Leigh Janiak’s psychological thriller Honeymoon brings together actors Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway as a recently married couple under one cabin roof. As one would expect from a story about happy newlyweds alone in the woods, something insidious (and possibly supernatural) begins to fracture their relationship.
English actor Treadaway, who plays loving-but-worried Paul in Honeymoon, has made frequent forays across the pond for roles in features like City of Embers and The Lone Ranger, and as Victor Frankenstein in the Showtime series Penny Dreadful. Best known for her role as the kissed-by-fire Ygritte on Game of Thrones, and an ambitious maid on Downton Abbey, Leslie exchanges her Scottish accent for the East Coast dialect of her character, Bea.
Both Treadaway and Leslie took a break from their bigger-budget productions for Honeymoon‘s month-long shoot – the directorial debut of Janiak (read her interview here), and both actors’ first leading roles in a feature. They talked to MovieMaker about the appeal of an intimate set, Skype dialect coaching, shooting scary scenes, and the importance of having a laugh between takes. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)
Interview with Rose Leslie (Bea)
Natalie Chudnovsky, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): How did you get involved with Honeymoon?
Rose Leslie (RL): I came across the script and the main appeal for me was that it was a transformation tale. Whilst I was reading the script at the beginning I thought, oh this is just a happy couple on their honeymoon and everything will be blissful. And then with that suspense being built up, there’s a turn within Bea’s character. I had never had a transformation like that before.
MM: How did you prepare for the role?
RL: Crikey! Well, I had a lot of dialect lessons. Obviously I play Bea with an American accent, so I prepared on that front. I wanted it to sound organic. And I don’t know if you really can prepare to turn into an alien. I defy anyone who says they know exactly what that feels like. I decided to approach it day by day. It was an intimate shoot in North Carolina, in that cottage for four, five weeks. Being within that world absolutely helped me. Leigh Janiak, as a director, knew to save the bed scene where I’m tied up for the last week, because she knew then we’d be able to find our feet as the characters and would’ve got the headspace right.
MM: How did you and Harry Treadaway achieve such an intense chemistry?
RL: Harry and I never properly met before Honeymoon, but we did happen to go to the same drama school in London. He was several years above me. He was in his final third year and I had just arrived, so I had always put him on a pedestal. He had no idea who I was, but I certainly knew who he was. When we met, there was a real affinity between the two of us. For this to be believable, we needed to be on the same page. So we spoke about the relationships of Bea and Paul – building a history for them, so it wasn’t two people pretending to be in love, but a deeper level to it all. It was phenomenal working with him because he listens and he’s an incredibly generous actor.
MM: Leigh Janiak said you and Harry have different approaches to acting. What’s your take?
RL: I do dissect the role and I like to be able to step away, because it is such a harrowing experience for the character I played. I wouldn’t want to stay in Bea’s head. It’s nice to leave work with work, so I do approach it as if there’s a switch-on-switch-off button.
MM: How was it transitioning from something big budget, like Game of Thrones, to Honeymoon, which has a much smaller budget?
RL: That was really the appeal! I knew that it would be an intimate shoot. I knew that it’d be fast paced and it wasn’t on the same scale as something as phenomenal as Game of Thrones. But for me, it really felt like a play. The cottage we were shooting in was our stage.
MM: What was the hardest scene to shoot?
RL: The end. Being tied down on that bed, the ridiculously surreal moment of something being pulled out of me. On that day I stepped back and looked at the set up and thought, “What am I doing? This is the most insane, intense experience.” Reading it, I was aware of what I was committing myself to. But on the day, I was oblivious to how sticky the blood would be, and the fact that it hung on the t-shirt and turned into cardboard. The cord that was being fed below my thigh and Harry was pulling it like a magic trick, like colorful handkerchiefs out of a hat – that was scary. It was a real icky feeling. Which was lovely, because it fed the whole atmosphere and everything that was going on with Bea.
MM: How did you get yourself into the right headspace for that scene?
RL: It was about just staying in the room. If I’m really trying to sell this to the best of my ability, I want to be horrified by what my body is going through, by what I’m putting my new husband through. That headspace was experimental, to go somewhere so dark. I can’t really fathom how I approached it, but it was about staying in the room, staying in the bubble, in the horror of it all.
