EIn Saint Maud, Jennifer Ehle’s wonderful and terrifying new movie, a nurse describes her character Amanda quite succinctly: “A little jerk. Ehle laughs. “Amanda is enough mercureShe said, displaying a little more tact. “She saw a lot of things. She takes a lot of drugs, she is bored and she has a lot of charisma, intelligence and ambition.
Amanda is a famous dancer and choreographer, locked in a spooky and spooky mansion by the sea, where she is slowly dying of cancer. Morfydd Clark plays Maud, his caregiver and a recent religious convert. The pair end up at some sort of luck. In Ehle’s hands, Amanda is camped and wild. ” She was so great fun to play, just a fabulous Quality Street box.
Fun is not necessarily the word that comes to mind when first viewing Saint Maud, a psychological horror that plunges into fanaticism, trauma, and loneliness. I’m not just saying that, I tell Ehle, but I loved it. ” I love She nods, with genuine enthusiasm. “And there’s not a lot of things you’re in where you believe someone when they say, ‘I’m not just saying that.’ But in the case of Sainte Maud, I believe you. I love – love! – the horror. I can’t do the Saw movies, I don’t want to see anyone suffer or be tortured. But I think the suspense and the creeping terror are great.
Ehle is at her home in upstate New York, calling from the home she has lived in for the past 18 years. She was born and raised primarily in North Carolina, although she has moved around a lot. Her English mother, Rosemary Harris, is an actress and her American father, John Ehle, a writer. She says a lot of the actors come from a Peripatetic background. It helped her read a play, she says, trying to “organize herself to fit in.”
She has been largely locked up with her husband and two children since December, when she finished filming The Comey Report (she played the wife of former FBI Director Patrice). She fears that she has become socially awkward. “I’m gradually becoming a bowl of porridge, from a personality perspective. I have a very limited spice shelf at the moment, in my daily interactions. Normally, I probably wouldn’t tell you all of this. I don’t have a lot of filters going. But there is not much to filter out. “
I don’t know how badly it lacks a filter. Ehle is friendly and warm, but extremely precise, repeating a sentence if she isn’t happy to have expressed her meaning well, not too eager to speak for herself, happily pushing away lazy questions. She says when she was younger she didn’t want to be an actress, she wanted to be a writer. Does she still have this ambition? ” I do not know. Yes. I think I would love this, but I don’t, so I don’t know what it is. We’ll see. “
As of the day we speak, it has been almost 25 years to the day since the BBC’s now classic Pride and Prejudice first aired. “Oh yes,” she said dryly. “I have a calendar alert. Her Lizzie Bennet turned her into a star – and people are always surprised to hear her speak with an American accent. “I really don’t go out much, and it’s even before my 40s, but sometimes if I meet a stranger somewhere for work, I realize he must think I’m wearing an American accent. It’s actually more embarrassing than that, because I put a British one.
Ehle turned 50 last year and rarely seems to have been out of work. The common story of her career is: she starred in Pride and Prejudice, then turned her back on Hollywood life and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company instead. “Well, I don’t know,” she said. “It’s not like someone is saying, ‘Come to Hollywood’. I was just a working actor. You choose what interests you and what inspires you. Plus, she says, she joined RSC before the release of Pride and Prejudice. “So it wasn’t like, ‘Oh my God, I have a hit TV show, now I’m going to RSC.'”
She lived in London for most of her twenties, making films, television and acting, before returning to the United States. In 2000, when she was 29, she won a Tony for the transfer to Broadway of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing. She won another in 2007, for her trilogy The Coast of Utopia, and in 2017 was nominated again for JT Rogers’ Oslo. But, if his theater roles were acclaimed, they were spaced out. “It’s mainly because of being a mother,” she says. She has a son, George, and a daughter, Talulah. “I don’t live in a city, so doing theater is like moving to an offshore oil rig. The theater consumes a lot more than you remember.
Is the world of theater designed for parents? “I was very lucky because I had babies in changing rooms and Winnebagos. I used to carry my whole family with me, but when they get older and have been to school things obviously change. She pauses and hmms a bit. “I definitely made choices to work a lot less or take much smaller pieces, but it’s just making a reasonable choice. I don’t think it’s the profession’s fault.
In 2009, Ehle starred as Catelyn Stark in Game of Thrones. She filmed the famous unreleased pilot, but requested to be released and the role was played by Michelle Fairley. She was due to do an off-Broadway play shortly after, a two-hander with John Lithgow called Mr & Mrs Fitch. “We did the Game of Thrones pilot, and then I was all set to come home and be with baby Talulah, George, six, and my husband. When she tried to get out of Mr. and Mrs. Fitch, she said, “John Lithgow wrote me a really wonderful letter, and that’s what it did. I said, ‘OK, well, if I can wear Talulah.’ This is how Talulah and I ended up getting attached to rehearsing a play together. They stayed that way until the dress rehearsals.
In addition to his theatrical work, Ehle moved to the land of blockbusters with Contagion, the 2011 film which, for obvious reasons, became one of the must-see movies of 2020. It was a central role. “If your life is a pinball table, Contagion was the thing that ricocheted my ball in another direction,” she says. Ehle was Dr Ally Hextall, the scientist helping to discover the vaccine that saves mankind. In a crucial scene, she courageously injects herself with the new serum. “We had to do that again. I had done it through a pair of pantyhose, and the virologist said she would have done it on bare skin.
In March, Ehle was one of several stars to record a short clip for the #ControlTheContagion campaign, explaining the basics of Covid-19. “That this has happened is no surprise to a lot of people,” she says. “The fact that we – as a global community, and certainly your country and my country – were so ill-prepared is tragic and horrific, and was preventable. Because it was known to be inevitable at one point.
Two people she has spoken to in recent months are Scott Z Burns, who wrote the short, and epidemiologist Dr Ian Lipkin, who was a science adviser. Does she ask them questions about the virus? “They’re friends and it’s something we all experience, but it’s not like we’re wondering how to fix this. I’m not, anyway. She laughs. “I check with Ian sometimes. Who wouldn’t, if you could text someone who actually knows?
Despite the state of everything, I ask what is next. ” I have no idea. I’m really not in this place right now, Rebecca, I don’t know. Earlier this year, on Instagram and YouTube, she read Pride and Prejudice cover to cover and would love to do another book, but not a Jane Austen. She was looking at older, non-copyrighted works, but couldn’t find what she wanted. “I started to feel the level of privilege,” she says, “and the sexual politics. These are not worlds that I want to visit right now. Then she remembers that she started with the best. “Apart from Austen. Which is just amazing.
• Saint Maud is in UK cinemas from Friday.