The bewitching voice and the pure face of Alice Krige has travelled the Hollywood horror cinema genre with audacity, constantly sailing towards projects where she is not expected. She’s a fascinating actress, just like her career.
« I’m going to take you to places you’ve never been. I’m going to show you things you’ve never seen » she says in the film Ghost Story. And there is no denying that this was the case. Avenging ghost in John Irvin’s Ghost Story, humanoid queen in Star Trek : First Contact, scary witch in Hansel & Gretel, Asgardian scientist in Thor : The Dark World or protector of Leatherface movie’s in the ninth opus of the franchise released last February, Alice Krige has imposed herself as one of the horrific figures of the American cinema, without really wanting to.
A career interspersed with other moments of grace. She is equally at ease in sentimental dramas (See You in the Morning), political thrillers (The Commissioner) and romantic Christmas comedies (A Christmas Prince). In each new exercise, Alice Krige moves, upsets, seduces with her interpretations as delightful as they are violent.
Let’s meet a discreet actress with a rich filmography, both in cinema and television.
« My parents suggested I do a year of drama in the newly created drama faculty at the university. I think they regretted it ever after ! Because ultimately I decided I wanted to act ».
Acting was not your first career plan since you studied clinical psychology. It was after you joined a university theater troupe that you decided to embark on a career as an actress by subsequently enrolling at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. What made you want to join this theater troupe at the time and then to become an actress ?
I started ballet classes when I was 8, and was passionately engaged with dancing, wanted to be a ballerina – but when I was 16 my father said he thought I should concentrate on my school studies. Ballet he said was’ not a life’, it would be over by the time I was 40 and I’d really damage my body. So I stopped dancing and finished school, but had been in the school plays, I must have enjoyed them because I kept doing them. So when I went to university to study Psychology and English and had one course out of the 10 I was required to do which was not committed to psychology or English, my parents suggested I do a year of drama in the newly created drama faculty at the university. I think they regretted it ever after ! Because ultimately I decided I wanted to act.
The reason being that I somehow felt that if I were to act and to do it with everything I had – body, mind and soul – it would engage and challenge me as a human being in a way that neither teaching English or practicing as a therapist would. My mother totally supported me in this, my father thought we were both crazy – and he was probably right ! And so she paid, from her work as a professor of psychology and a family therapist, for me to go to acting school in London.
Your first film appearance was in Hugh Hudson’s Oscar-winning famous film « Chariots of Fire ». In this film, you also have two very beautiful sequences alongside Ben Cross (Harold Abrahams), one in a restaurant, your « first date », and the second, in the stands after Harold’s defeat during of a race. Do you remember how you joined the cast of the film ? Then, secondly, can you comment on these two scenes and how you worked on them, behind the scenes of their preparation ?
I was cast in Chariots of Fire through the kindness of a fellow student – at the Central School of Speech and Drama, in my final year studying there I became friendly with a fellow student Samantha. She was studying on the Theatre Production Course and these students produced and ran the Acting students final public productions – she was on the production crew of TWELFTH NIGHT and I was playing Olivia – we were all on tour together and all became close friends. We all completed our courses in July, and went our separate ways. The next March I got a call from the school saying that Samantha was trying to reach me – I called her and she said : I’m working as a casting assistant for my aunt and she’s casting this movie and I think you’re perfect – send me your picture and I’ll give it to her.
Also Milena Canonero – the fabulous costume designer – said to Hugh Hudson the director (who was intent on casting an opera singer as Sybil) : No, no, she sings for 15 seconds! You need to lip synch the singing and cast an actress !. And so he met me – because of the picture Samantha submitted. Blessings on Samantha ! Because not only is the picture very special but I met my husband on it.
It’s a very long time ago ! But as I remember, I didn’t do any specific preparation for these two scenes. I did as I always do – learned all the lines and scenes before we began filming. I researched Harold, the Olympics, the D’Oyle Carte and of course Sybil. I was fortunate enough to meet her son who gave me a little box of small possessions of hers to keep with me while we filmed the movie. And Ben Cross and Hugh cared intensely about exploring and building the relationship between Harold and Sybil – which is of the utmost importance.
