the story, which honestly, blew my mind. [laughs] It was very cool, very cool.
BT: What do you look to as your anchor within this paranormal environment of Bly Manor?
AE: For Jamie, she managed to avoid most of the paranormal and anything that was particularly…she manages to avoid most of the scary stuff, to be honest, [laughs] all the way through. She’s very grounded in reality, which was really useful because I got to indulge in Jamie, the character, the individual. Following on from Hill House, how do you follow on from that one, I have no idea. We just ran with it and poured our hearts into it and hoped that it would have the same impact as Hill House. But in terms of the rapport with everybody on set, the crew, the cast, just wonderful, honestly, the most incredible experience, truly.
BT: The ’80s time period that the show takes place in must have been fun to inhabit.
AE: Yeah, we got to use the ’80s as a period. The costumes were fabulous in that respect, again, they really helped transform everything in that way. And the set, the set design, kind of everything that you would cook in the ’80s. That kind of stuff was great in terms of grounding it in the period. In terms of how different it was from Hill House, Mike was hugely involved in the first season and he directed every episode and he edited every episode and he oversaw everything. Whereas in this one, he gave a little bit more freedom away and he brought in some new directors, people that he liked their work, and he gave them an opportunity to film some of the episodes, which was wild for us because it meant that we got to indulge in a whole new director’s take on things. Every couple of episodes it would transform slightly, but then at the end of it all, it was all edited by Mike and overseen by him, anyway, it still had this overarching view that was continued that would have come through from Hill House, which came from Mike. But it still had this freshness and something unique about it, because there’s such a collaboration involved in it. And I think that shows, I think that’s part of that uniqueness.
BT: How do you take The Turn of the Screw and transform the material into this fascinating spin on it?
AE: The merging of all the different stories is what hugely enhances that, definitely. Merging of Henry James’ other short stories to form one giant Henry James sort of appreciation. [laughs]
AE: They were fab! They have this…they are very different people, but such wonderful qualities in both of them. It must have been really unusual for both of them having worked on the first season and having it blown up so much and then coming into this new one and it is [laughs] so very different. But what was nice is that they were kind of a bit of an anchor as to how to go forward. They helped make sure that we were all looking in the same direction to make it like elements of Hill House. We kind of kept it going in that respect, and as individuals, they are fabulous. They really are just good eggs. The cast are fab.
BT: Outside of the series, in your own life, do you believe in ghosts and in the supernatural?
AE: Hmmmm, I am undecided on that. Ghosts aren’t necessarily something that scare me, the idea of them. I used to have to walk through a graveyard every day to get to my Uni and it was never the idea of ghosts that was scary, it was always the idea of a person [laughs] hiding behind a grave that was more scary, because I think that humans have the capability to be scarier than any ghost. [laughs] I don’t rule out the idea of ghosts either. In my opinion, I think that it’s more of an energy thing and there’s an energy that hangs around from somebody, as opposed to the classic person in a sheet [laughs] jumpin’ out at ya, sort of thing.
BT: Similar question: outside of the show, do you believe in the idea of love?
AE: I am. I am. I think…but love in many forms though. Love in that kind of filial love, love in friendship form I think is so powerful. Possibly, in my opinion, the most powerful. And romantic love: absolutely. I’m definitely a believer in love and how it kind of raises the stakes in most situations, which is what I think is a big theme in this, in how much love and romance actually elevates a situation and how much you’re willing to put on the line for love. I think that it’s a huge impetus.
BT: What were your expectations about how immersive this world would be as opposed to getting to do things on set that you had never before done?
AE: Ooooohhh, I personally had never before been to Vancouver, so going there in itself was quite an experience. Shooting, I think that it was meant to be set in spring and that didn’t quite happen [laughs] because it was snowing, and I mean a lot,[laughs] and I think that’s why we adapted in terms of the season. But in terms of immersion, it was really interesting because many of the cast are British and it filmed to be set in England, it was really bizarre filming in Canada, a British show with Americans. [laughs] There were a lot of layers and translation happening. [laughs] But it was cool because it kind of felt like a bit of home, too. Because we were basing it in England and all of us who were sort of far away from home still in a way had that element of ‘back home’, which was really cool.
BT: On the phone, you speak differently than you do on the series. You are from London, right?
AE: I’m from London, yes.
BT: What sort of accent did you use and was it meant to sound a bit like you were “out of place”?
