“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
Daphne du Maurier’s 1930s bestseller Rebecca has had a number of adaptations, with an Oscar-winning adaptation from Alfred Hitchcock. However, this Netflix-produced adaptation’s director Ben Wheatley firmly says this is different from the others and is a modern take on the gothic novel.
Rebecca follows a new newly married woman who arrives at Manderley with handsome widower Maxim de Winter. The film shifts from sunny Monte Carlo to eerie Manderley where the sinister housekeeper Mrs. Danvers keeps the legacy of Rebecca, the first wife who has died under mysterious circumstances.
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At a virtual roundtable interview, we had the chance to speak with Lily James (Mrs. de Winter), Kristin Scott Thomas (Mrs. Danvers), and Armie Hammer (Mr. de Winter). They talk about making Rebecca, how this adaptation is different from the others, and even share the craziest thing they’ve ever done for love. Read the full interview below:
What is it about this story that makes it compelling psychologically?
Armie Hammer: I think the thing that makes this relatable and compelling is even though people were talking differently and wearing different clothes than we are now, they’re dealing with the same issues that we all deal with. And if you don’t believe me, ask your current partner about their ex and see how you feel about it.
What we are dealing with right now is people creating a false reality that they hide. In social media, everything seems like it’s just all peachy keen, and everything looks beautiful, everything smells like roses. This is what Lily’s character has done to Rebecca. She created this false reality in her head where she and Maxim were so in love, they were so happy together, everything is perfect, when in reality it’s pretty much the opposite of that. If these people knew how to communicate well with each other, this movie would be much shorter and they would be able to figure out a lot of their problems.
How do you think this adaptation is different from the other adaptations? How will it stand out from the others?
Kristin Scott Thomas: I think we’re playing very much on the ghostly atmosphere of it. Visually it’s different and extremely rich. I think that this is a version for 2020, expressing more strongly the frustration that is implied in the novel of being born female and of having to simply rely on the presence or absence of a man.
In Mrs. Danvers case, the absence because nobody really knows what happened to Mr. Danvers. I think he must have died in the First World War — so many women of that generation and of that age group lost their partners, their husbands, their fiances, their brothers, or their fathers. And so she is manless, and the idea in those days when the book was written of being manless made life extremely difficult. And now we can see that more clearly since we have a better distance from it so we’re able to consider and weigh up what that actually means, and I think that where this film differs.
How did you feel when you were asked to play as Mrs. Danvers? Was it an instant yes or did you have any reservations about it?
Kristin Scott Thomas: No, I had no reservations at all. In fact, I had been emailing the producer when I heard that this was going to be made into a film. I was saying “you have to hire me, I have to play Mrs. Danvers!” I hesitate to say I am Mrs. Danvers because that would be very unpleasant. And they hummed and they heard and they didn’t ask me for a very long time. Eventually my agent rang and said yes, you’ve got the offer for Mrs. Danvers so it was a relief I would say when they told me.
Lily, how was it sharing scenes with Kristin Scott Thomas?
Lily James: Wonderful. Kristin is just a formidable, beautiful actor. She’s so powerful and so terrifying — Mrs. Danvers is terrifying. She’s really cool and generous and when you work with actors like that just makes your job so easy. All you have to do is respond. We had a lot of fun doing our scenes. She’s got a really wicked sense of humor.
What was the most challenging part about playing your character?
Lily James: At the beginning, she’s falling in love so she’s sort of swept up but she’s very vulnerable and disempowered really. She’s an orphan, she’s got no money, she doesn’t really have any choices and I think she’s really quite depressed at the start of the story. And then her world shifts dramatically and I guess my challenge was to really mark the journey she goes on because it’s so huge. From this quite vulnerable young girl to a woman that goes through a lot and makes some pretty suspect choices and you realize this darkness and ambiguity to her nature that’s quite surprising. So I just wanted to stay faithful to the book, and also bring it alive for an audience so that now they relate to her and want to watch them and want to root for her. So that was the balance I was trying to strike.
Lily, your character evolves from this naive lady into an empowered one who could actually stand up for herself and for other people. What do you think is the message viewers can get from this, especially the women out there?
Lily James: I think Daphne du Maurier is incredible. As a piece of sort of a feminist literature, it’s been studied every since she wrote it and I think that’s due to the fact that there’s these very different women and they’re very polar opposites, and including Mrs. Danvers. I think that you look at Rebecca now especially as a modern audience, as a very empowered character. She’s sexually liberated and she does what she wants at a time when disobeying your husband was unforgivable which is sort of maybe more of a modern character.
Then you have my character who is as we talked about kind of disempowered. But her anxiety I feel is a very modern problem. Feeling inadequate or feeling like you’re not good enough. My character spends the whole story feeling like she’s not good enough and it’s overshadowed by Rebecca. So I felt like that character would be very relatable too, because I definitely feel like that a lot of times. I think having these two very different women is a very striking sort of portrayal within a film.
What do you hope the audience takes away from Mrs. Danvers after watching this?
Kristin Scott Thomas: Don’t hold on to the past, I think that’s the message. Let it go, otherwise things come to a sticky end. Because she is the perfect example of somebody who is clinging to the past, clinging to a memory and clinging to something that doesn’t exist. And I think that is very unhealthy. If anyone is to take a message from Mrs. Danvers, that is to don’t live in the past.
Armie, what were the things you enjoyed about making Rebecca? Any particular moment that just excited you about it?
Armie Hammer: It was a really fun film to make. We shot all over the English countryside — we had some of the most beautiful locations that I’ve ever seen. We also got to shoot in the South of France, in Monaco, and all these beautiful places.
In terms of any special memory that would stand out, this is the thing about making a film, it’s always so special. You always have such a good time with people you’re with, you travel and you kind of become one big family. And at the end of it, you say goodbye to everyone and you may never see some of them again and then some of them you might see again. It’s kind of fun to always roll the dice and see what happens.
In the film, we see Mr. and Mrs. de Winter’s love for each other, and Mrs. Danvers’ love for Rebecca. Can you share the greatest or craziest thing you’ve done for love?
Lily James: I’ve certainly never been quite so abandoned as my character. I mean, we were laughing because my character doesn’t even know his middle name. She knows this guy for two weeks and she marries him, that’s pretty extreme and it probably doesn’t go well for her. So we were joking that it’s maybe best to know someone’s middle name before you marry them.
Kristin Scott Thomas: *laughs* No, it’s private. Yeah, we do some things for love that are… yeah, move countries.
Armie Hammer: That’s a good question. Nothing is coming up on the top of my head but I can tell you that there is no greater love that I have ever felt than the love I feel for my children. So, if I needed to do something crazy for my children, I would kill and eat every single one of you if it meant they would be safe.
Rebecca will be available on Netflix Philippines on October 21 at 3pm. Stream it here.