SPACE: How did you get involved in the project?
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau: I read the script and the first five or ten pages surprised me. I knew it was a ghost story, but it read like a domestic drama, like a story you read in the papers. Then, of course, it takes the turn. And I loved the ending, I thought, “That’s gutsy, that’s a different way of doing it!” After I saw the two-minute short that Andy [director Andrés Muschietti] shot and which the movie was based on, I thought that was just amazing. Plus, it was really scary! Which surprised me because it’s so short. Of course, Guillermo del Toro was producing, and I’m a big fan of his. I liked the director’s work, and Jessica Chastain had the lead. There was so many things I liked about the project.
The film is morally complex. Your character is basically forcing a family on his girlfriend.
And that’s a credit to Jessica. She wanted to make her character have dark hair, the tattoos, be as far away from the housewife as possible.
No Tree of Life mom here.
Exactly, she wanted to get as far away from that, so that when Annabel says she wants nothing to do with these kids, you believe it. And I love the fact that the first scene you see with her she’s taking a pregnancy test and she goes: “Yes! I’m not pregnant.” It sets the film up for something interesting.
Can you talk about the performance of the two girls?
When you read a script like this you think: “This could work, but you have to find amazing girls or this won’t be a good movie.” I don’t know how they did it. It’s a credit to the casting director, but they found Megan, who plays Victoria, in Vancouver, and the younger daughter, Isabelle, in Montreal. She spoke hardly any English. They both gave great performances, which was crucial. The ending, which breaks some rules and I think was gutsy for Andy to do, only works if you believe in the girls’ performance.
The film nicely balances realism and some fantasy.
That’s funny you say that, because early on we accept the ghost as a given. But it does have that supernatural feel to it and I like the fact it has a poetic ending. So many times you have a ghost story and in the end the ghost is gone and we’re all happy. But here, it’s more complex. The ghost is real [and given a back story] and we have to believe in that. It's like a fairytale.
How much was del Toro involved?
He was shooting Pacific Rim on the soundstage next door [in Toronto] and he was very hands on. But he never crossed that boundary where it felt like a second director was arriving. He was very respectful of Andy, but very supportive as it was Andy’s first movie. Del Toro knows so much, and is so smart and clever, and Andy knew that so he used that wealth of knowledge.
So it never felt like: “Oh, teacher’s coming in to check on us!”
No, no. He’s not that kind of guy, he’s very funny and caring. And at the same time he knows exactly what he wants—and he will tell you if something’s wrong!
You’ve worked in so many genres—high fantasy in Game of Thrones, action in Black Hawk Down, and here horror—
But would you call this a horror movie?
Yeah, I would. I was creeped out.
Ok, The Shining. Is that a horror movie?
Well, some say you can read it like a comedy, but yes, it definitely is.
But what do you call the Saw franchise then? Because when I think of horror I think of that, of gore and violence. In Denmark we have another word for that, we call it “splatter.” Of course, “horror” in the old days was Hitchcock.
Yes, it was psychological.
Yes, but horror now has become the Saws.The only reason I’m saying it is because if people go into Mama expecting blood and gore they'll be disappointed.
But it’s great this feels more like classic horror.
Well we’ll all go home and watch The Shining now.
Oh, don’t do that!