Fans of the acclaimed BBC crime drama Luther and the Showtime series The Affair are already well-acquainted with Ruth Wilson, the versatile British actress whose very first BBC drama, the 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre, earned her a Golden Globe nomination. Since then, she’s appeared in both high-profile productions like Anna Karenina and Saving Mr. Banks and smaller films like I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, in addition to her extensive work on television.
This week, Wilson stars opposite Domhnall Gleeson in Room director Lenny Abrahamson’s The Little Stranger, a character-driven mystery drama flavored with a touch of the supernatural, based on the novel of the same name by Sarah Waters. She took some time to speak with RT about her Five Favorite Films, noting, “These are all gonna come from my childhood, basically, because I think that’s what defines what you watch.” What we got was a rather unique list — including one TV series — for any pre-teen, as well as some insight into Wilson’s new film and the ways in which her father and three brothers influenced her movie taste.
The Warriors, only because it was such a brilliant… Well, actually, the reason why is because I did it as my first-ever stage play. We did a staged version of The Warriors, which is absurd, and it was, like, a lot of British kids running around hitting each other with polystyrene baseball bats. It was such a theatrical version of New York, of the gangs in New York, and it was visceral and sort of fun and energetic, and I loved it. I watched it when I was probably about 11, and kind of loved it.
Another one is The Holy Grail because I love Monty Python, but also, I knew all the lines by heart. I used to watch it all the time as a kid. Lots of people prefer Life of Brian, but for some reason, I just love Holy Grail. You know, I’m a bit of a history buff, so I just loved all that stuff.
OK, Twin Peaks, which isn’t a film, but a TV series. Again, I watched that as a kid, and I just thought it was so weird and wonderful and scary. I just didn’t get it, but I loved the music. It was so, sort of, haunting. I’m putting everything from literally the age of eight to about 12.
Dirty Dancing, because it was my first big romantic movie I watched. I was under age. I wasn’t allowed to watch it, really, but my cleaner gave it to me, and I loved it.
Schindler’s List. I remember, again, I was under age. It was all experiences I wasn’t really allowed to be having, you know. So, I went to watch Schindler’s List. My dad was like, “OK, we’re taking you to the movies. You have to watch this movie. It’s an important film to see.” The cinema was packed out, and I was probably about 12 or 13, and it was just incredibly moving and overwhelming for a 13-year-old to watch, and the visuals of the girl in red in this black-and-white world, things like that. It’s just really ingrained in me. I remember the experience of going to watch that with everyone, and being moved.
Ryan Fujitani for Rotten Tomatoes: That is a pretty interesting list for a young person to have…
Ruth Wilson: I was quite weird, I think, maybe. I was the youngest of four kids, so by the time I came along, my parents couldn’t be bothered with stopping me watching things I wasn’t allowed to watch. My brothers would watch something, and it was very hard to say no to me, so I would watch what my brothers were watching. I was kind of intrigued and interested in weird and wonderful things, you know? At a young age.
RT: All of your siblings were brothers?
Wilson: Yeah. Three older brothers. Might explain a bit of it. [laughs]
RT: You mentioned your father took you to see Schindler’s List. Was he also an influence on what you saw and what interested you?
Wilson: It’s interesting. So, my dad, he did himself use to go to cinema a lot when he was a kid. I think he loved the process of going to the cinema, really — the experience of that — and back in their generation, it was a weekly thing to do, or a family entertainment thing that they would do a lot. So we went with him quite a bit, yeah. But I’ve always loved the shared experience of being in a dark room watching these epic tales being told and being lost in the world of that make believe. That probably did come from him, yeah.
RT: You’re in this film The Little Stranger, which is based on a Sarah Waters novel. Did you read it beforehand, and if so, how did it influence the way you played the character onscreen?
Wilson: No. I read the script first, but it enticed me, and then I read the book, and there was lots of description in the book that wasn’t in the script, necessarily, about [my character] Caroline. It’s weird, because it’s through Faraday’s (Domhnall Gleeson) eyes in the book. You know, he’s the protagonist, and it’s through his rightly subjective view, so the way he visualizes Caroline is slightly fetishized in the book, and it’s kind of specific, and it’s sexualized. But it’s not about the curves of her body and the way she walks on daily walks. It’s kind of exaggerated, I think, perhaps in the book, or through his eyes, but I wanted to incorporate some of that into the character.
This is definitely not a glamorous aristocrat. She’s not someone who has men running around trying to hook up with her or marry her. She is definitely on the edge of being a spinster, and I think that had to come across, that she wasn’t comfortable in the skin of being a glamorous aristocrat. She’s practical, she’s bossy, she’s no-nonsense. Her mother sort of slightly despairs at the fact that she has a daughter who’s completely unglamorous and has no hope of getting a partner in life. I think that’s what I wanted to bring into it, so my physicality changed, and we had padding. I wore hip and bum padding, and I had sort of slightly more protruding teeth, which made me speak differently. It was about my physicality, really, in those dresses, that I just didn’t look comfortable in all those outfits. I much preferred my wooly jumpers and my big corduroy trousers. And my relationship with my dog — you know, with Gyp — who was my best friend there, so it’s a woman who’s a practical outdoors lady. That was in the book, and that’s what I tried to bring into the piece.
RT: Some of the events in the film are left up to interpretation, and it reminded me a bit of My Cousin Rachel. Rachel Weisz was reluctant to offer specific thoughts on the film’s mysteries, but I’m wondering if you have any personal take on some of the events in The Little Stranger.
Wilson: I don’t know. I might follow Rachel’s suggestion and say it’s up to the audience. I think it’s a bit of both, to be honest. I think [Caroline is] a very practical woman, so she would not want to believe supernatural goings on, but there’s something definitely odd at play, an energy at play that she couldn’t explain by the end, so I think it’s a bit of both. There is a supernatural element, but there’s something psychological, and there’s something unnerving about the people at the heart of this film, as well, and whether they have any responsibility in it. Kind of an energy beyond human control, I think.
The Little Stranger opens in limited release this Friday, August 31.