Saint Maud: God Told Me To

February 9, 2020
We spoke with actresses Jennifer Ehle and Morfydd Clark, and writer/director Rose Glass about the enigmatic British thriller.

Can you comment about the religious aspect of the story?

Jennifer: It’s a spectrum, and most religions seem to have a fanatical side. It seems to generally be about controlling other people.

Morfydd: She’s [Maud] not part of any sort of organised religion. It’s very much her and God, and I think that made it quite different for me because it means she’s created this world of religion that is just her and God. And that makes it even more lonely. I’m not religious myself, but lots of my family are, and they have a community. She doesn’t get any of those good parts I see, but just the kind of terror and fear of this force that could be incredibly disciplined.

Rose: The Maud character did come from a very devout Catholic upbringing, with flashbacks to school or whatever. And it quite quickly fell away because it just felt quite familiar. I’m not religious either, but I went to a Catholic girl school, cut some of my teeth with nuns… And I think because of that, it wasn’t always something I was quite interested in, but always felt quite comfortable around. Whereas people I do know, who found it themselves later in life, and seem to have a more devout or personal relationship with this. And they’ve come by themselves naturally. I changed that in the script, everything else seemed to fall into place about, well, in that case, what was happening before, and what role is this faith that she has actually playing in her life. I don’t really see it as a film about religion, to be honest, but it was about religious themes, but the kind of version of faith that Maud has created for herself is very… She’s finally choosing bits of organised religion and Catholicism. She’s making her own version of it, and making it to fit how she sees it. And it’s more of a coping mechanism, I think. Kind of a weird form of self-care that she hashed herself together. And then things start to fall apart.

Morfydd: I do love the idea that different people watching this will pick up on loads of different things depending on what their connection is with religion. Even though I didn’t go to church or anything like that, I definitely, as a woman, felt a lot of shame, probably, that comes from Catholicism and the church.. Even if it’s not religion, I was interested in the more universal urge to feel beholden to a bigger force, and to submit yourself to an ideology that has rules and gives you guidelines of how you should and shouldn’t behave, and how the law works. You could get the same kind of thing through any group you join.

Jennifer: It’s like inventing an imaginary friend, and if you’re overwhelmed, it’s a kind of relief to hand over the power… Things happen for a reason. To feel like you have somebody who knows the whole story, your whole story. I mean that’s what intimacy is. It must be incredibly lonely to have absolutely nobody.

Can you expand on the loneliness aspect of the film?

Morfydd: That’s what made me really want to be part of it. I think because, living in London… Just going on the tube, sometimes it’s quite bad looking around and seeing how sad everyone looks and lonely they are. I just think there’s an epidemic of loneliness as we become more and more separate. And also, people spend less time with each other, things become more extensive. So, all of my friends, no one can live next to each other, because of prices and things. It’d be so easy, just geographically for someone to become so isolated. I think loneliness is a huge problem and I think a community has a responsibility for it.

Rose: Sometimes it’s not until a bit later in the process you can pinpoint what you’re thinking the story is about, because I don’t consciously set out going into the story about loneliness. I just ended up writing this character, but then I step and say, “Oh…”

I think in the beginning it was connected to loneliness, that sense of alienation, and the fact that we’re all in the same visible world together, interacting, putting on a certain facade, but no idea really what’s going on in someone else’s head. I find that an interesting area and the gap between what we’ve done to the world and what we’ve got going on inside. There’s great potential in that.

Saint Maud writer/director Rose Glass

So, apart from freaking audiences out, what do you think the reaction should be to this movie?

Morfydd: I hope they have a lot of empathy for both of the characters, because I think we did. They behave in ways that aren’t necessarily good all the time, but they are human beings, and we can see the parts that have brought them there, and you can see the points that people could have been there and weren’t. I think there are so many crossroads that both of them go through, and that if they’d been one person maybe at one of their crossroads…

Jennifer, can you discuss how you approached your character?

Jennifer: My father had died just seven months before we did this. It gave me a sense of beginning to imagine how it would be, the frustrations of having to be dependent. I didn’t visit any cancer ward. But I did find it intriguing, the idea of somebody who had a large ego and their own agents, and was very empowered and able to create and make their life what they wanted, and also have extraordinary control of their body physically, which Amanda had for her art. And to be able to have utter autonomy and then suddenly have all of that completely taken away. I think she probably abused her power when she had it, and I think then she’s isolated. I think she probably was always a little isolated, and now she’s got no intimates. And I think that moat has only become wider and wider.

I think the frustration of having to ask permission basically, or ask for assistance to go to bed or to bathe or to do anything. And at the same time to be on massive amounts of drugs, as well. Not that thee’s a reason for it, but I think her perception of and her feeling of shame at being seen by what she thought she had that was valuable and that she never allowed anybody to be intimate with her. To see that she might have something else other than her celebrity and her power and what she created, that she doesn’t want people to see her this way. So, she doesn’t let anybody in, until she lets somebody in who, neither of them can handle it, really…

Jennifer Ehle in Saint Maud

Rose, we have read that you have been making films since you were 10 years old. Were they always so dark?

Rose: Probably always a little dark. I think in the beginning, it was more just the act of making films with people that was fun. And then it was a few years of actually working out what kind of films I like to watch, and it was always really messed-up stuff. I grew up in the countryside and Essex at these girls’ schools, that felt pretty boring, to be honest. So, I think starting to get into watching weird violent films, new characters, that seemed nothing like me, but that I felt, I sort of got. It’s exciting watching stuff that you feel you shouldn’t. And that kind of thirst, in which everybody has growing up, watching and getting obsessed with things, which feel like they’re yours. In the beginning it was always films that were slightly shocking or watching something you thought you shouldn’t be. I always liked that kind of feeling that you get. I guess I was wanting to do films that gave other people that feeling.

There’s so much strangeness in Saint Maud, which is what makes it so fascinating. Can you talk about the hand job?

Rose: No comment.

Morfydd: What I did like about that though, is that I think there’s this fascination with this wild woman who takes huge risks and has sex with lots of people and isn’t it cool and…

Morfydd Clark in Saint Maud

But she makes it quite mundane.

Morfydd: Well, yeah, but what I think is that often lots of people are just taken advantage of, when they’re in vulnerable situations. And I don’t think that guy’s necessarily a bad guy, but I think he’s grown up in a society where if a woman offers you sex, you take it, without thinking about whether it’s right.

I really feel there are so many points in it where people should have taken responsibility, as human beings, who met someone who’s clearly struggling and they didn’t. And they all build up and build up.

Rose: Because that scene as well, the hand-job scene in the bar, I find it very funny, and the actor we have, Jonathan Milshaw…

Morfydd: He’s so funny.

Rose: He’s so good. Maud’s not in the best place, but I wanted that sequence to be quite funny and have these moments of levity, and you sort of feel like “Oh, we’re going on, it’s fine”, and then it’s not until a bit later in the sequence that things take us on a dark twist. It’s only then that you realise, “Oh, she’s kind of been in a pretty bad position all along”, but we’ve just been going along for the ride… I mean, it’s slightly voyeuristic.

Saint Maud is screening at Fantastic Film Festival Australia in Sydney and Melbourne.

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