Well known in Britain, Claire Foy stars in the much anticipated revival of the BBC series Upstairs Downstairs, which will air on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre early next year.
In her first motion picture, Season of the Witch, she doesn’t even have a name – she’s just known as ‘The Girl.’ But her role is pivotal to the story. Set in medieval times, her character is imprisoned by a dying Cardinal (Christopher Lee), who is convinced she’s a witch, because everywhere she goes the Black Plague breaks out.
The Cardinal threatens a pair of warriors who have just returned from the Crusades, Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) to accompany the girl to a distant abbey where she will be put on trial.
How did you become involved with the project?
I got the job in the normal way, I auditioned for it and I sent my tape off to America. I think whenever you go on tape for anything in England and it gets sent to America you think, ‘I’ll never hear about that again.’ And then Dominic (Sena, the movie’s director) came over and I met him and I loved him. I think he’s brilliant, and then I did the job.
From beginning to end it was such a laugh, and I learned so much. It’s the first time for me that I’ve been amongst a group of men like that, it was just me and all these knights, but it was wonderful and I never felt like I had to be one of the boys. I just was myself, and everyone took everyone as they were. It was a cool set.
Tell us a little about your nameless character!
My character is sort of a Typhoid Mary. Everywhere she’s been, the Plague has appeared. Therefore, she’s a witch. It says a lot about how women were treated at that time.
She’s just a young girl and all these powerful men are accusing her of something horrific. You never quite work her out, and I think that’s important, because the men don’t either. She’s neither a femme fatale nor an innocent girl, but she is so intelligent that she’s able to pit all the men against each other to get what she wants.
Do you see this as a supernatural film?
I didn’t really see it as supernatural. I saw it as the character in it, and the story of the girl in it.
As a newcomer, your character had to be intimidating, were you intimidated by the other actors?
Weirdly, the first day on the job I was intimidated. I think it was blind panic. In that situation, you’ve got to get on with it. You have to do it because people are waiting for you to do your job.
I mean, Nicolas Cage is a star. He’s so enigmatic and shiny on screen. I wasn’t necessarily nervous about meeting him, but I felt like it was his film and that if he didn’t like me, I was buggered. But when I met him, he was such a lovely, funny man that I was instantly at ease.
And Ron can’t go anywhere without being recognized as Hell Boy. But he’s so gracious about it and he’s hilarious. When you’re working with people who do their jobs so brilliantly, you just get on with it.
After I’d done my first scene with Nic, I felt fine, a lot more comfortable. It was four months so by the end of it, if you were that petrified all the way through, I think you’d have a heart attack. It was probably one day of fear and then it was normal.
What was it like playing a seductress?
It was easy, it comes naturally (she laughs). I’ve always said, as a young actress it’s rare when you get a chance to play a part with so much pluck and gravitas to it. I’ve always thought of her like a man really, which is easier. Then you have to be able to go, I’ll do this now and I’ll do that now. Dom was good about letting me push it further. Do that and try that, and getting a different performance each time.
Did it make a difference to you as an actress to be on location rather than on a soundstage?
Oh yeah, massively, especially these locations. We did a lot of night shoots as well, and that was scary in itself. It definitely made such a difference; they were such grand, beautiful, majestic locations. It really helped with the scenes.
What was the challenge for you in playing the witch, as you had to play an ingénue sometimes and then a villainess?
I thought the character was brilliant, because it gave me a lot of scope to be lots of different things, and that’s what I love about acting. It was definitely a challenge. But I thought about playing a role, because my character does play a role so it was quite good and I could go all over the place with it.
What would you like the audience to take away from this movie?
I think people are going to fall in love with Behmen, to be perfectly honest. I think everyone is going to be rooting for him and hoping that everything turns out alright.