Elizabeth Marvel on 'Helstrom,' Love for Horror and Cinematic 'News of the World' (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
After standout roles on Fargo, Homeland and House of Cards, Elizabeth Marvel is raising the bar with her turn as the institutionalized and possessed mother of two hunters of humanity’s worst on Helstrom, Hulu’s TV adaptation of characters from Marvel Comics. But it’s not the only high-profile project for the actress, who also happens to love all things horror. She’s appearing opposite Tom Hanks in the anticipated film version of the acclaimed novel News of the World.
Directed and co-written by Paul Greengrass, the film tells the story of a Civil War veteran, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks), who agrees to deliver a young girl to her estranged aunt and uncle. Marvel plays Mrs. Gannett, who helps Kidd with caring for Johanna. “He’s so great,” Marvel says of her co-star. “I really understand what all the hype is about. He really is what everyone says he is. He’s the loveliest, most hardworking, fun actor.”
As for the film itself, which is still slated to be released in theaters on Dec. 25, Marvel says “it speaks to our moment because it’s about a country that’s fractured and trying to come to terms with what is happening.”
While the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has shifted theatrical release dates or forced others to be released on demand, the actress says this one is meant for the large screen and she would be heartbroken if audiences don’t get that experience. “I would not encourage people to watch this film on their phones,” Marvel says. However, until it’s safe or there is a vaccine, “I don’t feel inclined to encourage people to go out and gather,” she adds.
In the meantime, fans can watch her on Helstrom, which is now streaming on Hulu as part of its annual Huluween programming. As a mother to a 14-year-old son, there was no passing up the chance to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the actress adds that the role of Victoria Helstrom is pure “actor candy.”
Because Victoria is possessed by a demon named Mother, Marvel gets to play two roles in one. Victoria, she says, is “this nurturing, loving mother who is intensely traumatized.” Mother, meanwhile, “who is this very vengeful, rage-filled powerful demonic presence,” she teases, adding, “I get to play all the keys on the piano.”
“It’s such a wonderful character because I get to play so many nuances by being able to move between Victoria and Mother. There’s endless possibilities with this character,” the actress goes on to explain. “Also, you know, as a woman you don’t get to play this kind of stuff that often. It doesn’t come around very often. So I grabbed a hold of it and I’ve been really loving it.”
Marvel drew from The Silence of the Lambs and The Exorcist for inspiration. And to bring each persona to life, she gave them distinct traits, notably dramatically different registers in their voice. Mother’s is deep and gravely and came out of Marvel’s own, real-life frustrations with the state of the world at the time they were filming.
“I was living out of a hotel far from my family, and I would end up watching the nightly news a lot and grabbing pillow cushions to scream into,” Marvel says. “I ended up literally screaming my voice hoarse, which then actually organically worked perfectly for the character.”
However, to maintain that raw sound, Marvel kept making what she calls “horrible” sounds in between takes. At one point, she was working on her voice alone offset, when a security guard came running in with a taser, thinking that an animal had gotten inside the area. “I know a lot of the crew were a little uncomfortable going to craft service if I was there wandering around growling.”
While mostly seen in a room at a mental institution in the first few episodes, Marvel wasn’t worried about being cooped up as a character. “They gave me a basic outline of where we were going, so I knew that there was no way they could just keep this creature locked up,” she teases, before explaining why Marvel fans are going to enjoy watching Helstrom. “This show is moving the Marvel Universe in a new direction, into the horror genre,” she says. “And we dive deep into horror.”
For Marvel, digging into the genre is what she loves most. The actress and her husband, The Outsider star Bill Camp, are both big horror fans and take the genre as well as the month of October quite seriously. In fact, Camp is also starring in one of Hulu’s other Huluween releases, Monsterland, a location-based horror anthology series.
“It’s so creative, especially where it’s at now,” Marvel says of the genre, adding that she and Camp love Ari Aster’s movies and have also been digging deep into Korean horror, “which is unbelievable.” As a performer, she also loves the opportunity it presents for character actors. “It’s really hard to pull off stakes like you’re asked to do in the horror genre. So you have to be able to do some heavy lifting and pull it off.”
Marvel adds, “It’s really demanding and that’s always satisfying as an actor to meet a challenge like that,” much like she does in Helstrom.