'Rebecca' director Ben Wheatley: Being an actor can be 'damaging', but it's part of the profession (exclusive)

Rebecca Lewis
·Contributor
·3-min read
Rebecca: Lily James as Mrs. de Winter, Cr. KERRY BROWN/NETFLIX
Rebecca: Lily James as Mrs. de Winter, Cr. KERRY BROWN/NETFLIX

Rebecca director Ben Wheatley has spoken of his ‘appreciation’ for actors after Lily James revealed in 2019 that she had ‘panic attacks’ and went to therapy after filming the new Netflix adaptation.

“I found it really hard to let go of the character,” the British actress said during a panel at the International Film Festival & Awards Macao late in 2019, “I kept having panic attacks after it finished, I couldn’t shake it off.”

Now Wheatley tells Yahoo that he believes ‘the world of the actor is a delicate one’ but that his ‘appreciation for actors goes up and up and up when I see these types of performances.’

“Our reality as civilian people is we are trained from children to hide our emotions and make sure people don't see inside, that's the armour,” Wheatley says, “but actors are totally the opposite, that's their job to reveal themselves on screen but also in a room with crew or on stage.

Rebecca: (L to R) Director Ben Wheatley, Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter, Lily James as Mrs. de Winter. Cr. KERRY BROWN/NETFLIX
Rebecca: (L to R) Director Ben Wheatley, Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter, Lily James as Mrs. de Winter. Cr. KERRY BROWN/NETFLIX

“It's damaging and when they really get inside themselves, it's really contrary to what our normal lives are like… so my appreciation for actors goes up and up and up when I see these types of performances.

“To get yourself into that head space is a massive effect.”

Read more: We went through Rebecca’s 'gaslighting' themes with a fine tooth comb

As a director, though, Wheatley admits he ‘doesn’t worry about it as it’s part of the profession.’

“They have their own gasket and control over that, and that's their own thing,” he says.

Rebecca (L to R) Lily James as Mrs. de Winter, Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter. Cr. KERRY BROWN/NETFLIX
Rebecca (L to R) Lily James as Mrs. de Winter, Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter. Cr. KERRY BROWN/NETFLIX

However, when asked if he was aware James had been struggling, Wheatley adds: “I knew they were doing that, it's part of it.

“The danger comes when people do films back to back to back, or they choose films that are emotionally hard again and again.

“You hear about Shelly Duvall crying for a year doing The Shining; the physical act of crying is hard on your body and your body doesn't know it’s not real and it’s exhausting, so you go through the physiological things.”

Actress Shelley Duvall on the set of "The Shining". (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
Actress Shelley Duvall on the set of "The Shining". (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Rebecca, a classic novel by Daphne du Maurier, tells the story of an unnamed young woman who recalls her memory of a dream of her time at Manderley and her marriage as the second Mrs de Winter.

The audience never meets the titular character of Rebecca – the first Mrs de WInter – who has passed away in tragic circumstances before Mrs de Winter meets Maxim de Winter in the south of France.

Working as a companion for an American lady, Mrs de Winter reveals herself to be a naive young woman whose parents have both passed on.

Rebecca (L to R) Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter, Director Ben Wheatley, Cr. KERRY BROWN/NETFLIX
Rebecca (L to R) Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter, Director Ben Wheatley, Cr. KERRY BROWN/NETFLIX

She falls in love with Maxim and the pair marry, before he takes her back to his sweeping Cornish estate, Manderley, where she meets housekeeper Mrs Danvers and the estate’s servants.

But the ghost of Rebecca haunts the mansion – and Maxim – and Mrs de Winter finds herself trying to find her way when no one can accept Rebecca is gone.

Rebecca is in select cinemas now and on Netflix from 21 October.

Watch: A clip from Wheatley’s previous film Happy New Year Colin Burstead