Irish stars reunite for gothic ghost story ‘The Little Stranger’
Irish duo Domhnall Gleeson and Lenny Abrahamson are back together for a gothic horror story set in an old English house, writes Esther McCarthy
Having worked together on eccentric Frank, Domhnall Gleeson and Lenny Abrahamson again join forces with a very different project.
In gothic ghost story The Little Stranger, Gleeson plays Dr Faraday, a man called to assist at Hundreds Hall, owned by the Ayres family for generations. There, in 1940s England, he finds a household in decline and a family in turmoil.
For Abrahamson, back to work following an extended Oscars campaign for Room (it was nominated for four, including the director himself, and won best actress for Brie Larson), it offered him the chance to immerse himself in something different.
“I’d read the novel when it came out and I’d wanted to do it since then,” he said. “It was just such a whirlwind, the whole Room thing, and it was really good for me to just be able to say ‘What’s the fixed point?’ and it was to just proceed with the plan as it had been beforehand.
Though in some ways The Little Stranger feels like a departure Abrahamson has always mixed it up, telling different stories ever since he first captured our attention with the terrific Adam & Paul, about two Dublin heroin users.
“This is different in many respects, that’s for sure. It’s period, it’s a drama which has a ghost story aspect to it. I don’t think I’ve directed it like a genre piece. Certainly some of the advertising for it emphasises those aspects. And there is a gothic dimension for sure.
“I think there are things about it that are similar to the previous films. Characters who don’t know themselves very well, I’ve always been interested in those. It’s there in What Richard Did, it’s there in Frank.”
The movie, also starring Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling, sees him return to work with Gleeson, who joked the filmmaker is “like the Horse Whisperer” in always knowing what to say to inspire his cast.
“It’s sad to say but sometimes you find yourself protecting yourself on set a little bit because you’re unsure of what is required or you’re unsure of what people want,” said Gleeson. “So you’re like: ‘Maybe I’m exposing myself in a way that isn’t a good thing’. When Lenny’s walking over with an idea or a note, I’m always excited about that, I’m happy, because I know it’s going to help. It’s going to open things up and make things more exciting or more clear. That’s not always the way.”
The actor was originally offered another role in the film, he said, before approaching Abrahamson about the character of Dr Faraday, who in the novel is in his forties (Gleeson is 35).
“With Domhnall I’d always take that seriously because I know he wouldn’t have said it, wouldn’t have been interested in it, if he didn’t have a really big taste in his mouth about it,” says Abrahamson. “I was convinced and we got Lucinda Coxon, the screenwriter, to shift the story around a little just to allow that to work. I think what it does is, for a contemporary audience particularly, is it allows the relationship between Faraday and Caroline to hold for longer as a real possibility.
Gleeson adds: “I was just kind of fascinated by him from the opening page. A lot of the time the action that’s written in scripts, as opposed to the dialogue, is incredibly boring. Lucinda had written this brilliant script, the action that was there was really important.
“The way they would just describe moments with Faraday, I found the ambiguity of it not confusing, but compelling. That there was more there, it wasn’t just ambiguous for its own sake. It’s important to wonder what’s going on underneath because he doesn’t know himself. I just got drawn into that world and then obviously the notion of being on set with Lenny everyday for a prolonged period of time is just incredibly attractive. The material just felt so deep, it felt so full. And I knew that Lenny was the right person, always, to explore something where there’s more than meets the eye.”
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
In the movie, Gleeson again presents us with a convincing English accent. It’s something he seems to have perfected in numerous roles recently, and Abrahamson revealed that the actor likes to stay in accent between takes on a shoot.
“I had a couple of bad-accent incidences when I was younger,” he says. “As time went on I realised it was just not something I wanted to worry about. It just felt to me like less of a gamble. It’s just about not having to go: ‘Oh shit, what’s the accent?’ before the start of a take, or scrap the take because your accent wasn’t good. It’s the worst.
“On this one the accent is very particular, and probably about the trickiest one I’ve done. There’s a bit of Warwickshire in there so it’s not just posh English. There are a couple of country vowels in there, but it can’t feel like an accent where you’re constantly surprised by it, ’cos that’s just distracting.”
Abrahamson will soon start work on an adaptation of Sally Rooney’s acclaimed new novel, Normal People, which has been long-listed for the Booker Prize.
The TV series centring on two people from the West of Ireland, produced by Element Pictures, will be made for BBC Three. Why did he feel it would work best on the small screen?
“It’s episodic in a way because it moves through time over the course of a number of years, and there’s something about being able to look in real detail at very specific conversations they have, at days they spend together.
“I feel like I don’t want to be pigeonholed as somebody who does book adaptations, but it’s for television which is a little bit different, and it’s just so good I couldn’t not do it.
In the meantime, however, his focus if very much on the goings-on in a strange house in England.
The Little Stranger opens in cinemas next Friday