AE: When I first read for the character, I had a feeling like she was Northern from the Midlands, Northern England, my family are from up North. They all have that kind of [talks with a more Northern sounding accent] with which they all speak. And as I was reading her, I just got an energy from her that she was Northern, and I did my first self-tape with my own accent and I just didn’t feel like it was hitting, and then I did another take with a Northern accent…and I didn’t send that one, but something felt right about it. And then I did one more take but with that same energy and that was the take that got me the job. When I got there, I was having a chat with Mike (Flanagan) about it and I was researching the character and where she could have learnt all of the skills she could have learnt and why she is the way that she is and why she carries herself the way that she carries herself, and I proposed that I got this sense that she might be the North, that she might be a Northern girl and Mike was really up for hearing that and for seeing how that went. I did a couple of versions, one with my own accent and one with a Northern accent. And Mike loved the Northern one! And he was supportive enough to let me go with that one. And that was really cool. It felt like he needed that, it felt like that brought her to me in a way. It felt like that right from the get-go as soon as I read the script.
BT: You have an incredible monologue that serves as a bit of a turning point of the series. What was it like for you to shoot that scene?
AE: Incredible. Very nerve-racking, but wonderful. Mike had pre-warned me that we were going to do a monologue, a chunky one in episode six, I didn’t quite know what to expect and then he turned my backstories that I had written into the monologue, [laughs] which was pretty wild. Yeah, I felt very close to the monologue because I had contributed so much to it. That was a really beautiful moment for me and Victoria (Pedretti) shared that with me, which was really lovely. That was…honestly, that’s something for which you can only dream as an actor, to be able to contribute to a monologue that you get to sit there and do for six minutes [laughs] and just to have that for me on my first big job…that was huge. Huge! [laughs]
BT: Have you had a chance to experience the series as a viewer? Are there elements that surprise you?
AE: I have, yeah. In terms of watching it back, it’s hard when you’re involved to have a distanced enough perspective on things. But there’s moments in which I am watching it and going: “Oh, I remember who farted in that scene, or…” [laughs loudly] moments from which I can’t separate myself. [still laughing] But yeah, I really enjoyed watching it. And I’m just so curious to see what everybody else is going to think. It was really cool hearing that you really enjoyed it, when you picked up the phone first thing, that was great.
BT: Bly Manor explored aspects of horror in a manner that surprised me. What do you think of that presentation?
AE: Yeah, it feels like it almost highlights the fact that we almost all carry some sort of horror within us. Or the horror is actually just a manifestation of the internalized issue that we either choose to address or not address or of which we are in denial and things like that. And that’s really where the true horror is. Because anything that we are watching, any creation of the ghost in our minds, or if you’re at home and you hear a strange noise and your heart starts opening hugely, it’s because your insides are creating a horror. You’re internalizing something for which you are afraid or you’re creating it in your mind and that’s what I think horror is. Also what’s incredible about this is that it really addresses that horror isn’t necessarily what you see, it isn’t a big scary monster that chases you down the street, it’s actually all of those internalized issues that we so much press down in many ways. I think that is where true horror comes from. Mike does that so well. He did it with Hill House as well I think in that same way.
BT: Do you see Jamie as transforming in the series and how do you go about playing her throughout?
AE: She definitely transforms. I agree with you there. I think that Jamie does start quite closed off, she’s more of an observer than anything, she’s present but she’s guarded. She’s got a lot that she doesn’t say and she distances herself in order to protect herself. I think that moment, that monologue that you mentioned, is huge. It’s probably the most words that Jamie has ever said in her life. [laughs] All in one go. So that’s probably why it comes out in this verbal diarrhea in which she starts speaking and it’s almost like a purge. It’s like the more she says, the more it is cathartic and she enjoys getting it out of her system, and I think that this does have a huge impact on her as an individual. And having somebody who she can talk to has a huge impact and it allows her a little bit more to breathe and grow into her happiness, because I think she needs…she shuns herself from happiness for quite a while. Yeah, that’s definitely a huge turning point for Jamie, she transforms, which is very cool.
BT: How has this series helped you to transform?
AE: I walk around daily with a massive grin on my face. [giggles] I am chuffed from the tips of my toes to the top of my head, I really am. In that way, [laughs] hugely, it’s a big, bubbling ball of joy in my belly that I can’t wait to share with everybody! [laughs] But on a simpler level, I am obsessed with gardening. I didn’t know how much I bloody love gardening. Jamie is the bomb! And genuinely I have listened to her and I take on what she says and the words that she says and in that monologue, it struck me internally to my core, and I feel that same joy when you put your heart into something, you watch it grow, it’s beautiful. So yeah, she’s with me forever more. And for that, I’m very grateful.
BT: How do you think that people are going to respond to this rich and layered and sumptuous series?
AE: I hope in that way. [laughs loudly] I hope that they’re going to like it the same way that you do. I love the way that you see it as a standalone thing because I think there is always a worry with a second season or film or sequel to anything that it’s going to be compared and it’s not going to be as good. But if it stands alone as its own thing, then it doesn’t need to tick certain boxes, it just exists and breathes on its own, and I hope that it can do that for everybody, I really do.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is now streaming on Netflix