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Interview: Oliver Jackson-Cohen Talks ‘The Haunting of Hill House’

October 15, 2019Ben MK

As Luke Crain on Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House, Oliver Jackson-Cohen plays a man tormented both by personal demons and the literal ghosts of his past. Based loosely on the 1959 Gothic novel by Shirley Jackson, Mike Flanagan's supernatural and psychological horror series follows a family for whom tragedy has struck not only once, but twice. And now that the show has been released on Blu-ray and DVD, fans have the opportunity to experience it as never before, with extended episodes, director's commentary and more.

I caught up with Oliver Jackson-Cohen to chat about The Haunting of Hill House and to find out what it was like working with the rest of the series' talented ensemble cast, as well as what his favorite horror movies and horror movie performances of all time are.

Even though The Haunting of Hill House isn't a direct adaptation of the novel, it's arguably a very faithful one in the way in which it deals with its characters and their shared trauma. Is that what drew you to the project?

Jackson-Cohen: I think what drew me personally — and I think all of us, as actors — was the fact that Mike [Flanagan] was writing the story. It was incredibly relatable. It was about childhood trauma, and I think that's what's incredible about the show is that they're all metaphors for other things in life. Even though it's set in a world with ghosts, it's written as a family drama — about grief, about loss, about post-traumatic stress disorder, about depression, about addiction — but is cloaked it in a veil of horror. That's what drew me to the project. The fact that these were honest, multidimensional characters within the confines of a horror story.

What kind of research or preparation did you do for your role?

Jackson-Cohen: I began watching a bunch of documentaries about heroine addiction. And then I realized very, very quickly that I had to stop, because that would be putting a judgment on Luke as a character. I don't think he'd see himself as a heroine addict. And so I stopped that, and I realized I couldn't play him as that. I needed to play him as someone that was struggling to function, and was running from something and trying to numb something, and build up the terror of that.

I think the way that Luke is, he never felt safe in his life. And so I worked on that — about what that would having this constant threat just around the corner does to you physically and what that does to you mentally. He's dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder but is constantly told what happened to him isn't true. And so his only avenue is to try and completely check out of all of it. There's something quite tragic about that, so I worked from that.

Without going into way too much detail, there was so much about Luke that I personally identified with. It was a character that was incredibly honestly written and an excellent portrayal of what it's like for people to have been in situations where they have struggled with trauma as a child and then have struggled to function as adults.

Was there an episode or a scene that was particularly memorable to you, personally, to film?

Jackson-Cohen: There's so much. [laughs] I think it's episode six, or it might be episode five. The one where it's sort of a one-take episode. That was amazing to shoot because none of us had ever shot anything like it. We rehearsed it like a play and then it was one take. There were different cuts throughout it, but the takes would be sort of 22 minutes long. And so the whole thing was choreographed. That was kind of incredible to do.

There's also a scene in the car between Luke and Nell where he asks her to buy her drugs that still, to this day, will probably be one of the most disturbing things I've had to do. So that was pretty memorable. There were so many bits throughout the show that were memorable to shoot. It's quite hard to pick one.

What was it like working with this amazing cast, which includes actors of such caliber as Timothy Hutton and Carla Gugino?

Jackson-Cohen: Incredible. [laughs] I think we all felt very, very fortunate. All the actors cared so deeply about their characters and about the story, and about making the story as real, and making the family dynamic as real as we possibly could. And so I think for any actor, it's an amazing thing when you get to work with people that are that dedicated and that in love with what they're doing and the story. We were very, very lucky.

Since Halloween is creeping up on us, what are some of your all-time favorite horror films or horror movie performances?

Jackson-Cohen: My favorite horror film's probably The Exorcist. That's the first one that I watched. I was 9 years old; I was way too young to watch it. [laughs] And it's ingrained in my head and still, to this day, terrifies me. I was a '90s kid, so Scream was a massive thing, and I think it came out when I was 11. I don't know if I could pick my favorite. And performances, there are some incredible ones. Toni Collette in Hereditary is remarkable. Jack Nicholson in The Shining is remarkable. There's so many good ones.

Last but not least, what are you working on next?

Jackson-Cohen: I'm doing the second season of The Haunting of Hill House at the moment, and I did The Invisible Man this year. We wrapped that in September, and I went straight from that to Vancouver and just started the second part in The Haunting series.

The Haunting of Hill House is now available on Blu-ray & DVD.

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