Greta Garbo was famous for saying, “I want to be alone.” The actress protagonist of She Will also wants to be alone, but for totally different reasons. The actress, Veronica Ghent, initially seems arrogant and unlikable. Then the film gradually reveals the traumas she suffered recently and decades ago.
She Will, the first feature film by Franco-British photographer, artist, and filmmaker Charlotte Colbert, screened at this year’s Fantastic Fest. Fantastic Fest, the largest genre film festival in the country, shows horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action, and unusual films that don’t necessarily fit into any genre.
I spoke with Charlotte Colbert, who co-wrote and directed, and two of the film’s stars, Alice Krige, who plays Veronica, and Malcolm McDowell, who plays film director Eric Hathbourne.
Filmmaker Colbert was lucky to recruit two such able actors.
Alice Krige has had an amazing career. She has played a fascinating range of characters such as Patsy Cline in Baja Oklahoma, Bathsheba opposite Richard Gere in King David, and The Borg Queen in several Star Trek productions. Other films credits include classics such as Chariots of Fire and Silent Hill.
Malcolm McDowell started acting in the 1960s and came to the world’s attention when he played the miscreant Alex in A Clockwork Orange. More recently he played Thomas Pembridge in Mozart in the Jungle. Along the way he has racked up over 300 movie and TV credits.
The film begins after Veronica has had a double mastectomy and seeks out an isolated hotel in Scotland to recuperate mentally and physically. Her nurse Desi, played by Kota Eberhardt, accompanies her. Her fame creates excitement among other guests at the hotel. To escape this attention, she and Desi relocate to a small cabin in the woods.
We learn that Veronica’s career was launched by her performance in a film called Navajo Frontier which also made director Hathbourne, soon to be knighted, famous. Hathbourne had a traumatic influence on Veronica’s life. Strange dreams and upsetting memories of Hathbourne drive Veronica to start sleepwalking around the forest.
In She Will we watch Veronica’s effort to resolve that trauma, through nature, supernatural powers, and the help of witches.
I mentioned that this was Colbert’s first feature, but before I could complete my question, McDowell interjected, “But, she’s a hell of a good painter!”
Back to my question, I asked how she got horror guru Dario Argento on the project as Executive Producer.
Colbert said, “It happened at Cannes.”
I asked, “So the movie was already completed?”
McDowell explained, “Yes, the movie was shot already, and he just loved it so much he wanted to help sell the movie, very generously. And then they got a big gift basket of fruit and cheese.”
I agreed that I was sure that helped clinch the deal.
Scotland, Birds and Dreams
I asked why Scotland was chosen as the setting.
Colbert explained, “It’s a spiritual place, a magical place. It’s got a lot of folklore and a lot of incredible natural habitat. It was also a place where a lot of women were persecuted for witchcraft.”
Krige noted, “Macbeth, which takes place in Scotland, starts off with three witches.”
I noted that in a scene in the Scottish countryside, a flock of birds takes off and seems to be a precursor to the ashes that come into play later. I asked if this was luck or CGI.
Colbert said, “Yes, it was enhanced a little bit to give it that view.”
I asked about other views in the film. I wasn’t sure much of the time whether I was watching reality or a dream inside Veronica Ghent’s mind. Colbert said that this was good and that things were happening in both places.
McDowell interrupted with, “Is this a dream or are we really in Austin? So many flights.”
Being Movie Stars
After the laughter died down, I asked Colbert if, when she was writing, she envisioned Malcolm McDowell as Hathbourne, or did she just get lucky.
McDowell interjected, “She really wanted Ben Kingsley, but he wasn’t available.”
Colbert said, “Well, the actors just kind of materialized.”
McDowell said, “She’s the kind of woman who when she wants something she gets it and it’s not because she’s pushy, because she isn’t. She’s damn pushy, but it’s so well disguised.”
In a scene early in the film, Krige’s character gets surrounded by fans and is turned off by all the attention. I asked if that had ever happened to her in real life, like at a Star Trek convention.
She laughed and said, “No, that has never happened to me. I’m just so glad to have fans.”
I asked Malcolm if it had happened to him.
He said, “Oh, not like the Beatles or anything, but I guess after A Clockwork Orange it was kind of insane for a while. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy it.”
Nerves and Ashes
We discussed the atmosphere of the film. I said it was so good at giving one strange feelings, I’m not sure I would want to watch it again.
McDowell nodded: “Yes, it’s unnerving. That’s what it’s meant to be.”
Colbert added, “And a big part of the film is that the Veronica Ghent character gets power in her dreams. She sleepwalks and carries her movement, like dance, into the dreams in a graceful and unnerving way. We wanted to explore the limitations and boundaries of things and just let it flow.”
The Ghent character interacts with the ashes in the ground.
Colbert explained, “There is a kind of ground in Scotland called peat. It is fossilized debris, incredibly dense, and it holds the DNA of the universe. It’s everywhere there. They burn it. It gets into the water. So that’s the heart of it.”
Krige observed, “What I loved about it is that I personally find it very hard to live in the city. The presence of the earth and the sky is extraordinarily powerful, and cities are designed to cut you off from that. You never have a dark sky. The Earth is covered with asphalt. There are buildings that obscure the moon and the stars. When you can open yourself to nature, you start to feel a rhythm and a pulse.”
Krige continued, “In She Will, I think what happens is that Veronica Ghent goes up there on some kind of intuitive impulse. It becomes profoundly regenerative for her. That’s why nature is a character in the film. It’s a presence and I think it tells us something about our condition as human beings.”
To get updates about She Will, future Fantastic Fest events, and ways to view its films, check its website.