Inquirer Super

A perfectly splendid conversation with Bly Manor’s Victoria Pedretti and Henry Thomas

When “The Haunting of Hill House” came out in 2018, it was such a huge hit that even people who normally refuse to watch anything scary sat through the ten-episode horror series and enjoyed it, Bent-Neck Lady and all. 

“The Haunting of Hill House,” based on the Shirley Jackson novel of the same name, was more than just a spookfest—it was also a beautiful family drama. 

This time, Mike Flanagan, who created, wrote, directed, produced and edited “Hill House” is back with “The Haunting of Bly Manor” which started streaming on Netflix on October 9. He brings with him many of the actors who starred in “Hill House”—Victoria Pedretti, Henry Thomas, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, and Carla Gugino who all play completely new characters in this follow-up series. ”Bly Manor” is an entirely different story from “Hill House.” It’s loosely based on Henry James’ novella “The Turn of the Screw” and his short stories “The Jolly Corner,” “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” and “The Altar of the Dead” among others. 

Just like “Hill House,” “Bly Manor” is more than just a ghost story. It’s also a love story. And just like “Hill House,” “Bly Manor” features a fantastic cast that includes some really talented child actors. 

Set in England in the ‘80s (100 years after the original setting of the novella), “The Haunting of Bly Manor” tells the story of Dani, an American woman (played by Pedretti), who is hired by Henry Wingrave (played by Thomas) to take care of his niece and nephew at the family estate. 

We won’t spoil anything for you in case you haven’t watched it yet. But here’s a tip: after you watch the very last scene, go back to the first episode and watch the show’s first few minutes. We think you’ll think that the connection is perfectly splendid.

Super and other members of the media got the chance to talk to Victoria Pedretti and Henry Thomas over Zoom in what turned out to be a surprisingly funny conversation. 

Going into filming this, was there any extra pressure knowing how much the fans loved “The Haunting of Hill House”? 

Henry Thomas: I think so. I think we were hoping that we were creating something that the fans would would like because the fans were really happy about the first season and you don’t want to disappoint them. But we didn’t really have anywhere to go with those characters and that story anymore. Mike Flanagan had written it as a mini series, basically. And so Bly Manor and Henry James short stories, became the new venue. And we’re hoping that fans will enjoy the Haunting of Bly as much as they did that of Hill House. 

Victoria Pedretti: I agree. There’s a lot of pressure going into another season, especially in the show that has been so successful, especially when we’re taking so many risks in terms of where the story is going, reimagining every aspect of it, pretty much. There’s a lot of pressure because you want to keep entertaining people and you don’t want to disappoint them.

What was it like going from playing Nell to Dani? 

VP: They’re two wildly different people other than the fact that they are a creation of my mind and my perception of them, I mean that’s a big similarity to have. But beyond that, I like to just be able to be different people, you know, that are both women and have my face. (Henry laughs.) 

Henry you have a British accent in this show and Victoria you play an au pair, did you do anything special to prepare for your role in Bly Manor? 

HT: Yeah, there was a lot of dialect work. We had a dialect coach on set and in pre-production. Because you know it’s a lot to do over the course of a few episodes, but it’s a lot to do with the rhythm of it and everything so the more practice you get, the better. It was a challenge but it was fun because as an American you don’t really get to play British very often, in my experience, anyway.

VP: I don’t think I really did much to prepare specifically for being a nanny. It was more about being a caretaker with her passion for kind of working with the most neglected children, the problem children, you know, which is such a f*cked up phrase that we have in the world, to label a child a problem child that people are just not taking enough time to listen to and nurture. That’s actually kind of a very progressive take, especially for the ‘80s, on caring for children. And so more thinking about how to cultivate nurturing safe space for children to be able to express themselves and be listened to and feel safe.

 

If you could play another character on the show, who would it be and why? 

HT: Peter Quinn, because he had the cool clothes in the show, the cool costumes. . 

VP: He had the coolest outfits, I want all of those outfits. His intro is also really fly.  That was epic. 

HT: Nice intro.

VP: I don’t know, Jamie had some great things also, I’d want to wear those. That Blondie shirt was such a great touch. I feel like if I was to cast myself, if I was to cast this, I’d probably cast myself as Jamie before I cast myself as Dani. I think that seems more like obviously where I would fall but that’s why it’s so incredible to have the challenge of playing something more outside of myself.

HT: Yeah, that’s awesome.

One of the things I loved about “Hill House” was watching those amazing child actors perform. And then you have amazing child actors again in “Bly Manor.” Can you talk about what it was like working with them? How are they so good at that young age?

VP: God-given gift. 

HT: Fantastic.

VP: I don’t know how they’re so talented. I would ask their parents about that and even when I ask their parents about it, it was like, “I don’t know, I just had a child and they were this crazy exceptional talent,” I think that’s kind of how it goes. They’re just really special kids. It was incredible (working with them). We had a great camaraderie and rapport and communicated really well. We had a lot of respect going back and forth and we had different ways of keeping each other focused and motivated and excited. Honestly, they were so immaculate in the way that they worked that it really kept us on our toes.

