Fantastic Fest Interview: The Ancient Grievances of She Will
Alice Krige and Malcolm McDowell on the supernatural #MeToo horror
By Richard Whittaker,
5:56PM, Wed. Sep. 29, 2021
There are few actors with a presence like Malcolm McDowell. A burning impishness, a brash and cunning charisma. But he pulls back in conversation. "You really shouldn't be talking to me about this," he says. "You should be talking to Alice." "No, no," Alice Krige rebuts, "because it's all the same conversation, no matter who's having it."
It's not surprising that McDowell is eager to cede the floor. After all, She Will, the new film from writer/director Charlotte Colbert, is about a woman claiming a space that has been robbed from her. And yet it's also a duet, between abuser and abused, requiring empathy from both performers.
She Will, which received its North American premiere this weekend at Fantastic Fest and receives an encore screening tonight, deals with old wounds. Veronica Ghent (Krige) is an actress defined by her early success, but abandoned by the film industry for the obvious, pathetic reason: there is no place for an old actress. Yet the director of that first film, Eric Hathbourne (McDowell), is now a grand old man of cinema.
The inherent unfairness of the situation weighs heavy in Veronica as she broods in what should be splendid isolation at a Scottish retreat, recovering from surgery: But instead her trauma wakens much older ghosts.
She Will looks at the legacy of sexism in the film industry, and especially at how the business ignored grooming of younger performers by older directors, and now has never really acknowledged how it was institutionalized as just 'how things were done.' There's a fury in McDowell's voice: "We've seen this many times - look at Polanski, for god's sake. But I can name any directors who would do that directors, because they would do anything to make the actor better, good, whatever it needs. Whatever it takes to get a great performance."
Krige nodded. "And the interesting thing is that it doesn't just happen to women. It happens to men. ... And the victim is not just the victim of the act, but of their own inner process, which is, 'Did I do something to deserve it, or provoke it? I must be a bad person.'"
McDowell continued that thought: "And what's really damning is that, when the line has been crossed, the perpetrator moves on, and the victim has it for the rest of their lives. And that's something that's not really talked about enough. So when that idiot, that Kavanaugh guy, stands up and goes, 'I don't remember,' of course you don't fucking remember. It's the victims that have to live with it."
Austin Chronicle: Malcom, you came through at the time of the Angry Young Men, that era of British filmmakers and actors seeking a redress to social injustices and imbalance. That's in some ways prescient of films like She Will, but this time it's women getting their redress, and the Angry Young Men are the reactionary villains.
Malcolm McDowell: We never tend to think that we're playing villains or heroes - even though we often are. I've always thought there's good in everyone. Even playing psychopaths, to try and find some redeeming thing.
Alice Krige: And even if it's not redeeming, your job is to live inside their reality, not to put a label on it.
MM: Exactly. And I'm thinking about A Clockwork Orange, because its' the 50th anniversary so I've been talking about the fucking movie until it comes out of my ears. It's interesting when I think back that the brief was "here you're playing an immoral man. A rapist. A murderer. Now make him palatable for the audience."
Charlotte Colbert: Malcolm brought these element to the character, these elements of him having this past but he's also quite reflective, and these moments of being alone with himself, grappling with himself.
AK: Which, actually, I find extraordinarily poignant. That you have the public man, and then the man, alone, in the dead of night, with himself.
MM: With his demons.
AK: And that, I think, is one of the enormous strengths of the movie. That you see the man with his demons. And Veronica is not pleasant, at all. She could hardly be crueler to Desi (her nurse, played by Kota Eberhardt). Neither of these are particularly pleasant to be around, and what Charlotte has created is so complex that you see the whole person - or more than one aspect of what it is to be human.
AC: They're both profoundly flawed, capable of cruelty but also moments of grace. What's different is how they are treated by society. He's getting the knighthood, and she's in exile.
AK: That's an interesting perspective, how society decides to treat one lot of people and not another lot of people - and who is society? Who determines those attitudes?
AC: In the film, Veronica is recovering from a double mastectomy. It's such a common medical procedure, one that has a deep impact on the women who go through it, but you rarely see it in film.
CC: Totally. I think it was so important for us, this idea of being able to switch what was the wound, what was the scar, into something that is the character's strength, and that moment of self-acceptance becoming the open door to healing. And you had that amazing conversation ...
AK: It was, on a certain level, quite frightening to do because it felt like an enormous responsibility to portray that. I had a conversation with a friend who had a lumpectomy before, and she left me with one thought, which is, "You've got to be the phoenix rising from the ashes."
But I discovered, two months after we finished the picture, that another friend was about to have a mastectomy, and she went through the whole of the Covid lockdown having both breasts taken off, locked down, alone. She got terrible inflammation of the wound - in fact, the director had left some cancerous nodes and after lockdown was over she had to go back. She'd sat with it, this seroma pouring out of her breasts for six months because the nurses wouldn't come see her. She wasn't allowed to go out except for chemotherapy.
I spoke to her constantly throughout, and I called Charlotte and asked, was there enough of the hurt? Because I felt, in hindsight, that I hadn't gone far enough. But you can only go so far, because you are telling a story with an arc, and you have to serve the arc.
But my friend has gone through hell, and come out the other side. I will ask her to come to the screening in London, but I do so with my heart in my mouth, because I'm praying that women who have gone through that are not going to look at it and go, "Fuck, she didn't get anywhere near what we went through."
AC: But there's also an element of denial, that Veronice refuses to admit that she is anything other than she was before the surgery.
AK: Because if she did that then she'd have to go on the journey she ultimately goes on.
North American premiere
Wednesday. Sept. 29, 7pm at Alamo Mueller