list.co.uk/film VIVARIUM | FILM
role represent? Can you be a part of something purely for the sake of entertainment? All that stuff is really potent.
You’ve made a career out of playing characters who challenge what women are supposed to be. Are they easy to find? I know that if you don’t get an opportunity to show someone what you can do, they might never ask. So I think Green Room, for me, was a huge window into a world where I can play great female characters who are unlikable, make mistakes or have accidents, and demonstrate all sorts of self-shame, guilt and dangerous feelings that femininity hasn’t allowed for beforehand. But I think it’s very difficult to go out and find these parts, so it’s certainly a treat when something comes your way that’s in line with what you’re interested in. Vivarium plays like a surrealist genre film, but it’s grounded in truth. How did you ensure that Gemma stayed relatable, even as these bizarre things were happening around her? I feel certainly that I’ve made errors in the past, where I tried to meet a tone or match the tone of a piece with a performance. And it doesn’t work. You can’t play horror. That’s something that’s found afterwards, or with the people around you, the energy created together. So I think it was really about staying truthful, to be totally present. There’s a Terrence Malick-style direction the film could have gone in: more dreamlike, more leaning into the surreal. But Lorcan was pretty clear about wanting us to be naturalistic amidst the madness.
It relaxes you because it’s a great reminder that everything else is taken care of. So when you see a set that beautiful, right down to the colour of the house, the specific bile-toned green, and the casting of Senan Jennings [as the child] who was so good with his youthful, translucent skin. Everything was so perfect. And I really loved seeing a reflection of what these people had been brought up to believe they would want and should want. Then you get it, and that’s it. You’re ready to die. And it’s just so grim, and funny. I loved that even the set design was ironic. It’s all a big domestic trap, and that’s particularly true for Gemma when the child is foisted on her. But there are also small moments of bonding between them. Was that balance between motherhood as a curse and a gift important to get right? Yes, and also the idea of motherhood as a choice, but a lot of women are not able to have children. There is so much there that is unspoken. And I know a number of women who had postnatal depression; they really wanted a child and they had the child and then they had depression. What does that say about you as a person, as a woman? In some way it really does negate your femininity. I love the way that with Gemma there are these little pulls where there is great compassion and empathy that is touching on those maternal instincts. And then, of course, it’s the sort of ‘I did not choose this life. How dare you encroach on mine’. It’s definitely complicated. I love talking to new mothers in a way about that, because it’s the total selfishness and shame combined with the adoration and bliss. And it seems like a real trip!
One of the film’s great strengths is the production design, which represents an alien view of domestic bliss. Does that detail help you get in the mindset of the character? Vivarium is available to watch now on Amazon, Sky, Apple TV, Curzon Home Cinema and other digital platforms. Read our review at list.co.uk/film
1 Apr–31 May 2020 THE LIST 73