Watch: Trailer for sci-fi thriller Possessor
Tuppence Middleton says director Brandon Cronenberg made her feel “totally secure” while shooting the strangest sex scene of the year for Possessor.
The film follows Andrea Riseborough’s assassin Tasya Vos, who carries out her kills by taking over the bodies of other people — in this case Christopher Abbott’s Colin.
Colin is dating Ava (Middleton) and it is her who’s the target of Vos’s plot, with the real prize control of Ava’s father’s (Sean Bean) company.
While possessing Colin’s body, Vos has sex with Ava in a psychedelic scene that Middleton describes to Yahoo Movies UK as “pretty abstract”.
The 33-year-old adds: “It was only through speaking to Brandon that I felt totally secure in doing it.
“This is a guy who has really thought about why he wants this scene, what it portrays and what it means for this character.
“It’s something conceptual, beyond just a physical sex scene. It’s important for the character’s state of mind, rather than just a scene that’s there for titillation.”
Read more: Directors UK issues sex scene guidelines
Middleton reveals that the unusual, genre-bending elements of the scene were largely achieved in-camera, with projections and innovative lighting choices used instead of CGI.
She says: “To do it felt pretty abstract because there were all of these projections on the wall as we were doing the scene.
“It wasn’t like you’re in a very well-lit room feeling very exposed. I felt like we were very well-protected in that. You could see while you were shooting it what the scene was going to look like on camera.
“I also felt protected in the sense that there was something more artistic going on than just a very standard sex scene.”
Possessor certainly marks a diversion for Middleton, who has spent the last few years working on period dramas including the Downton Abbey movie and electrical entrepreneur biopic The Current War.
The film, though, does reflect her early fascination with darker roles in genre movies including her 2009 breakout Tormented.
With a sequel to Downton Abbey on the way, Middleton is keen to reprise her role as Lucy Smith — maid to Imelda Staunton’s character.
“I've also heard the talk about a [Downton Abbey] sequel,” she says. “If it works out and they want me back, I'd love to be coming back.”
But for now, it’s neon-lit sex scenes all the way.
Read the full interview with Tuppence Middleton, in which she discusses working with other members of the Cronenberg family, returning to horror and how she deals with on-set gore...
Yahoo Movies UK: You’re working with Brandon Cronenberg here and you acted alongside David Cronenberg in Disappearance at Clifton Hill. Are you collecting Cronenbergs?
Tuppence Middleton: Yeah, I think I’ve actually got almost the full set because David’s daughter and Brandon’s sister, Caitlin, was the unit photographer on both of those films. So there were a lot of Cronenbergs around all the time actually. She’s a really talented photographer and she also does art and fashion photography, so it was really cool to work with her.
They’re all so laidback. The thing that was so striking to me about them as a family is that they’re all so lovely and polite. When you look at their work, it feels like they have this kind of dark energy running through their veins, but actually maybe that’s their way of coping with life. They’re all really pleasant people.
Was there any link between the two roles at all or was it just a coincidence?
There wasn’t [a link] actually. One of the production companies was the same, so I suppose there was a connection there more than there was a connection between Cronenbergs. I think it’s just a little bit like it is in every country with this industry, in that it’s always a little smaller than it seems, once you’ve been working in it a few years. I hadn’t worked in Canada before and that’s an industry in itself. It happened to be that I was working in Toronto and that’s where Caitlin and Brandon are based.
It wasn’t linked, but it was a really nice connection because I could say “oh I just worked with your dad”. Brandon was really cool about it. I guess there was a conversation about it in terms of “what was she like?” perhaps. It was really fun and it was nice to work with David in an acting context because there’s probably not many other times I would’ve got to do that. It was really cool.
This is very much a return to horror and genre movies for you. You’ve done period stuff in recent years, but horror obviously goes right back in your filmography. What was it like to be back in the world of gore and violence?
It was so nice, for want of a better word. I really love that kind of genre myself. I’m quite a scaredy cat when it comes to supernatural stuff, but I have quite a strong stomach for strange gore and violence on screen. I felt comfortable back in the horror genre. It’s nice when you get to be in films that you would love to watch if you were nothing to do with them. It’s absolutely the film that I would go to the cinema and be really excited about seeing, so it’s really cool when you’re a part of something like that.
You share most of your scenes with Christopher Abbott and it’s a really strange dynamic because, obviously, he’s actually playing Andrea Riseborough playing his character. What was that dynamic like to play?
That was really interesting for me because, when I came in, they had already been shooting for a week or two. The first scene I did with him, he was being Andrea playing him. I hadn’t been around him just playing his character. I was seeing two performances in one on the first day of shooting. It took everything in me to have to try to ignore that he was doing that and just take it at face value in the same way that Ava is. That was an interesting aspect to his performance.
It was only seeing it afterwards when it was fully put together that I could see the subtleties. It’s such a genre film and Chris is such a naturalistic actor, which I think was a really smart move from Brandon to cast a lead like him. You totally believe his performance and that all of these strange things are happening to him, but in an ultra-realistic and gritty way.
One of the things that jumps out is the violence and the way Brandon pushes boundaries. I know some actors relish those scenes and some struggle. How do you feel about them?
I suppose it really depends on whether the violence is against you and your character. It’s what you are doing in that moment. For me, the violence that Ava experiences is pretty brutal. Sometimes you’re in a really uncomfortable position as an actor and, although I was crawling along the floor on fake broken glass, it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been if that makes sense. I have definitely been in more uncomfortable positions where you’re covered in sticky, horrible-smelling fake blood and you’re standing outside in the freezing cold for hours.
But this was relatively comfortable to shoot and Brandon is so ultra-sensitive and aware of what’s going on with all of the actors. He was always checking in. In the same way that he can make a film like this and be a really lovely, mild-mannered person, that kind of translates. When he’s making those scenes, he’s really gentle and respectful. That really helps.
It’s interesting you mention Brandon’s sensitivity. One of the things people keep bringing up is that the movie features one of the most shocking and bizarre sex scenes they’ve ever seen. What was that like to be involved in?
It was a really strange thing. It was something we definitely had conversations about before and it was only through speaking to Brandon that I felt totally secure in doing it. This is a guy who has really thought about why he wants this scene, what it portrays and what it means for this character. It’s something conceptual, beyond just a physical sex scene. It’s important for the character’s state of mind, rather than just a scene that’s there for titillation.
So I felt really secure in the reasons for the scene being there. The way we shot it was kind of abstract. So much of it was done in-camera. There was hardly any CGI or post-production effects. It was done with projections and filters and strange light settings.
To do it felt pretty abstract because there all of these projections on the wall as we were doing the scene. It wasn’t like you’re in a very well-lit room feeling very exposed. I felt like we were very well-protected in that. You could see while you were shooting it what the scene was going to look like on camera. I also felt protected in the sense that there was something more artistic going on than just a very standard sex scene.
I’ve done some gear-shifts in interviews in my time, but this might be one of the biggest ones I’ve ever done. I’m going to go from there to Downton Abbey...
It’s also one of the biggest career shifts I have done!
Obviously you were in that movie last year and there’s lots of talk about a sequel. Can we expect to see you again?
I've also heard the talk about a sequel. If it works out and they want me back, I'd love to be coming back.
Possessor is available on all digital platforms from 27 November.
Watch: Downton Abbey sequel in the works