Interview with Harry Treadaway (Paul)
MM: How did you get involved with Honeymoon?
Harry Treadaway (HT): Well, classic – I read the script. I was away filming, doing Lone Ranger, which involved 300 people in the crew and took months to shoot. Had huge production values. Then I read this script, which had two actors, one location, shot in four weeks for a million. And I thought, this is exciting. The time you spent in the first third of the film felt like a drama – it didn’t feel like it was going to evolve into the horrific psychological nightmare that it ends up as. For me, that’s far scarier- when you ground a relationship in reality and feel like they’re real people. It shocked me when it all started to turn. You’re not sure if Paul’s losing his mind or Bea’s losing hers. So, it felt like an original, fresh way to get into a high point of horror.
MM: Was there a moment in the script that really hooked you?
HT: Within the first few pages, you can tell whether someone’s writing real people, or whether it feels like an overly cinematic version of events. This had enough details and idiosyncratic elements to their relationship. Paul and Bea’s previous experiences, the way they spoke to each other felt real. But because they’re so happy and they’re having such a good time, there is a foreboding undercurrent that things are going to go wrong. Lo and behold, events start to open up. When the shift comes, I was totally taken by surprise.
MM: How did you prepare for the role?
HT: Lots of talking about the history of Paul and Bea’s relationship. I spoke with Rose and Leigh about how they met, who they were before they met each other, the first dates they had, the first arguments, what their ambitions and drives were. Because it’s a contained period of time, the film is five days on their honeymoon. So the more we could invest and flesh out their previous lives, the more potent the descent into unknowing and distrust and confusion would be. So we spoke a lot about backstory and that felt like the way to do it.
MM: What about the accent?
HT: Oh yes, of course. We had modern dialect coaching on Skype. Me and Rose spent a good few hours in the weeks before trying to find a natural East Coast accent. Thinking about it too – letting it breathe. We had a few months to think about it before we started.
MM: Describe the rapport between Rose and yourself on set.
HT: We were both singing off the same page in this one. It felt like we were in key, and there were moments of total immersion in a very tense relationship. But luckily me and Rose got on so well, and had such a laugh between takes, which I think was essential, because otherwise, a film that is you and one other person telling a story like this is going to get unbearable if you don’t laugh between certain scenes. We’re blessed in that me and Rose genuinely get on really well. That’s so important on a film like this. If we didn’t click, it’d be pretty tough. The stars aligned on this one.
MM: What’s the transition like, from blockbusters to TV to this tiny indie?
HT: My grounding is in independent British films, so for me it’s always good to mix it up and go from theater, to TV, to small film – it keeps you on your toes to be working on different scale productions. On something like this, the energy and momentum and intimacy and pressure-cooker vibe of the whole thing was made easier because we had no time and one location. The restraints of small film can sometimes aid it because there’s no time to sit around – you’ve got to get on with stuff. Certainly, something I loved about it was not the big effects or the cast list – it’s very much a dissection of a relationship. You don’t see that many films that are just two people, in one space, and about how they relate to each other. This concentrated version of human interaction is an appealing thing.
MM: What kind of directing do you respond to?
HT: Anyone that’s going to employ me [laughs]. Everyone’s different and part of the job is working with people with different styles and angles – same with actors and technicians. But any director that gets under the skin of the story, something that’s heartfelt and real, something which is collaborative.
MM: What was your biggest challenge, playing Paul?
HT: Finding the temperature of certain stages of horror and degradation of their trust for each other. How that creeps through in a way that’s not sudden. Going from, I know every follicle of this person’s heart and soul, to I don’t know who the fuck that person is in front of me. Finding that transition and never playing that too much or too little; trying to gauge the early stages of madness.
The story gets to such a horrible place from such a happy place. Watching it, stuff with Rose on the bed and all the restraints, it’s quite graphic. Those moments weren’t fun, but a few hours later, with any luck you’ll be having a cup of tea and talking about something completely different so there’s always relief. MM
Honeymoon opens in theaters on September 12, 2014, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Read our interview with director Leigh Janiak here.
Photographs courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
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