The Haunting of Bly Manor and Hill House spoilers follow.
Victoria Pedretti already had a few independent film credits to her name, but it was her turn as Eleanor "Nell" Crain (and the bone-chilling Bent-Neck Lady) in Netflix's hit horror series The Haunting of Hill House that would prove to be her big break.
Not only was this acknowledged through award nominations, but Pedretti has continued to land starring roles in other popular shows – such as Netflix's You – and on the big screen, taking on Mason family member Leslie Van Houten (better known as Lulu) in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
We recently had a phone interview with the star to talk about her most recent project: a return to the Haunting anthology with Bly Manor.
A loose adaptation of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, The Haunting of Bly Manor is narratively completely different to Hill House. It did, however, bring back much of its main cast. Alongside Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Henry Thomas and Kate Siegel are among the returning faces.
"It was an extremely different experience to Hill House," Victoria Pedretti says of filming, during an exclusive chat with Digital Spy. "Compared to the first season, where Mike Flanagan directed every single one of the episodes, this season he directed the first episode and then we had all of these wonderful directors come in to work with us for the rest of them."
The leading lady, who plays Bly Manor's new au pair Dani Clayton, notes how "incredible" and "unique" they all were, but also reveals how each new director changed the process.
"The director's work differently... So yeah that definitely kept us on our toes. It was kind of unfortunate because it felt like every time we were finally really getting into the swing of things, and really getting to know each other and how each other worked, [we moved] on to another director."
With the immense popularity of Hill House, Bly Manor brought along with it some fairly high expectations. As such, Victoria admits that she "certainly" felt a level of pressure in returning to the franchise.
"I really want the fans to feel satisfied," she tells us. "Not only that but I want them to continue to feel challenged and excited as they were in the first season. The first season took many risks I think, within the genre of horror, and that's part of what intrigued so many people. So to continue to surprise people as well was something I had a lot of thoughts about."
As demanding roles go, we imagined that working on a horror, where frame after frame requires nervous or tense energy, would have been somewhat exhausting.
"It was," Victoria admits. "But I don't think I fully realised how exhausting it was at the time – adrenaline is a really powerful thing that keeps you going."
Telling us how she would unwind between scenes, she continues: "I tried to spend time being alone, and sitting, and closing my eyes, and taking deep breaths in order to get my heart rate down. Because when you're performing somebody who has a hummingbird-like heart rate, when you're physically performing it, it does actually affect your insides as well."
Part of what makes the Haunting franchise so special, and what really resonates with audiences, is that the ghosts are relatable. Going hand-in-hand with traditional jump scares and suspense-building plot devices, the things that go bump in the night actually represent real-world emotions and themes too.
Hill House was tied up in grief, loss and addiction, whereas Bly Manor parallels toxic relationships, the feeling of being an outsider, and different expressions of love.
For Pedretti's character Dani, her personal haunting comes in the form of her childhood sweetheart who, we eventually learn, was killed in a car accident just after she had called off their engagement.
There was some ambiguity as to whether he was a real ghost, in the traditional cinematic sense, or whether he was instead simply a visual manifestation of the grief and guilt she was feeling within. When you also consider that he would often appear in mirrors, in place of Dani's own reflection, it feels even more as though he was a projection of something inside.
"I think it's more like Henry's ghost," Victoria surmises, comparing Dani's encounters with the ones experienced by Henry Wingrave (played by Henry Thomas) who was tormented by the very worst version of himself.
"I think those ghosts both exist very similarly. While his looked like him, hers is still a reflection of herself, watching back at herself, reminding herself that she is bad. That she needs to feel guilty, that she should be ashamed, that she does not deserve to be happy. Which is similar to Henry, you know, the shame and guilt that lingers after you. And also the isolating factor of being able to see something that nobody else can."
There comes a moment when Dani is no longer haunted by her past, and from then she stops seeing the apparition of her dead former partner. Victoria agrees that this is the moment that Dani "stops hiding", realising that she deserves happiness and can be her authentic self.
This segues our conversation into one about the many layers and meanings that are woven into the fabric of the series, and Victoria admits that, while she's "proud" to be part of such a project, it's not something that she considers until after filming has wrapped.
"I'm mostly just staying focused on the character, making the character feel real," she says. "Because I can't think of [Dani] as like a tool for sending a message, I see her as a fully fledged complex woman."
"So it's really interesting, in retrospect, having these conversations about these really incredible ideas about life that we're communicating, that I think are very important to Mike's mission in storytelling."
While Bly Manor is, first and foremost, a gothic ghost story, it is also a tale of deep and resounding love.
Those living and working in Bly, including Mrs Grose, the gardener Jamie and Owen the cook, formed something of a family. Victoria says that "all of [the characters] feel this sense of not belonging" and that they each experienced a "struggle to live authentically" outside of the realms of the manor. In addition to these clear bonds of true friendship and familial love, a number of romantic relationships took hold.
Through Miss Jessel and Peter, we saw a love so consuming that it lingered long after death and in spite of its destructive nature. His sights were set on her from the moment they first met, treating her like one of the priceless possessions he planned to steal from the property. She completely lost herself in him, sacrificing her bigger career aspirations and ignoring each and every red flag that came up along the way.
In the ultimate act of selfishness, Peter – who was killed by the faceless Lady of the Lake and was therefore trapped within the confines of Bly – tricked Miss Jessel to her own death, so that he could have her forever.
In stark contrast, Dani and Jamie's love was selfless and blossoming, like the flowers that the pair of them tended to. Victoria points out that their relationship managed to "avoid a lot of the traps of toxic relationships."
"They set boundaries, they establish trust, they take their time," she adds. "And I really believe that they really loved each other. Not [just] an idea of each other."
"The truth of the matter is I think a lot of people think that a healthy relationship just isn't interesting to see," Victoria later says. "But I think there's so much intensity to their dedication to each other. Their devotion and loyalty and the true friendship that they establish as well. It is passionate."
This echoed right through to the final moments, with Dani and Jamie eventually losing each other to the curse of Bly.
Victoria revealed that she "cried" when she first read the script and learned the fate of the central characters.
Though she pointed out that, much like many of the themes explored through the twists and turns of the story, it holds a poignancy and deeper meaning.
"It is so tragic, but it also rings very true to life," she explains. "Things end before we are ready, and love will cause you great pain."
While a sad notion, Victoria also describes it as a "beautiful" one.
"So much of the romance comes from death. So much of the romance of life is in the knowledge that it will not last forever."
The Haunting of Bly Manor and The Haunting of Hill House are available on Netflix.
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