Yesterday we spoke with Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie, the stars of the acclaimed new horror drama THE WITCH, about getting gored by goats and why 17th century Puritans were a lot like 21st century actors. CHeck out the first part of our interview here.
Today, our conversation with the two loquacious actors continues, with stories about filmmaker Robert Eggers’ eye for period detail, how they each developed unusual quirks on the set of the film, and what adulthood really means.
It’s the second half of our extended interview about THE WITCH, which opens this weekend. The movie tells the story of a family of Puritans who are beset by paranoia, religious fervor and – possibly – real life witchcraft. See this remarkable new film in theaters on February 19, 2016 and find out a lot more about the production, and the intriguing actors who brought the story to life, below.
Blumhouse.com: A lot of this movie isn’t didactic in any way. It doesn’t explain a lot of the lore of witchcraft. Like, writing your name in the devil’s book is a thing…
Ralph Ineson: Yeah.
BH: And yet you never say, “Here are the rules of witches.” Did you do any research? Did Robert Eggers recommend any books, or…?
RI: Both really. We had a certain amount of research recommended by Robert, but what we had was Robert. When we were working with him…
Katie Dickie: …he’s a walking encyclopedia.
RI: …he’s a walking encyclopedia.
KD: He spent four years researching the period, to the point where he says himself, “disgusting amount of detailed research.” He was so entrenched in that period. I would be amazed if you asked him something, he’d be like “Mmm… I don’t know.” Because he had to make sure that nothing was like… I mean, the set was built in the old-fashioned methods because he found out circular saws didn’t get used [until] a hundred years later. They would have made the wrong marks.
BH: People would have noticed that.
RI: Rob would. I’ll tell you that much. Rob would.
KD: So any grooves, lines, anything you see in that set are ones that would have been there. Our costumes are hand-stitched right from…
RI: My stockings were made from wool, from the right species of sheep, in the Plymouth plantation.
BH: I hope you got to keep them.
Ralph Ineson: No, I didn’t get to keep that. No. My souvenir was the plaster cast of the goat’s horns.
BH: I think you earned those. What did you keep…?
KD: I don’t keep things.
KD: No, I don’t keep things from my characters. I box them all up at the end. I thought about my pouch. Because I do, I think, “People are getting [souvenirs],” and I think, “What should I take?” I think “No, I just don’t take things,” so I just put it away.
What I did end up leaving with, which was a lovely surprise, was the costume designer gave sheets of little bits of cloth, and some of the drawings she’d made of my character. I’ve got that and that’s lovely. And amazingly her drawings, before I was cast, they’re just me in the drawings! So I tend to leave my characters behind, and I mourn them and grieve them and then try to move on.
BH: Backtracking a little bit, you said Robert did give you some research material. Books? Did you have to read the MALLEUS MALEFICARUM or THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS or…?
RI: Articles about various things online, he’d guide us to, rather than full books. You got into…
KD: I got into THE PRACTICE OF PIETY, which is a Puritan’s prayer book, because Katherine prayed a lot, and I thought, “Right, I can’t just [murmur], that would be awful, but I can’t just make it up.” So I went back to the Puritan prayer book and I would pick prayers I felt would suit each scene and learn them. I mean, I’m not talking massive but just lines that I thought, even if someone hears a word [they’re] not going to go like, “Well, they never said that then.”
And I also had this other book, I can’t remember the name, it’s like “Housewife’s Book for Puritans,” about how a Puritan wife should act, what she did for the family, how she made things, how she cleaned things, how she’d defer to her husband, what she should do. You know, every aspect of a Puritan wife. Because I was just worried about suddenly doing something modern without realizing it.
But apart from that, Rob was our research. As Ralph said, he’d have articles of things. He’d say, “Look at these, right?” and so on. But I wouldn’t know actually what books they were from…
KD: …or what the names of things, we’d just get stuff to read. He didn’t say “You have to do it,” he’d just say, “There it is. You use it to your advantage.”
RI: He had me watching a lot of… I can’t remember the name of the director… a Ukrainian director from like the 1920s. [Laughs.] He had me watch a lot of his films to get the stillness of those kind of very stoic characters in his films. He made me watch a lot of that kind of stuff, to try and get this kind of…
KD: …the stillness…
RI: …the stillness, and the carved-of-wood nature. The wood carving kind of nature of William, the character.