HT: Yeah, they were very well prepared.

Mike Flanagan said something about how the ghosts here are more like emotional wounds that people carry. Do you think this type of ghost is scarier than the supernatural ones?

HT: I think it’s probably more real for a lot of people, because I think we all have our past and we have wounds from our past and things that happened to us that probably we would rather not have had happen to us. And, you know, if they’re severe or just minor, it doesn’t matter, they stay with you, right? I think this is just a study in what those could be if they were manifest perhaps.

Beyond being a ghost story, Bly Manor is also a love story. What would you say is the biggest love lesson you’ve learned in your lifetime?

HT: Don’t get married. (laughs) 

VP: Henry! 

HT: I’m sorry I ruined it for everyone. (laughs)

VP: Don’t compromise. Don’t compromise yourself.

Are there any fun or spooky moments that happened on set while you were filming that you can tell us about? 

HT: I don’t really have any spooky things that happened other than me thinking I might have to reshoot some of my office stuff. That scared me.

VP: Losing track of time can be kind of scary, like it’s what time? 

Any fun memories in particular?

VP: No, it wasn’t fun at all.

HT: Yeah, we didn’t have a lot of fun. It was work. No, I’m just kidding. It was fun.

VP: Everybody was difficult and I don’t like them. (Henry laughs.)

HT: It was cold, it was wet, it was late, usually, and we were working long hours and driving way way out into the British Columbian countryside to shoot stuff. So it wasn’t an easy six months but we’re happy with the results, you know.

How difficult is it to keep all the secrets? You’re not allowed to talk about spoilers. Is that something you stick to even with the people in your life and not just journalists? Do you get used to remembering what you can and cannot talk about? 

HT: You have to sign a contract saying that you won’t so you don’t really have a choice. You don’t talk about things because it can cost you your job and it’s serious.

VP: I tell everybody everything. (Henry laughs.) What do you want to know, I’ll tell you everything. I’m just kidding, Netflix. 

HT: I’ll tell you for the price of one bag of chips.

VP: I’m out here conning chips out of people. 

If Bly Manor and Hill House were real places, which one would you visit first?

VP: Bly Manor. Hill House is kind of all f*cked up and broken, you know. Also those ghosts seem a little bit more… like they’ll go, “Hey, Lady of the Lake is coming” and you’d be like, “Okay, I get the idea, you’re all cool, you’re all just freaking out and can’t remember anything.” It jut seems like just avoid the Lady of the Lake and it’s not that bad of a place.

HT: Yeah, I agree. I think that the ghosts in Hill House are really predatory. But you only have to worry about one apex predator in Bly Manor. And it’s bigger, Bly Manor is bigger. So, I would go for the bigger mansion myself.

VP: Yeah, Henry wants huge houses.

HT: Yeah, that’s what I’m into, a really big sprawling sprawling mans. That’s what I want.

What was the most challenging scene for you to film and why?

VP: For me, it was definitely everything in the lake. It felt like I was in that particular outfit and that particular evening for at least a month and I guess it’s true I was literally in the same day over and over and over again for a month. The last time I took off that ‘80s bra soaking wet and slapped it on a chair, I was like, I am free! It was really good. It was really challenging because it was physically rigorous and emotionally rigorous.

HT: The hardest thing for me was the duplicate days where I had to play Henry and Shadow Henry because I had makeup changes and costume changes and I didn’t get a break because I was shooting all day and it was very meticulous. We had to use a special track and a special machine that would mimic the track movements so that we could put me in the same shot as myself and it was really challenging. That was a long day and I’m glad we did it though because I really like those scenes.

A lot of people were freaking out over the presence of dolls in the show. What is your relationship with creepy dolls? Do you hate them? Do you like them? Were you terrified of them on set? 

HT: I’m not into the creepy dolls and the clowns or baby ghosts and stuff. That’s very strange.

VP: It doesn’t bother me. I like clowns too, specifically, I actually really like clowns.

HT: I know you like clowns but I don’t mean like clowns at the circus, I mean creepy clowns.

VP: When you say clowns, people don’t know what you mean so you continue to perpetuate the taboo of clowns. (Henry laughs.) People need to know that clowns want to make us laugh, they don’t want to scare us.

HT: Yeah but like in your grandmother’s room, when you go in your grandmother’s room and there are a lot of clowns, there’s like a clown in a glass case with realistic eyes, that’s kind of creepy. 

VP: Your grandma had that?

HT: I think so or I’m imagining my grandmother had that. (Henry and Victoria laugh.)

VP: No, the dolls don’t really bother me. I find them really interesting and I mostly was fascinated by how they’re all made and they’re so unique. There’s so many styles of clowns, there’s porcelain, there’s all kinds.