Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on April 11, 2016, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.
When the blood-chilling, pulse-quickening survival-horror film Hush premiered globally on Netflix, audiences were introduced to a powerful new horror heroine. FANGORIA spoke exclusively to the woman behind the role as both actress and co-scripter, Kate Siegel.
Directed and co-written by Mike Flanagan (Absentia, Oculus), the Blumhouse/Intrepid Pictures production sees Siegel playing someone who can’t hear or speak: Maddie, an author living in an isolated house. Already struggling with writer’s block, she’s forced into a fight for her life when a masked stranger billed only as The Man (John Gallagher Jr.) turns up with murderous intent (see review here). It’s a breakthrough turn for Siegel, who previously had a small part in Oculus and is partners with Flanagan (who discusses Hush here) in life and art.
How did you and Flanagan come up with Hush?
We were out at dinner and discussing movies we both love, and one that came up was Wait Until Dark. We talked about how we really enjoyed that it took a basic premise and used blindness to turn on it on its side. And we were talking about movies we’d want to make, and Mike was saying he wanted to do one without dialogue; he’d always wanted to play with that. I was talking about how we have all these glass doors and windows in our house, and I’m always afraid at night when I walk by that there’s going to be a masked man standing there. So we started combining those and seeing how the ideas worked together, and by the time we got to dessert, Hush was pretty much ready to be pitched.
Was it easy to get the project set up at Blumhouse?
It actually moved very quickly. Mike brought it to Trevor Macy at Intrepid, they brought it to Jason Blum and I think Blum agreed to get it going in the room. They were very supportive of Mike and his ideas. This film moved at lightning speed; we had that dinner in August 2014, we finished the first draft in November and we were shooting a year ago now. It was a very quick one.
I imagine it was an advantage writing a character for yourself…
It was beneficial to know I was going to be playing Maddie, because we could build a character I knew I could deliver. When we would write something down, Mike would look at me and be like, “Do you think you can do that?” and I’d say, “Yeah, I can.” Or at other times I’d tell him, “I’m not sure I can jump off a roof, so let’s maybe try something else here.” And it was fun and exciting to construct and then confront the challenges of playing a person who is both deaf and mute, in both the writing stages and then the actual performance.
Did you do a lot of special preparation to play Maddie?
Yeah, I did extensive preparation. I worked with a coach for a long time, I talked to as many people in the deaf community as I could and I learned sign language. During prep in Alabama, I would go entire days with earplugs in, just to be more familiar with how your body adjusts to not being able to get that outside stimulus, and how difficult it was to communicate with people with my slow sign language, when they couldn’t sign. That feeling of isolation from my friends and collaborators was very difficult, and it helped me form the character quite a bit once the cameras started rolling.
Did you isolate yourself like that during the shoot?
I really couldn’t, because the time we had was so limited, and we could never go into overtime because the sun would rise; it was 18 days of night. I had to be there to make script notes on the fly, and I needed to be in close communication with Mike and Trevor and [cinematographer] Jimmy Kniest and [Steadicam operator] Thom Valko. I know that whenever they were doing a setup they didn’t need me for, I would disappear just to stay quiet. That was important to me—the challenges of not being able to make any noise, so I tried not to be too chatty between takes.
Flanagan talked about the fact that you had several crewpeople around you and he was calling out direction during your scenes. How difficult was it to remain focused with all that activity going on?
A lot of it was almost meditative in nature; focus is a perfect word for it. It had to do with being specific, so I knew what Maddie was attempting to accomplish in any given shot or setup, and I would try very hard to zoom in on that and let the rest kind of fade away.
Did you shoot the movie in sequence?
We did, as much as possible. It was great to have everything happen around me as close to in order as possible, because as I would move through the space, I could remember when we were shooting a different setpiece there six days ago, and now here we were doing the next thing there. That made everything feel more real to me, a little more grounded.
Did you keep yourself separate from Gallagher to try to heighten your onscreen antagonism?
We tried to create a cold chemistry together, something that wasn’t intimate or sparky. We worked closely on character development with Mike before principal photography started. The three of us would sit around and talk about Maddie and The Man and who they were, and before we started shooting, when John arrived in Alabama, we would all have dinner together. But once we got into production, John and I stayed a little separate. It was pretty hard; we were shooting in order, and it was a small crew in a small space, so obviously we couldn’t completely isolate ourselves from each other. But there was intent on both of our parts to make sure we weren’t overly friendly, so that we wouldn’t have to adjust that relationship when we got in front of the cameras.
Was there ever a point in the scripting stage where we find out more about The Man, his background and motivation? Or was there anything you came up with between yourselves to explain his character a little more?
It was very important to Mike and I during the writing process that we didn’t have a villain who explained his motivation in the movie. We both believe that that’s a scarier evil; the unknown is always more frightening than any explanation, because it allows the audience to fill in, in their brain, why they think The Man is doing this, and then they create their own personalized fear. I know John had a very strong backstory that he created with Mike, and Mike and I had imagined what it might be when we were writing, but we knew the actor would come to the part and create what they needed to deliver.
You talked about not wanting to write anything you couldn’t physically do, so is that you in the entire film, or was a stunt double ever employed?
Nope, all of that was me. It was so much fun. When [stunt coordinator] Chuck Borden put me on the roof, that was my favorite stuff.
And what was the most difficult part of that?
Right after the roof sequence, where I fall through a window, bounce off a desk and hit the floor, that was really painful. Having not done all of my own stunts before, I kept saying, “I can do this, I absolutely will do this.” So we did the wide master shot where I’m not even that much in focus, and I threw myself through that window, really committing, and we were done and my shoulder was hurting, and they were like, “Great, we have six more setups!”
Did you come up with anything for your character during the writing that you weren’t able to do in the film?
At a certain point in an earlier draft, we had an attic scene, and I wanted Maddie to set something on fire because I felt that would be a great way to call for help. And Mike was like, “We can’t; it would put our budget up another million dollars to light our set on fire.” We’d gone through, hopefully, every possible thought that Maddie would have in that house in terms of getting out. We do credit Wait Until Dark for being the driving force, but we always thought this movie is more like Die Hard; we wanted to beat Maddie up, we wanted her to use the whole space. We’ve always called the scene between John Gallagher and Michael Trucco the Hans Gruber scene. We just think Die Hard is a perfect movie, and I’ve always wanted to be that kind of action hero. One of my all-time career goals is to be Ripley in the next remake of Aliens [laughs].
Are you involved with Flanagan’s Before I Wake at all?
No, I am not. The next one I’m involved in with Mike is Ouija 2.
What’s your role in that one?
Oh, I certainly wouldn’t want to ruin that for you!
Are there plans for you to star in the adaptation of Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game that Flanagan is developing?
[Laughs] That’s not my decision to make, but I’m obsessed with that book. When he was writing it and I was reading the pages, I felt I’d be an excellent choice, but I think that decision falls into Trevor’s and Mike’s hands. But consider this my active pitch to play Jessie.
Flanagan talked to us about Hush being a kind of preparation for Gerald’s Game, since it’s also about a woman confined to a house. Did you see it that way while you were making Hush?
I did, on some level, joke that this was my audition for Gerald’s Game, because it does require a certain amount of focus to maintain an audience’s interest for 90 minutes in a room, and of course in Gerald’s Game she’s in a room chained to a bed. So I would have literal handcuffs as opposed to the metaphorical handcuffs of not being able to speak.