Cush Jumbo on Leaving 'The Good Fight' and Taking on 'The Beast Must Die' (Exclusive)
After leaving The Good Fight, Cush Jumbo is taking on her next challenge.
In AMC's The Beast Must Die, based on the novel by Cecil Day-Lewis, Jumbo plays Frances Cairnes, a mother who loses her son in a fatal hit-and-run and goes on a mission to find the man she feels is responsible for his death. When she finally tracks him down, she pretends to be a novelist and ingratiates herself with the family of George Rattery (Jared Harris), whom she believes is ultimately the one accountable for the death of her son and sets out on an elaborate plan to kill him.
The six-part British drama, which drops new episodes every Monday, was one of Jumbo's most emotionally draining projects of her career. "The way that Frances operates is that whatever she's doing, whether she's pretending to be somebody else, trying to trick people or convince people or dealing with her current feelings, she's always carrying with her this continuous sense of grief. And that is more exhausting than I had anticipated. It takes a lot out of you," the 35-year-old actress told ET. "And yet it means that you really start to empathize with the character."
Watch ET's exclusive clip from episode 2 of The Beast Must Die below.
During a recent Zoom call, Jumbo opens up about saying goodbye to Lucca Quinn after five seasons on The Good Wife and The Good Fight, transitioning to playing a grieving mother desperate for revenge in The Beast Must Die and working opposite Harris.
ET: The Beast Must Die must have been an incredibly intense and challenging experience for you. What intrigued you about this world and the project that made you say yes?
Cush Jumbo: I had some big changes in my own life in terms of moving back to the U.K. to want to be closer to my family and it was really interesting because living in the U.S. and having a relationship with people's idea of me through The Good Wife and The Good Fight, strangely I got to start again, but I'd had this whole life before of never really doing regular characters and never really playing anyone as glamorous as Lucca Quinn. And I've always liked things that challenge me and stretched me a little bit further. Because I'm always hoping I'll be doing this job for a really long time. I think to do that you have to continue to push your boundaries a little bit and be uncomfortable. I read the script by [creator/writer] Gaby [Chiape] and I couldn't put it down, and it obviously is not the happiest of scripts, yet it was thrilling to read just as I hope it is to watch because it's the journey of a person who's very ordinary but ends up doing really extraordinary things. That interested me and I thought that would interest an audience. I kind of got pulled to it in that way. Like you said, she was very different to what I'd done before. So I thought, well, there's no bigger challenge than going the opposite way. I thought I'd give it a go.
What was the most difficult part about playing Frances?
I knew it would be emotionally demanding, but I didn't really know what kind of head space it would put me in. I'm not a method actor, I'm more of an actor who uses substitution. So ordinarily, you may only have to film so many days a week, you can kind of put those feelings down the other days of the week and move on. But in this role, I was really doing most of it; 95 percent of my week was in this head space. And the way that Frances operates is that whatever she's doing, whether she's pretending to be somebody else, trying to trick people or convince people or dealing with her current feelings, she's always carrying with her this continuous sense of grief. And that is more exhausting than I had anticipated. It takes a lot out of you. And yet it means that you really start to empathize with the character because you'll realize, wow, she has to have the energy to spring between characters and to keep changing what position she's in whilst always carrying it with this sense of, "I just want to curl up into a ball and disappear." She was driven by this objective. It stops being about whether that's the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do because if she doesn't have an objective, she really has nothing else to live for. I thought, "Well, the sailing will be exhausting. Being on the beach and the clifftops, this would be exhausting." But actually what was exhausting was always having to get into that head space and stay there because your mind knows that you're acting and that it's a job, your body actually doesn't. So at the end of the week, I would be on the floor, just really tired.
What was your experience like working with Jared Harris?
It was amazing. You get to a point when you start to work with the people that you've watched if you're really lucky. Sometimes that is a really brilliant, inspiring experience and sometimes it's utterly disappointing and sometimes soul-crushing because they are not quite what you thought they were going to be. Somebody like Jared who has behind him a body of work and success, it means they don't really have to worry about anybody else. If they wanted to, they could just kind of handle their own business. I found him very, very supportive and the best of scene partners. When you're doing stuff where you're a nemesis towards each other, that's really important. People often think, "To get that scene really good, what they had to do was hate each other." Actually what we need to do is get on really well in real life and then it makes your scenes where you despise each other even better. It's like a weird relationship you have to build. And he was so brilliant, which is not something that you always get I would say, especially from men, when you're a younger woman. You don't always get that support. I couldn't have wished for a better scene partner.
Your characters' dynamic onscreen definitely has an air of tension.
