Eva Green is one of those actors who dabbles in enough psychological horror projects that it’s tempting to break the ice in an interview by asking her, “Are you okay?” But as the Penny Dreadful and Miss Peregrine star reveals, there’s both complexity and more fun to be had than you might expect in approaching horrific material.
In Nocebo, Green plays Christine, a children’s fashion designer recovering from an apparently debilitating trauma. Her mental and physical health declines to the point that her only cure might be traditional folk healing from Filipina caregiver Diana (Chai Fonacier), who has motivations of her own. Director Lorcan Finnegan and screenwriter Garret Shanley’s follow-up to their equally icky Vivarium co-stars a handful—even chestful—of truly eerie ticks. Naturally, The AV Club had to ask Green about acting opposite such horror elements, whether that ends up resembling the final product, and her thoughts on being typecast in proverbially “dark” roles.
The AV Club: How did you get involved with Nocebo? What drew you to this story?
Eva Green: Lorcan, the director, sent me the script. And I was very excited even before reading it because I really loved it Vivarium. I thought it was very strange and very ambiguous and very unique. So when I read Nocebo, there was also this disturbing atmosphere and I really enjoyed it. It’s entertaining, it’s a horror movie, but it’s also a psychological thriller and a social film. So all these elements were very appealing.
AVC: How did you approach the horror elements in this film? I think of you as an aficionado of the genre.
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eg: Well, for this horror, Lorcan sent me some books on sleep paralysis. Strange stories! And then he asked me to watch—which I’ve watched before, but it was interesting to do it again—Peoplethe [Ingmar] Bergman movie. But that’s more psychological, not horror. Repulsion, [Roman] Polanski’s atmospheres, that was interesting to watch again. But horror movies, working in them—what was great with Lorcan is that he has a great sense of humor. So when you shoot something so dark, it’s great to compensate with some Irish sense of humor.
AVC: I was in fact going to ask about shooting such material, as actors often have to embody trauma. In this case, how does Christine’s sickness live in you psychologically and then physiologically? You’ve talked before about how you have to decompress after filming projects like these.
eg: Yes, exactly. First of all, you’re always worried about being ridiculous. Because when it’s extreme like this, you’re always like, is it too much? And Lorcan was there to guide me, and it’s actually fun, I have to say. It’s more fun to do things like this than lots of wordy dialogue. Something with these extremes, you can let all your demons out. Even if it’s dark, it’s kind of jubilant, really. This was a very happy set. I’m not somebody who is like, “I’m still the character, I’m sorry, don’t talk to me,” you know? It’s just a little movie. I remember Lorcan playing some metal music at some point, one of the scenes where I’m struggling on the floor. I mean, I sound crazy when I say this, it’s hard to explain. I think the actors will understand, you know, [mock roaring] you just kind of let it out… Horror is quite close to something jubilant. Fear gives you goosebumps, but joy as well. It’s fun, you know, it’s extreme stuff. But as an actor, thank God I’m not really living what Christine is going through. Otherwise, I would have ended up in a cuckoo home.
AVC: Why do you think we turn to horror? What function do films like Nocebo serve? As you say, this also has a social commentary element.
eg: Yeah, for me, if it was just horror for horror’s sake, I wouldn’t have done this movie. It’s really this kind of deep relationship between these two women who have deep wounds. And it’s a lot [relevant] film that denounces fast fashion and how destructive it is to our planet, to human rights. It denounces our greed, with the image of this disgusting tick; we have become greedy creatures, we’re obsessed with having more and more, no matter the cost. So it’s entertaining, but there is a strong message behind it.
AVC: Talk to me about the idea of unreliable narration. How do you approach the idea that not everything that we’re seeing is as it seems?
eg: Especially in Lorcan’s world, I mean, you never know what’s next and he kind of plays with us. With Christine, you never know if it’s psychosomatic or if it’s a real disease due to the tick bite. Sometimes you wonder, “Maybe Felix, the husband, is the bad guy” or “Diana, she’s the nasty nanny,” it could [be] another hand that rocks the cradle. But no, actually, I’m not a poor, vulnerable fashion designer. There’s another side of Christine that we’ll discover in the end. Exactly, nothing is obvious.
AVC: And you mentioned this idea of going too big or worrying about hitting the right amount of intensity. How different was the final product from what you were imagining while filming?
eg: Well, I haven’t seen it… I’m terrible. I’m always terrible about watching my own work. I will watch it. But I judge myself and I’m my worst enemy. But no, I will, for sure.
AVC: But in general, how often does that compare? Is it specifically for the more horror projects that the result ends up looking or feeling different from what you envisioned?
eg: Yeah, it’s kind of never [looks like I imagined]. That’s why I’m always dreading it! And of course, when it’s better, that’s great. Like, “Oh, I had a terrible experience,” but then it comes out wonderful? That rarely happens, but it does happen. But yeah, it’s really in the hands of the director and it’s not like on stage in the theater when the actor is the master of it all. Here, you trust the director’s world. And, you know, Inshallah.
AVC: How does your theater training affect your film work? How are those two crafts in conversation?
eg: It’s funny because I had that dream two days ago that I had to go on stage. And I was walking backstage and the corridors were endless and it was like, “Oh, I can’t find the stage, I’m so nervous.” For me, the stage is much more demanding than being on a set. On a set, you fuck up, you do it again. You are in a safe bubble. On stage, there’s no second chance. Or maybe the next night, I guess. I’m always in awe of stage actors, I feel like they are the real actors—I shouldn’t say that. For instance, I’m in awe of Cate Blanchett, who does it all. I’ve seen her on stage and she’s like the queen of actors by far. That’s the real deal for me. And it’s great because you have a direct response from the audience. It’s electric when it’s working, they laugh, they go [gasps], you feel the audience. And when you are on set, you don’t feel this. You rely on the crew, which is good. But I guess I should be brave and go back home to the stage.
AVC: Speaking of control or lack thereof, can I ask about typecasting? What guides your career decisions?
eg: It’s a mix of the director, the story, the role, and what speaks to you at the time. It’s different elements, but the role is always very important. And yes, sometimes I get a bit upset when people put me in one box. “Dark”—what does that mean, dark? I like to call [my type] more “complex,” or as you said, we never know what it looks like, what’s behind, those secrets and stuff. That’s more interesting.
AVC: Do you have a dream collaborator, a favorite filmmaker or even a co-star you’re dying to work with?
eg: There are a lot. Jane Campion. I’ve met her a few times, and I absolutely adore her as a filmmaker and as a person. A co-star I’d love… hm, I can’t think…
AVC: You and Cate Blanchett need to play sisters.
eg: Yeah! Oh, I think I’ll pass out, I will be so intimidated. I’d be pinching myself, in a dream world, yes. She seems like an amazing person.
AVC: Have you seen Tar?
eg: No. I’m dying to see it. Have you?
AVC: Yes. You, Eva Green, are going to love it.
eg: Oh, yeah. I’m so excited. I can’t wait.