Ben Wheatley’s Rebecca is a modern-day adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name. I recently had a chance to sit down with Dame Kristin Scott Thomas who stars in the film as the iconic Mrs. Danvers. In the interview below, I chat with her about the source material and how she was able to take such an iconic character, one that is very well known in both literature and film, and make it her own.
Scott Menzel: It’s an honor to meet you, even though it’s virtual. You’re such an icon in this industry.
Kristin Scott Thomas: Well, gosh, thank you.
Scott Menzel: No problem. So I want to begin this interview by, of course, going back to the original source material. And my first question to you is which did you discover first, the book or the Alfred Hitchcock film?
Kristin Scott Thomas: Gosh, that’s a tricky question. I think it was probably the film, and then I read the novel. Because I discovered definitely Daphne du Maurier quite late in life and read lots of her books in a row. You finish Jamaica Inn, then you get onto My Cousin Rachel, then you read this one, and you enter into a world which is really compelling and difficult to give up.
Scott Menzel: Absolutely.
Kristin Scott Thomas: And actually, I helped somebody make a documentary about Daphne du Maurier. Well, I did the narration for it about three months before I found out that they were trying to make Rebecca without asking me to play Mrs. Danvers. I mean, how mad is that? So I said, “where is my invitation?” And I had to go and pester Eric Fellner, the producer, to at least let me meet the director.
Scott Menzel: Yeah. I have to say, you knocked this out of the park. I mean, you typically knock everything out of the park, but this is a role where you had big shoes to fill, and you made the character your own. And that’s something that I wanted to talk with you about. When you have such an iconic book and such an iconic film, how do you play this character, but make her your own?
Kristin Scott Thomas: Of course, you absorb other people’s interpretations, other people’s portrayals, but I think that you have to put those to one side, and you have to think, “Now, what is the truth behind this woman?” This woman is portrayed in the novel very, very differently from how she was portrayed in films that you can see. So what is the truth behind her and how do you describe… how do you make this character into a character that people in 2020 are going to understand?
And so we started, literally, from the outside in. You create this image, you create this outline that you will then be able to fill with detail in sort of undercurrents. And, I tried to reduce the number of words that were said, so it becomes where things are implied and not spoken so that the paranoia can create this whole “did she really say that or did I really hear that? Did she really say or I thought that I was…” There’s a scene when Mrs. Danvers says to Lily, “Oh, I thought you were a servant before you met Mr. de Winter, and then you sort of have to ask yourself, “Did she really say that?”
So all of those things, the mystery behind her was quite important to me. And if you create a really strong image, then you can go quite far with the mysterious stuff because you’ve got this really strong structure that is holding you up. The suit, the hair, the nails, the high heels, the lipstick. All of that doesn’t move, it just stays the same. And so within that, you’ve got a strong frame to be able to kind of imply things and disturb the surface.
Scott Menzel: Well, thank you very much for that. I’m hoping you get an Oscar nomination for this. I actually marked you down as one of the top people for that. I really think you’re that good in this movie.
Kristin Scott Thomas: Well, thank you very much.
Scott Menzel: No problem. Good luck with the film, and hopefully I’ll talk to you again in the near future.
Kristin Scott Thomas: Yes, I hope so.