ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy spoke with director Ben Steiner and lead actresses Jemima Rooper and Kate Dickie about Hulu’s horror film Matriarch and its otherworldly atmosphere. Matriarch is now available for streaming on Hulu.
“After an overdose nearly takes her life, Laura Birch escapes from the high-stakes pressure of the advertising world to return to her roots,” says the synopsis. “Accepting an invitation home from her estranged mother, Laura hopes the time away in the secluded English village will help calm the demons raging inside of her. She soon discovers that the locals of the town are all protecting an unspeakably dark secret—a secret that involves not only her mother but her own terrifying destiny as well.”
Spencer Legacy: Ben, what starts as a story of a fractured family quickly escalates into a terrifying otherworldly story. What inspired you to mix this specific theme with that fantastical side?
Ben Steiner: It’s always kind of difficult talking about inspiration and how you arrive at something because you’re not really consciously trying to mix these things together. It’s just kind of how the story begins. So the origins of Matriarch is that I made a short film for Hulu for Huluween — I think the first Huluween — called Urn. It’s about a mother and a daughter, although the mother’s already dead by the time the film begins, but it’s about this daughter trying to scatter her mom’s ashes.
Then we realize that the daughter actually has murdered her mother. So there’s been kind of a toxic relationship kind of prior to that. That was when Hulu asked me to see if I could get a feature out of it. The only things that were set in stone were that there was gonna be this kind of toxic mother-daughter relationship at the heart of it and then it just, as these things do, took on a life of its own, and then other ideas that I had kind of swelling around my head at the time and just various other things. But yeah, it started from that short and then just grabbed onto other things that were in my head.
Kate, your character jumps from seemingly polite and pleasant to being very menacing very quickly. How difficult was it to balance those two sides?
Kate Dickie: Yeah, you have to be careful because you’re walking a fine line with characters like Celia, who are extreme and display extreme behaviors, and have behaviors that are actually quite funny as well as very dark. So it was just a matter of finding a fine balancing act, and that’s where it’s really important you have a really good relationship with your director as well and trust their overview. I would check with Ben sometimes, “Is this too much or is this enough?” Because you need that overview so you don’t become just a pantomime character. So you have depth in layers and things. So yeah, it was quite a fine balancing act for Celia, and a really interesting journey to go on with her.
Jemima, the relationship between Laura and Celia is central to the film. So how did the two of you kind of work towards nailing that antagonistic chemistry of their family?
Jemima Rooper: It sounds sort of weird. We didn’t really have to work at it, and it wasn’t because we didn’t get on — we got on like a house on fire very, very quickly. But I think we were both drawn to the project because of that relationship and these two really meaty female roles, which you don’t come across that often. That’s exciting and, anything that you can get your teeth into, but anything that is layered and this sort of amazing, horrible history between them. And then, the weirdness, the subtle weirdness, the overt weirdness between them, all of it is just sort of great meat, and that that’s really fun to sort of discover.
We were working with not a lot of time, not as much money as you would want, and you’ve just kind of got to get on with it. But in those circumstances sometimes come the best decisions because you are trying something off the cuff, or you are playing a little bit more than you were. Sometimes if you have too much time, you can have too much thinking time, and that can belabor your choices. Whereas it was sort of fly by the seat of your pants, that’s really fun and really exciting, and we just had a lot of giggles and a lot of cuddles and … yeah, we just did it.
Ben Steiner: Yeah, true. I mean actually, you know, to that point of how well these guys … their rapport, but also kind of nailing scenes together, we were trying to do an awful lot in probably not enough time. We would literally get scenes in a couple of takes. There’s one shot in particular, which is just after Laura storms out and then comes back into the house, and Laura and Celia are talking at the foot of the stairs and it’s shot through from the kitchen, through a doorway. Had I had more time, I probably would’ve done something else, but it was literally like, “We’re just going to have to get this in one shot” and we just did that and literally maybe did it twice just to be safe. But it was done and it was brilliant, and then we could just move on. So I think, had these guys not gotten along so well, it would have been a very different position.