[Jared's] real silly. Like he's the silly kind. He's absolutely silly and just great fun to be around. He's what you want, he's what you hope actors would be when you were a kid and you thought, "I'd like to work with the greats," and you hope they're going to be this way and he just is. He just is that way. It was, for me, a great learning experience.
What was the decision behind changing up the hair color? Was it just for fun or specific to the character?
Yeah, that was kind of a surprise. I had actually cut my hair short in the middle of The Good Fight because long story short, it was taking me two extra hours to get ready for Lucca every day and at that point I had a newborn baby. And two extra hours a day when you're shooting 15 hours a day, sometimes means you don't see your baby awake for a few days. I'd cut it short so I could wear a wig and shorten my time in the chair, but I hadn't really played any roles with short hair. I had just assumed I would always wear a lot of wigs. I've always admired actors who are like chameleons and keep changing. I love Samantha Morton, so I like it when people don't always recognize who I am or what I've done. But we had this conversation about, "Well, you're in grief. So, you used to look after your hair and had a Brazilian blow dry." It was very Meghan Markle. Then you lost your son and you f**king stopped doing that. It grew quite curly into more of an afro. And then you were like, "I'm going to go into disguise and go to this island and look for this guy." What would a person do to do that? We all agreed that she probably got rid of her hair completely because she wanted less to think about and she didn't want to be recognized and I just happened to have short hair. The blonde thing was just, what can we do in to blend in? I'm like, that's crazy because that just made me stand out. Like, it's not a way to blend in. That's where that came from.
You're now back home in the U.K. Does leaving The Good Fight mean you're more focused on doing jobs close to home for a bit?
What's happened to me and the world at the same time is that in the time between me joining The Good Wife, the TV landscape is not what it is now, right? Even at times, the fact that you and I are doing so many of these interviews on Zoom and everything that we make in the U.K. is now able to be out across the world. Same in the States. Everything isn't always shot in New York or L.A. anymore. What happened was, it kind of all happened at the same time. I'm very connected to my friends and family. I have this kid now. I wanted him to know his family and know his culture, and I had to make a decision about where the next 10 years would be because ultimately if my family aren't happy, then my work is no good. Whereas if my family's happy, wherever I am, I will make the work good. That just so happened to happen at a time where it was all going in my favor in terms of I can be based in the U.K. or I can be in Europe. I don't have to be tied for seven years to L.A. to do a show because that's not the way things are anymore. I think I kind of got a bit lucky. I wouldn't say I've turned my back on working anywhere, I just will go wherever I think the part is right for me. Sometimes that will mean away and sometimes that will mean here. Right now, it means more here.
Switching gears to The Good Fight, you were able to wrap up Lucca's story in the season 5 premiere. How do you feel about how Lucca's journey ended and her overall journey?
It wasn't that dissimilar from what we ended up with. It just wasn't in London. Some of the places we shot my last scenes in London were outside of places where I had worked as a waitress when I was first learning to act. So it was very emotional for me to get to bring Lucca to where I'm from and also to wrap up that character, working in the same spaces where I had struggled for a long time to get work as an actor, which was very cool for me. I just feel so blessed that I got to work with the Kings and those writers and those actors at that time. I was a massive fan of the show. I got to pretend to be a lawyer, which made my Nigerian father so happy because he wanted a doctor or lawyer and he got one. Even if it was a pretend one, he got one. I got to, for the first time, blend what I know about theater and what I know about television in one job. I had never done that before. I really do think that when you speak those kinds of scripts, you get to use some muscle and some skill sets that you use in the theater quite a lot. Once I'd done that with Lucca, I thought, "Well, why aren't I combining some of those skills up in all of my jobs?" Like they absolutely are intertwined. There are many things about good writing that work in that way.
I learned so much about myself and it was really emotional to leave, but I wanted to do the character justice. Once you start to feel like you've gone where you can go, I never wanted to slug a dead horse with her. I wanted her to finish on a high end and be what she is, which is what she was. And it felt like the right time to go. But I'm so happy that we got to wrap her up because it was very much like a breakup that never happened. We know it's over, but he still has to give me my box of stuff. I've got my stuff back, we've broken up. It's OK. I hope he's very happy. It's all going to be fine. So yeah, it was crazy, but it all has mapped out as it was meant to, I think.
And Lucca is doing fantastic as a CFO. She's a millionaire now too. She's kicking butt.
She's come a long way. She's Lucca Quinn. Of course she's kicking ass. She's doing what she was meant to do.
The Beast Must Die premieres new episodes Mondays on AMC+ one week ahead of their broadcasts Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.
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