Jan. 17, 2013 - Issue #900: The ongoing musical evolution of Hannah Georgas
Mother may I?
Mama's Nikolaj Coster-Waldau digs into the heart of horror
The feature film directorial debut for Andrés Muschietti—done under the watchful guidance of Guillermo del Toro in the executive producer's chair—is a chilling tale of two sisters, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) who have somehow survived in the woods for five years after being abandoned. However, they weren't alone. A ghostly being, who has her own tragic story and motives, cares for the girls and they begin to see her as a loving mother figure. When the girls are finally found by their father's twin brother and devoted uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who some of you may know better as Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones), they are feral beings scurrying around on all fours, growling and recoiling at any human affection. Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel (a rocker-chick version of Jessica Chastain, complete with smudgy black eyeliner and some serious ink work), take the girls in, but the pair continue to exhibit strange behaviour: talking to the walls, playing with an unseen being and constantly mentioning "Mama," who isn't about to let her children go.
It's billed as a spookfest, but Mama manages to shy away from genre clichés by adding a human element to its titular character, rather than portraying her as an all-out bloodthirsty monster. Instead, she hits a nerve in creating suspense and tapping into underlying psychological fear, becoming a character who is much more than a simple antagonist.
Vue caught up with Coster-Waldau via phone prior to the film's premiére to chat about the cast and crew, fear and making Mama a reality.
VUE WEEKLY: First off, what attracted you to this story and this role?
NIKOLAJ COSTER-WALDAU: Well, I think it was always a combination of things. Starting with the script—which I really like—and I was surprised by the beginning, because I didn't expect it to start right at a massive drama. The father has a breakdown and kills his wife and he takes off with the kids, and that kind of surprised me and also got me really interested because you know, there's some great scenes and very strong scenes also in the cabin when he wants to kill himself and then he can't. And then of course the movie takes a different turn and changes course. I like that. I saw the short that Andy Muschietti did that the movie's based on, and I thought it was just tremendous, the way it was shot. It was so scary and you only have two minutes. And there's a tracking shot that starts on the floor and they follow these kids down and it was clearly done by a very talented guy. And then of course Guillermo del Toro producing—I'm a big fan of his—and Jessica Chastain playing the lead; it was like a combination of all those things.
VW: What do you enjoy most about exploring the horror genre?
NCW: I mean, I guess it depends on who you ask, "What is horror?" I don't really see this as a horror movie because for me, horror is more about gore and blood and this is a ghost story. All the characters, even Mama herself, have strong emotional reasons for doing what they do. I find that more interesting than straight-up horror, so and what attracted me is not the genre. I like the script and the people and whether it's a thriller or a comedy it doesn't really matter. It wasn't the genre that attracted me.
VW: What was it like working with Andy and Guillermo?
NCW: It was Andy's first feature, and he's a very experienced director, like 10 years of great commercial work, but there's something great when someone does something for the first time. You sense a rawness and an eagerness—he is a perfectionist—and then of course you also have Guillermo del Toro, who is producing, he's not directing. He was very respectful of that. It wasn't like there was a second director walking on set. It was Andy's movie, but his knowledge of this film and of filmmaking was a huge help for Andy and they were so close because we were shooting it in Toronto and at the same time Guillermo was shooting Pacific Rim on the stage next door, so it was a great relationship.
VW: Let's talk about the actual character of Mama for a second. She can be dangerous, but she also has this softer side that you can almost empathize with. What do you think that adds to the story?
NCW: I think it's in a way a gutsy move to do, because you're used to the ghost or the monster to be an evil entity out to destroy or kill, but here you get to know her a little bit and you can, I think, sympathize with her. It doesn't make it right what she does of course, but she has real feelings for these girls. That is interesting and I think also the fact that they chose to, when we shot it, have a real being there. We had this amazing Spanish performer/actor, Javier Botet, who is very tall and skinny, and it's like he has no joints. He can move his body in all these ways. He's amazing. He moves like Mama and you just don't believe it. Guillermo brought in the team that worked with him on Pan's Labyrinth and this team came from Spain to do Mama. It was five hours of makeup for Javier, but when it was done ... it was quite something to work with this ghost, this horrible monster and she was actually there because usually when you do stuff like that you end up working with a tennis ball. But here we had the real thing.
VW: How do you think a story and a character like Mama can tap into some of our own fears?
NCW: I think it's very universal and we're born with this fear of the unknown because it's like instinct ... if you don't know, just be aware and it might hurt you. I mean, I'm sure when you were a kid as well, you had sleepovers with your friends and one night you would start telling ghost stories or something really scary. We like those stories and I think it's part of being human: there is this fundamental fear of what's out there and stuff we don't know, and I think it's a very basic thing.
Directed by Andrés Muschietti
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