Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Haunting of Hill House Season 1.
When Annabeth Gish agreed to join The Haunting of Hill House‘s cast, she didn’t know she was signing up to play a buttoned-up caretaker’s wife with a deep history related to the ghost-filled abode. She had no idea the horror-tinged drama would become such a buzzy success.
All she knew was that she’d worked with writer/director Mike Flanagan on a scary movie called Before I Wake. And if he was involved, she was in.
“He came around saying, ‘Hey, I have this role. I can’t show it to you, exactly. It’s very different from anything you’ve ever done before. It’s much more character-y. It’s not glamorous. Would you consider doing it, sight-unseen?'” she recalls. “And I was like, ‘Yes, because I think you’re a visionary.'”
Gish is also a fan of the Shirley Jackson novel on which the Netflix series is loosely based — and she says she and Flanagan discussed how the newest incarnation of Mrs. Dudley would use Rosalie Crutchley’s performance in the 1963 film adaptation as a starting point.
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“We wanted her to be almost ghostly herself,” she says. “We wanted a tiny nod to the fact that she’s lived through all of these Hills, and the potential that you never really know. Like, is her daughter real? Is she real? What, exactly, is it?”
In the Q&A below, we picked Gish’s brain about all things Hill House. Topics included a cool visual that was a “happy accident,” the unique way one of her co-stars introduced himself and why in the world Clara Dudley would choose to stick around such a creepy place for so long.
TVLINE | Did you do any kind of special prep to get into Mrs. Dudley’s mindset?
It’s strange for me, because I’m not particularly religious in the fundamental sense. So you know, [it included] putting on a big shiny cross. Lynn Falconer, the costume designer, wanted very specific [pieces]. Like, my boots were almost from the 1860s, and it was just a strange, off wardrobe and texture that makes it seem like she’s…. where is she? [Laughs] It’s just creepy.
And yet in some of the scenes with Carla [Gugino], there’s even like a touch of the contemporary. Her language isn’t antiquated, but her energy is.
TVLINE | When I was rewatching, I noticed something in the scene where you and Carla are in the solarium with the sculptures. You’re holding paint cans in and you stop right in front of the angel sculpture, and it looks like Mrs. Dudley has angel wings. Given what we know about all of the other visual hints Mike Flanagan worked into the series, I assume this was no accident.
It was a coincidence.
TVLINE | Really?!
It was a happy accident, just in terms of my blocking and my timing and where I was stopping. And [Flanagan] was like, “Wait, don’t move, don’t move. Oh my God,” he said, “It’s crazy. It looks like you have angel wings.” And then we utilized that, but it was not intentional going into the scene.
TVLINE | Why do you think your character stays as one of the house’s caretakers when so many bad things have happened there, some of them to her?
I think there is always in Clara Dudley… I don’t want to expound on religion, but I think sometimes she clings very tightly to that because she even yet knows that the mystical is in this house. She says to Olivia, “You know, I wasn’t going to work for you, but when I found out there were children here…” And it’s a play on the word “housekeeper.” I mean, she’s the keeper of the house of secrets, and so therefore, there is some sort of contract she has with the dark side of the house. And I do think that the lure of the house has a power over people that she eventually succumbs to.
TVLINE | Let’s talk about what the Dudleys go through in the end of the series. Their daughter is murdered and comes back as a ghost, then they make a pact with the people responsible for her death. It works, somehow — how do you, as an actress, make that happen?
There is something about the emotional significance, the way Flanagan and his writers wrote this, there was never, for me, a loss of feeling to play. I mean, the words are heightened. The sets and the energy are heightened. It makes you just feel it. Even though you know you’re on set and in Atlanta, you just know there’s some palpable feeling that is woven in. I’m sure you’ve read about the set, which was incredible. They built this insane, beautiful, three-story house. And you do feel — with all of the sculptures — that there was a weaving in of creepy. So, sometimes I would even protect myself with white light just because. You feel like you’re playing with the dark arts sometimes when you go there emotionally.
TVLINE | I read that Robert Longstreet, who plays Mr. Dudley, wrote you a letter before he met you. What was your reaction when you got it?
You know, I love it. Especially in this day and age… people lose their enthusiasm sometimes for what we do and so, it was very sweet and touching and immediately made me feel excited to work with him. And he had a playlist as well, like of the Dudleys’ songs.
TVLINE | What were some of the songs on the list?
Well, that would probably be for him if you’re talking to him. They were very evocative and painful songs. I love that. I love the enthusiasm and the passion that he brought to this, which was refreshing.
TVLINE | We don’t see the Dudleys together until the end of the series. Did you two talk about what kind of relationship they might have, like how they might be with each other when they weren’t at the house?
Yes, except sort of my Method-y process with her was that she was always very withholding from everyone. We see it when she comes [to Hill House] that night and when they find Olivia. Her hair is down, and she has a little more relaxed face. [Laughs] But I don’t think that they have this, you know, intimate hoedown in the backwoods of the Hill House.