Costume is always for me in terms of making choices about and defining a character – and Milena Canonero was a magician ! She made the most perfect suggestions and choices.
« Fred Astaire was extraordinary. Gallant, kind, courteous thoughtful, funny ».
The same year, you starred in « Ghost Story » by John Irvin. You play as a double character, Eva Galli and Alma Mobley, a woman who has come back from the dead to seek justice for the men who accidentally killed her. It is a special role, all in subtlety and seduction, with a certain horrifying aspect in the voice and the behavior. How did you work on this role and its various aspects ?
Again – it was a very long time ago ! But I remember two really important things. John Irvin the director wanted us all to rehearse for a week and on the last afternoon of rehearsal, he said : Now I want Fred, John, Melvyn and Douglas to read their young selves with Alice reading Eva. It was extraordinary ! The other very vivid memory I have is that after the week of rehearsal, when filming commenced, there was no snow in Saratoga Springs, Upper State New York, where we were filming – and we needed snow for the scenes I was scheduled to shoot.
so I waited in my hotel room for three weeks as it was bitterly cold outside. Early in those 3 weeks John Irvin said=d to me: There’s an Expressionist Exhibition at MOMA in New York, you should go and see it, it will help for the film. So I went down to Manhattan, but the Expressionist show was over. Instead I came upon an Edvard Munch exhibition – and it had an overwhelming effect on me – THE SCREAM, MADONNA, THE THREE STAGES OF WOMAN, THE SPHINX, ASHES, ADAM AND EVE. I bought the catalogue and back in my hotel room tore the images out of the book and pasted them onto the walls – they became part of the inner life of Eva/Alma.
Again, costume was very helpful and May Routh, the costume designer was wonderful bringing together a mixture of original costumes for Eva and especially designed modern clothing for Alma. And Rick Baker was extraordinary.
« Ghost Story » is Fred Astaire’s last film. Were you able to chat with him on set? Tell us about how you met.
Fred Astaire was extraordinary – as they all were – gallant, kind, courteous thoughtful, funny – and a consummate professional, even though he was then in his eighties. To work with him was an extraordinary experience and privilege, the best possible example of an actor to which I could aspire.
« Ghost Story » was your first steps into the horror and thriller filmmaking world. You’ve been involved in fantasy and science fiction films as well (Silent Hill, Star Trek, Solomon Kane, Reign of Fire, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice…) Why do you think you were often offered this type of film ? Are the features of your face, your physique conducive to the imagination of directors, as is the case with Tilda Swinton ?
I have no idea why I have been offered this kind of role (although I have been offered roles in many different genres). Perhaps it is because I never judge a character I am asked to play but seek to live inside her and see the world through her eyes. There is state of mind amongst some schools of psychological therapy which is that you meet someone who comes to you for therapy with « unconditional positive regard » and that is I suppose how I embrace anyone I am asked to play.
Picture 2 – Crédit : Michael Warley
In 1996, you joined the « Star Trek » franchise as the Borg Queen. What convinced you at the time to join this vast universe and accept this role ? And, was it difficult to apprehend and enter a universe that had already existed for several years ? How many hours of make-up and dress-up did you have to undergo to transform into the Borg Queen ?
I grew up in South Africa at a time when there was no television and cinema exhibition was limited and very controlled – and so I never really acquired a taste for TV, inclined rather to read. Consequently, and mercifully, I had absolutely no knowledge of the Star Trek ‘universe’ when I went to audition for the role and shot the film. I only discovered this after First Contact was released.
When we shot First Contact it took 6 hours for her makeup and suit to be put on and two to take it off – which they did very gently and carefully as we put it on again 9 hours later ! But I have to say that the make up and suit were a wonderful gift from Scott Wheeler (make up) and Todd Masters (suit) – one cannot imagine her separately from her appearance and they gave that to me. I mean I couldn’t have rocked up to set and been the Borg Queen without looking the way she did – it was the ultimate in a collaborative performance.
Another sci-fi movie you participated in : « Thor : The Dark World ». You were in a scene alongside Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins. Could you tell us more about behind the scenes of this scene ?
