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The director and stars of Rebecca discuss remaking one of the greatest thrillers of all time

By Rory Cashin

October 16, 2020 at 11:53am

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We spoke to the movie's stars Kristin Scott Thomas, Armie Hammer, Lily James, and director Ben Wheatley about Netflix's new thriller.

There is an interesting parallel between the plot of Rebecca and the movie itself.

The story is of a new husband and wife moving into his huge countryside mansion, and she hears countless stories of how perfect and beautiful his first wife was, and before long the ghostly shadow has been cast over every aspect of her life.

And so it is with the 2020 remake, as director Ben Wheatley takes on the only movie Alfred Hitchcock directed to win the Best Picture Oscar, and his actors find themselves with equally big shoes to fill.

We were lucky enough to chat to the director and the actors of the new take on Rebecca (read our review in full here) in the run-up to the movie's premiere on Netflix, and we needed to know  whether that pressure of taking on a classic was particularly daunting.

First up, Armie Hammer and Lily James, who play the central husband and wife, chat about their roles. In the 1940 adaptation, Hammer's character was played by the legendary Laurence Olivier, and Hammer tells us (while literally using a fly swatter to dispel some unwanted pests in his home), that he got off somewhat easy:

"I think Lily had it harder than I did, because Larry is dead, so he couldn't really complain about what I did, so I had that going for me."

Lily James then weighs in, who already knows about the pressures of living up to an iconic performer, having played a young Meryl Streep in the Mamma Mia sequel:

"You know, sometimes it is like a double-edged sword, because it can be so intimidating and terrifying, and in another way you've got someone to draw from or to be inspired by or to mimic, because they're some of the greatest actors of all time. It is an honour and a privilege, but yeah, deeply terrifying, too."

Next up, director Ben Wheatley - best known for his grimy crime thrillers Free Fire, High Rise, and Kill List - doesn't want people thinking that this is a remake of the Hitchcock classic, but a new adaptation of the original novel, as Hitchcock's remake couldn't go down some of the darker plot threads that the book did:

"I think the updating of it is interesting, because I re-read the book after I re-read the script, and I felt like there was something very modern in the book. On the one hand, it has got the DNA and the blueprints for a lot of thriller novels and thriller cinema, and that is why the idea of Rebecca feels like there is a massive shadow cast across culture from it.

"But at the same time, there are things that it does that have not really been repeated, like the idea of the moral structure of the story. That there is a murder in the middle of it, which is unsolved, unpunished, and that the audience almost kind of will the murderer to not be caught, which is very different from the things that we see now."

We also had to ask Wheatley about his casting decision behind Kristin Scott Thomas in the role of Mrs. Danvers. The Hitchcock version is considered to be one of the greatest cinema villains of all time, but Wheatley didn't see her character as necessarily being the baddie of his movie:

"I've got a lot of time for Danvers, and I feel she is the moral centre of the film in many ways. She is the defender of Rebecca's name, and she knows that something is wrong. I feel like in any other version of this story, she would be like an Agatha Christie style person, where she would solve the murder.

"It was important to get an actress of the calibre of Kristin Scott Thomas to play that, because she can play fierce and intimidating, but she can also can play the vulnerability of it."

And finally, we were lucky enough to chat to Kristin Scott Thomas herself about the role, and the specific cultural touchstones that she brought to the role in order to update the 1938 character for 2020 audiences:

"I think there is a whole thing going on, which has always existed, to do with physical appearance and status. Having the latest handbag, having the latest this and that. I sort of thought about a very sophisticated, very grand air hostess in first class somewhere. Where they make you feel about two inches tall? I don't know if you've ever experienced that, but I certainly have.

"It wasn't a particular character in somebody else's work, it was just that general feeling of the impenetrable, impeccable older woman, who seems to frighten everybody. The idea of the older woman who is in charge, is for some reason in the general consciousness of everybody, is sort of scary."

Rebecca debuts on Netflix on Wednesday, October 21.

These interviews have been edited slightly for clarity.

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