The actress talks about admiring Peter Strickland’s previous work and why she had to be a part of a movie about a killer dress.
Peter Strickland’s In Fabric is a delightful, malevolent little horror film. When you first hear about it, you may think that the idea of a cursed piece of clothing seems silly, but Strickland’s stylish film is a giddy take on our obsession with shopping and beauty. It’s a perfect film to come out at the start of the frenzied holiday shopping season.
I will admit that I didn’t recognize Gwendoline Christie at first—something she relished when I told her. With dark hair and pronounced features, I couldn’t place Christie until halfway through the movie. It’s a very subtle transformation, and it serves as evidence that Christie loves disappearing into her roles.
Marianne Jean-Baptiste stars as Sheila, a woman who is trying to turn her life around, but makes an unfortunate purchase, and Christie is a nasty presence as Gwen, the girlfriend of Sheila’s son. Gwen is a model who takes her art very seriously, and she isn’t afraid to show off her sexuality inside Sheila’s house. It’s a delicious performance where Christie exudes a sexy confidence that we haven’t seen her display before. You won’t be able to look at Carpathian stockings the same way ever again.
Awards Daily: I love this movie so much. It’s so strange and wonderful. In Fabric was one of the big films at a new genre film festival here in Rochester—the Anomaly Film Festival—where they showed 10 genre films and some shorts.
Gwendoline Christie: Oh yeah?
AD: Yeah. The audience I saw it with had such a ball with In Fabric.
GC: Thank you. That’s lovely to hear.
AD: I read that when you sat down with Peter Strickland, you guys hit it off immediately. Can you tell me about that first encounter?
GW: When I saw Peter’s work—I saw The Duke of Burgundy and Berberian Sound Studio—I thought it was dazzling. His aesthetic matched mine, and it felt exactly like a world that I was at home in. Peter is a brilliant director and writer, and that coupled with his very particular vision makes it sing. He takes a genre like horror and makes it his own. I loved his work, and when I was sent the script, I was told both lead female parts he had other ideas for. I loved the script so much. He told me who he cast in those roles, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste is an actor that I’ve loved since Secrets & Lies.
AD: Yeah, she’s so wonderful.
GC: I highly respect her, so I wasn’t going to even try to change his mind—not that I could’ve succeeded. But I had to be involved with this project. Peter may not feel the same way, but I feel like we are sort of kindred spirits in that we both have similar taste in music, books, and art. When I was reading the part, I saw there was a small part named Gwen, and she was a nasty, malevolent, malicious, cruel woman obsessed with models. I thought she was hilarious, and I expressed my interest to Peter. It’s rare that you find someone that you really click with, that you believe in them entirely. They have a true brilliance that hasn’t been recognized and you want to be a part of it. It felt like a filmmaking process that I would thoroughly enjoy. When he gave me the part, we started expanding and re-writing the character, and we started rehearsals with Jaygenn [Ayeh]. I loved every single aspect of it. I loved the producers, the hair and makeup people, taking the script and improving with it. I deeply respect him. He loved the idea of me transforming physically, too.
AD: I knew you were in the movie, but I didn’t recognize you until about halfway through the first section. I kept thinking, ‘Who is this actress who looks like Christina Hendricks’s sister? I know her. . .’ Were you looking to change yourself physically?
GC: Yes. Even before drama school, I have been interested in transformation. Different forms, different guises and expressions. Part of the reason I’ve always loved creating images and fashion is the means to transform into a different person or different energy. I really relish the opportunity to change perceptions of me. Or challenge preconceptions of me. I am truly delighted not to be recognizable in the film, because it means that I’ve done my job in terms of serving the story rather than any kind of external profile or identification that I have as an actor. There’s nothing more that I like than being in total service of the story. It truly delighted me to hear you say that!
AD: Of course! (Laughs)
GC: And Peter isn’t really familiar with any of my other work, so he greets me with the immediate terms of who I am instead of the boundaries of my previous work. It’s thrilling to enter a new dimension with someone on those terms.
AD: You mentioned Gwen being very nasty, and you are so devilish in this role. Gwen is on a trajectory to be a gay icon, I really think so. Does she just want to rattle everyone, or is she only that antagonistic towards Sheila?
GC: When Peter and I discussed Gwen, we talked about it not being a series of jokes. Gwen truly loves her partner, and Sheila is not supportive. Sheila is fairly unpleasant to Gwen as well. There’s part of Gwen, though, who enjoys antagonizing Sheila. There’s a somewhat punk sensibility to Gwen in terms of being disruptive and stepping outside of the confines of polite society. She’s an artist, too. There’s something that she finds irresistible in pushing someone’s buttons and she finds that part in the creative process because she’s not entirely fulfilled in her work. Or she’s dissatisfied with her living arrangement. I loved the darkness of her. (Laughs) I really do! The first time we encounter Gwen, Peter discussed some options and motivations and it made me laugh a lot. I thought it was outrageous! I enjoy playing transgressive women and pushing boundaries where I can. I thought it was deliciously mischievous. As a woman, there are parts that you play that have a history, somehow presenting a version of what a “good woman” should be in order to propel a patriarchal version of women. And present it as promotional information, so anything that disassembles that fascinates me.
AD: The first thing Sheila says to Gwen is, ‘Oh, he’s made you look really lovely!’ and I thought that was such a passive aggressive thing to say!
GC: Yeah! I saw it as a response to play the character. I had to find who the human being is.
AD: I don’t want to give away anything about the end of the film, but you have a dreamy but violent scene about halfway through. I read that it was inspired by a photoshoot that you did with Sølve Sundsbø. What was it like to film a scene that was so horrific but shot in a beautiful way?
GC: I have been lucky to work with Sølve a few times. It was a moment that happened on one of our shoots, but that moment was inspired by a million cinematic moments. And moments in art and paintings. I find that I am, increasingly, not willing to reel off the references because I feel that mystery is something elusive in our lives. Mystery propels us to create. In that moment with Peter, you’re only ever thinking how you can extend the moment further, how you can find what the essence of that moment is about. Every single moment working with Peter was so satisfying, and it was such a delight and so creative and so much fun. I think that there is something about the horror genre, and I’ve enjoyed everything from Eraserhead to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I always enjoy the abstract, so maybe something like Inland Empire is a horror movie?
AD: You could make a really strong case for that, for sure.
GC: There’s something about the woman’s scream in those moments where I didn’t feel that I was being attacked. It was about the suffocation, but I felt entirely empowered in that moment. That is something that Peter gave me creative license [for].
AD: That’s what I loved about In Fabric. It doesn’t give you easy answers and it doesn’t explain everything.
GW: And that’s what inspired me to do it.
In Fabric opens in select theaters and VOD on December 6th.