There is an unsettling quietness to Morfydd Clark’s performance in Saint Maud. When she isn’t speaking, Clark looks timid or impressionable, but there is a terrible sadness to her portrayal of a young woman on the path to righteousness. On the surface, Rose Glass’ chamber film fits perfectly alongside classic horror that feature religion as a main theme. With Clark’s bewitching and pious performance at the center, you cannot anticipate the emotional ride you are about to go on.
Glass and Clark don’t feed you all the answers for Maud’s backstory, and the film is more successful because of it. Clark assured me that Maud’s history is very clear in her mind, but what’s important is the amount of time we spend with her. Maud takes a job as a carer to Jennifer Ehle’s Amanda, a former dancer dying from stage four lymphoma. Watching Maud watching Amanda is intoxicating. Amanda is liberal with her drinking and smoking and she teases Maud about her beliefs, but Maud is determined to save Amanda’s soul.
Saint Maud has been lauded for its atmosphere, but it should be revered for how it allows the audience to become ensnared by Clark. Her loneliness weighs heavily on her but that sadness can be replaced by a malevolent rage quite unexpectedly. Clark’s performance is so ravenous and agonizing that you too will fear for Maud’s soul.
Awards Daily: I read that the name Maud means “powerful battler.” Why do you think she selected that name?
Morfydd Clark: I’m not sure, but I think for Rose it was more about the effect that the name has on the audience–it’s kind of pious and bland at once. However, there are lots of other interesting meanings that are fun to ponder in the context of the film. Maud is also the patron saint of nursing the sick and of misbehaving children. I can’t really believe that Rose managed to pick that by accident, but apparently she did
AD: You’ve done quite a bit of horror with this, Crawl, Dracula and The Alienist: Angel of Darkness (which I also love). What attracts you to the genre?
MC: I’m only just now approaching the part of my career where I’m able to be “attracted to” things: I took whatever I was given so horror chose me, I suppose! It’s interesting, a few years ago I wouldn’t have called myself a horror fan, particularly, but being in Saint Maud has given me such a love for the genre and its fans. Midnight Madness–the section of Toronto film festival that Saint Maud premiered at–has a reputation for being the best audience of the festival and I think you can expand that to the whole horror audience. It’s a genre that can be about exploring deep themes but is also unabashedly about entertaining you and giving you a visceral experience, so it feels quite unpretentious.
AD: I enjoyed the ambiguity of your character’s backstory–we need that more, in my opinion! How deep did you dive into Maud’s history even though it’s not projected very much on screen?
MC: I had quite a clear origin story for Maud in my mind, but I’m glad that it is left open to the audience’s interpretation. I am a Maud apologist which probably stems from the particular backstory that I had for her but I find it interesting that other people have come to very different conclusions. I was very informed by the experiences of healthcare workers in my family, whom I consider to be “heroes” but who I found carry huge amounts of guilt all the time. If you are overstretched in care work, you end up depriving your patients of their dignity to a degree and, to survive that, you can end up switching off your empathy. I didn’t understand that part of burnout before–the overdose of guilt–and I think that’s central to Maud’s character.
AD: Is there any part of Amanda’s lifestyle that is appealing to Maud? She lights up around Amanda even though she doesn’t approve of her all the time.
MC: In some ways everything and in other ways nothing. I think envy and pity and disdain all play out in Maud’s relationship with Amanda, in both directions. I think Maud’s lighting up around Amanda is also the result of her being one of the first people to show any curiosity about her. This curiosity on Amanda’s part is potentially just from boredom but for Maud it’s a revelation.
AD: Maud spends so much time on her own. Towards the end of the film, Amanda tells her, ‘You must be the loneliest girl I’ve ever seen.’ Your voice almost breaks in your response when you reply, ‘I’m here, Amanda. I am not alone.’ A person’s faith can be a very personal thing, and I was curious about what conversations you had with Rose on how that affects Maud?
MC: We talked about how Maud’s relationship with God in some ways mirrors social media. She lives her whole life through the filter of what he might approve of and is constantly checking for his affirmation. I think British society in the 21st century is very individualistic and lonely and social media is possibly more of a consequence than a cause of that–people are all looking for connection.
AD: Maud’s rage comes out in such an intense and terrifying way–it reminded me so much of Sissy Spacek in Carrie. How difficult is it to play a character who is second guessed and mocked for her faith and how does that tap into suppressing Maud’s rage?
MC: Maud’s suppressed rage and being mocked both preceded her faith. To some degree, I think those are things – along with being underestimated – many women might identify with. I think the whole existence of the Mary Sue, a recurring fan fiction trope of an ordinary, possibly average girl who it turns out has a spectacular destiny and amazing abilities and everyone falling in love with her, shows that a lot of women and girls have something inside them saying, “One day, everyone will see how amazing you are.” Maud has put herself in that position with God and I think that’s very intoxicating for her, so when that’s threatened her rage bursts out. Her rage–which was already there–has now become mixed with terror of losing this thing she’s found to cling onto.
AD: I think everyone is dying for that new version of Lord of the Rings. Obviously, no spoilers, but what are you most excited for us to see with this new version?
MC: I’m excited to for people to see the hard work every member of the cast and crew have put into it, it has been a fantastic experience I feel very lucky to have been a small part of.
Clark has been nominated for the BAFTA EE Rising Star Award. If you live in the UK and you’d like to vote for Clark, you can visit the site here.