Rose Glass [Interview]

Saint Maud is this week’s pick for a Friday night fright so it seems only fitting to share the interview I did with it’s writer and director, Rose Glass, in February 2020. Our chat was just ahead of the films screening at Glasgow FrightFest, and around the start of the pandemic. During our interview we spoke about all aspects of bringing this incredible film to life.

Where did the inspiration for Saint Maud come from?

I think it just sort of sprung up from a combination of lots of stuff that I’m interested in. I’d been doing a bit of research and reading about people who hear voices, and all the different reasons that can lead to that. I’ve always been interested in the divide between the weird private little bubble that we’ve all got going on in our heads and what we present of ourselves to the rest of the world. So I knew I wanted to set a story that was very much inside a young woman’s head. The idea of a voice that she hears being another character seemed interesting to me. So that was the initial hook – a woman having this secret internal relationship with God that the other people in her life don’t know about. Then it developed from there; I started realising that – a really long time ago – if somebody said they heard the voice of God in their head, they’d probably get a very different reaction to the one they’d get now. That just seemed like an interesting hook for me, and then developed the story from there.

The film is told very much from Maud’s perspective. Was that always how you wanted it to be, or did you have any other ideas?

No, totally from the very beginning that was the thing that interested me. I always wanted it to be this intimate, intense, psychological story, but told in a very cinematic, heightened, visceral way. I’ve always been interested in what makes people tick. Why we do the things we do. Why people are pushed to do dangerous and extreme things. I think it’s easy to dismiss people doing things we don’t understand, as being bad, or weird. For me, the film hopefully…it’s all about empathy really. I wanted people to be put into her head and hopefully people emphasise with Maud, and actually might be surprised to find out there’s things in her story that they recognise. She’s motivated by very universal stuff.

How much of Maud was on the paper, and how much was Morfydd?

Well I mean, she obviously brought the character to life completely. You write it thinking that they’re already fully-fledged people, but then when you get an amazing actor to perform it you’re, “oh, this is much better.” I’d like to think the character was very specific on the page, but you can’t really tell until you get a real person. Morfydd’s just a fantastic actor really. The character goes to such extreme, strange, dangerous places, and I wanted the audience to be empathising and going along with her the whole time. She’s on screen pretty much every single shot, so it just had to be someone incredibly charismatic that you can’t take your eyes off. Someone who you buy going from these different extremes. She can do that – she’s a chameleon – and she’s also a fantastic comic actor. It was always really important to me to find someone who could bring the humour out. The story sounds quite dark and bleak on the surface maybe, but I wanted the whole experience to be very much of her point of view, and as far as she’s concerned, she’s going through great, grandiose, dangerous, exciting Godly missions.

She needed to be someone who you can believe is often ignored and often gets overlooked. She can completely. I think watching her, particularly at the beginning of the film, you can understand how she is someone who has been overlooked in the past. Up close we just need to see just below the surface there’s all this simmering, seething stuff going on. The whole thing… from the very beginning of development we were talking about it being this pressure cooking piece. You’re just waiting for this girl to get set off. That was all a big part of it.

Outside of the house and Maud’s flat, the story has an ‘every town’ seaside setting. Typically these stories see a nanny or nurse off to a country manor in the middle of the woods or something. Why did you opt for the seaside?

I think it was always a seaside town, even at the very beginning of the idea. I liked the idea of setting…maybe it’s something to do with being by the sea there’s obviously very elemental slightly symbolic stuff to do with the scale and dramatic natural elements of having the ocean there. And them being at the end of things. Also English seaside towns…we didn’t shoot there, but I grew up in Essex, which obviously has quite a lot of seaside towns. We shot in Scarborough up in Yorkshire. I guess I’ve just always been drawn…I don’t know…I wanted the film to feel like it was set in the real world in the present day, but a slightly heightened version of it. Seaside towns just often have this timeless, weird, forgotten look to them. There’s something about them that feels a little bit like a warped fairy-tale.

The scares are so effective, it must have taken a lot of time in the edit to get them just right.

When you’re editing, there’s a huge amount of work and you keep twisting and adjusting to get the timings exactly right, but in principle that’s how it was in the script. There are a few jump scares, or more traditional horror beats. Those are the kind of things I was most worried about pulling off. I think unambiguously scary moments or comical moments are the most nerve-wracking because they either land or they don’t. People either laugh and scream, or they don’t, and if they haven’t then you’ve failed. The timing of the joke or a scare – there’s quite a lot of technical beats to it. That’s a combination of, you sort of edit in your head even when you’re writing. You think about it all the way through the process. From writing to shooting, we planned the shots very precisely and worked out at what point we’d be cutting from one to another. Then in the edit, you have a whole other layer to the writing and make it better, change things. Like with all edits, there were some scenes that we changed around as you discover new things. We shot / wrote a couple of extra scenes whilst we were editing, and I was lucky enough to get a few extra days shooting, which was brilliant. It was a very ongoing fluid thing.

A lot of Polanski references appear in the film, were there any other films or filmmakers that influenced your storytelling or aesthetic?

You try to think and do your own thing whenever you’re writing, but of course we’re all influenced by stuff that we see. I’ve always loved Rosemary’s Baby, and Repulsion for sure provided some inspiration for some of the visual look of the film. A couple of Bergman films like Persona and Through a Glass Darkly. They’ve got some fantastic female characters in there. In one of them, there’s quite an unusual relationship with God. Another of those films has this relationship with a nurse and a carer, so I’m sure they were floating around in my mind at times. For some of the more theatrical, religious ecstasy stuff, I love The Devils by Ken Russell starring Oliver Reed with a fantastic moustache, playing this priest that this convent of nuns all fall hysterically in love with and start losing their minds over. Taxi Driver….at some points during development I mentioned to an exec… I think they maybe didn’t quite get where Saint Maud was coming from so I tried saying, “imagine if Travis Bickle was a young Catholic woman living in a small English seaside town” and they were like, “I think I get it now”. Another socially isolated and alienated character whose got a very different narrative of their life going on in their heads to what the rest of the world sees.

What do you want audiences to take from watching Saint Maud?

Fundamentally I hope they have a great time watching it. That they find it exciting and entertaining, and that it gets under their skin and makes them feel something. I hope that they empathise with Maud. On the surface she’s someone who does some pretty terrible and extreme things, but I want the audience to hopefully find themselves understanding her and realising that maybe the things that lead her there started from pretty universal places, which maybe we can all recognise – wanting to connect with other people, but also wanting to feel important. Life is messy and complicated, and in the face of that, I think it’s understandable why we want to cling to things that help us make sense of it. I guess her story is just examining the potential dangers that lurk if you’re too rigid with that or if you become too alienated from reality.

This interview first appeared on THN. Saint Maud is available on DVD, Blu-ray, Digital HD and is currently available for free on Amazon Prime.