BH: Was that your natural inclination to start with, or did that come out of conversation?
RI: That kind of stillness was something that obviously, yeah, I had to find a way to find. But all the way to find it Robert helped me with…
KD: And you used your fantastic instincts anyway, do you know what I mean?
RI: I had a funny one. You often wonder why suddenly the physicality of characters arrives. I remember Jason Isaacs telling me a story that his Malfoy in the HARRY POTTER series was always like this [pulls his head back, nose in the air]. That’s purely so that the wig doesn’t get caught in his waistband. You’d think obviously that he’s incredibly arrogant, a dark wizard, you think it’s all that. It’s not at all. It’s just so that the wig doesn’t…
KD: …the wig doesn’t catch in it? Oh, I love things like that.
RI: When I got halfway through the shoot, whenever I stood as William [gets up, stands with legs apart] my feet were that wide apart. I thought, “That’s really wide! Why have I stood like this?” and I realized in my room at the hotel […] the mirror was really low.
RI: So when I was doing work in the mirror, I was standing like this. So whenever I got on set I [stood] like this, to get myself two inches lower.
KD: I thought it was because the fact that house and eaves were so small that you’re kind of like that. Oh, that’s great. I love hearing these little things.
BH: A lot of people talked about David Bowie’s codpiece in LABYRINTH, and apparently I just read that was actually a sack full of incense because the guy who was his hand double, for all that sphere work, had to be crouched down right there. He was trying to be considerate but it made him look like he was wearing a codpiece.
RI: Interesting! Interesting!
KD: I love hearing these little tidbits that you would never guess.
BH: Has anything like that ever come up for you, any odd tic or practical thing that’s affected your performance?
KD: I’m trying to think of Katherine, if I started doing it. There was a lot of wringing of hands with Katherine, but I don’t know if I developed any tic as such.
RI: You always used to walk… you spent a lot of time preparing the corn stacks.
KD: Oh yeah. You know those corn stacks, our crops? My nickname for them were “my morning maids,” because to Katherine they’re like, in the cold light of the morning, all these women ‘round the house. And I would walk… I did actually… I spent time and I would lay against them. They became like my women. But they were crops. [Laughs.] I’m like, “No, I don’t have any weird… oh, yes I do!” I do some weird things.
BH: Well, Katherine didn’t have anyone her own age to talk to other than William.
RI: Other than the shouty proud man!
KD: Katherine was oh, so grief-stricken.
BH: You have to start out that way. You’re already distressed in the prologue.
KD: Uh-huh. It’s not a happy film for Katherine, or a happy time. She was really happy in England, and they had – we’ve talked about this – a beautiful love. Strong-rooted love. But unfortunately getting taken away from all her family and following Will, and then the baby, it just.. it breaks her.
RI: We always thought it was really important too, even if it’s only us acknowledging it, for the performance, for the family to acknowledge how good it was before they moved away. And how much love there was in this family.
KD: Yeah, that we remember the good times even though the audience in the film don’t know anything that happened. We reminded ourselves a lot of the time of the love that we had before the film started, and the good place, because for all that Will and Katherine could have done terrible things, I never doubted that it was a union of true love, you know? But it just gets stretched beyond the breaking point.
BH: You’re constantly trying to fix it, so it can go back to the way it was…
KD: The stress of him trying to fix it. I know…
RI: Just making another bad decision on top of a bad decision, and hoping that that bad decision will actually cancel out all this kind of stuff.
BH: I worry that that’s all adulthood really is…
KD: It is.
BH: Oh no!
KD: It is. [Laughs.]
RI: That’s exactly what it felt like when I read it. It’s just like, it’s such a modern way of living. He just felt like a modern man going, “Shit! Oh fuck… Okay, well if I do that… okay, that’ll work… so I’ll borrow that from there and then I pay him back…”
KD: Oh, horrific. And that, it’s a modern story. I mean maybe the constraints on especially the women are so tough, but all the dynamics, all the arguments, all the “You’ve done this,” it’s so…
RI: Even the “Don’t tell your mum” scene that William and Caleb have…
KD: Yeah, it resonates so much with anyone today, I think