My role in Thor : The Dark World could hardly have been briefer. Natalie and Anthony were charming to me – a complete outsider. But I had worked with Alan Taylor, the director, on Deadwood and it was really lovely to work with him again.
There are a lot of invectives around Marvel Studios. What is your view on today’s cinema? How do you perceive the evolution of cinema ?
Right now it is becoming increasingly challenging for independent filmmakers and drama to find a space in the market and consequently funding. But people need to see stories that delve into the human condition so even though it is very hard to finance film that is not mainstream, I think we as a species have a need for them – and that will keep this kind of cinema alive ultimately.
« What draws me to a role is the character’s journey – if the character goes on an inner journey, through a transformation… ».
You move easily from one register to another, ranging from dramatic/sentimental films (See You in the Morning) to more specific projects (Institute Benjamenta), from horror to auteur films (Barfly) via the blockbuster (Thor 2). It is also what makes your career rich. When you are offered a script, what do you seek first ? And what drives you to say « yes » or « no » to a role ?
I am extraordinarily fortunate and privileged to have worked across so many different genres and mediums and with so many different writers, directors and actors, all passionate about their work. What draws me to a role is the character’s journey – if the character goes on an inner journey, through a transformation, experiences an epiphany, perhaps I going through it with her, will experience and understand something about being human, the human condition, and hopefully someone in the audience will share that too.
But there is also the situation of having to earn a living ! But whatever the reason for taking on a role, I seek to walk in her shoes…
« I have tried to find the underlying reason for everything he (a character) says ».
How do you then approach your roles and prepare for them ?
Preparing for a role never happens in the same way twice – how preparation unfolds depends on the character, the script, and the creative process between me and the director, the actors, the costume designer and the hair and makeup designers, and also the relationship with the cinematographer/camera operator. It is a profoundly collaborative process – and that is a significant part of the joy of it !
But one thing I always do is to learn the script, all my lines before filming begins – so that I am never grasping for what the character says. I have tried to find the underlying reason for everything he says, so there is nothing else she could possibly say. And also to explore conflicting subtext… However, everything shits and grows when you start to work on the set – and this is a wonderful process.
You have also made numerous television appearances. Tuesday, October 11, we learned the death of actress Angela Lansbury. You starred in an episode of the series « Murder She Wrote ». What memories do you have of your time in the series and with Angela Lansbury ?
Angela Lansbury, like Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks and Pat Neale was extraordinary, and so kind to me, desperately nervous as I was and working for the first time in an American accent.
« I knew that Nancy would return in season 3 ».
You also had a role in the sublime Netflix series, « The OA ». You played the adoptive mother of Prairie Johnson (Brit Marling). Many fans were shocked by the sudden end of the series. How do you feel about that ?
Brit and Zal had written all the episodes of all the seasons of the whole projected series and so I knew that Nancy would return in season 3. Sadly she didn’t get to do so. I would have loved the series to have continued, and I know that the many people who loved watching The OA wished for it to continue, in fact believed that it would and that its cancellation was just an advertising ploy by Netflix… (So happy that you thought it sublime ! Thank you ! I thought it was fascinating as well)
What are your future projects ?
I am currently in development/ early pre-production as a producer on two projects – 3 Widows and Naked Abuse – both challenging and thought provoking, and very relevant to the current state of some aspects of the world today. Also exploring acting projects.
She Will explores the story of « Veronica Ghent » (Alice Krige), an aging actress who after a double mastectomy, goes to a healing retreat in rural Scotland with her young nurse Desi (Kota Eberhardt). She discovers that the process of such surgery opens up questions about her very existence, leading her to start to question and confront past traumas, including the abuse she suffers at the hand of a director (Malcolm McDowell) on her very first film set at the age of 14. The two develop an unlikely bond as mysterious forces give Veronica the power to enact revenge within her dreams. The film, described as « A Superb, Sly Horror-Drama Debut Delivering Otherworldly Feminist Vengeance » by Jessica Kiang in Variety, was nominated for a « British Independent Film Award » at the London Film Festival and won the « Golden Leopard » for best first film at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. Academy Award-winning director Alfonso Cuarón has said that « it sits in the tradition of great psychological horror films [which] leaves one questioning long after [it] is finished ».